BC Business

August 2008
Originally intended as a local mag, Modern Dog got a national distributor for its second issue and entered the US market with its third. Its recent winter issue, with cover girl Paula Abdul, had a print run of 61,000, and the spring 2008 issue is anticipated to go bigger. Billed as “the lifestyle magazine for urban dogs and their companions”, Modern Dog features gift guides (what do you get the dog who has everything? A “Pup-Casso” paint kit for dogs), fashion spreads, regular columnists such as UBC dog psychologist Stanley Coren and horoscopes (example: “You’re stir-crazy for new experiences, so get out there, Taurus! Flirt at the dog park, sniff out new friends…You never know what magically, bewitchingly gross smell is just around the corner”).

“Sometimes you go, ‘Well, why is it necessary to have a diamond necklace on a dog?’” muses Wilson. “It’s probably for the same reason someone would want a Mercedes-Benz versus a Volkswagen…You wouldn’t think twice of somebody spoiling their human child that way. Dogs are part of the family now. You see people taking a holiday with their dogs. You see hotels accommodating that with their pet amenity programs.”

A new hotel on Terminal Avenue has taken that trend to its obvious conclusion: The Rex Dog Hotel and Spa is, you guessed it, an upscale inn for dogs. Situated near the Home Depot on Terminal Avenue in a 10,000 square-foot converted warehouse, the rich-dog’s kennel charges $60 a night (Add $8 for a private suite), with discounts for longer stays. That might be a bargain for a human, but with most dog-boarding facilities in Vancouver charging $40.00 a night or less, this place is definitely for the upper-middle-class pooch.

“We have people that can’t really afford it but love their dog and just want to have a safe place, so they make it work,” explains owner Barrie Balshaw, who opened the dog hotel in December 2006 with his wife, Karen after years of running a doggy daycare business, the Doghouse. A former rock drummer, Balshaw comes across as a laid-back, no-stress kind of guy. “Then we have people that have lots of money, and again they just want a nice, comfortable home atmosphere for their dog that’s not got a kennel atmosphere.”

Whether the dogs appreciate the sophisticated interior designed by SmartDesignGroup’s Jon Sunderland – whose portfolio includes Coal-Harbour’s upscale Lift Bar and Grill – is debatable. Past the reclaimed wood flooring and pendulum lighting of the entranceway lie concrete floored rooms filled with tunnels and sculpted platforms, and a “spa” boasting a large raised tub and grooming station. Outside, a computerized water park shoots geysers through the air.

Upstairs, plush pillows and dog beds surround the flat-screen satellite TV’s and DVD players. At nighttime the dogs each choose a pillow and settle in to watch a movie with a staff member, who hauls out a cot. (That is, unless the pooch is staying in a “single suite,” in which case it gets a small room with glass walls.)

“The movie is mainly for the staff but also to give the dogs a feeling of being at home in their living room,” explains Balshaw, who prefers not to reveal any business figures but says he’s welcomed “thousands” of dogs.
On a recent long weekend, The Rex Hotel and Spa was almost at its full capacity of 60; there were 45 guests, including Sean Connery, a hyper-active young collie who raced around the water park like a two-year old on a sugar high, yelping excitedly.

Like any hotel, Rex offers a “mini-bar” menu: extra food and treats “for owners who want their dog to have something special.” Guests are also welcomed with a bag of wheat-free biscuits. Although packaged with The Rex Dog Hotel and Spa logo, the treats are actually produced by the K9 Biscuit Company, a Vancouver business run by former landscaper Michael Howell and his partner Doug Freeman.