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Hitting the vacation trail with Rover

"Dogs don't really want to go on vacation," says the unflappable John Rubin, as I manage to hustle my 55-pound pet into the fenced yard of his motel to do her business before any embarrassing damage is done to the beachside cottage he is renting us.

"They'd rather have their routine. We're the ones who want to go on vacation."

True. Lola would probably be just as happy sprawled on her doggie bed in the living room or chasing squirrels in our back yard about now. But whether our dogs want to go along or not, more of us are taking them _ nearly a quarter of Americans have taken pets on holiday, according to one survey by PetsMart.

And the tourism industry, always on the lookout for ways to entice more guests, has taken notice.

Several books and Web sites track the hotels, bed-and-breakfasts and other vacation rentals that allow dogs. (The number of pet-friendly U.S. lodgings has held steady at about 10,000 for the past few years, including some, but not all, locations of such nationwide chains as Motel 6 and Red Roof Inn.)

More tellingly, the number of hotels that not only allow dogs but even throw out a veritable doggie welcome mat has grown, and their amenities have gotten more sophisticated.

At the Hotel Monaco in New Orleans, guest dogs receive a complimentary water bowl, fuzzy mat and welcome treats upon arrival; staff can arrange doggie day care, visits to a grooming salon and checkups from an on-call house veterinarian.

At the Loews' chain of hotels, the pet room service menu includes vegetarian entrees, and forgetful pet owners can visit the "Did You Forget?" closet to pick up essentials like collars, leashes, pet toys and videos, and pooper scoopers.

"A lot of hotels really are starting to pamper dogs, providing doggie menus, room service, even people to walk the dogs," says Robyn Peters, editor of "DogGone," a bimonthly newsletter about traveling with your dog.

Just getting ready for my first road trip with Lola proves harder than actually going on it.

First, we have to find a place to stay that meets my (relatively low) standards and will accept a 55-pound dog who is gentle but has never graduated from obedience training.

Despite the long lists on the Internet of pet-friendly lodgings in the area we're visiting, actually locating one is somewhat difficult. The first hotel I call no longer accepts dogs; the next two take them, but balk when they hear of Lola's size. (Many hotels limit dogs to those less than 30 pounds.)

The fourth said it would "probably" be okay but would really have to see Lola before deciding _ not a chance I was willing to take after a long drive.

Dog-travel expert Peters frowns on the approach some desperate dog-owners use, which is to simply sneak the dog into their room and hope for the best: no barking, no accidents. Instead, she shared her favorite techniques _ whine in a nice way; promise you'll keep the dog in a kennel; produce a letter from a trainer attesting to your dog's good behavior; offer an extra cash deposit.

I am to the point of trying any and all of these, but then I find Cottages by the Beach, several rental units just off Galveston's long beach. Owner John Rubin cheerfully accepts Lola, pointing out that the cottage I chose, Lafitte's Retreat, has a fenced yard. He doesn't even care if I bring her kennel.

"Just come, relax, have a good time," he tells me as he gives me instructions on how to reach the cottage.

Easy for him to say. I still have to pack.

One of the books I'd read beforehand, The Complete Guide to Traveling With Your Pet (Howell House, $19.99), had intimated that the level of preparation required is not unlike traveling with an infant.

But most restaurants don't care if you bring your baby; the staffs even fuss over them. So do many museums, parks, shops and other places you're likely to visit on vacation.

With a dog, you're likely to get a firm turn-away upon trying to enter most all of these places. So, after Lola and I settle into our cozy two-room cottage and take a first exploratory walk on the beach, I'm stumped on how to spend the rest of our 48 hours in Galveston.

Luckily, she's tired from the drive, so while I go out for a nice dinner, she's content to sleep on her bed in front of the TV. By the next morning, however, she's restless and ready for some entertainment.

Rubin, the owner of two dogs, has given me some good alternatives: a bakery with outside tables, interesting residential and commercial districts to walk through.

By the time I'm ready for lunch, Lola is so tired that she doesn't mind sleeping in the car while I eat a shrimp po-boy at a seaside restaurant. And when I decide it's time for a post-lunch nap, she's happy to oblige.

If you go

BEFORE YOU GO: More hotels than you might expect do accept pets, but call before you show up. Policies change frequently, and a hotel that accepted dogs last year might have changed its policy.

Also, some hotels charge a pet fee of as much as $75 a stay; others require that you take a "pet room," which may be in a less desirable location or may have older or more worn furnishings. Finally, some hotels may have a size limitation or may require that dogs stay in a kennel.

The same goes for attractions to which you hope to take your dog. National parks are usually off-limits, but state parks and most local parks do allow leashed dogs. Check before making plans.

RESOURCES: The bimonthly newsletter "DogGone" offers practical tips on traveling with your dog, plus ideas about destinations, activities and lodgings. Subscriptions are $25 a year; write to DogGone Newsletter, Box 19498, Boulder, CO 80308-2498. Get more information at www.doggonefun.com.

Fido-Friendly, a quarterly sourcebook, lists accommodations, groomers, services, attractions and other items of interest to pet owners. Each issue also includes destination features. Subscriptions are $18 a year. Details are at www.fidofriendly.com.

The Web site www.petswelcome.com lists thousands of pet-friendly accommodations. It also has helpful information about traveling safely both domestically and internationally, listings of pet-friendly attractions and restaurants, plus a message board for information-seeking pet owners.

The company has also published a book, The Portable Petswelcome.Com: The Complete Guide to Traveling With Your Pet (Howell House, $19.95); it has thousands of listings across the United States and Canada, plus a short introduction covering how to handle emergencies, how to plan a trip and other tips.

The Web site www.traveldog.com maintains a listings database of dog-friendly accommodations, attractions and doggie day-care options.

In Galveston, my dog-friendly accommodations were through Cottage by the Beach (409) 770-9332; www.cottagebythebeach.com), which has several rental cottages. Lafitte's Retreat, a two-room cottage with bath, laundry facilities, full kitchen, fenced yard and a second-floor deck with a sea view, cost $90 a night at midweek winter rates.

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