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A FETCHING PLACE

In the dog days of August, when the people go away, a holiday for dogs begins on a narrow road of cornfields, split-rail fences and a red barn. The sound of car tires crunching over gravel signals arrival at Reisterstown Boarding Kennel's "Pet Resort & Spa."

A small white husky with a blue kerchief around her neck enters the lobby. She looks from her owner to the kennel door and back to her owner again before making a mad dash into the kennel.

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According to advertisements, spa services here rival those offered by the best hotel chains. Extras range from $4 for a romp in the indoor park to $60 for a therapeutic swim, and all 140 beds are booked.

Inside in the library, Holly, a long-haired Chihuahua, relaxes on the blue-plaid sofa. For a minute, her eyes turn to the television in the corner, featuring the film 101 Dalmatians. Then she rolls over for a tummy rub. Her 20-minute massage every other day comes with a different movie, movies with names like All Dogs Go to Heaven, The Fox and the Hound and Underdog.

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She spreads out on the couch, taking a break, but it isn't long before she snuggles in the lap of Anna Proper, 17. The dog shivers with excitement as Proper's fingers run over her body.

From every vantage, Holly sees an image of her kind: on the wallpaper, on the television, on the book shelf, with its 23 dozen neatly stacked dog magazines, and on the floor, where a ceramic hound holds a lantern in his mouth. Books about dogs - dogs in the garden, dogs at play, training dogs - are on display. Dogs don't read them, Proper says, though "some seem that talented."

In the next room, an indoor playground decorated with a giant wall mural of dogs romping in a park, A.C., a 1-year-old German shepherd, walks up and down an agility ramp before a swim. The pool is on the other side of the room, overlooking a scene of Nantucket-style cottages on a wide swatch of sand beyond the sea.

The water beckons. A.C. is ready. He climbs up the stairs to the pool. He puts on his life jacket, aided by Josie Molesworth, who stands in the 4 1/2 -foot-deep water in her wetsuit. A.C. swims back and forth in pursuit of a football. Five minutes of swimming against the current provides the same workout as 25 minutes of walking. After a minute, A.C. is whipped. He drops back to a corner of the pool for his cool-down muscle rub.

Pacing himself? He's scheduled for outdoor play and the doggie bone beach, too.

On the way to the outdoor playground, dogs pass the luxury suites, with potted flowers hanging from each door.

Though their rooms may be different, all dogs run in the same grassy back yard, and right now, it's Ralph's turn. The 4-month-old chocolate Labrador retriever runs the length of the 90-by-110-foot enclosed grassy sweep. Once he catches his bright-red knobby toy, Ralph won't let it go - until he sees a ball. He chases it through a long red tunnel. The sun is hot, and after only a few minutes, he runs to the white gate and sits, waiting for an escort home; he's had enough.

In one corner of the play yard lies the beach. Tiny chairs with umbrellas sit next to the potted palm trees and ring the sand pit. A deep blue pool with a stream of cooling water invites guests.

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Princess, a skittish yellow Lab, takes a stroll down the boardwalk before testing the water. She runs through the sprinkler and shakes herself before she leaps on the nearest person and plants a face kiss.

"Come in with me," she seems to say to her handler, Sara King, 18, and with Princess pulling, King nearly does. At the last minute, King catches herself on the edge of the pool. Splash, splash. Bored, Princess soon runs to the other side of the yard, where a toy box hangs on the fence. Someone arrives to open the box for her, and takes out a flying disc. She lunges for it.

Princess is staying in a luxury kennel ($30 a night; regular rooms are based on a dog's weight). There are six luxury kennels, and they are so popular that kennel owners Velma and Bob Gakenheimer wish they had installed 18. Each 6-by-7-foot room has its own theme (Puppyball, Tails and Wiggles Playhouse, Scooby Doo), a wallpaper border of dogs in various scenes of play, a TV and a lounging bed, raised or fluffy. The rooms open to a 6-by-10 1/2 -foot covered patio, with a patch of grass, umbrella, table and chairs. The only barking the dogs hear inside these walls is their own.

Vacation is over when dogs find themselves in the grooming room, just before they're picked up to go home.

Betty Spears is not fooled when Spot, her 4-year-old wire-haired fox terrier, greets her in the lobby after 12 days' separation by running like a yo-yo in every direction from her leash. Spot is a high-energy dog, but she always comes home exhausted.

"I think she parties all night," Spears says as she leads Spot to the car. In a mile or two, she predicts, Spot will be sound asleep. Vacation is nice, but she'll be glad to return to routine.


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