The French have such a wonderful relationship with their dogs. They stuff a shih tzu or two into their Jean-Paul Gaultier expandable handbag and take them on the Paris Metro. They take them to cafes and feed them morsels of pate smeared on toast. They let them deposit their crotte de chien – dog poo in plain Anglo-speak – all over the pavements of Paris without bothering to clean it up which is just so awesome when your gaze is heavenward admiring all that gorgeous architecture and you step in it.
When the French go travelling, they think nothing of having the pooch in a pouch. They take them on planes, and into hotel rooms, since liberte, egalite, fraternite applies to four legs as well as two.
France's Accor hotels, one of the largest of the world's hotel brands, lists a whopping 539 pet-friendly hotels in the Paris region alone. Search the Accor website for their pet-friendly hotels in the US and no problem. Nine Accor properties in LA allow pets, three in New York including the swanky Plaza. In London the figure is 39. Turn to Melbourne however and it's zero. Same in Sydney. Not one hotel comes up as pet-friendly on the Accor website.
Here in Australia we generally pooh-pooh the idea of pets in hotels. Go a roving with rover and you'll probably find yourself banished to the less-nice type of o'nite caravan park.
Another option in Australia is to go upscale – as long as you're prepared to cop the cost. The posh Langham Sydney allows pets, up to two per room, maximum weight of 20 kilograms per pet. They can't be left alone but the hotel can provide a pet sitter. Also, they're not allowed anywhere food and beverages are being served. The cost is $120 per pet per night.
Pier One Sydney Harbour does the same, under the same conditions, for a charge of about $100 on top of the room rate. The hotel provides a Doggie Package which includes a special mini-bar for the pooches, charged by what they consume.
In the US, the issue of travel with dogs took an unusual turn, as it so often does in the land of the free and freaky. Not only dogs but also snakes, primates, a racoon and a kangaroo are just some of the animals that have been allowed to stay – unrestrained – in hotel rooms with their owners.
What provided the impetus was the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibited discrimination against individuals with disabilities and their furry, finned or feathered companions, and it applied to all forms of transport and hotel accommodation.
Americans like to proclaim their individuality, and how better than with a bizarre pet? If the owner could demonstrate a psychological dependence on that animal, and prove that separation from said animal might cause depression, anxiety and the upwelling of latent sociopathic tendencies, that pet becomes a certified emotional support animal, an official designated service animal, entitled to accompany its owner everywhere under the ADA. All it took was an analysis session with a biddable psychoanalyst and bingo – certification approved.
Among the exotic creatures that the citizens of the US adopted as service animals was Bonnet the capuchin monkey (helps owner overcome agoraphobia), Redrock the boa constrictor (hugs his companion human to signal an impending seizure, total irony in that one), Chief the bearded dragon (owner suffers from bullying-related depression and anxiety) and Sadie the service parrot (helps owner overcome his bipolar disorder, overwhelming rage, and "homicidal feelings", and aren't we glad for that?)
It hasn't always been a happy experience, especially when psychologically-dependent owners takes their service animals on planes. When Hobey the pot-bellied hog – subsequently dubbed "the pooping pig" – took a dump in the aisle of an American Airlines flight, both pig and owner were ushered off, thus proving that pigs really can't fly. However turkeys can. One by the name of Easter provided emotional support for its owner on a Delta flight from Seattle, on a mission to spread her husband's ashes at San Francisco's Japanese Tea Garden.
Another flight between LA and Philadelphia was forced to land midway when a service animal – a dog in this case – defecated in the aisle – and the stench became overwhelming.
Events such as these, and numerous misdemeanours in hotel rooms throughout the US involving miniature horses and iguanas, among other animals, caused the ADA to be amended. These days, dogs are the only animal species which can qualify as a "service animal".
While the US example is one that suggests caution, in Australia we're at the opposite end of the spectrum. According to Peter Hook of Hook Communications, who has worked with the hotel industry for decades, the demand for dog-friendly hotels in Australia is enormous but rules make it difficult. One of the most passionate crusaders for the cause is surgeon and hotelier Dr Jerry Schwartz.
"He has become a travelling pet owner's best friend, providing accommodation solutions at hotels in Canberra and the Blue Mountains, and he is pushing to have pets allowed at his newest hotel, the Sofitel Sydney Darling Harbour," says Mr Hook.
"For some travellers, bringing a pet can be as important as bringing a child, it is a crucial ingredient of the holiday," says Dr Schwartz. "I've managed to make the Fairmont in the Blue Mountains and the Mercure Canberra pet-friendly, and ideally we would extend that to some of our hotels in Sydney, Melbourne and the Hunter Valley, but it is a very complicated process."
And as any dog owner knows, there's nothing sadder than the eyes that follow you out the door when you're leaving them behind, because they know.