By Katie Jackson
January 20, 2020
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Take everything you think you know about dog-friendly hotels (well, most of them) and forget it. As of November, there’s a new definition. Unfortunately for competing properties, the Best Friends Roadhouse and Mercantile set the bar pretty high. But fortunately for dogs, and even cats, there is finally a place where they’re not only welcome, but practically worshipped.

Katie Jackson/Courtesy of Best Friends Roadhouse and Mercantile

“Is that a Leonberger?” asked the receptionist checking us in. She actually stood up and walked around the counter to love on my 10-month-old Leonberger puppy, Wilco. I was impressed. Ninety-nine percent of people have never heard of the breed (basically a Newfoundland-St. Bernard hybrid). However, as I would soon realize, this is Best Friends Roadhouse and Mercantile — it's not in the 99 percent. It’s the exception to the rule. All of the “dog-friendly” hotels I’ve stayed at in the past have had strict rules: You can’t leave your animal alone in the room, there are weight (and breed) limits, and don't even think about keeping your pup off-leash on the property.

Katie Jackson/Courtesy of Best Friends Roadhouse and Mercantile

This new, 40-room property in Kanab, Utah – on the eastern edge of Zion National Park – doesn’t come with those restrictions. Instead, it has crates you can borrow for free, if you have to leave your pet alone in the room. Its rooms feature built-in dog houses and slide-out dog beds that are big enough to comfortably fit Wilco, who weighs 105 pounds. Traveling with a pit bull or another oft-ostracized breed? Just know that Best Friends Animal Society, who owns and operates the hotel, rescued 22 of football quarterback Michael Vick’s former fighting dogs.

Courtesy of Best Friends Roadhouse and Mercantile

The property also offers complimentary shuttles to Best Friends Animal Society’s sanctuary, five miles up the road. Guests are invited to volunteer, enjoy a $5 vegan buffet lunch, and even take an animal back to the Roadhouse for a sleepover. And if the sanctuary — the largest no-kill animal shelter in the U.S. — looks familiar, you’re not imagining things. It was the setting for National Geographic’s 2008 to 2010 series, DogTown. The sanctuary is also home to Cat World, and its 1,500-plus rescued residents include horses, rabbits, birds, and more.

In fact, the huge portrait hanging over my bed in room 111 showed Paco, a parrot stolen from the jungle. After several bad human homes, he ended up at the sanctuary, where he regained his health. And according to the posted placard in our room, he can sing Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

Wilco and I didn’t meet Paco. But in the mercantile, where a complimentary vegan continental breakfast is served daily, we met Lady, a shy husky mix adopted by a Las Vegas family we enjoyed getting to know. We also ran into Boulder, a bulldog of some kind, and his well-dressed Chihuahua friend on our way to the on-site dog park. The hotel has two dog parks — one for small dogs and one that is big enough for 101 Dalmatians. Everything, from the “slurp” doggie water fountains to the rooms’ two-door entries to deter Houdinis to the gravel (pavement can get too hot for paws), is designed with dogs in mind.

Courtesy of Best Friends Roadhouse and Mercantile
Katie Jackson/Courtesy of Best Friends Roadhouse and Mercantile

“Pet-centric” is the exact term used by Best Friends. When I asked Julie, one of the staff members who has a Great Pyrenees I’m dying to meet, if I could bring a bunny from the sanctuary back to the hotel for a sleepover, she said, “Sure.” Since the hotel is new, they just have to lay down something like a yoga mat, so the bunny doesn’t chew up the floor. Also, you can only host a sleepover if you’re not traveling with a personal pet. Sorry, Wilco.

But even without a pet, I’d stay here. With its warm wood tones, throw blankets, and soft lighting (there are three settings to choose from), our room exuded hygge. Takeout menus, channel lists, and any information that is normally printed out can be found on the sleek in-room tablet. There are no plastic-wrapped plastic cups or mini shampoo bottles in the bathroom, which boasts sliding barn-style doors. Even the ice bucket in our kitchenette – stocked with cutlery and cookware I’d buy for my own kitchen – looked nice enough to have on the table at Easter.

Courtesy of Best Friends Roadhouse and Mercantile

There were also dog dishes for Wilco, hooks by the door for his leash, and two dog beds. In addition, the property has rooms specifically designed for cats (think window perches, cat-proof blinds, high hanging light fixtures, and the obligatory litter box). There’s even a pet-free room for travelers with allergies. The two-level accommodations can sleep up to eight, or 12 if you bring the four allotted pets per room. And almost anything you forget to pack – for yourself or Fido – can be purchased at the mercantile. I think it was Wilco’s first store (besides PetSmart).

The one place Wilco wasn’t thrilled with was the indoor pet-washing station. It’s free for guests and is stocked with almost everything a professional groomer would have. Next door, you'll find guest laundry, which is also free. I felt guilty about doing a big load without paying a small fortune for the amount of Tide, Shout, and Bounce dryer sheets I used. But that’s free, too.

The rooms, however, are not free. They start at $109/night, and rates are seasonal. The property, which will use its revenue to try and end animal killings in U.S. shelters by 2025, is conveniently located in the Grand Circle. In any direction, within 100 miles, there is a national park (Grand Canyon, Zion, and Bryce Canyon) or national monument (Grand Staircase-Escalante).

But you don’t have to step foot in a national park to justify visiting Best Friends Roadhouse and Mercantile. This is the kind of place that's worth a 10-hour flight (or in our case, a 10-hour drive from Montana). The only downside? If you do bring your dog, he might be ruined for life. How do I explain to Wilco that not every dog-friendly hotel has treats at check-in?