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Pet resort opens in New Sewickley

| Thursday, May 29, 2008

A hailstorm is a sure-fire way to put a damper on a sunny day at any water park.

Not so at Lucky Paws Pet Resort, where humans are relegated to the sidelines while pups frolic in pools and fountains.

During its recent opening weekend, thunder and hailstorms descended upon the Beaver County doggie water park, much to the dismay of Susan Walker. But that didn't stop the four-legged patrons.

"All of us humans were under the pavilions, and the dogs were running around like 'Yay! It's raining ice cubes!' " said Walker, the resort and water park's owner. "I guess dogs can have fun no matter what."

As one of just a few water parks nationwide catering solely to animals, Lucky Paws Pet Resort in New Sewickley has become part of the expanding pet pampering industry. From massages to water parks to themed "hotel" rooms, area pet resorts are offering Pittsburgh's pet population a way to unwind.

The American Pet Products Manufacturers Association estimates that Americans will spend $43.4 billion on their pets during 2008, a more than $20 billion increase from 10 years ago.

Even the Pittsburgh Pirates have jumped on board, offering, for the third year, six "Pups in the Park" events during the 2008 season. Fans are permitted to bring dogs to the Southwest Flight Deck located beneath the left-field scoreboard, where they can take part in a number of activities.

"We know that people are always looking for things they can do with their pets," said Jolene Miklas, spokeswoman for Animal Friends, a no-kill shelter in Ohio Township. "They want to shop with their pets, attend events with their pets and so on. Pets are really members of their family."

Carol Boerio-Croft agrees. She started the Stahlstown-based Cozy Inn Pet Resort 22 years ago. Clients at the resort can partake in anything from exercise to Swedish massages during their stays. Pet birthday parties are popular, she said.

The animal lover likens the Cozy Inn to a Nemacolin Woodlands for animals, with luxury spa care for all pets.

"It's the big picture, the whole style and culture that we've created, that is a desire of pet parents," Boerio-Croft said. "For their children, they want to go away and know they're taken care of, not in a kennel with a hose being squirted in."

Walker said an increasing number of pet owners are turning toward the luxurious lifestyle for their animals. With pets in 71.1 million U.S. homes -- up more than 20 million from a decade ago -- pets are a vital part of American families.

Sue Krul, owner of Paws Here a While in Georgetown in Beaver County, said she sees a trend of younger couples doing a "trial run" with pets as their children, as well as parents who have grown children forming a closer bond with their animals.

"There's just a lot of people who treat their dogs and cats as children," said Krul, whose resort offers individual themed rooms for overnight guests. "People are really picky about their pets. It's like your kids grow up, move away and can support themselves, but pets are always there for you."

For these resort owners, all the amenities included at their spas are designed to make pets comfortable and relaxed. A $48-an-hour massage at Cozy Inn fosters a stronger bond between caretaker and animal. The personal television in a room at Paws Here a While makes a dog or cat feel at home.

Lucky Paws' fountains and pools give pooches a chance to play. The focus is pampering the pooch enough to make him want to come back for a second visit.

"Dogs can't speak, but in some ways, they can," Walker said. "When you see them, on their second trip, jumping over the counter to get to you, you know you're doing something right."

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