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Puppy Palace for the 1%, for Lapdogs of Luxury

The Spot Experience, the Montessori of the dog world, which can easily cost you $12,000 a year to take care of your dog.

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“We’ve had some high-profile clientele leave their dogs here for one to two months,” manager Lucas Mandell told us.

A former NFL player, Mr. Marrow spent more than a decade as a hedge funder, trying to balance his crazy work schedule and the care of his two gigantic dogs, a Saint Bernard and a bull mastiff. Not only did he see the need for more extensive care, he also saw that Americans were spending a tremendous amount of money on the things that were already out there, more than $40 billion annually. People want and love pets, but they don’t have the time to take care of them—a reality that he is happy to capitalize on.

“The kind of clients who live in luxury residential buildings have disposable incomes, and they’re willing to pay a premium to feel at ease,” Mr. Marrow explained. “I was definitely was.”

Spot’s membership is $200 annually, which guarantees space in day and overnight care and webcam access. Unlimited doggy day care costs $675 a month, and shuttle service is an additional $350. Other add-ons range from $16.20 for a half-hour group walk to an overnight in the country for $120, so that, all told, it’s easy to exceed $1,000 a month. Demand for services is growing, and a number of luxury buildings have partnered with Spot, earning a discount on the shuttle service, among other perks.

“I don’t know how people live without them,” said Bob Cohen, a TV producer whose wife works on Wall Street. A little more than a year ago, Mr. Cohen gave into the pleas of his 10-year-old son and adopted Spike, a goldendoodle. But the busy family quickly found out that even fitting in three walks a day was tough.

“We pretty much use it for everything. They even drop off food and take the dog to the vet when necessary. It’s one-stop shopping.”

But some owners have absentee guilt, which Mr. Marrow called “one of the biggest issues.” At least with his establishment, “you know you’re not being cruel to the dog,” he said. “You’re giving the dog a good life.”

One sun-soaked morning in September, we met up with Maggie at Spot. The staff greeted  The Observer warmly, but did not offer us one of the gourmet Stella & Chewy beef-flavored treats on the reception desk. A 16-ounce bag sells for $30. “Pretty much the most expensive treat you can get,” Mr. Mandell told us.

Nor were we invited into the playroom. Being neither a certified trainer nor an approved dog, we might disrupt the room’s meticulously managed social dynamics.

We were allowed to peer through the windows, however, and we watched several other dogs as they mingled and dozed on orthopedic beds, stumpy metal frames with green canvas stretched over them. Mr. Mandell said the beds are better for a dog’s skeletal structure than the puffy kind, although he admitted that they were a little expensive, at several hundred dollars a piece.

A few of the dogs gazed up at us, but they turned away when one of the trainers who continually walked the room asked for their attention. Christian Polhamus, the day care supervisor, explained that the trainer was constantly reasserting his alpha position with signals and commands. If he sees two dogs engaging in prolonged wrestling—not an aggressive interaction in itself, but one that could lead to a fight—he will ask them to stop for a moment and look both of them in the eyes. A hairy eyeball is all that’s needed to diffuse escalation. Dog owners have described watching the playroom as mesmerizing—one woman told us that she had trouble getting any work done because she couldn’t stop staring at it, but after 10 minutes we were growing a little bored, so the Mr. Mandell took  The Observer on a tour of the outdoor play area.

 
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