Feeling bad about leaving your pet behind when you head off on holiday? Relax. Make a reservation for them at your nearest pet resort – decked out with TVs, couches, and water play areas - and they may have a better break than you do.
"Dogs really respond well to our environment – owners tell us that many of our repeat guests get excited when the car turns into our driveway," says Margaret Hennessy, CEO of Dogue, which runs the Dogue Country Resort in Berrima in the NSW Southern Highlands.
"It's a very home-like environment – we have the TV on, there are people around all day. Some dogs just don't want to leave."
With many people regarding their dogs as part of the family, it's no surprise that owners want their pets to enjoy the holidays and are willing to spend big to make it happen - $80 a day off-season for Dogue's all-inclusive package, or $90 a day during peak periods. In return, Dogue promises not just care and feeding but also plenty of socialisation, including play sessions with around half-a-dozen other dogs. "We introduce them to like-minded pals – we try and match younger dogs together, and put older dogs with dogs the same age," says Hennessy.
Each dog is assessed before arrival at the resort. "We get their owners to drop them off with at one of our daycare centres for a couple of hours, so we know what they're like with other dogs," Hennessy says. Owners are also asked to fill in a detailed form about each animal's likes and dislikes. "We get as much information as we can: what makes their dog bark, what makes them feel special, where do they like to be rubbed, any special toys, that sort of thing."
Victorian dogs don't miss out, either. There is plenty of pampering at properties such as The Pets Hotel Country Club at Lara near Geelong, where CEO Yvonne Hill is putting the finishing touches on a new splash pad and an adventure play area. "It's important to have an environment where they can jump on rocks and go through tunnels," she says.
At sister property The Pets Hotel in Port Melbourne, television is a popular doggy distraction. "For some dogs, they are just used to having the TV on, but other dogs actually watch it," Hill says. "My Rottweiler does – if I'm working on the computer and there's a video, he comes running to see what's on."
A basic dog package at The Pets Hotel starts at $46.50 a day, with add-ons available including Adventure Walks or Yappy Hour playtime with other dogs in the indoor park called Central Bark. In fact, Hill says that many of her canine clients get more stimulation than they do at home, which can lead to an unexpected side effect: they lose weight.
"When dogs are at home, they sleep most of the day, but here they have so much stimulation – when they run around all day, they can lose weight quickly," she says. The dogs are weighed every three days during their stay and, if necessary, provided with more food.
It's all a long way from old-style pet kennels. "Owners' expectations have changed," says Andrew Biggs, the CEO of Hanrob Pet Hotels, the company founded by his parents four decades ago. Demand for Hanrob's luxury package – which starts at $75 a day, compared with $42 a day for entry-level single accommodation - has grown to the point where the company's future hotels will all include between 30 and 40 per cent luxury suites.
The top-of-the-line accommodation includes indoor and outdoor areas and ultra-comfortable bedding, with owners also able to choose dishes from a doggy dining menu, "although 40 per cent of them bring their own food," Biggs notes. Canine clients can also be picked up and dropped back home in one of Hanrob's air-conditioned pet taxis.
However, televisions and taxi drop-offs are not the most important service that pet hotels provide, Biggs says. "The most important thing we do is to build trust. People need to know their animals are being looked after. That's why we give them a report card at the end of the stay – they like to know what their pet has been up to."