A recent stay at The Arch London hotel in Marylebone left me with one pressing question: should a person be able to order a pipless fruit salad and a peppermint tea, chilled to 21C, and have it served by another human being to an overfed Jack Russell, on the grounds that she – the dog – is suffering a bout of indigestion? Or is that an indulgence too far even for the oft-ridiculous world of luxury travel?
The overfed Jack Russell in question is Billie, and The Arch London is the latest of a handful of five-star boutique hotels in Britain to offer dog services. Bearing in mind the media frenzy caused by the recent opening of a cat café in the capital, it seemed only right that Billie and I – poop-a-scoop in hand – should check it out.
The usual features of a five-star experience are there for the owners: the room offers super-duper-king size bed with sheets as flat as Norfolk, an impressive free fruit selection and a cavernous en-suite bathroom.
But Billie is very well catered-for in our room too. There is a fur-lined dog bed and dog toy, a small leather-bound “Pets’ Menu” and a box of organic liver, alfalfa and turmeric canine treats. In the bathroom, a pint bottle of lemon and eucalyptus-infused Aesop fur and body wash (which retails for £25) sits atop the marble counter.
Doggy business is big business. In 2012, Britons spoiled their pooches with £368m of dog treats. The sector grew by 50 per cent in the four previous recession-darkened years. The Pet Industry Federation reports a year-on-year increase in the number of hotels nationwide that welcome dogs. Some take it further. One academic, Professor Gregory Berns, recently wrote an opinion column in The New York Times entitled “Dogs are people, too”, calling for “a sort of limited personhood” to be granted to our mutts.
As Billie and I trot down the oak-panelled corridor towards the Martini Library for dinner, it seems we may well be at the vanguard of a new civil rights movement. “Water for the dog? Still or sparkling?” the waitress asks. I can’t help but wince as she squats gingerly to pour mineral water into Billie’s metal bowl.
In advance of our stay, I was informed that Billie would be able to choose “whatever she wants” from the kitchens. Worried that such a choice might overwhelm her – and unsure how she’ll communicate her desired dish – I order à la carte on her behalf and pick the “pets’ salmon and broccoli, served with white rice cooked in a home-made stock and garnished with a fried, filleted sardine and a side order of sautéed spinach and carrots”. I feel obliged to take a forkful. It’s delicious – I would happily have eaten the lot – although Billie vomits her spinach on to the Persian rug.
After finishing most of a portion big enough to satisfy a Labrador, Billie waddles over to the sofa and struggles to hoist herself and her barrel-like stomach on to it. Inspired by the diva Mariah Carey (and in search of the limits of the hotel’s hospitality) we order the peppermint tea at room temperature and the pipless fruit. “No problem at all,” says our smiling waitress.
In the morning, I leave Billie in the capable hands of Theo, the concierge, while I head off on a work assignment. As with all the staff, Theo is perfectly at ease with her. Growing up, he tells me, he had a springer spaniel called Lucky. But, seeing Theo with his smart suit and easy smile, I cannot help but think of a Disney bad guy who may have designs on turning Billie into a pair of gloves.
I assuage my guilt at leaving her by calling Theo and asking him to check Billie in for a treatment at the Chelsea Pet Spa, which is included with our stay. Here, she can have a coat colour enhancer, a blueberry and vanilla facial, an hour-long Swedish massage, or even a glitter spray. Sadly, the spa is full, which leaves only one way to get Billie ready for her Independent photoshoot. I run the bath and reach for the fur wash.
While I give her belly a gentle loofah scrub, John Stuart Mill’s maxim comes to mind: “Better to be a dissatisfied human than a pig in mud.” I wonder what the father of British liberty would have made of five-star, boutique doggy hotels – and whether Professor Berns may one day be remembered as a trailblazer.
Thanks to The Arch London, 50 Great Cumberland Place, Marble Arch, London W1H 7FD. Prices start from £205 for a standard room, and £1,005 for a suite. For reservations, please call: 020 7724 4700 or visit thearchlondon.com