In the age-old war between cats and dogs, the Fidos of America have scored another victory.
Their triumph revolves around the nation's bed-and-breakfast owners. Long a bastion of anti-pet sentiment, the B&B industry has grown so fond of dogs that it's luring them with special toys, treats and cushy beds.
Cats, meanwhile, are rarely invited anywhere.
This makes my pal Darby, a handsome Wheaten terrier, giddy. He loves to travel and hates felines, so he's only too happy to hit the road and check out places to stay, especially places that don't allow cats.
In the past three years, our jaunts together have chronicled a growing dog-acceptance trend. It began with budget lodgings such as Motel 6, which has always had a soft spot in its corporate heart for man's best friend. (I haven't told Darby, but the chain also accepts cats.)
As the recession took hold, high-end hotels rolled out the grass carpet, making it clear that affluent clientele could bring Rover along; they'd even supply Evian water and down-filled dog beds.
"The economy threatened to put a lot of innkeepers out of business," said Jenn Wheaton, program coordinator for the California Assn. of Bed & Breakfast Inns (www.cabbi.com). "They found a new niche by opening their doors to travelers with pets."
And now, at last, B&Bs are beginning to put on the dog. (You'll notice that the phrase isn't "put on the cat.")
Her members "like to make people happy, and some people aren't happy if they have to leave their dogs at home," she said. Ninety of the group's 200-plus members allow pets — a few even give the nod to cats — but always check ahead to make sure.
Nationwide, the number of pet-friendly B&Bs is growing.
Mary White, founder and chief executive of BnBFinder.com, a popular online bed-and-breakfast directory, said about one-third of her 3,500 members now accept dogs in one or more of their rooms. "Some offer special treats and spa packages."
It sounded tempting to Darby and me; we packed kibble, toys and a leash and went in search of bowser-friendly B&Bs.
Our first stop was at the mountaintop Tucker Peak Lodge in Julian, a historic gold-mining town in the backcountry of San Diego County. Every room at the lodge, named after the owner's spaniel Tucker, was filled that night with a doggie guest and master. Darby quickly struck up a friendship with Chibi, a 2-year-old Shih Tzu visiting from Ocean Beach.
When we went to town for lunch, the hostess at the Julian Grille (2224 Main St.) began the conversation with, "Your dog is welcome here." I ate on a shady patio while Darby slept under the table.
The town was filled with bikers — they enjoy the winding mountain roads leading to town — and we rubbed shoulders with them in boutiques and shops, most of which allowed dogs.
Back at the B&B, we sat on an expansive deck that offered a panorama of mountain ridges and valleys that turned purple as the sunset faded into an inky black sky. Owls hooted, frogs ribbeted and crickets did whatever it is that crickets do when the sun goes down.
Working our way north along the coast, we found cooler temperatures, a stylishly furnished B&B and a spectacular ocean view at the Blue Lantern Inn in Dana Point.
The Cape Cod-style inn perches on a cliff overlooking Dana Point Harbor, our patio faced the sea and we spent much of the day watching sailboats in the distance and soaking up fresh air and sunlight.
Darby made friends with a couple staying a few doors down who were on their honeymoon. He cadged some pats on the head while they sat in patio chairs enjoying the view of the harbor and planning the rest of their lives.
That afternoon he waited in the wings while I joined the other guests for an elaborate afternoon wine, tea and hors d'oeuvres gathering. No one seemed to notice when I popped a few crackers and cheese slices into a napkin for my traveling companion.
Desert Hot Springs
Heading toward Palm Springs on Interstate 10, we turned north when we reached the Coachella Valley, bound for Desert Hot Springs. Long known for its mineral baths, the community has a stylish new pets-and-people inn that was a big hit with Darby: the Dog Resort & Wellness Center.
The B&B, which opened early this year, is the creation of longtime Orange County veterinarian Dr. Paula Terifaj, who transformed a '50s-era motel into doggie nirvana. Swim with your pal in the pool, hang with him in the cool Lazy Dog Lounge or play with him in an adjacent dog park. Leashes aren't necessary. Dogs — as long as they're mannerly — have the run of the place.
We tore ourselves away long enough to explore the area with Desert Adventures (www.red-jeep.com), a pet-friendly company that runs Jeep tours. Darby and Sebastian, a Welsh terrier, zipped through the desert on a San Andreas Fault tour. They didn't care about the fault, but Darby held his head high as wind whipped by the open Jeep; if a dog can smile, he was grinning ear to ear.
Back to the coast we went, looking for cooler climes. Our next stop was one of Santa Barbara's first B&Bs, the Old Yacht Club Inn, a collection of three vintage houses a block from East Beach.
We met a friendly group of people lounging on the porch, and Darby made the rounds saying hi and getting pats on the head.
The inn's location is excellent, and we strolled along the beach walkway at sunset.
But our favorite spot in Santa Barbara was the Douglas Family Preserve, a 70-acre swath of wild cliff-top land with wonderful coastal views. The acreage, preserved by the Kirk Douglas family, is crisscrossed by off-leash trails.
Our travels were winding down; soon we'd return home to work and neighborhood cats. But we had one more B&B to visit, and it was special: Christopher Joyce Vineyard & Inn, a striking, contemporary-style home overlooking the owner's vineyard.
The hilltop inn is filled with art and light, and its owner Joyce Clarke justifiably prides herself on her gourmet breakfasts and afternoon wine and hors d'oeuvres.
There was only one drawback: Clarke doesn't allow dogs to be left alone in rooms, a prohibition that's common in many dog-friendly lodgings.
So travelers bound for the wine-tasting rooms of the Central Coast must take their dogs, which could be deadly in the heat of summer.
We stopped only at tasting rooms that allowed dogs inside, including Tablas Creek (www.tablascreek.com) and Grey Wolf Cellars (www.greywolfcellars.com).
Darby didn't care much for wine tasting, but he jumped (literally) at the treats provided by some vintners.
Then we were homeward bound. Waiting for him on the sidewalk in front of our house was his nemesis: a cat that taunts him daily through the glass panes of our front door. I knew he'd be ready to travel again soon.
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