Man’s best friend gets a welcome staycation

Q&A: Yvonne Naughton
Finding a good place to leave your pet is vital for you to enjoy your own holiday.

It’s that time of year when we are dusting off the suitcases and backpacks and casting a dubious eye over swimsuits and beachwear as we prepare for the annual getaway.

And we may also be thinking about holiday accommodation for the family pooch. Will they be spending the vacation in well-vetted kennels or will we be taking them with us to a pet-friendly destination? It’s a big decision and one that has to take into account temperament, the size of our best friend and of course, how sure we are that they will be safe and happy, to say nothing of the cost of their bed and board.

Not too long ago it was nearly impossible to find accommodation in Ireland that welcomed pets, but that has changed.

Some destinations go out of their way to provide not just shelter and care for your dog, but those little extras like shiatsu massage, spa facilities and special dietary treats like freshly cooked salmon. This new style of accommodation is more frequently referred to as Dog Hotels and some, especially in the US, offer what can only be described as 5 paw accommodation.

The Barkley Pet Hotel and Day Spa in Los Angeles was recently named as the swankiest pet hotel in the world by the popular social network Dogster. Each room has individual light control and a flat screen TV that broadcasts animal programmes, and a range of rooms to suit every dog. Spa services for extra pampering are extra.

In Miami Florida, you can check your best buddy into the Epic Hotel – doggie mats, bowls and Yip-Yap breath mints are standard as are pedicures, a shampoo and one hour walks as part of the Epic Pet getaway package.

Closer to home, for the pet who has been there, done that, Britain’s first luxury hotel spa for dogs opened recently at the Raithwaite Estate in Whitby, Yorkshire. This sumptuous canine accommodation offers Dead Sea mud baths, aromatherapy treatments and specially prepared jojoba and fennel perfumes.

The hotel is set in gorgeous, rabbit- filled gardens on a hill above the sea and the various spa treatments on offer are said to improve mood, help with injuries, arthritis and muscle problems. And the doggie diet includes starters such as liver cake followed by chicken and rice.

Frivolous Nonsense? Perhaps. But as one canine visitor remarked in the visitor book “Hasn’t every incremental improvement in civilisation been greeted with the same sort of scepticism? This is a small but significant step forward for canine kind.”

While jojoba and fennel perfumes and doggie breath mints might not be common fare in most Irish doggie accommodation, these days there is an impressive range on offer for the much loved family pet, including rooms in castles, first class hotel accommodation and pet-friendly self- catering cottages which would satisfy even the most discerning pooch.

One such establishment is Happy Paws Hotel, Kilkenny, whose motto is “We care, not cage” and who provide fun, frolics, friends, riverside walks, swimming and gourmet meals, at very reasonable rates. Owner Yvonne Naughton, who is also a Reiki practitioner, uses her talents to the benefit of her more nervous guests. Yvonne told me about what inspired her to provide such a specialised service.

Yvonne, have you always worked with dogs?

No, I have a background in the corporate world, with the introduction of Natural Gas to Kilkenny and with Air Tricity. But I was always happiest in wellies and being outside. So when the time was right, I converted what had been a spacious granny flat into a dog facility, with ten centrally heated bedrooms. We don’t like to use the word kennels, as that implies animals being caged in small spaces and that’s not what we do.

So what’s the average day like for your visitors?

We’re up early to let the dogs out. There are four different enclosures, each one the size of a tennis court and the dogs are let out with dogs of their own size to play. Then it’s a game of ball and a walk down to the river for a swim and, after that breakfast, then a rest before another play session. Later in the afternoon there’s walk up into the wild hills before tea. Happy Paws is essentially a doggie camp where we offer hours of supervised play. Residents are socialised in similar sized groups. It’s an action-packed holiday in a secure environment. We focus on the needs of every dog in our care.

Does that include more elderly residents too?

Old age pensioners are special to us. They are exercised lightly and rested according to their energy levels. We adore these older folks at Happy Paws and give them tender loving care. After all, they have been loyal and faithful to their owners and definitely deserve huge respect. Puppies on the other hand require equal spurts of play and rest while their soft little bones form, and I provide couch care in my house for the nervous little dog in need of special care. I honestly couldn’t sleep at night if I thought one of our dogs was unhappy. It takes a lot of time and care to understand a dog’s needs, but that’s what we love to do here. And this means that their owners have peace of mind too. We video the days activities to show owners on their return so that they can see the fantastic fun their family pet has had and this gives great peace of mind to those who may have felt guilty for leaving their dogs in care.”

Have your bookings been hit by the economic downturn?

No I’m happy to say they haven’t. We are busy most of the time, with many repeat customers. Our busiest times are July and August, Christmas and long weekends. I think our attitudes to dogs in Ireland have changed a lot over the years. It’s been a slow transition and we are still faced with things like puppy farms and abandoned dogs, but things are better now and people want quality care for their dogs. What we offer here is not just a place to shut up your dog while you are away but a great holiday for your dog while you are enjoying your own break. Often dogs that have been to us before can’t wait to get out of the car when they arrive here. That’s what it’s all about for us.


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