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Pet Friendly Travel in the News

Push for pet-friendly rooms makes hotels sit up and notice

By Susan Glaser, The Plain Dealer
Sunday, October 16, 2011

When the suitcases come out, Pepper goes into hiding.

She knows what it means: We're leaving, and she's not.

There are myriad benefits to traveling as much as I do. Leaving the dog behind is not one of them.

So when longtime friends put me in charge of finding a rental house for our biannual gathering at Deep Creek Lake, Md., I made an executive decision: The dog is coming with us.

Last year, a quarter of dog owners took their pooches on a trip that lasted at least two nights, according to a survey by the American Pet Products Association. And that number is expected to rise as more and more destinations cater to animals and their owners.

"Hotels have figured out there's a huge market of pet owners who want to travel with their pets," said Tracey Thompson, who founded in 2000 after she looked for a rental house on the California coast that she could share with her two large Leonbergers and couldn't find one. "Attitudes have changed about pets," she said. "Pets never used to be considered part of the family the way they are now. You wouldn't leave your kid behind. Why would you leave your pet behind?"

In the decade that Thompson's site has existed, thousands of bed-and-breakfasts, rental houses and hotels around the globe have joined the pet parade, designating rooms or whole properties as Fido- and feline-friendly.

The most recent AAA PetBook includes more than 13,000 pet-friendly lodging options across North America.

New to the pet-friendly travel business is Gloria Cipri Kemer, who has owned the Emerald Necklace Inn in Fairview Park for a dozen years and recently designated one room for traveling pets and their owners. She's fielded calls for years from travelers who asked if they could bring their four-legged family members. Now she can say yes.

The experiment has gone well, she said. "People who travel with their pets are pretty intense caretakers," said Kemer, who charges an extra $25 for dogs, which covers the cost of a more rigorous cleaning after checkout. Pets are not allowed in the main rooms of the house, and they can't be left unattended in the bedroom.

Her location adjacent to the Cleveland Metroparks' Rocky River Reservation is a bonus. "It's a great environment for pet lovers," said Kemer, who offers guests a list of doggy day-care providers in case they have meetings or other appointments where their dog is not welcome.

But as far as the industry has come in accommodating pets, it could do more, says Gloria Turski of Mayfield, who frequently travels with her Chihuahua, Taco. Fancy beds and dog treats -- offered by some upscale hotel chains -- are less important than close-by green space, pet-friendly dining, on-call pet sitters and a pool area where her dog is welcome.

Her favorite pet-friendly destination so far is Duck, N.C., in the Outer Banks, where dogs are allowed on the beach off-leash, and restaurants have abundant outdoor seating.

Frank and Diane Hoard of Brunswick recently returned from an eight-day tour of New England with Ginger, their 11-year-old Toller (Nova Scotia Duck-Tolling Retriever). Among their travel strategies: Check in advance for locations of Choice brand hotels (Comfort Inn, Clarion, EconoLodge and others), many of which are pet-friendly; scope out restaurants with outside eating spaces; and plan days around dog-friendly outdoor venues like parks and pedestrian malls. "We plan trips so Ginger can go with us," said Frank Hoard. "She really is part of our family."

Among their frequent destinations: New York City, where they hang out in Central Park and stroll the streets of the Upper West Side. Stores frequently put water bowls out for four-legged passers-by; some shop owners even invite the dogs (and their owners) in.

Barking up the wrong tree

But traveling with pets isn't always a day in the park. Thompson said pet owners frequently underestimate the stress their animals may feel in strange surroundings. Many hotels that allow animals prohibit pets from being left unattended in rooms. Thompson knows why. Years ago, she left her dog behind when she went out to eat at a fancy resort. She returned to a very irritated message from the hotel management: "Your dog barked nonstop the entire time you were gone." "I was mortified," she said. "Of course I didn't know my dog would bark."

The moral: "You never can be sure what your dog is going to do in a strange situation," she said. Previously nonaggressive dogs may become agitated and impulsive, and even the calmest dogs are probably going to make some noise when left alone.

Maria Dietz of Concord Township had a similar experience recently when she took Douglas, her Bichon Frise-poodle mix, to the Homestead resort in Hot Springs, Va. The dog shrieked and barked every time Dietz attempted to leave the room. So she had to hire a pet sitter to stay with Douglas while she enjoyed the resort. "That was an expense we didn't anticipate," said Dietz, who also travels with Douglas on her frequent trips to Florida.

Keep your paws off

Not everyone, of course, is excited about the increasing number of four-legged travelers. There has been backlash in some communities, particularly as restaurants and bars increasingly allow dogs. A controversial Florida law gives local communities the right to decide whether to permit dogs on restaurant patios.

And in New York City's drinking establishments -- where dogs were tacitly permitted but never officially sanctioned -- the health department recently began a crackdown on bars that allow dogs inside.

One woman, a frequent traveler from Shaker Heights, said she purposely avoids hotels that advertise themselves as pet-friendly. "There is nothing like being awakened by a barking dog!" she wrote in an email. "I never had a dog and never wanted one, and I don't want one sharing my space, nuzzling me, licking me, barking at me or peeing on me."

Fortunately, the friends who joined me at Deep Creek Lake last month didn't feel the same way. I found a lovely house -- five bedrooms, overlooking the lake -- that welcomed 12 humans and one miniature poodle (albeit for an extra fee of $45).

Much of the travel I do -- rushing around, checking out new attractions -- is not conducive to taking a pet (and I am very lucky to have neighbors who adore my dog and care for her when we're on the road).

This trip, however, was different. Our days were spent leisurely exploring the erupting fall scenery of western Maryland. And at night, we crowded around the dinner table playing cards, soaked in a hot tub and roasted marshmallows around a backyard bonfire. Wherever we were, Pepper was in the middle of it -- leading the way on hikes through two nearby state parks, on the lookout for squirrels and other wild animals in the backyard, forever hoping for handouts in the kitchen.

Exhausted from so much excitement, she collapsed in the van on our way home. She looked so very content, asleep amid the suitcases.

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