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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Where Having Fur Is de Rigueur

WASHINGTON -- You want to pamper her, so you reserve the five-star penthouse suite, replete with expansive views, 24-hour attendants and tasteful decor accented with original artwork.

You schedule time for her to soak in the gentle blue froth of a hydrotherapy pool or perhaps engage in a vigorous workout in the state-of-the-art exercise room, followed by a massage and an hour or so in the beauty salon.

You think nothing of spending as much as $230 a day -- not for your bride but for the family dog.

Luxury such as this awaits dogs at the Olde Towne Pet Resort, a two-story, $7 million Xanadu for the fur set that opened last month in Fairfax County.

Billed as a day spa and hotel for pets, the facility is fully booked for Christmas. Similar deluxe pet hotels have popped up in New York, Miami and, of course, Hollywood. Britain expects its first swanky pet hotel next year, in Yorkshire.

"Oh, my God! It's just staggering!" said Merrie Morris, who boarded Molly, her "schnoodle" (half schnauzer, half poodle), for a weekend. "It looks like an elementary school or something!"

Morris, 44, said the resort is expensive. But, then, she and her husband have no children and no other creature except a deaf cat to pamper. So they splurged.

"And this is something I see in my circle of friends," she said. "When I was growing up, a dog was just an add-on to the family. ... But now, with many people, dogs have become much more like a member of the family."

But to some, the new resort -- arriving at a time when humans struggle to find affordable housing -- symbolizes sheer decadence.

"I think what it suggests is that people ... are lacking some priority of values," said Fred Guy, who teaches at the Hoffberger Center for Professional Ethics at the University of Baltimore.

"Basically, it's showing off, just like a guy with a new BMW," he said.

Steven Wise, an animal rights specialist and author, said he sees nothing wrong with looking after animals' care.

"There are many people for whom their companion animals are the most significant relationship in their lives," he said. "Should people be spending all that money on Fido when there are people starving? The answer is: If they don't, people are still going to starve."

More than 62 percent of all U.S. households have a pet, up from 56 percent in 1988, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association Inc. Owners will spend $30 billion this year on their pets -- or about twice the gross domestic product of Costa Rica.

Recent surveys of pet owners offer a snapshot of the trend to humanize one's pet: 55 percent call themselves "mom" or "dad." Eleven percent say they feel closest to their pets while exchanging kisses; 5 percent talk baby talk to their animal friend. Nearly one in five carries a pet's picture in the wallet.

More than half of all dog owners will buy the canine a Christmas present, one in five will buy a toothbrush, and about 8 percent might buy a casket when it dies.

"Even in this depressed economy, the veterinary industry and the pet industry is holding its own," said Jeff Werber, a California veterinarian and former host of "Petcetera" on the Animal Planet channel. "Why? Because pets are kids."

As the nation grows ever more urban and faceless, people turn to pets for warmth and understanding. At the same time, pets can enhance community life, Werber said, pointing to how many times strangers approach a person with a dog and strike up a conversation.

Werber said some people go a little overboard, sometimes sparing no expense on cancer treatments despite little or no hope. "In other words, it's only going to buy you an extra three months," he said. "They don't bat an eye."

Neither do some customers at the Olde Towne Pet Resort. Push beyond the reception desk and the lobby, past the boutique, where owners can set up allowances for their pets to purchase toys during their stays, and the doors open to a state-of-the-art kennel.

One must go to the top floor, of course, for the ultimate. Thirty-six suites await, each with a television so that dogs can vegetate with 75 satellite channels.

Chief executive Carlos Mejias, 52, said he expects the resort to turn a profit in three years -- and he knows a little about the pet business. When he opened the Olde Towne School for Dogs in an Alexandria florist shop, people chuckled at the notion of doggy day care. Today, it's a $2 million-per-year business.