If you’re the type who would never dream of vacationing without your precious pooch or fluffy feline, then pack up your pet carrier and start exploring pet-friendly Wisconsin.
Pets Rule the Road Trip
A 2010 survey by TripAdvisor put the number of pet owners traveling with their pets at a healthy 61 percent. And Wisconsin is ready to welcome this majority. In fact, you might say that travel in the state has gone to the dogs. Tourism businesses throughout the state have embraced the trend, whether it’s providing upscale lodging for dogs and their owners, hosting festivals devoted to man’s best friend or opening pet boutiques. And you can bet the animals are showered with the same genuine hospitality as the humans.
Friendliest Accommodations, Budget to Luxe
Once you’ve decided on your destination, it’s time to find pet-friendly digs. A good starting point is the state’s tourism website, TravelWisconsin.com. Just click on the Accommodations link, choose the style of lodging you prefer — like hotels and motels or resorts — and when you get to the directory listing, use the “Pets Welcome” search filter.
Based on sheer numbers alone, the Cabins and Cottages category earns the highest mark as pet-friendly, with 152 different properties popping up in the search. That’s great news for visitors heading to one of the state’s many woodlands for a laid-back vacation. Lake resorts are often pet-friendly, too, like Baker’s Sunset Bay Resort on Lake Delton in Wisconsin Dells and the historic Gibson’s West Harbor Resort built on Washington Island around 1870.
Dog checking in at Iron Horse
Photo courtesy of The Iron Horse Hotel
You may be surprised to learn that upscale boutique hotels, like downtown Milwaukee’s Iron Horse Hotel, are also getting into the pet-friendly business. This motorcycle-themed hotel provides V.I.Pooch treatment with its Big Dog Package that includes the dog’s name on the welcome chalkboard in the lobby, treats from Metropawlis (a Milwaukee pet boutique and bakery), a big dog room service menu, and a map to dog-walking areas and outdoor restaurants.
At the Jefferson Street Inn, located in the historic arts district of downtown Wausau, the staff really rolls out the red carpet for pets. Case in point, this boutique hotel hosted Jack Hanna, star of “Into the Wild” and regular on “The Late Show with David Letterman.” He was in town for a performance and had a menagerie of animals in tow, including a penguin, snake, flamingo and tiger. Each had their own handler and suite. Hotel general manager Deb Rice says their Pet-Friendly Package is a huge seller, and they also get a fair number of long-term guests who bring along their pets.
Another style of lodging that seems particularly pet-friendly is bed and breakfasts, with innkeepers proudly posting photos on their websites of their own pets along with their guests’ pets. Check out the elegant Stewart Inn in Wausau, the cozy Feathered Star B&B in Door County, or the country estate, Speckled Hen Inn, in Madison.
If you and your dog are adventurous types, head to Justin Trails B&B in Sparta and let owner Donna Justin introduce you to the combo human/dog sport of skijoring. For those not familiar with this Nordic sport, a cross-country skier is attached to his/her dog with a specially designed towline and harness and the dog pulls the skier across the snow. The sport has been around for hundreds of years and originated with reindeer pulling people on wooden skis. At Justin Trails, dogs and owners have the run of the groomed skijoring trail, just one of many trails traversing the property’s 231 acres. “We have two Siberian huskies, so guests without dogs can borrow ours,” said innkeeper Donna Justin.
Festivals Catering to Canines
Every dog should have their day in the sun, at least that’s the philosophy among a number of event organizers around Wisconsin. Bastille Days (July 14-17, 2011) is Milwaukee’s salute to all things French and that includes poodles. The festival features La Parade des Caniches — Pooch Parade for you non-French speakers — with fashionably costumed canines strutting their stuff.
Door County holds a Scottie Days gathering every May. Ripon’s big fall event, Septemberfest (Sept. 17, 2011), includes a dog walk and pet parade. There’s also Cambridge’s Barktoberfest (Oct. 9, 2011), which features demonstrations and a prize for the best owner/pet theme costume.
One event that is a must-experience for dog lovers is Dog Days of Stockholm, billed as a celebration of dogs and the arts. The 2011 event is slated for the weekend of Aug. 5-6 and will feature a Smarty Paws Parade; dog contests with prizes for best smile, person who looks most like their pet and best trick; and dog-related art, music and literature. Organizer Mary Anne Collins-Svoboda said that Saturday will be a full day of stage events showcasing rescue dogs and emphasizing dog adoptions. This canine event, like many others, donates proceeds to area shelters and dog adoption agencies.
Walking the Dog
The same TripAdvisor survey also asked pet-packing travelers what they find most desirable in a home away from home. Nearly half (44 percent) cited designated green space for walking their animals as the most important component of pet-friendly lodging. Wisconsin delivers on that in spades.
A getaway with your dog should include a stop at one of the state’s many pet-friendly state parks. Pattison State Park in Superior offers a 1-mile-long dog trail that links into the dogs welcome Logging Camp Trail. Lake Kegonsa State Park near Madison features a pier to teach your dog to jump into the lake.
If you fancy the recommendations from Dog Fancy magazine, the most widely read dog magazine in the world, then don’t miss a chance to visit the Jefferson County Dog Park near Johnson Creek, rated among the top 40 in the country by the publication and the only one in Wisconsin to make the list. In New London, you can jog past the site of the historical marker for the Wisconsin State Dog, the American water spaniel, the only breed native to Wisconsin. The marker is in Franklin Park, the city’s oldest park, and can be found right next to the New London tourism office. The city of Madison also has a half dozen off-leash parks for dogs to roam, roll in the mud and make new friends so take your pick.
Shops Dedicated to Dog Treats
The American Pet Products Association has kept track of how much Americans spend on their pets and, in 2010, the number skyrocketed to $47.7 billion from $34 billion just six years earlier, with a large chunk of that spent toting pets along on vacation. It also includes pampering purchases. You can make your dog feel extra special on vacation by visiting Paws for Treats in Lake Geneva, Stove Dog Bakery in Door County, or Sophie’s Dog Bakery in downtown Hayward where you’ll not only find treats and toys, but warm coats for winter and dog life jackets for summer fun. There’s also Bad Dog Frida, a whimsical store in Madison that is dedicated to honoring dogs and the joy they bring into people’s lives. The shop also aims to give visibility to pet-centric artists, to offer products that reflect the bond between humans and dogs, and to support pet rescue operations, all under “one woof” as the website states.
For a pleasant getaway with your pet and to make sure you’re welcomed back, here are some common “petiquette” tips to keep in mind:
• Make sure your pet is up to date with vaccinations and has a current ID tag.
• Take a minute to locate the closest veterinarian to where you’ll be staying.
• Book a room on a ground floor near an exit for convenient “bathroom” breaks, then always clean up after your pet.
• Ask the front desk staff for recommendations on best places to walk your dog.
• Don’t leave your pet unattended in your hotel room; if you must, alert hotel staff.
• Keep your pet on a leash.