Marie Antoinette famously had sheep perfumed and dyed cheerful colors for her amusement. Modern wealthy urbanites, lacking space for livestock, can now do that to their dogs. As ever increasing numbers of people see their dogs as children, everything from luxury clothing brands for dogs to baby carriages specifically made for a tot of the four-legged variety have sprung up. So it is perhaps not surprising that the boom in spending on pet care, estimated at $62bn for 2016 in the US, has now also spawned luxury pet hotels.
D Pet Hotels, a luxury dog hotel and spa franchise that offers cologne and doggy dye jobs, among other services, started 10 years ago. The business is thriving, with three locations in the US and a fourth set to open soon. The hotels are modeled on the human variety and don’t see themselves as boarding kennels, which becomes apparent the moment you walk in. Enter the airy lobby of the Chelsea location in Manhattan and you are greeted by the sight of an ornate pink plastic throne, next to which hangs a large reproduction of a painting of Chelsea Handler’s dog.
“People see the throne on Instagram and want to come in and take pictures with it,” said Kerry Brown, owner of the Chelsea location. A composed, slender blonde woman in yoga pants and a D Pet Hotels staff black T-shirt, Brown was a marketing executive for another high-end company, Lululemon, maker of the $98 yoga pant, before deciding she missed the thrill of entrepreneurship. About four years ago, she bought into the D Pet Hotels franchise with her husband, opening the New York City location.
D Pet Hotels is aimed at the dual-income households that want a step above the usual boarding experience for their fur baby. At the Scottsdale, Arizona, location, clients are known to fly their dogs to the hotel in a private jet, Brown says. At the flagship Hollywood location, it’s all about flashy cars such as Porsches, Bentleys and Rolls Royces, with the hotel offering chauffeured pick up in style. Here in Manhattan, where such displays would raise eyebrows, it’s a discreet black town car that is sent to pick up Fido, or more often a simple walk from a few blocks away, explains Brown. Occasionally, a Ferrari or a Lamborghini is hired to make a curbside drop-off when clients ask for it, she adds.
The hotel offers standard daycare and grooming services, but it’s the little extras that really catch the eye. Dogs that stay overnight get their own rooms, complete with a bed, toys and their own flat screen TV. Soothing music is sometimes piped into the premises. Room service is at 7am and 6pm, Brown says. No word on whether the dogs get a mint on their pillows.
The rooms range in size from a generous walk-in closet for $84 a night to a full-sized bedroom complete with an Ikea bed, for $200 a night, with each dog’s toys arranged on the bed and carefully labeled with their names.
“We have had parents in the lobby who cry over a yellow tennis ball,” explains Brown, so the hotel makes sure no one loses a beloved toy during their stay.
The spa on premises provides an entire menu above and beyond the standard bath and a haircut. If your dog never got over the demise of punk, the spa offers dog mohawks, complete with dog safe gel. If your dog has gotten in on the nail art trend, the spa offers “pawdicures”, with dog safe nail polishes and even little diamond appliques, attached to each nail. One white dog comes in to get dyed hot pink at the spa.
“It’s a hoot,” says Brown.
But most people opt for a simpler service, like the wash and trim they offer specifically for dogs who will be attending a dinner party that night and need to look their best, says Brown. A spritz with a dog safe cologne is also offered, though disappointingly, the cologne is made to appeal to noses of the human variety.
After dogs are sorted by size and temperament, they are placed in three rooms with rubberized floors where the dogs socialize with each other. Toys or special treats are forbidden, because they might make dogs aggressive. Instead the dogs get one staff member per 20 dogs and the freedom to bark to their hearts’ contentment. While the hotel offers two relief walks per day as part of its nightly rate, the dogs are encouraged to go to the bathroom on the rubberized floor of the play pens, which can be a jarring sight. Staff follow them around with bags and mops soaked in an antiseptic cleaner for immediate clean up.
Should you want to experience some of the more upscale services with your dog, the hotel offers occasional “mommy and me” style exercise classes. There are also “bikini body workouts”, doga, meditation and massage, all designed to incorporate your dog. If you feel like your dog can’t keep up with your intense exercise routine, there are tiny dog treadmills available and staff willing to provide the bribes and encouragement needed to get dogs to walk on them.
Some dogs come to the hotel just for daycare, living a latchkey kid existence, while others board overnight when parents need to get away from the city. On holidays all 57 rooms at the hotel, including the $200 a night “Uber Suites”, tend to fill up, while on regular weekdays, 40 to 50 dogs come to play in the rubberized playpens.
What dogs think of as luxury is probably different from the human idea and whether painting your dog’s nails or giving him a mohawk is actually a good idea is debatable. According to Brian Hare, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at Duke University and author of The Genius of Dogs, “Nail polish, perfume, and soothing music hopefully don’t hurt the dog, but if you really want to make a dog happy, a good old fashioned belly rub is the way to do it.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010