No Pet Left Behind
ONE brisk afternoon this past winter, the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch in Beaver Creek, Colo., could have been mistaken for the Westminster Kennel Club dog show.
There sat Biscuit, a white-haired West Highland terrier from Denver, waiting diligently at the foot of her owner, a stylishly trim woman drinking a glass of wine in the lounge with a friend. And Bambi, a skittish border collie from Texas, wore a red Willie Nelson-style bandanna around her neck. Then there was the tan and petite cocker spaniel, prancing up and down the sunny courtyard alongside her equally tan and petite owner.
In a culture in which dogs and cats have become surrogate children (and grandchildren) and are sometimes better dressed than their owners, a growing number of hotels and resorts have welcomed four-legged guests in recent years, including the Four Seasons, the Ritz-Carlton, the Loews and the Kimpton hotels. But now, several luxury condominiums and private residence clubs are taking pet-friendly policies further by offering services and amenities that rival those meant for humans, including grooming sessions, swim classes, massage treatments (no mere belly-scratch) and even a doggie psychic.
“There’s easily been a 300 percent increase in the number of lodgings accepting pets in the last three years,” said Derek Welsh, president of BringYourPet.com, a Web site devoted to peripatetic pets and their humans. “The trend is definitely shifting toward higher-end hotels. In order to truly compete, they are going above and beyond with amenities, trying to one-up the competitor.”
In a survey of 100,000 of its Web-site viewers, BringYourPet said, 75 percent said they had taken their pets on trips.
That included people like Nicholas Trofimuk, a fine-art photographer who lives near Santa Fe, N.M. At about 4:45 each afternoon, when they are visiting their residence at the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North in Arizona, Mr. Trofimuk’s two sprightly West Highland terriers, Oliver and Bertie, find him to “roughhouse.” As Oliver looks on, Bertie, “the puppy,” paws at the chair where Mr. Trofimuk sits in the living room, then he rears back on his hind legs and claps his paws together, “telling me it’s time,” said Mr. Trofimuk, who drops to the floor to wrestle with his dogs.
“They can’t live without it, and neither can I,” he said. “They make me feel very special. There are few people that can make you feel that way.”
Elon Kenchington, chief operating officer for the Gansevoort Hotel Group and the owner of a black Australian shepherd, said, “We think the comfort of the pets is almost equally as important as the owners’ and guests’.” The Gansevoort South Beach Private Residence, a property with 232 hotel rooms and 259 condos in Miami Beach that is scheduled to open this summer, is one such resort that is rolling out the welcome mat — or is it day-old newspapers? — for pets.
When arriving at their owners’ condos, which range from 625 to 5,000 square feet and with prices starting at $600,000, dogs will receive a basket of toys and treats and a bed mat of 100 percent Egyptian cotton embroidered with the dog’s name. Recognizing that dogs have different temperaments, the resort plans to offer a range of beds, including feather and sturdy foam.
“A bit like a choice of pillow for people,” Mr. Kenchington said. “Some dogs like to chew and shake. With feather beds, we could get a pillow-fight situation with feathers scattering everywhere.” Thus, the foam option.
Americans spent $38.5 billion on their pets last year, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association. While only $2.5 billion of that went toward grooming and boarding, resorts understand that pet owners prefer to bring Lassie (and sometimes Mittens) along when they head to their vacation properties.
“Pets are part of the family; they’re like children,” said Kristen Gilmer, a manager at the Four Seasons Troon North.
“Part of the fun of being on vacation is quality time with your dogs,” said Mr. Trofimuk, who makes the eight-hour drive at least twice a year from Santa Fe to Troon North with Oliver, Bertie and his wife, Joette. “We’re not totally nuts, but we love our dogs.”
Pets, including dogs 15 pounds and under, are permitted at Troon North and most other Four Seasons resorts. The 88 residences, which range from a 500-square-foot studio to 1,500-square-foot two-bedroom units and rent for $16,000 to $100,000 for a one- or two-week stay, are deep-cleaned after each visit. Upon arrival, dogs are given a Bow-Wow welcome package — it’s called a Meow for cats — that includes a ceramic bowl, a placemat, a bottle of water and a chew toy.
If people (sigh) leave their own dog home, the Loan-a-Lab program at the Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch gives guests and owners of the private residences a chance to walk Bachelor, a yellow Labrador retriever who was adopted from a Denver animal shelter and is now the resort’s resident dog. But Bachelor Gulch’s pro-dog platform (alas, no cats allowed) doesn’t stop there. Since the resort opened in 2002, it has allowed guests and owners to bring their own dogs for $125 a visit. They are permitted in all public areas, except the restaurants and spa, but must be leashed. The Ritz-Carleton Club next-door, a fractional-ownership, complex, does not allow pets.
“Having dogs on the premises makes guests feel at home,” said Steven Holt, a resort spokesman and Bachelor’s owner.
Even though the guests are happy to travel with their pets, how does Lulu feel about it? The Hotel Monaco in Portland, Ore., tries to provide an answer. Once a month during the hotel’s wine hour, Faye Pietrokowsky, a “people and pet psychic,” consults with owners and their pets in a corner of the lobby. Guests bring their pooch or cat, or a photo of it, and ask Ms. Pietrokowsky questions. One of the most frequent being, Ms. Pietrokowsky said: “Is the animal happy traveling?” By studying the animal or the photo, Ms. Pietrokowsky, who has a master’s degree in adult education, said she can discern how the animal feels. “Most of the animals tell me they want to go with their owners,” she said.
The Hotel Monaco also offers dog massages once a week by a certified animal masseuse. Art, the hotel’s lobby dog, has been lucky enough to savor that indulgence. “After that massage, he was very much like a guest coming out of a spa,” said Joseph Sundberg, the hotel’s porter captain and Art’s owner. “He was very relaxed.”
BUT with the bounty of mutts and fur balls at resorts aren’t there bound to be some unfriendly snaps and snarls — or just plain tail-between-your-legs mistakes?
“Never,” said Petr Lukes, who owns a two-bedroom residence at Bachelor Gulch. “There have been no incidents with dogs or people,” he said, referring to his 2 ½-year-old blond lab, Ginny. One time, though, Ginny was mistaken for Bachelor by a group of children, and they walked off with her.
“I ran three times around the building looking for her,” said Mr. Lukes, who finally found her in the library with the children.
Mr. Lukes, who lives in Naples, Fla., had been looking at other vacation properties in Beaver Creek and Vail, which is nearby, but preferred the dog-club atmosphere at Bachelor Gulch.
“It was very important that they allowed dogs,” he said of the decision to buy at Bachelor Gulch, where studios and two-bedroom residential suites sell for $680,000 to just under $2.2 million. “There are so many places you can walk your dogs here.”
When buying a vacation unit, the ability to bring a pet is a determining factor for many people like Mr. Lukes, resort executives say. “People want an environment where everything is the same or better than their primary home,” Mr. Kenchington said. “Ten years ago, people wouldn’t ask for something even if they desired it. Now, they expect it. Yesterday’s luxuries are today’s standards.”
One of those luxuries at the Gansevoort South Beach will be the services of dog runners, personal trainers who will run the dogs up and down the beach, gearing the workout to the type of dog and its usual exercise, Mr. Kenchington said.
“We want to bring the fitness and lifestyle of the owner to the dog’s routine,” he said. To keep pets cool in the Miami heat, the hotel is designing a brand of mini-umbrella that will fit onto the dog’s shoulder collar and sit a couple inches above its head. The hotel group is also considering swimming as part of its concierge dog services.
Those who must leave pets at home can always hope to play with someone else’s dog.
Madison Cole, 8, who was staying with her parents, Steve and Amy, at their condo in Bachelor Gulch, had signed up to walk Bachelor one afternoon last January. The Coles stay at their two-bedroom condo at least a couple of times each winter, Mr. Cole said. And Madison, who doesn’t have a dog at home, was eager to walk Bachelor.
“I really want a dog,” she said, “but my mom says we can’t because we have cats.”
On the mountainside courtyard, Mr. Holt gave the Coles a trail map and a plastic bag and reviewed the requirement that Bachelor must stay on the leash at all times. Bouncing with excitement, Madison and a friend grabbed the leash and walked Bachelor toward the mountain. Suddenly, he spotted a bigger, blonder lab playing with a neon-pink Frisbee on the other side of the beginner hill.
In a flash, Bachelor jerked free and tore across the snow, leaving Madison momentarily behind.
“O.K.,” Mr. Holt said. “That’s not supposed to happen.”