If Santa visited the Cooperwasser home this year, he probably found Xena running up to cuddle in his lap, Peggy jumping and kissing him all over his face and Bonnie welcoming him and then not leaving his side.
The little ones may have been particularly spirited this year, as the frisky threesome were among seven visiting canines at Home of Bed & Biscuit, owned by Fran and Rich Cooperwasser.
From the comfort of their Forest Hills home, the Cooperwassers provide overnight boarding for dogs. Except for the master bedroom, the canines have full run of the house, and have 24-hour access to the fenced-in yard with views of Lake Eckles, all accessible via a doggie door in the back.
Dog owners bring their pet's food, bed and toys. And there are no cages at the Cooperwassers', unless an owner brings one for a dog that is accustomed to being crated at night.
Rich Cooperwasser, 55, runs his rehabilitation consulting business from home. And with Fran, 41, working only part time as a teacher for the Hillsborough County School District, the dogs have plenty of company.
"It's like Cheaper By The Dozen when they're all here," Fran Cooperwasser said. "Most of it's amusing because they are just so cute. But they definitely keep us on our toes."
The concept came to Fran Cooperwasser nine years ago when she was faced with leaving her own dog, Thor, at a traditional kennel. Dogs are simply more comfortable in a home setting, she thought.
"I just knew I didn't want to leave him in a cage, and I said to myself, I bet other people feel the same way I do."
Cooperwasser tested the water by offering her service to friends. "We immediately realized how much we enjoyed it, and that we were able to handle it," she said.
Their mixed-breed Thor, now deceased, was an enthusiastic participant, as is their current mixed-breed, Tess.
"When we took in the first dog, not only did we enjoy it so much, but we also saw so much pleasure coming out of our dog, enjoying the company of another dog," she said.
"Plus we don't have any children, so it helped fulfill our nurturing needs."
But dogs come with pet hair and pet dander, both of which exacerbated Fran Cooperwasser's allergies. To cope with the new environment, the Cooperwassers had to make a few adjustments.
"First, we ripped out all of the carpeting, and put in all wood floors," she said. "We also put in two Hepa air filters, and bought a very expensive vacuum cleaner."
The investment set them back almost $6,000. But, Fran Cooperwasser said, "We knew we wanted to do this, and we knew what we had to do to make it work."
The couple's devotion to animals is apparent to Sherril Hurd, 69, who has been bringing Bonnie, her 3-year-old West Highland terrier, to the inn almost since birth.
"The first time I ever brought her over there she was jumping up and wanting to get on their bed, and they let her sleep there that one time," said Hurd, a retired clerk from Wesley Chapel. "She never gets to do that at home."
Even though Bonnie can't report back to her owner with words, Hurd said she knows what the dog is thinking.
"When I take her over there she runs up to the door wagging her tail," Hurd said. "She's so excited to go in there, so I know she has a good time."
Boarding rates vary depending on the number of dogs a family leaves, and the length of the stay, with the average visit costing $25 per dog per night. All dogs must visit with Cooperwasser before boarding, and may display no aggressive or possessive behaviors toward food, toys, other dogs or people in order to be accepted.
Jeffrey King is confident that his 12-year-old cocker spaniel, Curly, fares well at the Cooperwassers. Having taken the canine to a traditional kennel for many years when he traveled, King, 45, noted that Curly almost always returned home nervous and agitated.
Visits with the Cooperwassers have produced much different results.
"Sometimes he doesn't want to come back home," said King, a business owner in Oldsmar. "It was pretty disheartening the first time. I said, "I'm back.' And he's, like, "yea, there are four other dogs here, and I'm having fun.' "
So are the Cooperwassers, who also like the idea that they are fulfilling a need.
"People freak out when they have to leave their dogs," Fran Cooperwasser said. "Taking care of other people's dogs may not seem like such a big deal. But to dog lovers, it is."
Contact reporter Sheryl Kay at skreporterhotmail.com.
TO LEARN MORE
For more information, visit the inn's Web site at www.homeofbedandbiscuit.com.