While researchers cant be sure that playing less is directly to blame, they say that games provide vital intellectual stimulation and exercise.

Johannesburg - Did your family have to go on your summer holiday without your beloved pets? Or perhaps you didn’t go away at all because of the hassle of finding a reliable kennel service or pet-sitter?

When pet owners do decide to travel with their pets, planning stress-free holidays can be a hassle of endless phone calls and enquires.

Help is at hand in the form of the South African Petfriendly Directory, which is in its seventh edition.

Co-author Sharyn Spicer says there has been a steady rise in the number of establishments in South Africa willing to accommodate pets.

The KwaZulu-Natal-based dog owner and Janine Nepgen (also a cat and dog owner) compile a directory that lists and reviews a wide range of accommodation offerings, destinations and services where pets are not just taken into account but welcomed.

The directory includes pet-friendly hiking trails, markets, malls, restaurants and farm stalls.

Nepgen says: “We encourage a pet-friendly world because pets are part of a healthy, physical and emotional life. There’s a growing group of people who, like us, believe pets should be more included in every aspect of life.”

The directory started out seven years ago with a list of 108 establishments accommodating pets; today just for accommodation there are over 500 establishments in the directory. There are places with the basics of gardens for dogs to run around in and guest rooms kitted out with dog beds, cushions and blankets. There are service stations on major road routes that offer doggy oases. There are also businesses that offer specialised doggy spa services, walking services and even doggy daycare where dogs can be dropped off when their holidaying humans go sightseeing.

The directory is not just aimed at the more usual pets of dogs and cats, but also horses, birds and even snakes.

And Spicer says the directory lets people know about places and services where pets are welcomed and catered for, not just tolerated.

She says today’s consumers have different, greater expectations and demands. The emphasis is on convenience and services that go the extra mile for themselves and their pets. She says this shift is reflected in changing offerings in the directory year on year.

At the end of the day, pets are big business – worth billions around the world – and South Africa is catching up and cashing in on the trend. Euromonitor International, a market research and analysis company that specialises in the petcare market, notes: “The demand is growing for pet-friendly holiday packages and facilities. It is definitely a niche market to watch as pet power becomes the new pester power.”

The same company says the pet-travel market in the UK, which is, hands down, the most animal-loving nation, is set to increase by 6 percent year-on-year for the next five years. PetRelocation.com, an international pet travel and pet transportation company, announced in their third annual Summer Pet Travel Survey that the popularity of pet travel continues to “hold steady and consumer demands are more specific than ever”.

Earlier this year a British company went so far as to launch an upmarket dog-holiday package. For $70 000 (about R720 000), a pampered pooch would get flown to a top destination with five-star accommodation and get to enjoy the likes of beach runs accompanied by an Olympic sprinter, private screenings of doggy movies like Lassie and go home with a designer dog collar.

In Canada, pet lovers can splash out at the Best Western Niagara Falls, where, for a price, canines are welcomed with doggy biscuits on arrival and get a goody bag of treats, poop bags and a water bowl when they check in. Walking and grooming services come standard.

TripAdvisor, the global travel review site, now makes provision for pet-friendly info for travellers. It’s recognition of just how high up pet-friendly accommodation rates on travellers’ priorities list.

The site noted, in a survey released last August, that fewer people than those surveyed in the previous year are prepared to travel when they can’t find animal-friendly accommodation. According to their data, 35 percent of pet owners take shorter vacations and 25 percent of them take fewer holidays because they can’t take along their pets.

This is why the shift to accommodating four-legged guests makes sound business sense – people will pay if their pets are kept happy.

Lynn Stacey, owner of Villa Rosa guest house in Sea Point, Cape Town, sees the benefits of attracting paying guests who want to holiday with their pets.

“I have two dogs myself and I enjoy travelling with them and they come with me to work at the guest house, so I understand what pet owners go through when they have to leave their pets behind. It was quite a natural progression to make our guest house pet-friendly,” says Stacey.

Stacey says even with pets around she’s been able to stick to using pristine white linen in their inner-city establishment, which is what most guests, with or without pets, prefer.

She says good communication and setting out basic house rules for guests with pets is critical. She stresses that the rules of responsible pet ownership don’t change when people are on holiday. It means guests can’t abuse pet-friendly establishments as kennel services or pet-sitting services.

“Pets that are used to travelling are usually already quite well behaved so we’ve never had anything chewed up and we always have things like throws and extra sheets for pets, which protect our furniture. By making these small adjustments, we can keep everyone happy and even keep the white linen,” she says.

Her guest house accommodates mostly dogs, but she says they’ve also hosted a parrot and show cats in the past.

For Bill Ross-Adams, of Bill’s Best Holidays in KZN, having a broad offering of accommodation choices has been key to being able to welcome pets. It means pets fit in quite well without disturbing other guests who don’t like animals or may have pet allergies.

Ross-Adams says it’s a growing hospitality industry trend they had to respond to. “We have been operating since 1994 and over the years we’ve definitely seen more and more people wanting to travel with their pets.”

But he adds: “Being pet-friendly doesn’t mean animals just run wild on a property, because we also have to make sure that other guests are not disturbed. It’s about getting a balance that works for everyone.”

It comes down to good housekeeping, common sense and communication and a little bit of tolerance. Together, it’s a recipe for everyone to have a happy holiday – even those with paws and claws.

l The Petfriendly Directory costs R250. Visit www.petfriendly.co.za or call 021 858 1077. - The Star