Luxury Hotels for Cats

Are you treating yourself to a relaxing vacation that consists of beautiful scenery, daily pampering sessions and delicious meals? Why not treat your beloved cat to the same experience?

“Cats are hot right now,” says Charlotte Reed, an author who specializes in pet lifestyle and etiquette issues. “After years of booming business for fabulous doggy day care facilities, we’re seeing this surge in facilities for cats.”

“Before, boarding facilities were just a kennel with a cage,” says Wendy Diamond, pet lifestyle author and animal welfare advocate. “Now, these rooms are spacious and luxurious with beautiful beds. The whole world of animal boarding has changed. They’re not even called kennels anymore; they’re called hotels.”

5-star Service for Felines
Longcroft Luxury Cat Hotel in the U.K., established in 2010, claims to be the “world’s first truly 5-star cattery.” But the trend and the use of the term “luxury” by cat boarding facilities are actually about five years in the making. If you live near a major airport, chances are you’ll find such a place.

Of course, there’s no true rating service to determine the difference between 3-, 4- or 5-star boarding, and exactly what “luxury” means in cat terms is relative. But since you’ll be paying a premium (as much as $40-$50/night), the following are some considerations to take into account when rating your hotel of choice:

Personal Space
Typical boarding facilities offer a basic cage or a two-tier enclosure. “Any place using the term ‘luxury’ ought to be offering at least three-tier enclosures,” says Reed, “but many offer an entire room or more of unshared personal space.” Top-level suites have premium bedding, a climbing tree, a window with a perch, and decorative touches with bird or fish themes.

Webcam
“More and more, pets are like our children,” says Diamond. “We want to know what they’re doing, whom they’re playing with.” The technology to let people log in for a live feed of their pet is readily available, and more and more facilities are adopting it.

Medical Care
“The one thing pet parents worry about most when leaving their pets behind is the possibility of a medical issue arising,” says pet lifestyle expert Kristen Levine. A high-end facility will have someone on call, if not on staff, and can also accommodate special medication needs.

Cats-only?
Even if your cat lives with dogs, be wary of luxury hotels that also cater to canines. Such places will separate cats and dogs within the facility, but cats are sensitive and have an advanced ability to sniff out enemies. “It could be extremely stressful,” says Reed. “Even if the dogs aren’t visible, your cat might be able to hear or smell them and may be stressed the whole time.” Consider bringing your cat for a quickie tour and see how it reacts.

Playtime
“While luxurious accommodations are intriguing, I believe what cat owners want most is a comfortable, stress-free environment with sufficient human-pet interaction each day,” says Levine. If you pay a premium, you should expect someone to spend regular, quality time with your cat.

Food
“Kennels used to stock one kind of food, so you had to bring your own,” says Reed. “The luxury places are stocking lots of popular brands, so hopefully you just need to tell them which one.” Other facilities might offer choices like fresh fish -- for a price.

One thing that all three experts stress is to check out the hotel before you make a decision. And if you can’t find a luxury facility near you, just wait. “Are we going to see more of these facilities? Absolutely. This is just the beginning,” says Reed.

Photo: Longcroft Cat Hotels ltd.

Cat Athletes With Summer Olympics Talents

Ursa Corynne, Sugar Cube, and Sir Linus: These are cats that are shattering the stereotypical image of cats as lazy, disinterested layabouts. These are the Olympians of the cat world.

“Most people do not believe that cats can be trained, as they seem more aloof and independent than dogs,” says Susan Lee, a feline agility trainer from Okemos, Mich. “But on an agility course, they look ahead to the next obstacle, like a horse on a jumping run -- not like a dog, which takes each obstacle individually.”

Feline agility training and competition is a relatively new phenomenon, starting less than a decade ago. Today, many cat shows nationwide feature agility competitions. Both of the major cat fancier organizations -- The International Cat Association (TICA) and The Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) -- have dedicated agility-training programs. “TICA started encouraging clubs to put on agility shows and tournaments, and it’s taken off on its own,” says Bill Lee, Susan Lee’s husband and a fellow official for International Cat Agility Tournaments (ICAT). “Now it has its own following, and there are even some tournaments without a cat show associated with it.”

Competitive Cats
The typical agility course (aka the “ring” or “arena”) consists of a series of ramps, tunnels, hurdles and other obstacles that cats must weave in and out of, up and over, and in a specific order with the coaching of a trainer. Each run is timed, and cats are judged on a combination of speed and how many faults, or errors, they commit.

Cats need to complete the course in fewer than 4.5 minutes to qualify, but Jill Archibald, agility coordinator for CFA, says most complete it in less than a minute, and about 15 percent do so in fewer than 20 seconds. Reports of the best time vary depending on whom you ask, but one clear standout is Ursa Corynne, a Bengal whose owner -- Tami Savard of Xenia, Ohio -- claims a record time of 4.69 seconds.

“When she was little and still nursing, we taught her to drink water from a straw. Now, whenever I have a drink, she jumps into my arms and tries to take the straw,” says Savard. “Most cats are led through the course with a toy, but we use a straw! Before she’ll run the course, Ursa needs to rub on each piece of equipment to make it smell like her. She then rolls on the floor. After that, she is ready to run.”

What Makes a Champion Agility Cat?
After entering and scoring well in several different competitions, a cat can earn the title of Champion or Master (depending on the scoring organization). Most people involved agree that youth is a big asset, as many agility cats perform best as kittens.

“As kittens, they are really focused on the toy that leads them around the ring,” says Susan Lee. “When they become adults (age 8 months), they become hormonal and are distracted by the other cat smells in the arena.”

The other important quality is a calm and outgoing disposition. Although the courses are enclosed in a fence or mesh, the surrounding area is busy, loud and distracting, with strangers and possibly even barking dogs roaming around. A cat needs to keep its cool amid this chaos.

“The first thing a cat wants to be is safe; if it feels safe, it feels comfortable to do other things,” says Archibald, whose Egyptian Mau, Sugar Cube, is a tournament standout. “Sugar Cube hasn’t met a person she doesn’t trust and get along with. If your cat has this personality and athletic ability, you could have a winner.”

Archibald encourages all interested cat owners to give it a shot, but stresses not to expect too much. “Not all cats are going to do this. Some will walk over to the agility arena, lie down and take a nap.”

Is It Too Late to Train Your Senior Cat?

Marilyn Krieger, a certified cat behavior consultant in Northern California, is still able to train her 19-year-old cat. Krieger, also known as the Cat Coach, asserts that any cat’s trainability is more a matter of personality and history than age. She weighs in with training tips and special considerations for senior cats.

Can Your Cat Be Trained?

There are pros and cons to training both young and old cats. Kittens have shorter attention spans, and older cats have greater physical limitations. If your older cat has an obvious motivator -- such as a favorite food treat or a petting session -- and has never reacted poorly to training in the past, then Krieger believes the potential is there.

Is Training Good for Your Cat?

The answer is a resounding yes. Krieger believes that working with your senior cat can actually help offset cognitive decline. In much the same way that doing crossword puzzles is thought to help human brains remain more flexible, your cat’s gray matter may maintain its optimal condition by being repeatedly challenged with the concentration and focus required for training.

However, Krieger cautions that you must respect your older cat’s physical limitations. An arthritic cat, for example, is probably not going to enjoy learning to jump through a hoop. “You don’t want to put any stress on your cat during training,” she emphasizes.

How Do You Train a Cat?

Clicker training is the method of choice for most cat behaviorists, says Krieger. It is based on both classical and operant conditioning. Think Pavlov’s dogs and you’ve got the basic idea. The owner responds to the cat’s target behavior with the click of a clicker quickly followed by a motivator, either a food treat or petting.

“The click communicates to the cat when in the instant that they’ve done something correct. Then the treat reinforces the behavior,” explains Krieger. “It usually takes between five and 20 repetitions.”

Krieger says that training should only go on for as long as the cat enjoys it, and that cats should never be punished for getting it wrong. “It should be fun for the cat and the person,” she emphasizes.

What Can You Train an Old Cat Not to Do?

Most of Krieger’s clients are interested in keeping their cats from doing certain things, like shredding the furniture and jumping onto the counter. She lets them know that cats need to scratch and jump, and that it’s necessary to provide alternatives to furniture and countertops in the form of scratching posts and climbing towers.

Once those alternatives have been offered, block off the area you’d like your cat to avoid (with double-sided tape or other covers) and begin clicker training to encourage your cat’s use of these.

“It depends on what an owner is willing to do. Environmental changes, like a scratching post or additional litter boxes for cats having trouble with incontinence -- those things work. Willing owners have success,” she says.

And How About Tricks?

Senior cats may not be as steady on their feet, but they are perfectly able to give high fives, sit, stay, shake hands and touch targets. “It has to be a natural behavior. Cats put up their paws, for example, so high-fiving and handshaking come naturally to them,” says Krieger.

Older cats likely benefit from not only the cognitive aspects of training, but also the emotional ones. “Training strengthens the bonds between cat and owner and leaves your older cat feeling more secure, which is more important than ever as it ages,” says Krieger.

The Cat Connection to Dating and Romance

It’s not uncommon these days to meet a significant other online. A 2010 survey conducted by online dating company Match.com found that 1 in 6 marriages is now between people who met via online dating. Increasingly, our pets play significant roles in choosing potential dates or mates. When you’re looking for love, it’s important that your loved ones at the very least get along with your new boyfriend or girlfriend. For many of us, that means potential boyfriends or girlfriends must pass the “cat test.”

“When I was single, I always let my cat choose my mates,” says Layla Morgan Wilde, who met her husband online 10 years ago. “If my cat, Merlin, didn’t like a date, he’d pace back and forth in front of the person, giving me the hairy eyeball. He was like a magic date-o-meter. If he did that, there was never a second date.”

The Cat Lover’s Profile

When it comes to dating online, cat owners frequently mention their cats, include cats in profile photos or require that potential dates love cats too. “Anecdotally, I’ve seen a lot of JDate profiles that mention pets being important parts of people’s lives,” says Arielle Schechtman, a spokeswoman for JDate.com, an online dating community for Jewish singles. “It’s definitely a common interest and love that people share.”

Pet ownership isn’t factored in to online dating site eHarmony’s compatibility system, but users are able to select up to five pets they have or like in a section called “Something to Talk About.” Forty-five percent of eHarmony users select dogs and cats, says spokeswoman Whitney Standring-Trueblood.

A mutual affection for cats plays such an important role for many singles that a number of online dating communities now target cat-lovers or pet owners. Sites such as DateMyPet.com focus on the connections owners have with their animals and help them try to find similar dates or mates.

Why Your Cat Matters in Relationships

Wilde first noticed cat/dating issues when she fielded rescue calls for a cat rescue organization she founded in the late 1990s. “The saddest cases were women who wanted to get rid of their cat because of a boyfriend or a fiance,” says Wilde, who works as a life coach and cat behaviorist. “A relationship between a cat-lover and non-cat-lover has the odds stacked against it. Occasionally, it’s possible to turn someone who doesn’t like cats into a cat person. It depends on the person’s past experience with cats, their cultural background, any negative association or whether they are allergic to cats.”

For cat owners, it is indeed best to know upfront where a potential spouse stands on a beloved pet. Advises Wilde: “Don’t wait until you’re ready to walk down the aisle before asking, ‘Do you like cats?’”

Cat Volunteers Who Are Saving Lives

Each year, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals honors outstanding people -- and even cats -- who have made a significant impact on the lives of animals. Let’s meet some of the recent winners:

Mittens, ASPCA’s Reigning Cat of the Year
On a cold night in Baltimore, two teenage boys trapped a young mother cat in a milk crate while she was nursing her kittens, doused her in lighter fluid and struck a match. “The brave cat managed to escape from the crate, extinguish the fire and return to tend to her newborn kittens,” says Mallory Kerley, media coordinator for the ASPCA. “Mittens, as she was named, was rescued by local police as well as Baltimore City Animal Control officers. She was brought to the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter (BARCS) with her kittens, where she slowly recovered from the loss of her ears as well as third- and fourth-degree burns covering 70 percent of her body.”

In spite of her injuries, Mittens continued to care for her kittens during recovery and was very affectionate toward the BARCS staff. Her inspiring story resulted in extensive media coverage, and she became the unofficial face of the fight for animal protection laws in the state. “Due in part to Mittens, the 2011 Maryland Congressional Session achieved unprecedented success as new laws were passed that had previously failed, finally giving a stronger voice to animals in need across Maryland,” says Kerley. “She now resides in the loving home of Cindy Wright, while the primary perpetrator in the case pled guilty to felony animal cruelty.”

Stevie Nelson: ASPCA Kid of the Year
Just before turning 5, Stevie Nelson lost his two beloved black Labradors. He and his family were devastated. Their search extended over five states, and they hired a private investigator and offered a sizable cash reward for their dogs’ return. Unfortunately, they never came home.

Stevie decided he wanted to help other needy animals find homes. “Instead of asking for toys and games for his 6th birthday, he set out to raise $6,000 for the Northeast Nebraska Humane Society (NNHS), which was launching a capital campaign to build a new animal shelter,” says Kerley. “By his birthday on March 16, Stevie had surpassed his initial goal, and to date, he has raised more than $28,000 for NNHS to continue to help even more animals in need.”

Caroline Griffin: ASPCA Presidential Service Award Winner

Fed up with horror stories describing cruel acts against animals, Caroline Griffin of Baltimore decided that enough was enough. She used her training as an attorney to devote her life to advocating for changes in her city’s policies and procedures to better protect animals and prosecute their abusers. She was appointed to chair a task force to examine the extent of animal abuse and neglect in the city and to develop ways to improve the coordination of all the agencies and individuals concerned about the problem. “Her leadership of the Mayor’s Anti-Animal Abuse Task Force led to heightened media and public awareness of animal issues and an unprecedented level of cooperation between groups,” says Kerley. “She has helped to create a dramatic change in the way the citizens and officials of Baltimore view our duties to protect animals.” As a result, Baltimore now serves as a model for other cities across the country.

ASPCA president and CEO, Ed Sayres, says each of the winners displayed tremendous commitment and compassion. “The distinguished achievements of these advocates are prime examples of the ASPCA’s mission of preventing cruelty to animals.”

Photo: ASPCA