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Today, Norm Goldman, Editor of 
Sketchandtravel.com  and   Bookpleasures.com welcomes a most unusual author, Maria Goodavage, former USA TODAY correspondent.

Maria is the author of The Dog's Lover's Companion to California, and she is also the originator of the entire Dog Lover's Companion series published by Avalon Travel Publishing.

Maria will be coming out in the Spring 2005 with the 5th edition of the Dog Lover's Companion to California and the 5th edition of the Dog Lover's Companion to the Bay area.

Maria is here today to talk to us about how California couples routinely plan romantic getaways with their doggies.

Norm:

Thank you Maria for consenting to be interviewed by sketchandtravel.com and bookpleasures.com. Could you please tell our audience something about yourself and what motivated you to write about dogs and romantic getaways? Also, I understand that your publisher Avalon will be releasing in the Spring-2005 a new edition of your book that will weigh in at around 1000 pages. Could you briefly tell our readers about this book?

Maria:

My Airedale terrier, Joe the Dog, motivated me to start finding places where dogs were allowed. Back in 1989, when he walked into my life, very few places allowed dogs. Every time I tried to leave home without him, whether to go away on assignment for USA Today or spend relaxing weekend out of town, I'd get the look.

Anyone who has ever had a dog knows the look. You don't want to see it, and your dog knows how to give it, regardless of the wonderful care he'll get when you're gone. When you leave, if you're anything like me, you have a heavy heart certainly not a great way to start a romantic weekend. Joe was such an expert guilt giver that I began researching places where he could come along, whether on an assignment or a fun weekend getaway.

My first book on places to take a dog came out a couple of years later. It covered the San Francisco Bay Area, and the book sold so well that my publisher asked if I could do a California book. Joe and I traveled the state, often with another dog or two, and the result was the Dog Lover's Companion to California, which has been immensely popular with California dog people.

This spring (2005) the fifth edition is coming out, and it's the beefiest incarnation yet about 1,000 pages, thanks to the tremendous increase in the number of dog-friendly inns, restaurants, and parks. Dog travel is scorching hot these days, and the book size reflects this.

The book is a terrific guide for anyone who has a dog in the Golden State. We rate parks, beaches, and hikes on a scale of one to four paws. We also describe hundreds of the most dog-friendly restaurants, hotels, stores, wineries, and activities, and include dozens of diversions like ferry trips, train rides, and kitschy roadside attractions. If it is dog friendly, and we can fit it, it's in the book.

Norm:

Why would you want to take your dog on a romantic getaway?

Maria:

Great question. Why would anyone want to take a dog on a romantic getaway? Why would you want to bring along a furry creature that drools, scratches, and licks his private parts at inopportune times? That certainly doesn't sound very romantic, does it?

But barring these lovely doggy habits, there is a lot to be said for bringing a dog along on a little romantic vacation. Dogs have become an integral part of our families, and it is hard to leave a family member behind in a kennel or with a dog sitter. The guilt factor I mentioned earlier really comes into play. And because so many places these days welcome dogs, you can actually save money by bringing your dog along instead arranging for care.

It is extremely common for California couples to take a dog on a romantic getaway. It is much easier to bring a dog on one of these vacations than to bring along a human child. You can have your intimacy virtually without interruption. Plus dogs give you an excuse to get out and take those lovely little walks on the beach.

Norm:

You had mentioned to me that some of the most romantic destinations and inns in California roll out the red carpet for dogs? Can you elaborate on this and tell us something about these inns, where they are located, how are the dogs accommodated, as well as the any extra charges that may be involved?

Maria:

Something I have noticed over the years is that the nicer the locale, the better the chance that dogs are allowed. In fact, the top romantic destinations in California also happen to be among the most dog-friendly. It is counterintuitive until you realize that these places want to make their guests happy, and if that means accommodating a dog, they are often glad to comply.

Think about it. Good dogs make great hotel guests. They don't steal towels, and they don't get drunk and keep the neighbors up all night. As long as the dog's person is responsible and brings only a clean, well-behaved, housetrained dog along and doesn't leave her alone in the room, it can be easier on the room than a child would be. Dog guests often have to pay an extra fee or a deposit, but it is usually quite reasonable. (The two examples from the book, which I am including below, have higher fees than most but they are worth it.) And many lodgings still let dogs stay for free, although that is getting less common.

Some inns simply allow dogs, while others truly give dogs the royal treatment. This spring, with the publication of the new edition of The Dog Lover's Companion to California, the most dog-friendly inns will receive our coveted Golden Bone Award. We will be awarding a record number this year, because so many lodgings and restaurants are really rolling out the red carpet for canines.

The top chains, including Loews, Kimpton, Westin, and W hotels are extremely accommodating to dogs. Most have programs where dog guests get various treats and goodies, including dog beds, bowls, gourmet food and water, and sometimes even doggy massages. Kind of makes me wish I were a dog. I would bring a date, get a massage, toast with some gourmet water, crunch a few high-class biscuits, and snuggle up on my ultra comfy dog bed. But with my travel budget, Motel 6 is often my home away from home. (A tidbit for the budget romantic traveler: Every Motel 6 allows at least one pet per room. And as Tom Bodett says, cheap rooms and expensive rooms look the same with the lights off.)

Smaller romantic inns abound, and are definitely the favorite of most romantically inclined couples with dogs. Here are a couple of examples, taken from the upcoming edition of The Dog Lover's Companion to California.

Carmel: Cypress Inn:

Dogs get the royal treatment here, in part because actress and animal activist Doris Day owns this sumptuous hotel. The stately Moorish Mediterranean-style inn is very elegant, with fine oak floors and delicate antiques, but you never feel out of place with your dog. Day's staff makes sure your dog feels especially welcome, right down to offering pet beds and pet food for your four-legged friend. The hotel staff will help get you a pet sitter, should you decide to venture out on your own without your dog. (We doubt your pooch will say "que sera, sera" to this idea. Carmel is so dog-friendly you can easily do the whole scene with him. But some very friendly, excellent pet sitters are available through the hotel if you can stand your dog's hound-dog look when you leave.)

No two rooms are the same here, but they're all enchanting, relaxing, and first-rate. The rooms come with extras not offered by most hotels, including fresh flowers, bottled water, fresh fruit, your very own decanter of sherry, and occasional chocolates. In addition, for an extra fee you can partake in a delightful afternoon tea in the inns gorgeous library bar. Dogs are even welcome to join you for cocktails there.

Mendocino: Mendocino Seaside Cottage:

Don't be fooled by the name: This is no little cottage, but a large ocean side inn with four spacious suites and a separate cottage that is almost exclusively for pets and their people. How is this for a rule reversal: People without pets may be able to stay, with only by special arrangement, says inn owner Linda. Dogs wag their tails hard when stay here: They get a gift basket with treats, a food, and other goodies. Is it your dog's birthday? You get a 10 percent discount on your stay. (Now you can wag your tail.)

Perhaps the best feature for dogs is that Mendocino Headlands State Park is pretty much the front yard here. It is a terrific place to explore with your leashed dog.

If you like an inn that caters to Romance (yes, with a capital R), this is the place for you: You are a Special Valentine 365 Days a Year, touts the inn's aptly named web site, romancebythesea.com.The phone number even has the word heart in it. The suites have a honeymoon bent and a pretty feel that might not go well with a certain large yellow lab I know (I shall mention no names, Jake), but dogs of the toy variety look perfect here. Actually, any size well-behaved dog is welcome at the inn. We love all pets, says Linda. As long as their people are well behaved.

Humans also get the royal treatment, with chocolates, fresh flowers, and champagne or sparkling cider waiting in the guest rooms. Suites and the cottage have a featherbed, fireplace/wood stove, spa tubs, and ocean or park views.

Norm:

You have also indicated that there are wedding chapels in California where your dog can be at your side when you get hitched. Have you ever attended one of these weddings and could you describe how this works in practice? Where are these chapels situated?

Maria:

Not only have I attend one, I have been the bride in one! My husband (Craig Hanson) and I met through our dogs. He was taping a piece on my Bay Area book for the local NBC TV affiliate, and he brought along his dog and I brought along mine. The dogs hit it off, and so did we. When the afternoon of shooting the segment was done, he asked if I'd be interested in going for a dog walk sometime. That was one dog walk I really looked forward to!

Many dog walks (and a couple of years) later, we married on our old fishing boat, in San Francisco Bay. The Golden Gate Bridge was behind us, San Francisco sparkled in the distance. The dogs who started all this were a big part of the wedding. His dog, Nisha, was flower girl and wore a wreath of flowers around her neck. Joe was the ring bearer, with the ring tied to his collar in a purple velvet pouch. He was never one for boating, and he ended up hiding under my wedding dress, which was very amusing. That is the photo I sent you. Our daughter, Laura, loves thumbing through our little wedding album to see this photo of Joe peeking out from under mom's dress.

Not everyone wants to get married on an old fishing boat. Many wedding chapels around the state welcome dogs to participate in weddings, or at least witness them. The Tahoe area has several, as does Monterey and the Big Bear Lake area in San Bernardino County. Dog-friendly wedding chapels actually dot the state, but we can't list many in the book because of space constraints. I have noticed that generally where you have horse and carriage rides that allow dogs (and many do), there is a dog-friendly wedding chapel not far away.

In addition to chapels, there are countless other locales where your dog can be at your side on your wedding day. Outdoor weddings, boat/yacht weddings, and weddings at a house or a dog-friendly hotel are a few options.

Dogs in weddings are so common these days that all it takes is a Google of dogs and weddings, and you will come up with plenty of advice and ideas. Here is a link to a fun, informative article on the do's and don'ts of letting your dog be your ring bearer.

Norm:

I understand there have been several celebrities who have had their dogs as best man, flower girl etc, could you name some of these celebrities and perhaps describe some of these ceremonies?

Maria:

This all started ages ago. Kitty Carlisle's wedding to playwright Moss Hart in the 1940s had many dogs in attendance, to the dismay of her mother. Various celebs have had their dogs at their side since, but probably the most well-reported canine ring bearer in the new millennium has been Adam Sandler's bulldog, Meatball. At Sandler's 2003 nuptials to model-actress Jackie Titone, Meatball dressed in a tux and yarmulke and trotted down the aisle with the ring on a pillow on his back. (Sadly, Meatball died of a heart attack the following year, at the young age of 4.)

Norm:

If you had to choose five of the most unique and romantic destinations in California where you can bring your dog, which ones would you choose and why?

Maria:

The reasons I chose the following five are pretty similar: An abundance of exquisite, dog-friendly accommodations, restaurants, and walks, and drop-dead gorgeous surroundings. Four of my top five are on the coast, which works out well for those romantic walks on the beach. And all are spectacular year round.

From north to south:

  • Mendocino
  • Napa Valley
  • Carmel
  • Santa Barbara
  • San Diego/Coronado area

    Napa isn't on the coast, but the wine makes up for that, don't you think?

    Norm:

    Are there any other places in the world that you know of where dogs are as welcomed in resorts and inns as California?

    Maria:

    From what many of my readers have told me, France is a close contender, but I have never traveled there with my dogs (they don't speak the language), so I don't speak from experience.

    The US is coming along nicely in the dog-friendly department. My books have launched a nationwide series of Dog Lover's Companions on great doggy destinations, including Florida, New England, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York. These books all feature many wonderful inns that welcome dogs.

    I hope this trend of dog-friendliness continues, but if it does, Californians could have a 2,000-page edition of my book on their hands in a few years, and that will just never do in the glove compartment.

    Thanks once again Maria for your most interesting perspective on romantic getaways with our doggies

    AND THANK YOU, NORM, IT HAS BEEN FUN!

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