Wiggle that paw into your trusty Birkin for a spare $150 this holiday season -- you're staying in the best room in town. Of course, the hospitality staff there is going to be a little hands-on. They'll wake you at 6 a.m., feed you breakfast, put you in a play group with future-friends that share your weight, age, and temperment. They'll read you a short story during nightly “cuddletimes” and make sure your owners can see you on the livefeed at all times. Also, in this scenario you are a dog.
“People don't want a kennel these days,” Jose Gonzales, director of guest services at the Mission's Wag Hotel , is showing me through his kennel's state-of-the-art facilities. “They want a safe, clean, convenient place to leave their pet.”
Wag's first branch opened in Sacramento in 2005, at which time Gonzales tells me “we really, literally redefined pet care." Redefined it to mean luxury summer camp for the dander set, that is.
Where's my mint. Guardian photo by Caitlin Donohue
The center is open 24 hours a day. In Wag's parlance, its human customers are “parents,” individuals who need only peek at their iPhones and the hotel's playroom livestreams shown thereon to determine whether Pawla Abdul needs another dog biscuit (Gonzales says he is wont to call in requests that employees give snacks to his own pooch when he leaves his furry friend to Wag).
Wag smells more like air freshener than canine as the two of us explore its bowels, Gonzales imparting a stream of information and myself dutifully following after. Here are the glistening, occasionally flatscreen-bedecked two-room enclosures that house steerage boarders (the dog bowl in the door means the "room" has been serviced), the vast playrooms looked down upon by even more vast skylights.
There are 239 of these quarters at Wag. Usually there are less than 100 dogs staying in them, although at peak times over holidays, there can be enough to necessitate 50 to 60 employees, when it's “all paws on deck,” as Gonzales puns. There is a rooftop garden for dogs that love to feel the sun on their furry faces, even report cards given to each parent at their offspring-from-another-bitch's terminus at Wag. These rate Puppy's bowel movements, and cite the friends they've made at Wag by breed and name. There are special activities planned intermittently, like the 12 Days of Winter event from Dec. 1-16 that will afford the dogs opportunities to take photos on Santa's lap and have staff members design stockings for them that suit their personalities.
Reading selections in the Wag Suite. Guardian photo by Caitlin Donohue
But for some, this comfort is not enough. And there is still a chance for your young pup to be the first guest at the $150 a night Golden Gate Suite.
This is the grand finale of Gonzales' tour. Here, in a secluded hallway far from the whines and yelps of steerage, a genteel canine can while away the three to four days that constitute the average stay at the hotel, in jet-setting style.
A double bed (slung low to the floor, no jumping for the dogs of the one percent) with organic sheets, layers of pillows, and a faux fur throw is the centerpiece of the room, which rather resembles a slick private double in a high-end hostel. Upon the pillows rest a box of doggy “chocolates” made by a local artisan and a plush remote control, which does not operate the large flatscreen on one side of the room where room occupants will view their owners each night for a heart-warming Skype chat.
There is also a stack of books for storytime on a coffee table. “I personally like The Giving Tree,” Gonzales tells me. “But that's a personal favorite.”
“A lot of people thought that the room was built to be over the top,” he reflects, shortly before we call in a golden labrador named Montana to lounge for my camera on the bed and whine impatiently for the box of artisan treats Gonzales has safely hid behind his back. “But we built it to be practical. We looked at what a dog needs and what will make the client and dog super-happy.”
This super-happiness, Wag has decided, lies in bridging the gap between pet and human when the two must be geographically separated. To mimic the home environment, Golden Gate Suite patrons can even sit down with hotel employees to determine which Pandora channel their beloved four-legger will listen to.
On the occasion of my visit, classical is playing throughout the hotel. “We've had different feedback from clients that they don't want their dog listening to classical,” says the director of guest services. “Maybe they want movie noise. Yeah, dogs don't watch movies. But we want them to feel at home.”
25 14th St., SF