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"Moscow News " 03/04/08

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How good are you at leaving your pets with stran¬gers when you go off on holiday? Do you trust them enough to take care of your four-legged be-whiskered family members? Although some people are lucky enough to have relatives or friends they can ask to look after their pets, hoping they might include a few pats on the head and the occasional cuddle as they come in twice a day to feed the animals, some have more difficulty in finding people they trust to provide their pets with the care and affection they need. This is why more and more people are resorting to pet hotels, which have sprouted up in Moscow over the past few years. Currently, there are 41 pet hotels that operate in Moscow, although a large number of these are far from the city center. 

"The pet hotel market appeared a relatively short time ago, and in its ‘civilized' form only about three years ago," says Maxim Kivva, the director of Cat's Dream Hotel, a hotel exclusively for cats located approximately 16 km southeast of Moscow near Zheleznodorozhny. "The development of the market has been mainly due to the Internet and the increased Internet audience in Russia in the past few years." 

According to Kivva, there are about ten major players in Moscow's pet hotels or "zoogostinitsy," and they are sufficient to cover the demand throughout the year, apart from the peak seasons in summer and over the New Year, when demand is three or four times over the number of available kennels. 

Anna Musnitskaya is the director of the popular Gankhor pet hotel for cats and dogs. "I think that at the moment pet hotels have stopped growing in the center of Moscow," she says, "but they continue to expand in the suburbs."
Gankhor is one of the pet hotels in Moscow with the longest experience. After years of organizing the details of the business, Anna Musnitskaya opened the doors to its first furry guests in 1995. Tucked away in a green area in south Moscow, it is situated only 30 minutes from the center and provides an ideal location for pets. The cats and dogs are kept in isolated buildings so as to minimize stress. 

The availability of kennels, explains Musnitskaya, depends on the time of year. The heaviest booked time of year is around the holiday seasons, such as New Year, May holidays and summer breaks. "Usually the New Year period is completely booked up already from early November. Presently, we are having a usual lull and we're almost completely empty, Musnitskaya calls it the ‘dead season'." 

Prices depend on the menu chosen by the owners, as well as the size of the animal (usually more relevant for dogs, which unlike cats vary greatly in size). 

Owners with more than two cats will be pleased to hear they get a discount, paying half price on the 2nd animal. "We've had a vacant room for five cats just brought in!" laughs Musnitskaya. 

Customer satisfaction seems a guarantee judging by the positive feedback from guests, left in the guest book by Russians and foreigners alike.
"Obviously, each owner wants their pet to be cared for in the best possible way, asking for affection to be lavished onto them. We do, however, get opposite situations, when owners ask us to touch their pet as little as possible... this is usually the case with more aggressive pets." 

Upon arrival, animals are examined by the vet and provided with their own individual cards on which owners stipulate what special treatment is required, how many walks per day, feeding habits, etc. Throughout their stay, the animals are monitored daily by the staff vet, having their eyes and ears cleaned and even their claws trimmed. 

Cats are housed in one or two-roomed suites with a carpeted house for their claws and climbing frames. Owners are advised to leave their cats with blankets or toys from home as familiar smells in new surroundings are very important to them. Dogs are lodged in two adjoining rooms with a little sofa, as well as a covered terrace so they can go out for fresh air. Walking areas are isolated and each dog can be walked without a lead and is provided with toys, balls and tires to play with. 

And what about the Michelin starred menus? Special attention is given to the animals' food, which is selected by the owners in advance. The "favorite" menu consists of ordinary canned food or biscuits (such as Pedigree for dogs and Whiskas for cats). The "home" menu offers the animals a more varied selection of meat such as beef or chicken, and dogs can also get pasta and rice. Animals with a more refined taste can opt for the "gourmet" menu, with high-quality dietary food such as Royal Canin and Hills. Cost varies according to the menu and, with dogs, to size (Cats and small dogs cost from 300 rubles per day and big dogs from 500. Luxury kennels for dogs start from 500-600, depending on the menu). 

Some Moscow hotels cater for a wide range of pets, others specifically for cats and dogs. Others specialize even more. such as the luxury Cat's Dream Hotel, which boasts to be the "best hotel for cats." 

"Proximity with dogs can create a lot of stress for cats," says Maxim Kivva as he gives his reasons for the specialized market. "In fact, most cats have no experience with dogs at all." In this hotel cats are given the choice of "standard," "professional" or "luxury" rooms. Each room has different levels connected by stairs so that the sleep and feeding areas are always separated from the toilet area. "Cats are very clean animals and will never eat next to their litter box," says Kivva. "Professional" kennels are one step above the standard ones, with their own air-renewing ventilation system which annihilates any smells which could waft in from the other hotel residents. At 430 rubles these are more expensive than standard ones. "‘Luxury' rooms (lyux) comprise a window with a view outside, as well as extra heating, which is good for short-haired or hairless cats," explains Kivva. 

"Some get an aquarium with fish while others get a little balcony enabling the cats to take a stroll outside." For some owners though, no sum of money could ever be too much for their tabbies and they may want to opt for the next step up, the "Luxury plus" rooms which provide a fourth floor as well as a balcony on two floors. 

"So the cat ends up with a six-roomed apartment all to itself," says Kivva. "This is a good option for people with 2 or 3 cats. In these rooms there is no additional charge for the extra cats." 

One service Cat's Dream Hotel provides, and this will console some lovesick owners, is the possibility to see your cat on the Internet thanks to web-cameras. "We have also just tested a new system whereby owners will be able to actually play with their pets on the Internet," says Kivva. "The owner watches his cat and gives commands to electronic toys which begin to move about making noises." 

Another popular pet hotel located at a reasonable distance from the center is Pets Hotel, not far from Vykhino. 

With 16 years of experience, they not only take in dogs and cats but also birds, rabbits and rodents. Cats are provided their own little house and scratching posts, and dogs have the privilege of taking walks two to four times a day in a nearby birch forest. 

Although kennels are thoroughly disinfected after each animal's stay, pet hotels usually will not accept animals unless they are vaccinated against infectious diseases, with proof of these in their papers. They should also have been treated against worms and parasites. 

Popular pet hotels: 

Gankhor - www.zoohotel.ru (cats and dogs)

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