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Beach towns welcoming more visitors with pets

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REHOBOTH BEACH, Delaware — The patio and tea room inside the Bewitched Bed and Breakfast in Rehoboth Beach is brimming with memorabilia from the spellbinding '60s sitcom.

Barbie dolls of the nose-wriggling witch Samantha Stephens fill a bookshelf and stills from the show line the walls. When owner Inez Conover took over the bed and breakfast 15 years ago, she redid each room with painstaking reverence to the show. But it's not details such as the Venetian drapes in the Endora-themed room which draw visitors to the B&B on Lake Avenue.

"We're doggie heaven," she said. "We have doggie bathrobes, doggie showers ... the dogs love the bathrobes, their tails wag a hundred miles an hour."

Canines romp around Conover's gated 4,000-square-foot deck and patter into a small gravel playpen at the corner of the backyard. Each room's bed is triple sheeted, in case dogs want to snuggle with their owners, and guests can be sure there's no chocolate left on the pillow. The B&B's maitre d'hotel are two cavichons named Ella Marie and Oh Riley, who greet visitors when they're not chewing on a Nylabone.

Where many dog lovers try to find dog-friendly vacation spots, towns along Delaware's coast are fast becoming pet destinations which also happen to accommodate their owners.

Richmond, Virginia, resident Chris Parker and Brent Mackinder of Newport News, Virginia, came to Rehoboth specifically for its pet-friendly reputation.

"Whether you kennel your dog or have somebody stop by (to watch it) it's a pain," said Parker, whose Great Dane, Atlas, towered over Mackinder's whippet, Rocksie, in the playpen.

Walk onto the patio of many beach-area restaurants and one hears not only the clinking of martini glasses, but the jingling of collars. At a recent yappy hour, an early drink special time for both dogs and their owners, the back patio of the Seafood Shack in Rehoboth was busy serving Cosmos and frosted biscuits.

Carl Armideo, a volunteer at the Delaware Human Society, has held a series of the happy hours at the Purple Parrot and Cafe Azafran to benefit the organization.

The event has garnered its regulars as well as a steady stream of visitors, such as Bear residents Chery and Jay Pleasanton, who came with their Boston terriers, Peanut and Noodles. Rehoboth has a way to go before it's as dog friendly as the Outer Banks or Savannah, Georgia, but it's still a draw for dog owners, the Pleasantons said.

"As far as Delaware beaches go, it's pretty good," Jay said. "(Dogs) are everywhere here."

Just north of Rehoboth, Lewes boasts dog-friendly beaches at Cape Henlopen State Park and its own canine activities in town. Lesley Bowers, owner of the pet boutique P.U.P.S. of Lewes said dog events have taken over the town.

February's annual Barkfest began as a component of Winter Fest, but the event soon took on a life of its own, she said. The city even renames Bank Street as "Bark" Street for the day.

"The pet pageant has become the event," she said. "The rest of the Winter Fest faded away and it became the Bark Fest."

Even in Bethany Beach, where dogs are not allowed on the beach at all between May and September, the main street is dominated by shops catering to pets. Jamie Idzi, who has worked at the Yuppy Puppy on Garfield Parkway since 2004 and became owner in 2007, founded the Halloween "Wags, Witches and Warlocks" parade in 2011.

Over her years at the beach, Idzi said she's been able to see puppies grow up with their families at the beach.

"(Bethany) seems to be a place families have grown up and shared great times with all members of the family," she said, "including four-legged family members.'

Local events such as "yappy hours" and puppy parades have provided a bonding experience for pets and their owners, Bowers said. For many people, dogs are becoming as close as family, Conover said.

"I think they've become baby boomers' children," she said. "And I think the younger generations have a dog before they have kids."

Joe Gillard of Glenolden, Pennsylvania, has also bonded with other pet owners over his past 20 years staying at the Atlantic Oceanside Motel in Dewey Beach.

As soon as Gillard pulls up to the motel, his yellow Labrador, Bailey, and collie shepherd, Meggie, spring out the car and run up to their usual room on the third floor. Gillard chose the third floor for its outdoor deck, where his dogs enjoy watching and barking at pedestrians in town.

"We've made a camaraderie of meeting people," he said. "We met a couple who comes every year and they have a shepherd — everybody plays ball."


Information from: The Daily Times of Salisbury, Maryland, http://www.delmarvanow.com/

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