| The hotel that only takes dogs|
|Holiday time coming up, but what do you do with the dog? I have a solution. Send it off on its own holiday. So my dog Violet's off to try out House of Mutt, Suffolk, a hotel for "dogs of distinction" where human "parents" are not allowed to overnight. This worries me a bit. Will it be too poncy for Violet, a white Boxer with rather glamorous brown eye patches? Is she distinctive in the right way? She's unused to playing with other dogs and can be crabby, especially with her sore paw and being half blind. But here we are anyway, in the gravelled yard of a rather lovely large, grey stone 18th-century rectory, being welcomed by Sarah Mountford, proprietor, and Cally, her assistant.|
Really, I shouldn't be here. Ordinarily, dogs are picked up from home, driven here, and upon arrival go through an introductory routine, which Violet now does, while I hide in a corner, panicking quietly. Off comes her lead, and out come the other dog-guests, one at a time, until she's met all eight of them, successfully, with the customary greeting some bottom sniffing. It's all pretty laidback, except for one small scuffle, but Mountford is on it in a flash. Without me hovering, Violet is a different dog.
Then off she goes into the garden, to play on a giant lawn with strange dogs . A thrilling new experience for us both. And beyond the lawn is a field, with horse jumps, more fields, horses, a stream and a small beach for dog-swimming. Dog paradise.
Can the indoor facilities be as heavenly? Yes. It's the perfect setup for dogs rambling, spacious, dogs' beds, beanbags, big, fat cushions and sofas everywhere (dogs allowed on all of them), and a dogs' kitchen/cloakroom, with a row of dogs' lockers. One guest bought her party frock a red and green number but never wore it.
Then in comes Violet with her new chums, who disperse to play or snooze in various beds: there are three in front of the Raeburn, four "safe and cosy" under the kitchen surface, and in the snug lounge, with its open fire and telly, even a dog chaise-longue. In another living room are three huge plumped, striped-velvet sofas almost Regency. Surely not for dogs? "I refuse to be precious about it," says Mountford. "It's home from home and the dogs fit in with the flow of family life. They're up at about seven, into the garden for a charge round and a wee, in with a bit of a whoosh, because it's breakfast time. They all watch together as we make breakfast, but know their places and go to them. They eat at different rates, so they're fed in separate groups: the Greedies, and the Littlies. One poodle's a picky eater. He eats separately. Then they relax while we have our breakfast. "
It's an individually tailored timetable different walkies to suit babies, oldies, the super-energetic: "They're put into groups at night, according to who gets on with who." And all have just one biscuit each at bedtime.
"Owners tell us that their dogs come home slim, relaxed, healthy. [And with a collage of photos and notes about their stay, and training report.] We let the dogs be dogs. No pressure."
If this is a dog's life, I want it too.