We can only wish that our children's teachers looked so happy on the school playground. Such is the joy on the faces of staff at area pet resorts, even amid a boiling fur stew stirred by wagging tails, that an observer is tempted to dive right into the pack for some quality scratching time. Even the dogs seem to be smiling.
We know that folks who don't share their homes with animals hate it when we liken cats and dogs to children, but pet owners, like parents, spend a lot of time pondering how to keep the little ones happy. And pet owners who travel, work full-time or want a worry-free vacation look to find the same things that one desires from any good day care: limited separation anxiety, stress abatement, a good lunch, romping time, timeouts when necessary, stimulating activities and a comfortable spot to nap.
We've found all this for your fur-bearing children -- and a bonus: These pet resorts offer spa services. We think that if our child's preschool had thrown baths and haircuts into the package, Mommy's Day Out would have been carefree, indeed.
The Grand Pet Resort
4529 Donnelly Ave., Fort Worth
817-989-7297; medical services, 817-731-3733
Dr. Steve Hotchkiss knows from four-star hotels. So when the veterinarian decided to open a day-care and boarding facility 10 years ago, he treated his staff to a stay at a Four Seasons. "Everyone needed to know the level of service we were aspiring to provide," he says. It is his goal that comfort and service at the Grand be equal to that at the best of human hostelries, including great beds, special food requests, sound-insulated rooms and salon and spa treatments.
You and yours check in at the hotellike lobby, complete with quality art and a Zen fountain. Skylights and glass bricks fill the rooms with daylight. Throughout the building, there is a sense of calm. If you're a regular, as many clients are, you will be greeted by name and ushered to "PlayCare," where a joyful greeting of day-care pals ensues. If you're a new guest, you may take a seat on an upholstered banquette, equally comfortable for clients and their owners. A receptionist works the phones: "The Goldens are coming in tomorrow -- both sets. I've booked their rooms."
Standard "Resort Rooms" for dogs are lovely bright spaces with windows, glass-paneled doors and comfortable beds. Amenities include in-room dining, three daily outings and housekeeping. Swankier accommodations in "Suite Dreams" rooms also include turn-down service, treats with a goodnight hug and flat-screen TVs at dog-eye level. Dr. Hotchkiss says studies show that 20 percent of pet owners turn on the TV for their animal. If that's you, thanks to the private webcams in the suites, you can use the Internet and your private code to share a favorite program. All overnight stays include backyard time in a space recently renovated with K9Grass (anti-microbial artificial grass designed for dogs). Additional "field trips" or a plunge into a bone-shaped pool complete with fountains are available for an extra service charge.
Be assured that this is an equal-opportunity facility. Cat suites offer similar services, but in "The Villas," a lodge of pods (with separate "bathrooms"), the double-insulated soundproofing ensures that Kitty will not be agitated by any mouthy dogs. The dogs can be heard, but it's the filtered noise one hears inside a home. The isolated indulgence keeps cats happy. An air-exchange system means they don't even smell the neighboring canines. Special services include time in a climbing tree, a jungle gym that kids would write to Santa about.
You can customize your pet's stay with special meals and activities or pick and choose from a full menu of spa services overseen by head groomer Shastie Clendenin. We especially like the blueberry facials designed to remove tear stains, calm your pet and make him smell good enough to kiss.
Rates: Dog suites, $44-$61; resort rooms, $35; cat villas, $25-$35. Family discounts available. Day care is $25/day, but there's a waiting list. Custom packages available. Additional services: integrated Eastern and Western veterinary medicine, including acupuncture, through the adjacent Hulen Hills Animal Hospital.
Pet Resort in the Gardens
2890-A W. Pioneer Parkway, Arlington
817-635-5510; Farrell Animal Hospital, 817-265-6276
True to its name, Pet Resort in the Gardens is surrounded by trees, roses and ornamental grasses in a parklike setting, bracketed on one side by a stretch of oaks that is being groomed as a trailscape and free-run area. The landscaped and grassy acre is not the only reason this feels like the most joyful pet park in town. As with the best hotels, the staff gets to know and love the regulars. Although the resort only opened in May, the list of steady clients is long and growing. A receptionist discusses holiday availability with a caller: "Yes, ma'am. Last time they did stay in The Majestic -- I see that it is available -- or we can put them up in a Royal Suite."
Dogs go out to play four times a day at the Resort, including a 20-minute leash-free dash. That would explain the broad grins of canines in every shape, size and color rushing to greet a guest. Blue-collared dogs -- day-care regulars -- roil together like a soccer team, while yellow-collared dogs -- temporary boarders -- stand back, considering when to enter the fray. Jenni Thompson, a staffer of three months, supervises. Caretaking animals is the job of her dreams. "Someday, my 'kids' will be old enough to come here," she says wistfully, in a voice some reserve for discussing alma maters (the resort accepts puppies from age 4 months).
A large playroom, complete with crawling tunnel, outside patio and a series of grassy enclosures, allows for a variety of pack and smaller group play. Toys neatly stashed in a mesh bag and a wall of color-coded cubbies complete the illusion that the Pet Resort is like a premier preschool, only brighter and fresher than many. That may be because co-owner (with veterinarian husband Dr. Jim Turner) Mary Turner is a teacher. Much of what she learned in the classroom about one-on-one attention, the benefits of physical exertion and even timeouts applies here.
There are 42 standard "loft" accommodations for dogs and 12 suites with glass-paneled wood doors. Some suites are outfitted with flat-screen TVs, others with webcams that allow owners to check in. Raised feeding stands and toddler beds with plush bedding complete the amenities. In Kitty City, a cat heaven filled with high rises that can be interconnected, the Penthouse is the largest option, with several levels of climbing and windows. Penthouse guest Kaleb greets us with a contented stretch.
Separate air systems mean cats don't smell dogs, dogs don't smell cats, and humans don't smell anything.
And consider these special add-on services: "Cuddles and Rubs," one-on-one attention followed by a special treat, or "Hearth and Home," time on the leatherette couch in the living room, with a 40-inch TV, cuddle time, a hand-fed treat and a faux fireplace. For more activity, schedule some Laser tag. Special-needs pets may opt for rooms in the quiet isolation of Hideaway Bay.
Spa services include blueberry facials, mud wraps, nose conditioners and massage. Groomer Debbie Ortman can and has done it all -- from doggie tattoos (stencils) to full-coat dye jobs (semi-permanent, in the colors of the rainbow).
Rates: Lofts, $31; suites, $49-$59; cat lofts, $18; studio, $24; penthouse, $28; 10-day and 20-day packages and multiple animal discounts available. Medical services can be scheduled through the adjacent Farrell Animal Hospital.
Spa Paws Hotel
251 Carroll St., Fort Worth
The chandelier hanging in the atrium sparkles, the toddler-sized kachina dolls are being placed into the Southwestern-themed decor, crocodile-embossed leather chairs stand ready for duty at the concierge desk, and the glass-walled boutique ... well, it's still a mare's nest of boxes, bags and pet fashion. The 20,000-square-foot Spa Paws Hotel is definitely a work in progress at the time of our visit, but it should be ready for a soft opening Friday and a grand opening Nov. 11.
Already noted in the Wall Street Journal for its plush and sprawling $200/night Texas Suite for dogs, the $4.4 million hotel has been 5 1/2 years in the building and longer in the imagining, the impending opening a dream about to come true for owner Janice Ford Grimes. "I love five-star hotels. I love animals. If you're going to have a pet hotel, why not have a five-star pet hotel?" she says. "The only difference is the guests have four legs."
Clearly this is a Texas-sized salute to animal lovers who want it all, from comfort and health to beauty and bling for their furry friends. Whether that means Swarovski crystal-encrusted accessories or designer duds exclusive to the hotel -- reversible faux-fur coats, rock-star T-shirts, Italian leather pet totes -- or access to a cutting-edge holistic wellness center, or a special-events center (for doggie weddings, birthday parties and memorial services), Spa Paws is poised to deliver. That includes warm fuzzies for humans, too. The Paws Café Market will offer free Wi-Fi, a sunny outdoor patio and a menu of treats for both man and beast.
Grimes understands that this whole venture is less a story of where-there's-a-will-there's-a-way fulfillment (although there's plenty of that) and more a reflection of her deep devotion to animal wellness, happiness and, yes, some indulgence. But beyond the posh there is a deeper yearning to educate pet owners to provide better, more informed care for their furry children through the Eastern medicine-inspired wellness center that is the heart of the resort.
Paws Enchantment Spa, the territory of Steve Arnold, the hotel's general manager, is still being organized. Dozens of custom-upholstered mini-beds, chaise lounges, fainting couches, chenille and satin blankets, 18-inch flat-screen TVs, and dog treats (to be offered with turn-down service) are awaiting placement in the rooms, each with its own lighting, sound controls and decor. "There isn't another hotel like this. It's a hotel like you and I would stay in," Ford Grimes says. We think it should be amended to say hotels we would like to stay in. ASAP.
Rates: Pricing is still being determined for cat accommodations, but deluxe rooms for dogs start at $65; suites, $75-$200. Discounts for multiple animals in the same room. Special services will include hospice care, a birthing room and educational seminars for pet owners.