People in Washington can now drop their pooches off at a pet hotel that cares for their friendly canines in a five-star environment -- pet-themed television shows optional.
In the mahogany paneled lobby of the PetSmart PetHotel, which just opened in the Washington suburb of Bethesda, the pets' human "parents" line up to plunk down $23 plus tax for each night their pooch stays.
The doggie hotel is nothing like kennels of yore: in this inn there is lactose-free ice cream, indoor recreation, and for 10 more dollars a night, pooch can stay in a roomier "suite" with a television set showing an "animal related movie all day," said Vince Malanaphy, who manages the Bethesda PetsHotel.
"It helps them to relax and to adjust as they are used to hearing TV at home," Malanaphy says.
In one "suite" a little white poodle named Bijou is lost in the embrace of Morpheus with "Little Nemo" and his cartoon friends swimming by in an eternal loop on the TV set.
A stay at "Doggie Day Camp" without the overnight goes for 20 dollars the day.
Half of the boarders come every day. "It's better than leaving them at home alone," said Cyra, one of the pet "mothers," as she drops off her Labrador and her poodle for Day Camp before running off to the office. Here "they can socialize," she said.
For potty breaks there is a 20 square meter (215 square foot) "relief room" complete with a plastic tree. "For security reasons, no outdoor walking," says Malanaphy.
Meredith, in charge of animal recreation, says that if dogs "are aggressive or play too rough, we give them a time out in a cage" for 15 minutes. "After twice, they get the message," she says.
The Bethesda site has room for 180 dogs and 26 cats. Cats stay in plexiglass cages known as "kitty cottages" for a mere $14 plus tax a night, which includes 15 minutes of TLC -- Tender Loving Care, otherwise known as petting.
The Phoenix, Arizona-based PetSmart Inc. launched the pet hotel concept three years ago and it is "the fastest growing sector" of the pet business, said spokesman Bruce Richardson. "Now we have 32 hotels; we anticipate 240 by 2010," he said.
Gina Martin, a consumer retail analyst at Wachovia Bank, sees only growth in the pet care industry.
"General spending for pets is growing at an extraordinary pace," said Martin. "There is a trend for the treatment of the pet as another human being."
Americans spend nearly $40 billion a year on their household pets -- 30 per cent more than five years ago. The figure is close to what Americans spend on toys for children -- $48 billion and more than twice the $17 billion spent on cosmetics, Martin said.