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'Resort' to Cater to Dogs and Cats

August 8, 2002

A chic new L-shaped “resort and spa” is under construction in Great Falls.

It will have large, carpeted suites and condos with televisions and piped-in music. There’ll be a swimming pool for exercise and a whirlpool spa for hydrotherapy.

A full-service salon will offer haircuts and styling and nail treatments. Dental services, including cleaning, will also be available to guests.

For sprier guests, particularly those with backgrounds in defense or security work, there’ll an agility course so they can stay in shape.

The lobby will have an atrium with a coffee bar, and Queen Anne chairs with data ports for laptop computers.

There’ll be an upscale gift shop that will offer Lalique crystal, Lladro porcelain, stained glass, and specialty items by local artists, such as paintings and sculpture of animals.

“We’re trying to make it just like home, so when [guests] come, they don’t get stressed out,” said John Homan, one of the managers of the new facility that is now under construction at the intersection of Seneca Road and Georgetown Pike in Great Falls.

Homan refers to guests and clients as “everybody.” What he doesn’t always remember to say is that this spa and resort will serve cats and dogs, not people.

IN ADDITION to the spa, the new building will have a “meditation room” where euthanasia can be performed, appointed with natural stone, plants, and a trickling fountain.

There will be a separate exit for humans who depart in grief.

That’s because Homan, the husband of Seneca Hills Animal Hospital veterinarian Janice Homan, remembers crying for an hour when he had a pet put to sleep.

John Homan and Marty Veron, Janice Homan’s father, have drawn on their own observances and preferences to design the new facility. They also spent four and a half years researching the market for pet services.

“The [three] doctors have nothing to do with this,” Veron said. “They have input on what will work for them medically.”

He and John Homan visited hospitals and boarding facilities in Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Hilton Head, and they pored over floor plans for years. “We know exactly what we want. We’re building a hospital for the animal, not for the client’s psyche,” said Veron.

The more dogs and cats feel at home, the less stress they feel and the happier they are, he said. That means their owners can leave them without worrying.

“MOST OF THE FACILITIES around here warehouse dogs,” said Homan. "Everybody’s in cages.”

“They stuff them anywhere they can get space,” said Veron.

“The industry is going in an upscale direction as pets become more valuable as family members.

“We provide service in Great Falls, and people tell us what they’d like to have for their pets,” said Homan.

“In my eyes, the only competition [we have] is ourselves. If we give people what they want, at a reasonable price,” he said, he thinks the facility will be well used.

After the expansion, pets that stay at Seneca Hill will be in 70-square foot “suites,” each with a toddler-sized bed with a foot board and a headboard, a carpet, a television and music.

There will also be smaller “rooms,” 40 square feet in size.

The cat “condos” will have sling beds.

“Everybody will be walked six or seven times a day,” he said.

Like everyone at Seneca Hill, he refers to dogs as though they are people; small people, like children.

“My dog watches TV,” he said. So he wants that amenity to be available to “guests” at his wife’s boarding facility.

Homan describes the scenario that sometimes greets the humans who drop off their dogs at a kennel before vacation: there’s a cinder block building with chain link dog runs. A cement floor has drains in each dog run, and the floor is hosed down twice a day.

When the door enters, a cacophony of sound goes up. The first dog barks, then the second, as the sound moves down the line.

“And they don’t stop,” Homan has observed in the years he did market research for the new facility. “It’s their social time."

THE HOMANS, John and Janice and her father, Marty Veron, and vets Janet Rosen and Patricia Munizza presently operate a hospital in a 1930s farmhouse on Georgetown Pike that is visible from Route 7.

With only 975 square feet of space, it is “maxed out” as a physical plant, Veron said.

“We bought it in 1995,” said Veron. “The roof leaks, and the windows are falling out.”

Though the hospital has up-to-date equipment and the interior has been modernized with a glass window between the examination room and the surgical suite, the traffic flow isn’t conducive to harmony.

Dogs leaving and arriving mingle with cats in the tiny waiting room, and like most houses of its day, this one has a central hallway that connects all the rooms.

“We want to do laser surgery and ultrasound, but we don’t have the space to bring in the equipment,” said Veron.

After the expansion, the hospital will grow to 6,000 square feet with 33 “suites” with piped-in music, 50 “rooms” with separate areas for seniors and puppies, and 84 cat “condos” with a separate play area for felines.

There’ll be no drains in the floor. “It’s like home. If there’s an ‘accident,’ you clean it up and use the odor eliminator,” said Homan.

GROUNDBREAKING for the new hospital took place on July 18, and construction is expected to take about 10 months, through spring of next year.

Even though the expansion is being completed “by right” and required no special permits, it took two years to get a site permit from Fairfax County, Veron said.

A provision for an equestrian trail between heavily congested Leesburg Pike and Georgetown Pike was waived.

“We’re happy,” Veron said.