Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'Pupscale PALACE'

Haute dog hotel mimics amenities of human accommodations

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Spigots spew chlorine-free purified water as guests scurry and splash inside two gleaming pools. Air-conditioned suites cool visitors kicking back in their rooms with flat-screen TVs and cable. Grilled quarter-pounder hamburgers are made to order.

It's all fun under the sun at this retreat near Florida's Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, but this isn't the Hyatt or Hilton.

This is a haute dog hotel: the Lauderdale Pet Lodge, one of the newest South Florida resorts providing canines and felines high-end accommodations and amenities mimicking the finer tastes of their two-legged owners. Yes, South Florida is increasingly becoming a "pupscale place" for pets needing day and overnight stays, with features such as one-on-one cuddle time, acupuncture and Skype sessions.

The Lauderdale Pet Lodge, which starts at US$55 a night for a room for a dog and $25 for a room for a cat, joins D.O.G. (Daycare, Obedience and Grooming), a luxury hotel that opened in November in Miami's artsy Wynwood neighbourhood. Boarding prices for the 15,000-square-foot facility range from $30 to $120 for its biggest suite, which is 11 by 12 feet. The price includes 15 minutes of individual playtime, Skype video sessions with the owner and Instagram photo updates.

In Delray Beach, Fla., PetsHotel, part of the PetSmart chain, offers a "Pawsidential Suite" for $81 a night, with add-ons such as a hypoallergenic, elevated bed, self-serve ice cream sundaes with biscuits, and a TV that plays pet-themed programs.

And Chateau Poochie in Pompano Beach, Fla. -- one of the pioneers in the doggone suite life -- offers lodging for $47 to $87 a night. The suites are painted in jewel-tone hues and fitted with customized bed linens. The lobby rivals those of human hotels, complete with chandelier and a mirrored check-in counter. The resort's tagline: "Welcome to luxury unleashed!"

It's an industry that has been barking louder in recent years. The American Pet Products Association estimates that boarding facilities are one of the fastest-growing areas of the $52-billion U.S. pet industry. Last year, pet owners spent $4 billion on grooming and boarding, up from $3.8 billion the year before.

Jeffery Davis, a public relations manager for PetSmart, said that's because people see themselves as "pet parents" and their dogs and cats as members of the family. In fact, one 2011 study commissioned by Milo's Kitchen dog treats found that 81 per cent of Americans view their dogs as equal members of their households.

"Pet parents want the best for their pets and want to know their pets are in the best care when they board them," Davis said. "We created our PetsHotel to give pets a personalized, hotel-style experience that is safe, comfortable and fun."

But can these places be too posh, or too much for Spot and Fifi?

Cherie Wachter, a spokeswoman for the Humane Society of Florida's Broward County, said it's all about moderation.

"We all love our pets and we want the best for them, but if your dog isn't used to having a hamburger at night, we don't want them to go to the pet lodges and end up with an upset tummy."

Some local lodge owners say they consulted with veterinarians about the food and extras when planning their services to ensure the health and safety of furry guests. Wachter said she knows dogs that have benefited from high-end massages.

She suggested that pet owners should visit the places first to have a good understanding of the facility and costs.

"Make sure you check the prices so there aren't any surprises when you get the final bill."

Fort Lauderdale, Fla. resident Kelley Binder can't resist virtually checking up on her two dogs -- Nate, an apricot goldendoodle, and Ellie, a cream-colored golden retriever -- when they spend the day at the Lauderdale Pet Lodge. A smartphone application allows her to keep tabs on them at the pet resort in real-time, no matter where she is.

"I get to peek at them when they are in playtime and swimming," said Binder, who has been lodging her dogs there for the past week so they can socialize and swim. "(The app) is just fun, and it can be quite addicting."

As Binder's dogs lounged nearby, resort owner John Glorieux pointed to one of the bigger pools, which has 2,500 gallons of water: "This is what you find in a kiddie pool in Disney World," said Glorieux, who with his wife, Laurie, owns a larger facility in Pompano Beach.

Looking to expand to Fort Lauderdale, the couple spent $4 million to transform the former Gold Coast Roller Rink into a sprawling canine-and-feline complex that caters to clients who live off Las Olas Boulevard and Rio Vista, as well as travellers who need to drop off pets while heading to the airport or Port Everglades.

The couple's philosophy: "No cages, no crates, no kidding."

"We built and designed this without any kind of compromises at all," said Glorieux as he strolled the complex, which has the feel of a school campus. Separate buildings can hold up to six dogs in individual suites kept at a cool 22 C. At the front of the centre, where windows face the zooming traffic on Federal Highway, there is feline lodging, where cats have "luxury floor-to-ceiling multilevel condos" with soothing music playing in the background.

"Even though this seems crazy to have for dogs ... everything about this place is built knowing the dogs and knowing how comfortable we need the dogs to be," Glorieux said. "We want this to be about fun for the dogs."

Just don't use the "K word" when referring to these posh lodges. Owners say people tend to associate kennels with animals stuffed in crates on top of each other.

"It's not a kennel," said Hector Antunez, owner of D.O.G. in Wynwood, as an employee towed a cleaning cart to wipe down the glass doors of the enclosures. "We have rooms, and each room gets cleaned every day like a regular hotel."

-- Sun Sentinel

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 19, 2013 D5

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