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    Every dog has its way at B&B

    Well, what would you expect from a place called Bark Place? This canine spa offers fine dining and luxurious accommodations.

    [Times photos: Carrie Pratt]
    Roberta Kidd of Belleair Beach gets a warm reception from a newly coifed Snuggles, a Shih Tzu, as Bark Place co-owner Andrew Tipton hands her over Tuesday after grooming.

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published November 21, 2001

    LARGO -- Few may know it, but Largo has a heavenly place for dogs.

    All you have to do to find this haven is take Clearwater-Largo Road to First Avenue SW, look for the little yellow and purple house, open the fence and let your pooch bask in doggie delight.

    A Shi Tzu waits to be dried after a shampoo.
    It's called Bark Place Hotel. It's a bed and breakfast for man's best friend.

    For $15 to $30 per day -- about the price of a one-night stay at a cut-rate motel -- a dog is free to lounge on the couch and watch the Animal Channel, rest on an easy chair while listening to Al Green's Let's Stay Together or roam the back yard while squirrels scamper along tree branches.

    "Everything in the house is made for them," said co-owner Andrew Tipton.

    Tipton and his partner, Susan Camera, started the business 18 months ago.

    "We tried to perform a service we wanted for our own dogs and couldn't find," Tipton said.

    Since then, dog owners have come knocking on the hotel's door to leave their dogs for just a few hours to several weeks.

    "It's a nice feeling when you go in there. It's like you're taking them to your own house," said Richard Zeh of Clearwater, the owner of two Shih Tzus, Pogo and Eloise.

    It is part of a national trend, said Nancy Matlock, director of communications for the American Kennel Club.

    "I think these are getting pretty popular across the country," she said. "People are just enjoying extending some of the luxuries they enjoy in their own lives to their dogs. If humans are taking a vacation, perhaps it's only fair that the dog should, too."

    Humans are only rarely allowed past Bark Place's front door. Inside, there is a grooming salon called the Purple Poodle, where dogs may be shampooed, conditioned and clipped. After a tough day with the owner, a dog may retire to the Scooby-Doo Room, where it can relax in a room decorated in a dog-bone-and-Scooby motif. In the back yard, dogs may rest in "suites," suited for the dog who wants to spend time alone.

    "Every dog takes individual care," Tipton said. "They all have different personalities, and they all have to be watched."

    At Bark Place, dogs don't wear collars. They don't do tricks. They are just . . . dogs. They play with other dogs and gnaw on homemade dog biscuits. It's the kind of place where if you're not careful where you step, you may walk on a paw or smash a plastic doggy toy.

    "It's a vacationland for them," said Camera. "They get to be a dog for a day."

    The biscuits are a signature treat at Bark Place, which is also dubbed the Canine Resort & Dog Spa. They are made by Shirley Moran, Camera's mother, who created a recipe of rye flour, beef broth, garlic powder and some secret ingredients. The biscuits smell like old chicken grease and may be eaten by humans, but they don't have much taste -- to humans, at least. Dogs love them so much, a pack of canines followed around a visitor who tucked one away in a bag.

    "Ask any of my dogs, they'll tell you (they) make the best biscuits," said Dona McBride, the owner of four dogs who have spent as long as two weeks at Bark Place.

    If biscuits weren't enough of the royal treatment, there are six red plastic fire hydrants strategically placed on the grounds and enough dog houses for a dog-sledding team.

    Forget about hand concrete cages for these diva dogs. They get to lounge on real furniture.

    Bark Place doesn't take just any old dog. Each one is "interviewed" to determine his demeanor. Tipton gets down on their level, pets the dogs, gets to know them. Finally, he introduces them to other dogs and gauges the reaction. Friendliness and a good attitude are key.

    That's why a standard poodle/shepherd mix, a Lhasa apso and a Yorkshire terrier can share the same room in peace.

    Maybe they are soothed by the surroundings. For starters, they aren't kept in a cage all day on a concrete floor, and the house is furnished much like a typical home.

    "Once you put them in Susan's place, they're home. They don't even say goodbye," Zeh said.

    McBride has had the same experience. "I wanted some place that was really going to give them a lot of attention," McBride said. "Susan treats them all like royalty."

    As soon as her dogs realize they are not going to the veterinarian, they get excited. Bailey, her 3-year-old Boxer, can't wait to play with the couple's 1-year-old standard poodle, Edgar. And Jake, her 5-year-old Jack Russell terrier, has put on the brakes and refused to leave.

    McBride calls Bark Place a "unique experience" for her dogs.

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