Some people have security blankets. Molly, a 3-year-old Maltese from Manhasset, has a toy porcupine.
On this Friday afternoon, the diminutive white dog, her owners, Richard Hinchey, 60, and Susan Cuprill, 57, and her stuffed companion find themselves at the Best In Show Pet Resort in Mineola, where Molly is scheduled to spend the weekend in a walk-in-closet-sized suite with a "Lady and Tramp" theme -- not to mention a flat-screen television, designer dog bed and Disney prints on the wall.
Er ... a little overkill, perhaps?
"The answer is yes," says Hinchey cheerfully. "But we just didn't feel comfortable putting her in a cage."
Related linksA checklist for choosing Sitters who come to you Service that's not for the birds Where to find them Best In Show is the brainchild of Garden City vet Ray Polley and Wall Streeter C.J. Bocklet, who say they spent $5 million to convert the brick building on Herricks Road into a high-tech, hotel-style concept, complete with disinfectant-spritzing central wet vac and an air-filtration system that exchanges the air eight times every hour. A veterinary hospital on premises and 24-hour staffing should assuage even the most overprotective mom; to thwart escapes, dogs are never walked outdoors, but rather eliminate in special pens with artificial grass.
Classical music is piped into all the accommodations, even the 4-foot-by-4-foot, $46-a-night "classic rooms" -- code for the brightly colored kennel runs that are the Motel 6 of accommodations compared with the $78 glass-walled suites. And every guest's social needs are met with twice-daily play groups in a rubber-matted exercise room.
Best In Show's business genius is in the details -- especially the upgradeable ones. There's treadmill time ($20 for 15 minutes), individual play time ($20 for 20 minutes) and frozen fruit smoothies ($3 each). Or you can also choose from several packages, from the $5 Yappy Hour (dog-friendly beer and pizza) to the $15 Bedtime Package (g'nite story, tummy rub and tuck-in service).
"It was the sconce lighting and ceiling fan in the suite that did it," laughs Hinchey, who was leaving town with his wife to celebrate his 60th birthday with friends in upstate Saratoga.
With all its bells and whistles, Best In Show, which opened last month, is a relatively new animal on Long Island: Owners who want to board their dogs and cats are usually resigned to sending them to a vet hospital with caging capacity or a traditional boarding kennel, with its chain-link runs and less-than-lux accommodations.
But while Best In Show is the only local venture of this scale and ambition, housing approximately 150 dogs and 10 cats, it is not the only one.
The Malibu Pet Hotel, for example, housed in a former telephone-company building in Freeport, has embraced a hotel concept for the past 25 years. Most of its 60 guests are housed in traditional-style kennels (some of which have comfy couches) or cat cages, but seven "private areas" are available to guests, says manager Frank Royce. Its handful of suites have outdated but serviceable furniture, and for $91.50 a night visiting pooches can bunk with the facility's two live-in staffers in the Penthouse and Garden apartments. The ultimate is the $160-a-night "office and apartment" deal, for dogs so stricken with separation anxiety or consuming medical needs that they need round-the-clock human contact.
Chain stores have also taken note of this anthropomorphization of pet accommodations. Select Petsmart stores, including one in Huntington, have unveiled PetsHotels, offering hypoallergenic faux-lambskin blankets and lactose-free ice cream for guests and a "bone booth" for anxious owners to have a presumably one-way phone chat with their four-leggers.
Such hotel-style amenities "are really basically to attract the species that pays the money," say Brooklyn-based animal behaviorist Peter Borchelt. "Most dogs, if they were in someone's old barn and could romp around with other dogs, wouldn't care if they were sleeping on straw or there was horse poop around -- they'd be happy."
Indeed, Borchelt continues, the more sophisticated the concept, the more antithetical it might be to a dog's instincts. Take super-sanitized runs, for example. "A dog would be intrigued if there were odors around," he says. "Sniffing the intermittent, occasional flow of dog pee tells them, 'Hmmm, who's that? Oh, yeah. ... '"
Borchelt notes that televisions are also mostly window-dressing: They would have to be extremely high-definition for their images to be identifiable to the dog, and "most dogs would just view it as no different from a fish tank, or not pay attention to it at all."
Back at Best In Show, Molly's humans gingerly hand her over to manager Steve Zanville, who, maintaining his avuncularly professional composure, asks a round of questions: Will Molly use wee-wee pads? ("Yes. She's got good aim," Zanville says.) Is she sociable? (Welllll ... she'll growl and nibble at oncoming humans -- something this reporter can attest to personally.)
"Don't lose the toys," Cuprill warns, gesturing toward the tattered porcupine, as Zanville puts a special identification collar around Molly's tiny neck. Then, walking her past the huge window overlooking the play area -- where Elvis the puggle is immersed in a game of catch-me with Murray the wheaten terrier, and another Molly, this time a Portuguese water dog, barks incessantly -- Zaneville retires with his new charge to the suite area.
Esther Schuster of Plainview is already there for a tour, with still one more Molly -- her 9-year-old Labrador retriever -- in tow.
"I wanted her to see it," explains Schuster, as the gray-faced Lab sniffs intently around the My Dog Skip suite. "Molly ... look at the bed ... Molly."
The two move on to the corner Presidential Suite ($88 a night), with its huge television and dog bed made of William Wegman-designed fabric. "This stays here?" asks Schuster, nodding to a welcoming armchair in front of the faux fireplace.
The answer, of course, is yes.
In the suites' common area, a white beagle mix named Serif -- she's staying in the Underdog room -- has piddled on the faux sisal rug. A college-age pet-care technician -- there is one to every 10 dogs in the suite area -- cuddles Martini, an impossibly cute French bulldog who sleeps with a crocheted blanket from home.
Back in the lobby, with its displays of oatmeal shampoos, pooch-tailored rain slickers and Swarovski crystal collars, Hinchey turns to leave, sure that Molly is in good hands.
"Pet owners are like crazy people. They're like our children. And it's nuts," he concludes, while, somewhere in the suite area, Molly is snuggling on the couch with an attendant and issuing her best Cajun growl at Martini. "But it's all right."