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Pet-Friendly Hotels

Washington Times, Cleveland Plain Dealer

Pet hotels It’s true. Checking-in with a dog is even less complicated than registering with a child. Unlike a curious toddler, a well-trained pup will sit and stay when told, and unlike a pre-teen who wants CDs and expensive souvenirs, your canine companion craves nothing more than an “atta-boy” and a bowl of cold water.

Such reasoning, coupled with new pet-friendly hotel policies plus laments about missing our dog from my daughter at a Boston college and from my son living in Manhattan, sent my husband and I down the highway. We drove from our home in Washington, D.C. for a family rendezvous in New York City accompanied by Beau, our 140-pound Newfoundland, who has a big heart, a playful attitude, and, often, a mouth full of drool.

Saliva aside, big pets, unlike “pocketbook” pooches, get turned away at city hotels, the majority of which only let sleeping dogs lie if they weigh less than 15-25-pounds.

That’s why we overnighted at Loews Philadelphia. All 19 properties welcome four paws of any size and their “people” pay no additional cleaning fees. As part of the Loews Loves Pets program, Beau, at check-in, retrieved a welcome bag with bowls, chew toys, and carob and peanut butter nibbles. I, alas, got nothing but the room key.

Settling in, Beau munched his treats and slurped some water, while I, hungry from passing up the roadside eateries that bar anything that barks, fought off the temptation to try the “all natural” canine candies—at least for 15-minutes. Then, I bit in. Don’t bother. Dog biscuits give new meaning to the term “bone dry,” plus they’re bitter.

Eschewing the food we packed for Beau, we crossed the street to the Hard Rock Café. Taking their neon “Love all, Serve all” sign at face value, we ordered burgers to go for lunch, then browsed Anthropology, Urban Outfitters, and other dog-friendly Center City shops.

For dinner, we grabbed a sidewalk table at Rouge, across from grassy Rittenhouse Square. We chatted with passersby who liked Beau’s teddy bear looks so much they scratched his tummy. We also met the ‘regulars,” the bulldog, Labrador, boxer and Chihuahua who frequently waddle to Rouge with their humans for a warm hello and the biscuits the hostess keeps in a jar near the door.

But later that night, when Beau and I walked back alone on a quiet section of Walnut Street did I truly discover how dogs turn strangers into friends. Even with a big dog, I remained nervous along the several yet-to-be-gentrified blocks. Just when I wanted Beau to step lively, he spooked, backing up into traffic. Despite my death grip on the leash, I couldn’t pull Beau back on the sidewalk before the light changed causing cars to barrel towards us.

In seconds a group of men--the hangers-out and the homeless I worried about-- converged to help. Two stopped traffic, two monitored the periphery in case Beau took off, while the others assisted me in calming Beau, advising that I re-route him around the block. I thanked them, genuinely touched by their kindness and ashamed at my own city-bred assumptions.

Wiser, the next day we headed to the heart of the “Big Apple:” New York’s Times Square and the W hotel, a newly dog-friendly property that welcomes canines up to 80-pounds. That would still leave Beau without a room at the inn, except that the W Times Square accepts well-behaved big dogs at the discretion of the manager. Despite the drool, we knew Beau qualified.

Even though the gift dog collar, pet bed, bowl, and ball proved too small for a big boy like Beau, he liked the hotel with its view of flashing Broadway lights and its tiled entranceway and bathroom floor on which he endlessly dumped his water bowl so that he could stretch out on the damp tile, a decidedly Newfoundland joy.

After his walks, Beau sashayed in the W’s lobby, the Living Room, planting sloppy dog kisses on the willing and receiving hugs. In a city where most canines come in miniature, Beau amazed even usually blasé New Yorkers, drawing them into conversations with us.

He especially savored his doggy massage, available at all five Manhattan W hotels. (Don’t laugh). Just as a good rub down eases your aches and soothes your mind, it does the same for dogs. Licensed animal therapist, Lisa Veyka, kneaded Beau’s spine, worked the acupuncture points along his ears, “milked” his thigh muscles, stroked his paws and massaged his muzzle. After a few minutes, Beau sighed, snored, passed gas, and fell into a deep, sweet sleep.

The only real city problem for Beau: a bad case of the gotta-find-a-tree near Broadway blues. We walked and walked, pointing out the virtues of trashcans and fire hydrants, but to no avail. Accustomed to greener places, Beau held out for Central Park, a bladder-defying 13-blocks away. That is until Sunday morning. When David, my husband, crossed the street with Beau who lifted his leg and let go, David and the W’s doormen cheered as if Beau had scored a winning touchdown.

Acclimated to concrete, crowds, and the clatter of cars, Beau’s ready for a return visit. And so are we. My children loved seeing him, and we enjoyed the instant friends Beau found for us.

Who Lets the Dogs in and Why

Of the 62 million people in the U.S. who own dogs, 29 million travel with them, according to the Travel Industry Association of America. Even more dog lovers are likely to bring along their canine companions as savvy hotels gear up for animal guests.

To be sure your four paws trip doesn’t turn into a series of faux pas, pick a pet-friendly property.

--Loews Loves Pets welcomes cats and dogs of any size without adding a cleaning fee to the room rate. Pet walking and pet sitting services are available, but extra. With the Houndly Holidays package, a one-night stay includes an in-room pet meal, dinner for two people in the restaurant, as well as a doggie bag of leftovers, plus a free in-room movie. Rates from $175 from Nov. 25, 2003 to February 15, 2004. 800-23-LOEWS. Loews Philadelphia, 215-627-1200; www.loewshotels.com

For dog-friendly walks, restaurants and stores in the city of brotherly love, read Philly Dogs Have More Fun (Camino Books) by Carol S. Armen.

--Starwood LTD, love that dog, debuted in August. Westin, Sheraton, and W hotels court canines with deluxe pillow beds, water bowls, and savory treats. A $25 cleaning fee is required. Although Westin limits hospitality to critters weighing 40-pounds or less, both the Sheraton and W properties accept dogs up to 80-pounds. The W properties, however, welcome larger, friendly dogs at the managers’ discretion. Call ahead. W: 877-W-hotels; Westin and Sheraton: 888-625-5144. www.starwoodhotels.com.

Lisa Veyka offers pet massages at the New York Dog Spa & Hotel, 212-243-1798, at the NYC W hotels, and she does house calls in Manhattan and Brooklyn. www.dogspa.com

--The Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort and Spa welcomes dogs of any size to its 40-acre property. Owners must pay an additional $50 fee. Dogs romp on lawns and in nearby parks. Dog walkers can be arranged. 800-228-9290 www.marriotthotels.com

--For information on more pet-friendly properties, check these Web sites:

www.bringyourpet.com, www.takeyourpet.com, and www.pets-allowed-hotels.com.