Teresa Cristina Carvalho with Mel, her Shih Tzu, in the pet motel where owners can bring their dogs to breed. Photo: Lalo de Almeida/The New York Times
Heart-shaped ceiling mirror: check. Curtains drawn against the bright day: check. Red mattress: check.
The establishment that opened here this year has features that demanding clients naturally expect from a love motel. Brazil, after all, is a world leader in these short-stay pleasure palaces, which beckon couples for trysts away from prying eyes with names like Swing, Absinthe and Alibi, and design motifs like medieval castles or the American Wild West.
But Belo Horizonte's newest love motel stands apart from the crowd in one crucial aspect. It is for dogs.
Bob, a French bulldog, is washed in a Japanese ofuro bathtub at the dog motel. Photo: Lalo de Almeida/The New York Times
Animalle Mundo Pet, an eight-story enterprise in an upscale district in this city of 2.4 million people, introduced its dog motel alongside aisles featuring items like beef-flavoured Dog Beer (nonalcoholic), a dog spa with a Japanese ofuro soaking tub and canine apparel emblazoned with the symbols of the local soccer clubs Atletico Mineiro and Cruzeiro.
"I adore the romantic feel of this place," said Andreia Kfoury, 43, a manager at a technology company who peeked inside the Motel Pet one recent morning while she and her husband were on a clothes-buying spree for their Yorkshire terrier, Harley. The couple, who are motorcycle enthusiasts, bought about $500 worth of imported Harley-Davidson brand items for their dog.
"I'm definitely bringing Harley back here when it's time for him to breed," a smiling Kfoury said. "He is very macho, and would be a hit in this place."
Whether dogs like Harley actually need a romantic, curtained-off suite to breed seems beside the point. Some dog owners simply like the concept of a love motel for their amorous pets and are willing to pay about $50 for each session, which Animalle will happily arrange. If it does not work out as planned, some are prepared to pay even more for artificial insemination, another of Animalle's services.
The beehive-like atmosphere at Belo Horizonte's pet mega-store, which employs a staff of 35 (not counting the veterinarians on call), points not only to Brazil's surging pet dog population, now about 36 million, but also to major changes in Brazilian society after years of economic growth and shifting demographic patterns. Similar stores thrive in other large Brazilian cities; in Sao Paulo, a public hospital for dogs and cats has been opened; and some plastic surgeons provide Botox injections for dogs.
"I was tired of practising law and saw that the dog market was taking off," said Daniela Guimaraes Loures, 28, a Dalmatian owner who invested $1 million with her brother to open Animalle in July. Referring to figures published in Brazilian trade magazines like Pet Business, she said pet shops in the country generate more than $6 billion in total annual revenue.
To open the dog motel, the siblings leased a former children's hospital in Gutierrez, a leafy area of Belo Horizonte. They now offer lodging for dogs and cats, a pet taxi that picks up and delivers animals, a dog cafe selling delicacies like beef-flavored muffins and a store selling specialty products like Chic Animale, a perfume for dogs that is produced in Porto Alegre, a city in southern Brazil. It sells for $40 a bottle.
While parts of the establishment cater to owners of cats, fish and rodents like the Mongolian gerbil, the focus is clearly on dogs. Juliana Lima, 24, a psychology student who works at Animalle grooming and bathing dogs, said that demand for the dog motel was robust, even though it was not yet clear whether any of the coupling sessions were set to produce offspring.
"We've only been open for a few months," Lima said, "and this is a new thing."
The dog motel taps into a certain fascination in Brazil with short-stay accommodations for sexual activities. Brazil's "moteis" (the singular in Portuguese is simply "motel") are similar to American motels in that many are on roadsides and offer easy — and, some customers hope, anonymous — access for motorists. But in this country, they share certain features, like their architecture and thematic settings, with Japan's renowned love hotels.
The dog owners filing into Animalle often cannot resist gawking behind the blinds of the Motel Pet.
"The ambience here is lovely," said Teresa Cristina Carvalho, who showed her shih tzu puppy, named Mel ("Honey"), the accommodations. "We'll return when Mel is in heat," she said, adding that in the meantime she would buy her puppy a bottle of Dog Beer.
"Mel gets agitated with so much stimulation, and needs to relax a bit," Carvalho said. "Come to think of it, I need some peace and quiet as well."