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Watching over man’s best friend

Sometimes when you’re on vacation, all you want to do is collapse on a hotel bed and watch TV. It’s no different when you’re a dog.



January 14, 2009
By Neil Sutton
Neil Sutton

When Diane Levesques opened the Hotel Balto, that’s exactly what she
had in mind: a full-service hotel designed for pets with their needs in
mind. Cats and dogs can stay in their own suites with heated floors and
personal televisions. They’re given regular play and nap times as well
as regular feedings and supervised trips to the bathroom.

But what Levesques hopes will be the real selling point for Hotel Balto
is security cameras in each room, giving pet owners the ability to look
in on their furry companions 24×7 via a web portal.

Levesques says she wanted to give pet owners some piece of mind — a
place where they can be assured their furry companions are well cared
for. She decided the best way to do that was to give owners 24/7 access
to their pets via security cameras that could be accessed online.

As a dog owner herself, Levesques had a hard time leaving her canines
behind. Even when left with trusted friends or relatives, she would
worry about them. Getting confirmation that all was well over the phone
wasn’t enough.

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“I used to phone three, four, five times a day to make sure everything
is OK. Even if it’s family, I don’t know if they’re telling the truth
or not,” she says.


Hotel Balto

The hotel is located in Vaudreuil-Dorion, Que., 20 minutes from Dorval.
Levesques wanted a central location, close to a highway. It took her a
year to find the appropriate spot and about six months to get zoning
approval to build. Given its clientele, Balto required special
permission and was ultimately responsible for the creation of new
legislation to accommodate its unusual requirements.

Building the hotel took another eight months. Levesques approved every
piece of furniture and décor, right down to the door handles.

To find the right company to install the security cameras, Levesques, a
professional real estate developer leaned on her connections. A lawyer
client recommended Intercam, a Montreal-based security company known
for special projects, according to its president Elie Kadoch.

“It’s security, but it’s not security,” says Kadoch of the hotel
project. “We fall in between. We’re more into monitoring, more into the
grey zone.”

Intercam installed 38 Axis cameras in the hotel ”“ one for each of the
rooms, plus several for common areas. The cameras are connected to a
custom-built web portal using Milestone software. Pet owners are
provided user names and passwords to access the portal. From there they
can control the PTZ cameras and visit their cats and dogs in real time.

“It’s almost like a hotel reservation system. The clients would put in
the room number, their password and they would go straight to the room
that their pet occupied,” says Kadoch.

Intercam also installed media players with 80GB hard drives in the
rooms to for data storage. So far they’re being used to house movies
which the pets can watch when they first check into the rooms. Lassie
and Goofy are popular choices. “When we put them in the room we put a
film on, so they don’t feel like they’re alone,” says Levesques.

Eventually, the system will become more interactive, she says, allowing
owners to upload videos or photos of themselves that the pets can view.
They will also be able to capture video of their pets using security
camera footage.

The only upgrade Levesques wanted that wasn’t possible was a means to
remotely dispense treats. She says she was hoping for pet owners to
push a button on one end (the portal) and a treat to pop out the other
(the hotel room).

Kadoch says they investigated all sorts of options ”“ the closest human
analogue being a cereal dispenser used by conventional hotel chains ”“
but they proved prohibitively costly.

They say every dog has his day, but virtual treats may still be a few years away.


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