Dogs on Holiday

Like so many dog owners, Reba Love, a retired accounting professor from Panama City, Florida, is shunning the old-fashioned kennel when she leaves town. Instead, she is opting to give her pooch a vacation of its own. Love takes her three-year-old Weimaraner, Chloe, to Beaches Pet Resort when she has to travel. The upscale pet boarding facility in Northern Florida offers luxury accommodations including extra playtime with staff. Rooms have tile floors and soft blankets. Love often opts for the larger room with a doggie door so Chloe can go out into the courtyard whenever she pleases.

"You can pay more for a room with a TV," Love says. "But I have no idea what they watch." While she doesn’t want Chloe to be a couch potato, Love has been thinking about treating her beloved pet to a bubble bath the next time she goes out-of-town.

Unless you take your dog with you on trips, vacations often mean that man’s best friend ends up being boarded. These days, a growing number of facilities nationwide are eschewing the "kennel" label and are donning such nicknames as "Doggie Utopia." Canyon View Ranch, in Topanga, California, bills itself as a "Canine Shangri la," where dogs can run on manicured lawns, climb ramps and crawl through tunnels in Disneyland-inspired parks.

Camp Bow Wow, which expects to have 50 franchises open in the U.S. and Canada by the end of 2006, offers all-day romping, while overnight guests get tasty "campfire treats" before being tucked into cots in their own cabins. Camp Web Cams help families monitor pups over the Internet from wherever they are – the beach, the ski resort, or the Champs Elysees.

"Our clients typically humanize their pets a bit. They see them as their kids," says Heidi Flammang, CampBowWow founder and CEO. "The thought of leaving their dog alone in a box for 24 hours a day is too much."

Here’s how to decide if a pet resort is right for your pooch:

What To Look For
Never decide on a boarding facility from a brochure or the Internet. You have to go visit the grounds, meet the staff, and see for yourself how animals are treated. A good kennel is clean, well-ventilated, air conditioned in the summer and heated in the winter. The staff should interact with pets. "When dogs are at home, they’re generally with family members being touched and petted. Suddenly, you put them in a kennel with handlers who never touch them and it can be quite traumatic," says Elizabeth Wilmot, owner of Countryside Kennels, in Owings, Md., and the Mid-Atlantic regional director of the American Boarding Kennels Association. Countryside offers a "Sportsman’s Package" for $40-a-night, including a swim in the bone-shaped swimming pool, jogging, Frisbee sessions, and bottled water. Pampered pooch guests receive playtime, moonlit walks, petting sessions, and an orthopedic bed for $35 nightly.

Consider Your Dog’s Temperament
Many of these kennel redux owners shy away from cages and encourage dogs to play in groups by romping, running and chasing. Cage Free K-9 Camp, of Los Angeles, allows overnight guests to sleep in a 2,000-square-foot, climate-controlled loft on individual dog beds. In the TV lounge, they show Animal Planet. And over at CampBowWow, despite the fact each dog is given a private dining space, all dogs are temperament-tested. "We have an interview process," Flammang says. A dog needs to enjoy the company of other dogs to be boarded in a communal environment. Otherwise, individual rooms are a better bet.

How To Pack
Dogs, like children, sometimes do best on "sleepovers" when they have a comfort item to remind them of home. Check with a facility before bringing a blanket, a towel, or a favorite toy, Wilmot says. This is usually fine if your pet has his or her own "room" or run. It may be more difficult – or provoke aggressive behavior – in the group environment. For dogs with sensitive stomachs, or special diets, you may want to bring your own food to the kennel. Many luxury kennels provide top-notch fare for overnight guests, such as the "healthy lamb-and-rice diet with Glucosamine" included in the $50-a-night rate at Canyon View Ranch. Medications will also be administered on site at most pet resorts, although some charge extra. No matter where your dog stays, you’ll want to spring for a bath and flea dip before bringing your pet back home.

These new-fangled pet resorts may cost a tad more than the old-style kennel, but pup parents say it’s worth the price in peace of mind. "This is my baby," Love explains of her dog Chloe. "She’s a 70-pound baby, but she’s still my baby."