At boutique hotels with flat-screen TVs, heated pools and Vegas-inspired spas, a night away has never been more lavish — for the family dog.
Pet boarding has taken off in the Twin Cities as a big, plush business appealing to dog owners who want to spare no cost to pamper their pets, especially in west metro suburbs where pet spending and pet ownership is highest.
“Think of the Ritz-Carlton for dogs,” said Michael Larson, who started the business with his wife. “It’s a market in evolution.”
They opened the Woofington this year near wealthy Lake Minnetonka, the city’s first dog-boarding business and the metro’s latest dog resort and spa. From blueberry facials and “pawdicures” to gourmet meals of steak, the facility boasts opulence in a building decked with chandeliers and oriental rugs.
Adogo Pet Hotels is adding a fourth location this spring. Its three spots in Minnetonka and Maple Grove boast 125-square-foot suites decked with flat-screen TVs, webcams for owners to check in on their pet and fountains where dogs can frolic.
And in nearby Carver County, Jean Beuning was among the first to notice the trend, opening Top Dog Country Club in 2000 on 39 acres in New Germany, complete with private suites with piped in music 24/7 and a heated swimming pool.
“When I opened, I was literally the only facility of the kind,” said Beuning, a former Marriott hotel vice president. “The industry has gone crazy. Everybody is jumping in on it.”
The new businesses reflect a changing industry from the standard boarding kennels with concrete floors and chain link kennels, capitalizing on the increasing amount of money that Americans are spending on pets.
This year, pet spending is expected to reach a record $62.7 billion, according to the American Pet Products Association.
Last year, pet owners spent $60.3 billion, including $5.4 billion on grooming and boarding. And a growing 54 million households own a dog.
“It’s an industry in general that’s recession-resistant,” Larson said.
Beuning said the trend is due to more millennials and baby boomers owning dogs and focusing on travel.
In her 16 years in business, she hasn’t seen interest wane, with people driving out of state or even flying their dogs on a private jet to board at her facility.
“It’s going to get more and more competitive,” added John Sturgess of Eden Prairie, who owns Adogo Pet Hotels with his wife.
While he thinks there will still be a need for basic kennels that appeal to some dog owners, he said more people are expecting more comfort for their pets.
“A dog today is literally part of the family,” he said. “People want their dogs treated well.”
A growing business
Sturgess, a former vice president of development at Carlson Hotels Worldwide, was going on vacation when he noticed that the dog boarding facility for his two golden retrievers was busy, but not as nice as what he could do.
In 2011, he opened Adogo (pronounced a-DOG-oh) and soon added two more locations in the west metro.
At the facilities, which he likened to the Westin of pet hotels, dogs get private suites for $35 to $76 a night, while things like a door-to-door shuttle or spa service are extra.
“People are expecting that more,” he said.
Michael and Lisa Larson also were inspired to open a business after seeing concrete floors and metal cages for their dogs before jetting off on a tropical vacation.
The Chaska couple researched places in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Beverly Hills, Calif., and brought back plans, spending $1 million to renovate a building.
“We saw a huge gap on the upper end of this business,” he said.
The couple had to convince Orono to amend its city law, despite concerns about the new concept and potential noise.
It’s up to individual cities to put in regulations since the state doesn’t license dog boarding or day-care facilities.
The Woofington takes only small dogs that weigh 25 pounds or less. For $49 to $129 a day, dogs get private rooms with plush bedding and a pillow.
There’s even a doggy treadmill and a ball pit and a bubble machine to entertain dogs at play.
A presidential suite has a queen-sized bed and 50-inch flat-screen, though every room gets iron-pressed linens, portraits of fancy dogs dressed in suits and ties and, of course, posh lighting.
“Everybody gets a chandelier,” he said.
‘What is too much?’
So who is all the extravagance for — the dogs or the dog owners?
While the dogs can’t tell the difference between a chandelier and a fluorescent light, Lisa Larson said the music and bedding or rubber flooring keeps dogs comfortable and relaxed.
“The comfort is for the dogs, the aesthetics are for the people,” she said.
“What is too much? Some people obviously don’t think this is too much.”
At Top Dog Country Club, pegged as the “un-kennel,” dogs of all sizes and breeds spend the night (starting at $59 to $69 a night) on orthopedic mattresses with heated floors. Beuning or an employee ends the night by reading a bedtime story over the sound system.
But she said some priorities — like giving dogs plenty of exercise — aren’t going to change no matter how ritzy the growing industry gets.
“If it doesn’t benefit the dog, it doesn’t belong at Top Dog,” she said. “I don’t feel the need to put in chandeliers or TVs.”