Four-legged friends, five-star treatment

Thatched cabanas, an artificial beach, and a saltwater pool for diving. Guy Adams reports on a dogs' paradise in California
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The Independent US

Like many a young American with parents who like to spoil him, Declan Kelly spent a roasting hot afternoon last week splashing around his local water park. It had fountains, a simulated beach, and thatched cabanas where he could kick back and watch the world go by. There were areas for learning to swim, in big red buoyancy vests, or surf, on foam boogie boards. The centrepiece was a saltwater pool where instructors taught visitors how to dive.

Declan had the time of his life. Until the moment came to go home, that is. Then, in what looked suspiciously like a demonstration of adolescent frustration, he ran to the far side of the collection of swimming pools and began to urinate against a fence. Later, on his way out to the car park, he approached a female visitor, and proceeded to sniff her bottom.

Fortunately, such things happen all the time at this water park, in the San Fernando Valley just north of Los Angeles. That's because Declan is a dog (a German-shepherd-based mongrel) and the water park is part of the Paradise Ranch, an upmarket resort which caters exclusively for extremely pampered canines.

"Everyone knows that dogs love to play in the water, especially in summer time when we are at our busiest, so we thought this would be a brilliant way to keep them entertained," says Kristyn Goddard, the Ranch's owner, of the newly opened facility. "It's the world's first canine water park. They can have swimming lessons if they need, because not every dog takes to water straight away, and boogie board lessons, which are very popular."

The Ranch – which costs $35 (£23) per day or $65 overnight – represents the latest milestone in the rapid development of America's high-end pet industry, which recently saw Disneyland open pet-friendly hotels, together with the launch of Pet Airways, a domestic airline which allows passengers to bring their furry friends in the cabin with them.

Like many a fad, it is being driven by celebrities who have made some breeds of dog as fashionable as designer handbags. This month's ribbon-cutting at Paradise Ranch was carried out, before a gaggle of television news cameras, by Brad Sherwood, a comedian from Who's Line is it Anyway?

Other celebrity clientele, according to a list in reception, have over the years included Jessica Alba, Ozzy Osbourne, Aaron Eckhart, Anthony Hopkins, Halle Berry, and Penelope Cruz. Many of them use the "Mutt Cab," the business's customised Mercedes SUV, to transport their pooches between their homes and the Ranch.

The business was founded in the late 1990s to cater to the growing numbers of cash-rich, time-poor pet owners who didn't want to condemn their domestic animals to the equivalent of solitary confinement by putting them in old-fashioned boarding kennels, where residents are kept apart from each other to prevent fights.

Instead, Goddard allows up to 72 different animals to stay with their peers in air-conditioned, communal homes. "Dogs are social creatures, and putting them in a cage makes them miserable," says Goddard. "When we started, we were the first cage-free boarding facility in America. Now they are everywhere. I guess the water park idea will inevitably be copied, too."

Goddard's guests spend their nights (and the hottest parts of the day) indoors, where they lie on sheepskin rugs and watch flat-screen televisions. Twenty-five members of staff work round the clock to make sure they are happy. Owners can log on to a website 24 hours a day, to look at CCTV footage of their pets, and check they're OK. For an extra $20 a night, they will get a human to share their bed.

"It's just a really happy place for dogs," says Declan's owner, Maya Kelly. "He was a bit of a nervous nelly today, with regard to going in the water. But it was a great experience for him to try something new. And he loves just being around other dogs and having different things to smell."

Residents of Paradise Ranch visit the water park morning and evening, before the heat of the day, when temperatures can hit 43C. Some are content to simply splash around, or swim in circles. Others are given instructions in basic swimming, or riding surf boards.

The most ambitious learn dock-diving, a canine version of the long jump in which competitors leap from a raised platform into a pool of water. The sport has become hugely popular in recent years, and is now screened on ESPN. The national champion, a labrador called Little Morgan, was recently nominated for an ESPY, the network's annual awards which have previously been won by Tiger Woods and Roger Federer.

"Dogs need a job, they need to have something useful and to feel wanted, otherwise they take out their frustrations on something, so by giving them a learning experience like this, we hope to make their stay enjoyable," adds Goddard. "I want dogs to go home having really had a holiday, feeling really tired."

To that end, the new water park is the first step in an elaborate plan to recreate the human holiday resort experience. Next year, she hopes to build a multi-gym at Paradise, complete with treadmills, for energetic canine visitors who need something to do once they've stepped out of the pool.

The best a pet can get

High-flying pets Gone are the days of flying cattle class for these cosseted creatures. Companies such as Pet Airways fly 'pawsengers' in carry cases stored under passengers' seats; prices start at $69 (£44) for domestic US flights.

Animal weddings "Make an honest man out of your ram," says, one of hundreds of animal matrimony specialists online. One Northamptonshire cattery's weddings cost £120 (including cake, excluding dress). Civil ceremonies for same-sex pet couples are available.

Pet psychics Whispering is passé – now animal communication is all about telepathy. An initial consultation with fully qualified communicator Oephebia, from London, costs £60.

Creature couture Pet-a-Porter is Harrods' Fashion Show for four-legged fashionistas. Last year, canines modelled catwalk creations from Vivienne Westwood and hats from milliner Victoria Grant.