Duane Hoffmann / msnbc.com
By
msnbc.com contributor
updated 1/16/2008 6:31:28 PM ET 2008-01-16T23:31:28

There is no shortage of pet-friendly accommodations, and competition across the nation is getting stiff. Consequently, hotels and B&B's are going the extra mile to offer doggie guests a doggone good time — not to mention giving cats a little feline fun.

“The best way to gauge an establishment’s pet policy is to determine whether they just tolerate pets or welcome them. That’s the key difference,” says Chris Kingsley from petswelcome.com. “And while their attitude will be obvious on arrival, travelers need to know beforehand. There’s no better way than broaching the subject outright when shopping for reservations.

“Obviously all vacationers appreciate a nice, spacious room with a great view and all kinds of facilities,” Kingsley says. But for travelers with pets, a large grassy area where they can walk their dog or cat takes precedence over premium channels, on-demand movies and video games. “Other priorities include a pet fee that doesn’t exceed $25 and a pet-sitting service allowing them the flexibility to go out alone.”

Other important factors to consider are the hotel staff's attitude toward pets and their knowledge of the locale's amenities.

The biggest turn-off, Kingsley says, is being assigned a smoking room because of a pet.

“Once travelers know all these prerequisites will be met, and on arrival that they will not be treated like second-class citizens, then they start taking their own personal requirements into consideration.”

I made several phone calls to various hotel chains, boutique hotels, inns and B&Bs around the country to test this direct approach.

Central reservations for the corporate-owned La Quinta Inns had all the relevant pet information on hand. There was no hesitation or double-checking needed — you may bring two pets, there are no size restrictions and all pets stay free. The only request was that they are “reasonably behaved.”

“When people call and ask about our pet restrictions, they always sound amazed to discover that we don’t have any,” says Heather Cowan, manager of Deerfield Lodge, which neighbors the Heavenly Ski resort in South Lake Tahoe, Calif.

“Most of our guests bring pets. All our rooms access an inside courtyard and it's fun to see our doggie guests of all shapes and sizes out there playing in the snow.”

During a recent snowfall, the hotel staff built an igloo for the dogs to run through.

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“The only downside in winter is that with all the snow, [pets] tend to bury their toys and then can’t find them!” says Cowan. “But many of our guests come year-round, so we dig them out once the snow has melted and return them at a later date.”

Because there’s great camaraderie among pet people, they are always keen to share travel hints and tips with others, and Web sites like Kingsley’s encourage this exchange of ideas.

“We even had a place on the site where travelers can nominate their favorite hotels,” he confirms.

One hotel that is ranked highly by pet travelers is The Inn By The Sea in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.

One guest says:

The four-star property treats dogs like any other hotel guest, and the suites are specially appointed to their needs. The inn is situated in close proximity to four state parks ideal for canine exploring. Apart from water and food dishes, biscuits are on tap, along with outside hoses and towels to wipe down muddy paws. There’s a dog walking service with 24-hour notification, and a special pet menu with items like gourmet chuck burgers, grilled range chicken, sirloin strip steak with potatoes and vegetables — and for dessert, vanilla ice cream or doggie bon bons.

“It’s definitely all about my dogs being made to feel that they are special guests,” says Valentina Bloomfield of Sacramento, Calif.

Bloomfield has three Yorkshire Terriers, and says The Vintage Inn in Yountville, Calif. — in the heart of Napa Valley wine country — tops her list.

“They put together special goody bags for our dogs and make them feel like pampered VIPs (Very Important Pooches). And the hotel’s grounds make a perfect pet playground. Yorkies may be small but they are terriers and love to run!”

The Interlaken Inn on Lake Wononscopomuc in Lakeville, Conn., is another favorite offering pets plenty of open spaces to frolic. Dogs are welcome to be off-leash and swim in the lake before 9 a.m. or after 5 p.m., weather permitting of course!

An added benefit of going online for pet-friendly travel needs is that Web sites do all the research. Some even offer direct booking services, sometimes providing a better rate than when going through more conventional avenues.

This certainly puts a new spin on that postcard you send home — the one that starts with “Wish you were here ...”

Sandy Robins is an award-winning pet lifestyle writer. She is the recent recipient of the Humane Society of the United States' Pets for Life Award. Her work appears in many national and international publications.

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