By Kim Fernandez
The Baltimore Sun.
Vacation means warm beaches, breezy campgrounds, posh spas, a break from daily stress and a great way to unwind and leave our cares behind.
Unless you have a pet.
Fido or Fluffy, beloved as they are, can throw a wrench into the best-laid vacation plans.
Few of us want to leave our pets in a traditional kennel’s cages for days or weeks at a time, and traveling with them can be difficult, if not impossible.
But that’s changing as more people are taking pets with them or finding what’s been deemed “luxury boarding,” which turns the traditional kennel on its ear with accommodations that mimic home or even a fancy hotel for humans.
Jodi Miller, owner of Stay Pet Resort in Hanover, Md., says she opened her boarding business when she couldn’t find a kennel she liked for her dog.
“Boarding has changed with the way the world has changed how it accepts dogs,” she says. “Dogs and pets are part of the family, and they do everything with us. The days when dogs were out in the backyard in a doghouse are long gone.”
She modeled her boarding facility after a hotel, offering amenities that rival those of first-class resorts: Dogs get king-sized beds, flat-screen televisions, a garden area and webcams in their rooms; owners are given codes to tune in and watch their pets anytime online.
Each dog has a suite where it sleeps and eats, but most choose to play outside. “The owners don’t see much,” Miller acknowledges, “because the dogs are out playing the whole day. That’s what we want.”
Rates start at $55 per night for a luxury suite and $95 per night for a private villa. The pet resort can accommodate 100 animals at a time, and it offers sanitation and cleaning that Miller modeled after hospital procedures.
Stay is also a 24/7 facility, which Miller says has been key: People don’t want to leave their pets for a minute longer than necessary, and they want to pick them up the second they return from their own travels.
“We’ve tapped into an underserved market,” she says. “People were really looking for this, but they didn’t really know what they were looking for.”
She says the proof that luxury boarding works is evident when a dog owner’s vacation is over and it’s time to pick up the pet.
“A dog will never lie,” she says. “We have many clients whose dogs will greet them in the lobby, and then turn around and run back down the hall to play some more. We’ve had dogs who had to be practically dragged to their cars. That to me is a benchmark that this works.”
While boarders have stepped up their game, many vacationers prefer to take their pets with them, a trends that experts say is growing quickly.
A recent survey by Petplan pet insurance found that 80 percent of respondents planned to travel with their pets this year, up from 10 percent from 2012. (Another finding: 53 percent of people surveyed would rather vacation with their pets than their human partners.) Thirty percent said they planned to take their pets with them while visiting relatives.
The hotel industry, keen to the trend, is making efforts to go beyond simple “pet friendly,” knowing that for pet owners, the friendlier, the better.
In Baltimore, the Hotel Monaco welcomes dogs and cats with open arms.
“When you call, our reservationist gathers information about your pet,” says Joe Pagone, the hotel’s general manager. “Pets checking in are welcomed by name, just like their people.”
While the Hotel Monaco, a Kimpton hotel, reserves several floors for guests traveling without pets and those with allergies, dogs and cats are welcome throughout the rest of the property.
They sleep in hotel-provided plush pet beds, eat from complimentary bowls, and enjoy free treats at check-in and during the property’s daily complimentary wine reception, to which pets are invited.
Guests traveling with pets are also given door hangers for their rooms to let staff know there’s an animal inside, complimentary bags for walking, lists of pet-friendly restaurants and attractions nearby, and the Pet Times newspaper, which includes tips for area parks for walking or playing.
“We try to make it fun for everyone,” says Pagone, who says hotel employees are encouraged to bring pets to work if they want to keep an eye on them instead of leaving them at home all day.
The hotel has also partnered with several local dog-sitting services to offer daycare for travelers whose daily adventures might not be pet-friendly, on a hot day, for example.
“Quite a few of our visitors bring pets,” he says. “They bring them for weekends and when they’re traveling during the week. It’s hard to go away for pet owners. Boarding dogs is expensive, and nobody wants to board a member of their family.”
Dogs are welcomed at no extra charge at the Hotel Monaco, says Pagone. “It’s fun and exciting,” he says. “Pets are an extension of our guests’ families.”
Kimpton isn’t the only hotel chain offering pet-friendly vacations. In Atlantic City, N.J., Harrah’s Resort Regional President Rick Mazer says the chain’s PetStay program has become one of its most popular amenities.
PetStay, available at many of the company’s Las Vegas resorts and now in Atlantic City, offers a check-in area for dogs and an in-room package that includes bowls, treats, a room door hanger, a mat for napping and a crate.
“It’s been amazingly well-received,” he says. “It’s amazing that in Las Vegas, where many people come by plane, it’s been very popular.” The Flamingo, which was the program’s debut property, doubled its pet-friendly rooms twice because of high demand.
“There’s no doubt that our society loves its pets,” Mazer says. “We love our dogs and we love our cats. Accommodating them is something we’re doing more and more.”