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Bed Check: Dog-friendly accommodations

By Becky Krystal and Joe Yonan
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, October 15, 2010; 11:12 AM

Why leave home without them? Sometimes it's just not practical to take your dogs on vacation, but when you can, pet-friendly lodging is a godsend. Not only do you get to share a vacation with your favorite creatures, but you avoid needing to make costly caretaking arrangements back home.

These days, dogs are welcomed at roadside motel chains, upscale urban hotels, countryside bed-and-breakfasts and rural resorts. Two Travel staff members took their very different canines - Becky Krystal packed up her two Shih Tzu mixes and Joe Yonan his Doberman pinscher - to sniff out three Mid-Atlantic places apiece.

Inn at Meander Plantation

2333 N. James Madison Hwy., Locust Dale, Va., 800-385-4936. www.meander.net. Rooms from $175, pets $25 per night.

It didn't take long for my two city-slicker dogs to adjust to a country way of life.

Hobbes and Leo, Shih Tzu mixes ages 4 and 5, respectively, were understandably eager to bound out of the crate in the back seat of my car after the two-hour trip to the Inn at Meander Plantation. In the shadow of the stately 1766 manor, they seemed to immediately comprehend that this place was different from the streets of Arlington. They dashed across the wide-open field, which was noticeably lacking in cars and canines.

The buildings outside the main house, in the rolling hills near Culpeper, Va., are pet-friendly. I appreciated having the one-bedroom groom's cottage (vintage early 20th century) to ourselves: no one for the dogs to bother and vice versa. The innkeepers, Suzanne Thomas and Suzie Blanchard, had provided a sheet, which I placed over the sofa, and a towel that proved crucial for paw-cleaning. There was also a throw pillow embroidered with the visage of a doublet-wearing pug; the carved outline of two dogs adorned a pair of shutters outside.

We ventured onto one of the walking paths on the 80-acre property. This one took us past row after row of corn, which the dogs found endlessly fascinating. Maybe they were looking for Ray Liotta and his baseball; I don't know.

The novelty of the place never wore off. The dogs were enthralled by the horses and sat down to watch them graze in the distance. Hobbes later decided to bark at a couple of them.

Barking also ensued when the resident golden retriever, Callie, trotted over. Soon enough, everyone was friends. Less lucky was the slug Hobbes ingested on our evening walk, but such is the circle of life.

Thomas said the decision to allow dogs was an easy one, since she and Blanchard like to travel with theirs. In 20 years, they've had only two incidents of destruction. "We've found that people traveling with pets are extremely conscientious about traveling with pets," she said.

The innkeepers have returned the favor.

- B.K.

Sheraton Long Island Hotel

110 Vanderbilt Motor Pkwy., Hauppauge, N.Y. 631-231-1100.www.sheratonlongisland.com.Rooms from $99; one-time pet cleaning fee $50, no matter how long you stay.

When I checked in at the Sheraton Long Island, the clerk looked up my name and immediately asked, "Where's your dog?" We were on the other side of a four-foot-tall counter, but she must have been the only person in the 200-plus-room hotel who hadn't noticed me stroll in with my huge pooch.

It was a good thing the clerk wasn't more observant, because technically we were breaking the rules. As a Starwood property, the Sheraton allows dogs, but this one limits them to 80 pounds. Red the red Doberman tips the scales at 103, making him as big as one of my (fully grown) human neighbors in Washington. I had decided to try my luck, hoping the hotel subscribed to a "don't ask, don't weigh" philosophy of enforcement, which it did.

As it turned out, the lack of interest in Red was pretty representative of our stay. There was no special treatment, no unique services, no pet bowls on offer, but also no problems or hassles of any sort. My first-floor room had a puckered carpet and generally worn appearance, but it was as comfortable as any Sheraton with its trademark Sweet Sleeper Bed. The hotel's Web site said a Sweet Sleeper Pet Bed would be provided, but no such thing awaited us, and I didn't ask for it, because Red prefers to bunk with me.

It was a rainy night, and we were checking in at almost 10, so there was little to do but take Red out for a few quick walks among the dying hosta plants lining the sidewalks of the back parking lot, order room service and go to sleep. My slumber was broken at 6:30, when sounds in the hallway awoke Red with a start, and me along with him. I managed to get him to go back to sleep for another hour. Then he contented himself with looking out the window and doing what Dobermans were bred to do: stand guard.

Before we checked out, I took Red to the Starbucks station in the lobby, startling several members of housekeeping on the way. A worker wasted little time in fetching me a latte and a croissant; he didn't seem to care that Red was busying himself cleaning crumbs off the carpet. Then the worker disappeared, returning with a colleague from the restaurant/bar who he knew would be excited to see the pooch.

Excited was an understatement. "Oh, my God," she said, clutching her chest and speaking in her heavy Long Island accent. "I'm in such heaven right now. Is he a Doberman? Oh, I can't breathe, I'm telling you, this is my favorite breed in the whole wide world. Come give me kisses, give me kisses!"

Red doesn't kiss, but we chatted for a while about the breed and about her own Lab-greyhound mix. Though she was a little over the top, I was grateful that finally, somebody at this place besides me was paying my dog a little attention.

- J.Y.

Savage River Lodge

1600 Mount Aetna Rd., Frostburg, Md. 301-689-3200. www.savageriverlodge.com. Cabins from $220, $25 per pet per night.

The Savage River Lodge might have spoiled my dogs for good.

They probably weren't impressed by the scenery or our cabin. They certainly couldn't comprehend the convenience of the pet waste disposal stations with biodegradable bags. They wouldn't have taken joy in the dog wash area, either. No, their delights were of the simpler variety: open spaces, new places to sniff and good food.

Near Frostburg, Md., the lodge is a group of 18 cabins and a main building with a restaurant, a library and more. Our two-level homestead had a living room with a gas fireplace and a sleeping loft.

When we checked in, we discovered the goody basket provided as part of our $70 pet package, which also covered one night's pet fee and a two-course meal from the Bone Appetite menu. Among the loot: a skunk toy, a collapsible water bowl and rosemary-scented breath mints, which Hobbes vacillated between eating and rolling on. The closet was stocked with dog food bowls and towels and sheets to protect the furniture.

For the trouble of a three-hour road trip, we rewarded the dogs with some of the lodge's signature house-made biscuits. Two more came with our muffin delivery the next day.

After relaxing, it was time for yappy hour, the Saturday afternoon gathering of guest dogs. It didn't end up being the crowded event I had envisioned, so Hobbes contentedly chased a blue tennis ball in the field before we shyly approached the only other couple in attendance. Under the waning afternoon sun, we chatted while their 11-week-old pudelpointer puppy, Hoagie, frolicked with our dogs.

Next was a pre-dinner walk along one of the many trails on the property and through the surrounding state forest. Hobbes managed to collect a handful of burs under his eye and around his face. Neither of us enjoyed their removal.

With the dogs safely ensconced in their crate, my husband and I enjoyed dinner on the restaurant porch. For our four-legged friends, we ordered meatballs and peanut butter cookies. I'm not going to lie: We were tempted to eat the cookies.

The special treats disappeared quickly, much like our too-short visit.

- B.K.

Bassett House Inn

128 Montauk Hwy., East Hampton, N.Y. 631-324-6127. www.bassetthouseinn.com. Rooms start at $145, but vary widely according to season and length of stay; $25 per pet per night.

It wasn't just the obviously dog-friendly name. As soon as I walked into the Bassett House Inn, it was clear: Left to his own devices, my dog might never get enough of this place. It's old and jampacked with vintage furniture, books and bric-a-brac, so Red yanked at his leash in hopes of sniffing every last nook and cranny.

The problem was, the somewhat cluttered common rooms weren't exactly suited to a dog of his size and energy, so we stayed mostly in our more streamlined upstairs guest room when we weren't outside braving yet another day of rainy weather.

Innkeeper Michael Bassett was warm and chatty, tired after the recently ended high season but excited to recommend places for me to take Red: a seafood restaurant in Montauk that welcomes dogs on its patio, a nearby beach popular with dog owners in the mornings, a scenic drive past grand houses and under dramatic trees. None of them was particularly appealing on an evening of further rain, but tomorrow would be another day.

Upstairs, Bassett had taken up the rug in the room in preparation for the dog. "I charge extra so I can clean everything and so I can take dogs, which I really want to be able to do, without the whole place smelling like a kennel," he said. "I like to be able to mix dogs and humans."

The room has gorgeous wide pine floors and some beautiful, big wooden furniture: a mantel, dresser, armoire. I'm slightly allergic to fussy decorations, and the room does have light pink walls and a floral bedspread, but it could have been much worse. In the morning, the sun was shining, finally, so I let Red sniff around the big yard awhile, then went inside to partake of what the inn's Web site touts as a "full home-cooked breakfast."

The coffee was plenty strong, but the breakfast consisted of stale muffins that Bassett admitted were from a mix. "I can't get up at 5 in the morning anymore like I used to," he said sheepishly. "I made them yesterday."

With weather so glorious, I didn't intend to linger anyway, and Bassett took the opportunity to give me very explicit directions to nearby Egypt Beach. There, Red pulled me from the car onto the sand, until I finally could let him do what he had been waiting to do for almost two days: run, run, run.

- J.Y.

The Affinia Dumont

150 E. 34th St., New York, N.Y. 212-481-7600. www.affinia.com. Rooms from $305, $25 per pet per night.

Now this was dog-friendly: My room with one king-size bed wasn't quite ready at check-in time at the Affinia Dumont, in New York's East Midtown, so the clerk offered an upgrade: a little more space, and two queen-size beds. "This way Red will get his own!" she said. I doubt it, I replied: At home, the pooch never uses the bed I bought for him.

My Doberman didn't even make it inside the hotel before the oohing and aahing began. The bellman who greeted us at the car was so excited to see what he called "a real dog": "When people say 'dog,' that's a dog. Those little ones that go yippy yappy, that's not a dog. This is a dog." He even told the clerk, "The next time you get a dog, you should get one like this." She smiled and said, "Are you going to buy me a big house, too?" Later, two bellmen got into a friendly argument about which one Red liked better.

Having Red along broke the ice with just about everyone in the place: People behind me in line at check-in, the concierge, other guests coming from the elevator. They all had questions. What's his name? How old is he? What breed is he? Ham that he is, Red ate it all up.

I signed a special waiver agreeing to the hotel's pet policy, which included stipulations that I would "try" not to leave him unattended for long periods. Well, we had been together for several days, and Dad needed a night out, so after checking in we headed to park after park, dog run after dog run, with the goal of tiring him out. For extra insurance, I had bought a hollow bone filled with peanut butter and had frozen it (the room had a full-size refrigerator in its mini-kitchen), so he'd lick, lick, lick for hours on end.

It worked. After feeding him in the stylish room, where a combination water and food bowl sat on a special mat imprinted with the phrase "Woof!," I headed off to meet friends. Three hours later, he was so happily crashed that he barely stirred when I returned. We went out for one last walk - after being directed to the nearest green space by the bellman - and when we returned, Red hopped back up on the queen bed.

His own, that is.

- J.Y.

Hotel Monaco Alexandria

480 King St., Alexandria.703-549-6080. www.monaco-alexandria.com. Rooms from $149, pets free.

My expectations for the Hotel Monaco Alexandria were too high.

Seduced by the Kimpton brand's pet-friendly marketing, I packed up the pooches and checked into the hotel on Old Town's King Street. After filling out the pet waiver, I asked the staff about some of the services that the Web site said they could help me arrange, "including but not limited to pet sitting, dog walking, and pet spa services."

Grooming? I'm handed a printout from the Web site of the Olde Towne Pet Resort - 15 miles away in Springfield.

How about a walk? The clerk showed me a business card for a dog-walking service and wrote down the phone number. When I asked about the company's hours, he replied that the card didn't say.

All right, then. Surely things would turn around at the ballyhooed doggie happy hour at the adjacent Jackson 20 restaurant. It was not meant to be: A wedding had taken over the courtyard.

Chef de cuisine Brian Turowski said that the event, held Tuesdays and Thursdays from April through October, had to be canceled a few times this month because of an unusual abundance of weddings. He acknowledged that the restaurant had fallen behind in posting cancellations online in advance. That, more than anything else, seemed to bug a few would-be attendees, some of whom decamped to the patio on King Street instead.

The evening wasn't a total bust, though. We socialized with a Shih Tzu staying at the hotel (the only other canine guest I saw) and had a lovely evening walk to the river.

Was I wrong to expect such paws-on treatment? Maybe, but when the pet-friendly program lists amenities such as bedding and bowls, special door hangers to let people know of your pets' presence and a welcome on the lobby activities board, it's hard not to. Perhaps I had to do something other than note my dogs' arrival on my reservation. Perhaps those things aren't available at all Kimptons. It's unclear.

I had no quibbles with the Monaco itself. I adored my room, especially the VVspacious marble bathroom, and the bellman who carried the pet crate to my car. If I stay at another Kimpton - and I hope I do - I won't promise the dogs too much. I think they'll be okay with that.

- B.K.

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