Samson was a street dog, abandoned by his family and taken in by a homeless man. The boxer was bony from hunger and scarred from scuffles when Tampa attorney Dominic Fariello took him off the streets.
His rags-to-riches story has taken him from what was once a hardscrabble life to today, where he spends many hours in doggy day care, swimming in a bone-shaped pool, sleeping in a suite with a television and getting butt massages before bed.
Samson goes to the New Tampa Pet Resort and Spa, where he romps around the salt-generated pool, listens to classical Italian music and breathes in air that is changed five times an hour with special filters.
Oh, and about the rump rubs ... he gets those, too.
"Whatever the (dog) owner requests, we do," said Lisa Golicher, who owns the resort and recently celebrated its first anniversary. "There's nothing we won't do."
At this luxury resort, workers give Halo the bull terrier only Evian water to drink. They wipe the mouth of Papo, a Shar-Pei/pug mix, after every meal. And when Domino and Renegade are taken out to do their business, the correct command is: "Go potty go!"
The multimillion dollar facility is among a handful of upscale pet resorts in Hillsborough County. It is joined by the Lodge at New Tampa and Fuzzie Buddies near downtown.
New Tampa Pet Resort and Spa was created by Golicher, mom to two human children and two dogs, a white shepherd and a Siberian husky. She's the former president of the Humane Society of Seminole County and has lived in Arbor Greene for 11 years with her pet-loving husband and kids.
"I love my kids, I love my family, I love this," Golicher said, sweeping her hands around the facility. "This is the pinnacle of my life."
There's a groomer on site and a veterinarian next door.
Day care for dogs costs $25 a day. Overnight care starts at $28 for canines, and $18 for felines, who rest inside kitty condos located next to a sunny window with a wide ledge. Add $3 for dog or cat gelatos.
For $10, birds, ferrets, rabbits, guinea pigs and hamsters can stay overnight, too.
It took several years to fulfill her dream. She took notes from well-known pet resorts around the state before opening up the spa, also known as La Bella Vita, which means "the beautiful life" in Italian.
For dogs, that life means an indoor playground complete with a couch and squeaky toys, an outdoor play area under towering oaks and featuring playtime with bubbles. The pool has a fire hydrant spout.
Inside the villas, dogs sleep in toddler beds with linens and private TVs tuned to Animal Planet.
A clipboard at each villa's door serves as the report card where staff members chronicle the day's happenings: whom the dogs played with, how much they ate, what their demeanors were that day.
Fariello, Samson's human, said Samson knows he's going to doggy day care whenever he sees Fariello grab his dog bucket, a toy and his bed. Sometimes, Fariello has to sneak the items into the car because once Samson knows the destination, he gets so excited, he romps all over the car.
"They're nice, they're reasonable and they're flexible," Fariello said. "They're loving to the dogs. And if (Samson) didn't like it, I'd know."
Fariello can also see for himself. When Samson stays overnight, Fariello is able to log onto the computer to hook up to the resort's Web cam. He hardly ever sees Samson in his suite.
"The girls would let him walk around with them when feeding the other animals, or he was in the pool," Fariello said.
Fariello warned the employees that Samson has a snaggle tooth and sometimes, when his lip gets caught, it looks like he's snarling. And the secret to Samson's undying devotion, Fariello told them, is the butt massage.
Fariello said when Samson was smaller, the dog would sit in his lap and he'd pet his head.
"I noticed that he would always turn around and he'd put his rump on me," Fariello said.
He petted the area just above the tail and "Oh my God. His front paw would start kicking and one ear would go up, then the other ear. It was a relaxing zone for him."
Every night now, he bumps against Fariello's leg like a cat and puts his butt up for a 5-minute rub.
"Then he's happy, he's content. He can go lie down," Fariello said.
Whenever Samson stays at the resort, which is a couple of times a month for days at a time, he gets his rump rubs — at no extra charge.
Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at (813) 909-4613 or email@example.com.