Taking a joyous and celebratory look at all things canine, ‘The Dog Hotel’ follows doggy behaviourist Matt and hydrotherapist Leon, on their barking-mad journey to provide the best pet care in the UK. Luxury memory foam beds, tranquil spa treatments, state-of-the-art gym facilities, a restorative hydrotherapy pool… no, this is not an inventory from the Hilton Hotel, this is a catalogue of but a few services provided by Shoreham-based couple Matt and Leon Henderson-Rood, in their five star boutique doggy hotel ‘House of Hugo’. Pampered pooches of Brighton and surrounding areas have at long last found their ultimate nirvana in the form of the ‘House of Hugo’, or ‘The Dog Hotel’ as it is known by Factory Films and digital channel ‘Watch’.
This particular boarding-house provides a vast selection of lavish and somewhat eccentric services for man’s best friend – and what is Brighton but wacky and eccentric? Understandably then, the ‘House of Hugo’ has proved to be hugely successful, with a strong clientele list, repeat custom, and a number of success stories. Lately, the doggy day-care market has been flourishing with innovative canine-centric concepts such as the ‘Borrow My Doggy’ online match-maker and the pop-up pup café-cumcrèches found in Brighton and London. What is it then, that differentiates ‘House of Hugo’ (HOH) from the competition? “Our strapline is ‘The Ultimate Dog Experience.’ We want it to be like Disneyland for dogs, basically,” explains Leon, in an undiluted stream of consciousness. “That’s the best way to put it I think… We just wanna progress and get better, and since doing the TV series we’ve come up with a whole range of ideas that we wanna push forward in the new year, to create an even better experience.” Upon the mention of their new ideas, his tone audibly changes to one of utter animation “ I don’t wanna give too much away, but we have got like a massive, massive, big plan…I can hand on heart say that it will be the first of its kind that the UK’s ever seen”
According to Leon, who can barely contain his excitement, this new project is set to be showcased in the New Year and will be featured in their dog-u-soap TV series. For a couple who literally live, sleep and breathe dog, (yes, the Henderson-Roods do indeed sleep on-site at HOH, and are on call 24/7 to tend to every dog’s need) it isn’t unusual that the two are endlessly foraging for new and unique ideas to cater to both pet and parent. Providing this scintillating, all-singing all-dancing “Disneyland for Dogs” is of utmost importance to the duo, who share an incomparable passion for all things hound.
Episode four of ‘The Dog Hotel’ saw the pair judging auditions, to ‘discover’ the face of their new male and female HOH signature scent. “We did an open audition like X-Factor, chose two dogs, and then got this house on Shoreham beach called the WOW house. It was amazing. We did the photo-shoot there for the publicity shots, so on the [company] postcards and posters we’ve got two different dogs for the scent.” To date, the business also incorporates a dog gym, with bespoke weight-loss programmes for the paunchier pooch, a Reiki healing programme, for those who have encountered any physical or emotional trauma, grooming facilities for dogs in dire need of a trim, and aromatherapy massages for general pooch relaxation. To top it off, the couple also create gourmet doggy snacks and ice-cream treats, and even have their very own doggy clothing range in the pipeline.
Utterly dedicated to the cause, the flamboyant and bubbly twosome have proved ideal TV personalities, and admittedly love having a TV crew around to document their antics. It’s unsurprising that Leon previously worked as a children’s TV presenter, given his wacky, positive disposition. Between them, the couple have had many previous experiences unrelated to the four-legged variety; Matt worked as a flight attendant for British Airways, whilst Leon worked in a boutique hotel in Brighton – and together they were full-time foster carers. Amalgamating their skills and experience, the pair later came up with the concept of HOH, and dedicated their time to training in their respective areas of doggy care. They now have a ten-man strong team, and a matriarchal mentor in the form of successful millionaire and friend Gina Citroni, who advises (and frequently scolds) them on their business acumen.
‘The Dog Hotel’ delivers some truly heart-warming moments throughout the series; particularly so when Matt and Leon genuinely transform the lives of the pooches in their care. “My biggest reward is getting a dog to walk again that [was] advised, by a vet, to be put down. I’m blubbing up just thinking about it…” says Leon. Matt, on the other hand, explains that one of his most rewarding experiences was taming “Little Midge, the white Terrier” with the help of her owner in episode six, using counter-conditioning techniques. Fundamentally, it’s not about canine gimmicks and glamorous amenities for these furry-friend-enthusiasts. It’s about the enduring love between man and dog. “It’s like I own like 2000 dogs,” Leon laughs. “Cause they’re all so happy to see you, you know? And it’s just so lovely. That’s probably the most rewarding part, just seeing their little faces!”
The Dog Hotel is broadcast by Watch TV, on Tuesdays at 8pm
By Louise Lineham