Puppies and self-catering have both been in high demand during the pandemic. So how have Ireland’s holiday homes adapted?
It’s hard to tell whose holiday experience Paul Allen is more enthusiastic about when he talks of the relaxing break enjoyed by himself, partner Gráinne Downes and their dog, Ted, when they rented a self-catered holiday home in Dingle in June earlier this year.
“There’s a garden designed by Mary Reynolds just behind the church in Dingle, a complete labyrinth, and Ted loved it,” he laughs. “He loves being on holiday — the fresh air, going bananas on the beach and running round meeting new dogs!”
Their doggy-friendly base came complete with dog bowls — and even dog posters — and was perfectly placed for walkies, while local eateries had been sussed out in advance by Paul to ensure their dog-friendly status.
Until the three-year-old Cockapoo rescue dog came into their lives — just before the pandemic began to unfold and “staycations” became the buzzword for the nation — Paul and Gráinne’s holiday destination of choice would have been France.
But now, even when overseas travel restrictions have finally eased, air and ferry travel are picking up and exotic destinations are back on the holiday radar, their focus is firmly on exploring the home rental market.
“Because Ted was a rescue dog, he suffers from separation anxiety and we couldn’t leave him at home,” explains Paul, who runs a Dublin PR firm. “I can’t imagine a holiday without him anyway,” he adds, smiling. “Ted’s part of the family, and if he’s happy, we’re happy.”
It’s conscientious owners like Paul and Gráinne who are driving the current boom in self-catered, dog-friendly accommodation in Ireland. According to Airbnb, searches for “pet-friendly” accommodation are up 65pc on last year, while the Ireland-based pet-friendly travel website woofadvisor.com says it has seen preferences flip from serviced to self-catered over the past year — with the latter now accounting for some 60pc of enquiries and page views.
“Newer or younger dog owners are increasingly aware of issues such as separation anxiety in dogs and are choosing to include them in their domestic travel plans — indeed, in many cases, basing their travel plans around their dog,” says WoofAdvisor’s founder, Gerry Molloy.
“Pets acquired during the pandemic may not have had the same opportunities for Dog and Owner Training, bonding or socialisation, and the new owners are aware their dog may be even more nervous or anxious than normal when left alone,” he adds.
The interest in self-catering breaks, of course, isn’t unique to the dog-owner market — Covid-19 has seen many of us search for breaks in “bubbles”, where contacts and shared spaces can be minimised, and holiday homes were in high demand both this summer and last. But it’s helped by the fact that those craving a self-catering escape with their pooch now have more options than ever to pick from.
While many hotels have progressed in their attitude to accommodating pets, they still often have far more limitations with regard to where dogs are allowed, whether they can stay in bedrooms, and the number and size of dogs that may be welcomed. There can be added costs, and facilities for pets can vary widely, too.
“There’s been a noticeable change in the range of self-catering options,” says Gerry Molloy. “Glamping, eco-camping, self-catering lodges, cottages, cabins, hostels, castles, lighthouses, caravans, boats…” Self-catering accommodation on hotel grounds is “an increasingly popular hybrid choice”, he adds.
Andrea Davis and her family had stayed at Causeway Coast Wigwams near Bushmills, Co Antrim, on holiday before, but this summer they returned with their new Blue Roan Cocker Spaniel, Nessa — who they got during lockdown in February this year — in tow.
Far from this hindering their fun, the Co Down mum-of-two reckons they actually had a better time. “Nessa completed our holiday and it was a totally different type of holiday. We spent more time together — out walking and enjoying our time together,” she says. “We’re already booked back in and looking at dog-friendly places for winter breaks!”
The increase in demand has caused some firms to add to their pooch-friendly portfolios. This year saw Trident Holiday Homes recruit more than 150 new properties, with around 20pc of those pet-friendly, for example, while Unique Irish Homes now markets one-third of its properties as dog-friendly.
“At the start of this year, it seemed like every second or third enquiry was related to dogs, with almost exclusively Irish clientele,” says Unique Irish Homes director Rosie Campbell. “If a property becomes free, we put it up on our Instagram page (@uniqueirishhomes) and it’s nearly always snapped up by morning.”
But making a property dog-friendly involves a lot more than token touches like stocking a few drinking bowls and throwing in a few squeaky toys.
“We tend to build or renovate from scratch, so we plan pet-friendly properties — including making the property ideal for those who are allergic or don’t bring pets — from the outset,” says Greg Stevenson, director of Under the Thatch, whose dog-friendly properties in the UK sometimes even include specially designed bedrooms exclusively for dogs.
“This informs things like layout (making the property so it’s easy to keep pets in one area like the ground floor), surfaces — we rarely carpet but have washable rugs, wood, stone or tile floors — to design, fencing, bins and, most importantly, having properties with acres of their own land. A couple of ours effectively have a private beach and they’re very popular!
“It’s costly to do but it’s worth it,” adds Greg. He owns four dogs himself and so, while most hotels will only allow for “one small dog”, Under the Thatch prides itself on allowing up to four dogs at most properties — including 10 or so rentals in Co Donegal and the northwest. “We charge the pet fee of £28 (€33) for a holiday of any length and then £8 (€9.40) per dog after that,” he explains.
At dogfriendlyretreats.com, there has been more than a 100pc increase in the number of page visits made to Irish destinations by Irish clientele in the past year. Josh Williams, who founded the company in 2018, reckons it’s not solely a one-off spike, attributable to the Covid crisis, but a trend reflective of changing attitudes towards travelling with pets.
“More people have realised, over the past few years, that they can take their dog away with them, which obviously they prefer to do, and it can save a significant amount on kennel fees,” he explains.
Last September, Angela Moonan, her partner, Robert, and their new Jack Russell Cocker Spaniel, Lexi, stayed in a converted-garage Airbnb in Westport, Co Mayo.
“It was wonderful!” enthuses Angela. “The owners were on site, and dog owners themselves, and they even offered to mind her for us if we wanted to go out.”
They followed up with a second successful Airbnb break in Seafield Lodge, Co Cork, over the summer.
“The dog-friendly options are good but they’re still limited,” says Angela, a nurse from Co Louth.
The first thing she types into the search preferences is “dog-friendly” but ultimately she’s not bothered if the accommodation has dog bowls provided or the garden is enclosed.
“All we want is permission to be able to bring her,” she says simply. “The dog bowls, the blankets, the towels, watching her to make sure she doesn’t take off — we can do all that; we just need more places to allow it.
“Trust dog owners, because if we care enough to want to bring our dogs on holiday, then we’ll care enough to look after them when we get there.”
Corofin, Co Clare
Set on 10 acres of forest and fields (with a big enclosed yard), this stylish and spacious modern cottage sleeps six. Polished cast-stone floors are easy to clean and under-heated, perfect for warming walk-weary paws. From €900-€1,850 per week; uniqueirishhomes.com
Castlemartyr Holiday Lodges
Castlemartyr, Co Cork
These two-bed lodges are nestled in a dog walkers’ paradise, with 220 acres of landscaped grounds, streams, parkland and lakes. Up to two dogs are allowed, with a charge of €25 per booking. From €588; tridentholidayhomes.ie
Traighenna Bay, Co Donegal
Newly renovated with all-tile or wooden floors and direct access to 20 acres of shoreline (no road to cross). The lack of light pollution makes night skies spectacular. From €840-€1,792; underthethatch.co.uk
Cró na Trá
Lettermacaward, Co Donegal
Set on seven acres with three dogs allowed, this is the company’s most popular Irish property. There’s an outside tap and hose for wash-downs on return from the secluded beach near the front door. From €823-€3,108; underthethatch.co.uk
Glengarriff, Co Cork
A detached former farmhouse on a quiet lane, complete with lawned garden and idyllic views across Bantry Bay. There are beautiful beach walks nearby and stunning coastal scenery for longer rambles. From €427; dogfriendlyretreats.com