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Published: Sunday, 10/23/2011

Travel dilemma: When a hotel goes to the dogs


Q: We just returned from a long trip by car. We like the La Quinta chain. Many of their hotels are "pet friendly," and we noticed many more pet-friendly hotels on our trip. I don't want to spend the night in a room that has been inhabited by someone else's dog. What are the assumptions? Are some rooms set aside for pets, while other rooms exclude pets? How should someone handle this issue when making a reservation? What about people with severe allergies? --J. Fitzpatrick, Long Beach, Calif.

A: I can't stop myself from saying this, so here it is: The answers may have people fighting like cats and dogs.

Here's what Teresa Ferguson, the director of communications and public relations for La Quinta, said in an email to me: "While each location may handle room assignments for pet owners differently, please be assured all La Quinta hotels have a system in place that notifies the housekeeping staff of a pet-occupied room. With this information, the room attendant is able to pay special attention when cleaning the room to ensure it is ready for the next guest."

Of the several hotel groups I contacted, many used some variation on the idea of "special attention" to rooms, sometimes calling what is done "deep cleaning" or "sanitizing," which can include shampooing of carpets and other efforts to get rid of allergens. Many charge an extra fee for such work.

Other hotels and motels have special rooms set aside just for guests with pets. They're still thoroughly cleaned, but if you have allergies, you probably won't end up in one of those rooms.

And all of the hotel representatives suggested contacting the hotel directly to discuss your needs.

Because here's the problem: No matter how well you clean those rooms or no matter how isolated those pets-only rooms, people who have severe allergies may still have a reaction.

That reaction may not be as serious as, say, a peanut or shellfish reaction, but in people with severe allergies, the lingering presence could trigger an asthma attack, said Dr. James Sublett, an allergist at the University of Louisville School of Medicine and a spokesman for the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

"I'm sure hotels do their best to try to do a deep cleaning," he said. But the decline in allergens occurs "over weeks to months," he said.

Dr. Mark Dykewicz, director of Allergy & Immunology at Wake Forest Medical School, concurs. "It is certainly possible that the presence of a pet in a hotel room from a previous guest's stay could leave sufficient allergens behind to cause allergy problems in an allergic individual," he said.

In other words, Fido or Fluffy is the gift that keeps on giving and, for the allergic individual, the most prudent course of action may be simply to avoid those hotels that allow pets. (If that's not possible, both doctors urge medications to minimize the reaction. Allergy shots, Sublett noted, also can help.)

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