Watch your step when traveling.

PUBLISHED: August 25, 2008

After spending the night at one of the major hotel chains recently and finding an unwelcome surprise behind a chair in the corner, I realize the true meaning of the term "pet peeve." It means I'm peeved at the way many hotels are loosening their policies about pets.

Now, hold on, animal lovers. I love my dog. I've loved all five cats that I rescued and cared for. And I love that more doors are opening to you and your pet. I just don't want to walk in after you and step in something.

According to a recent poll, more than 29 million Americans traveled with pets during the last three years. That figure is likely to have climbed this summer, as economic stress has made people vacation closer to home - meaning they will drive rather than fly, and are more likely to bring along a dog or cat.

The "US Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook" (whatever that is) reports, "more than half of US pet owners say their pets are part of the family." It was enough to serve as the opening sentence of a press release in which Hilton Hotels announced a new pet friendly program, including "pet concierge service."

The Hilton statement gushed about pet-friendly rooms loaded with "upscale amenities sure to please th
e most pampered dog or cat." The decor is by William Wegman, known for his images of Weimaraners clothed in human garb - although never, to my knowledge, in diapers. Pet services will include "a stain-, water-, and microbial-resistant pet bed, as well as food and water bowls with placemat, and an exclusive pet amenity kit."

My dog Dottie long ago traded her bed for the one my wife and I share. So, with due respect to Wegman, I believe Hilton's pet beds will not only resist stains, they'll resist pets, too, as long as there's a bed for humans nearby.

At Westin, dogs are now offered "Heavenly Beds," made with Westin's "signature white-on-white stripe pattern fabric," available to take home for only $225. Again, my dog may be in the minority here, but she sees to it that anything white-on-white becomes mud-on-white within minutes.

Many hotels are adding pet food to menus. Loews Hotels now offers "Bow Wow Tenderloin of Beef," made with filet mignon, eggs, brown rice, and bread. I believe my dog would rather stay home and chew on an old slipper.

The increase in the number of people determined to travel with pets has led to the creation of a website, <> . In a review, Jennifer writes that she stayed at a La Quinta Inn with her boxer and shepherd mix, and the hotel was very accommodating about the barking. Sandra stayed with her dog at a Residence Inn and was charged a $100 cleaning fee. "Wow," she writes, "that's more than I pay to have my entire house cleaned!"

Maggie Gallant, host of Animal Planet's "Pet Trends," was asked by Via magazine about trends in pet travel. She says that her dachshund, Dixie, now favors "aromatherapy." She adds, "If Dixie gets nervous at security, I give her a spray of lavender, a natural essence that relaxes both people and pets."

Sad to say, if you were to follow my dog into a hotel room, the aroma would never make you think lavender.

What concerns me, now that hotels have determined that catering to pets is the latest marketing battleground, is what seasoned travelers call the "ick factor." There's plenty of it, even at the best hotels: those hairs in the shower, the used tissue in the desk drawer, the sticky stuff on the phone. Add the natural substances that come with pets of all shapes and sizes, and there is reason to fear increased hotel ickiness.

All the major chains have detailed policy statements about how they intend to diligently deal with pet ick to ensure that human guests will not suffer. But frankly, even the clean-shower policy doesn't always find its way to the staff swabbing the bathrooms.

Although she would prefer to come with us, Dottie is staying close to home this summer, at a friendly kennel. They don't have Heavenly Beds or amenity kits. But the policy is clear: No people allowed.

(c) Peter Funt. This column first appeared in The Boston Globe.

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