Dogs rule but humans are welcome

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Dogs rule but humans are welcome

Decker Creek B&B&B

16029 Decker Lake Road, Manor, Texas www.deckercreek.com ; 512-743-8835 Rates start at $159 a night with discounts for four or more days.

A luxurious shower, homemade goodies and a soft, inviting bed await guests at Decker Creek B&B&B in Manor.

And that's just for the dogs.

Pat and Byron Rathbun's 50 acres just outside Austin are a pet-loving oasis where man's best friend is as welcome as his human counterparts, who get their own warm chocolate chip cookies upon arrival.

The Rathbuns knew when they started planning a B&B career that dogs would play a big role (that third "B" stands for Biscuit). They'd traveled with their own, staying at hotels that allowed pets but provided few to no extras.

"You can find places that tolerate dogs, but we welcome them, including big dogs," Byron says.

They've had folks stay with six or more dogs. "One couple said it was their first vacation in 11 years, because they couldn't find a place that would allow all their dogs," Pat says.

Former journalist Pat is a Texas native and worked at the Dallas Morning News for 15 years; she and Byron met on a Sierra Club backpacking trip in 1996. They married in 1997 and Pat got a job at the Los Angeles Times so she could join Byron in California, where he was a geotechnical engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a career that included 20 years building the Seven Oaks Dam.

They have three furry family members: boss lady Shiva, a rescued desert dog from Bahrain; sweet and friendly Beau, a yellow lab and champion agility dog; and energetic Razr, whose name comes from a distinctive line of hair on his back.

The Rathbuns' B&B dreams came together with hard work and moments of good fortune.

They looked at existing B&Bs for sale, but none was designed with dogs on the brain. The Manor property, which they initially thought they lost to another bidder, came with the log cabin home where they live and where breakfast is served. They had enough saved to build guest cabins, in part because of a newspaper buyout from Pat's job at the Times.

An architect helped design two dog-friendly cabins, which include recessed lighting throughout, so there's nothing easy to knock over, and large fenced yards. The bathroom in "Hilltop" is just inside the back door and has a walk-in shower with a hand-held shower head. It's perfect for cleaning up canines after romps through the grounds and dips in Decker Creek, which runs through the property and always has water.

"Treehouse" is a little more private and does feel as if you're living in the leaves. It has a stylish metal outdoor shower. "We wanted people to have warm water to wash their dogs if needed when it's cold outside," instead of using a hose,Byron says. "I think more people have used it than dogs."

Each cabin comes with a supply of towels and sheets just for dogs, plus dog bowls and toys. And if you've forgotten something your four-legged friend needs, the Rathbuns will have it.

A dog is not required for check-in, of course, and for the humans there are large whirlpool tubs, spa robes and slippers, screened-in porches, air conditioning, hammocks, kitchens and barbecue grills. The Rathbuns complemented the log cabin style of their home with wood paneling in the cabins, and a subtle, almost elegant dog theme runs through the decor, including framed black and white photos and retro Western fabrics on pillows.

Byron is in charge of cleaning, and new guests won't be able to tell that dogs have been there before — no hair, dirt or smell linger.

Dogs are welcome at breakfast, and the Rathbun pack will be kept from the dining room if needed. (They'll let guests and dogs have the run of the property, too, and work out a schedule if dogs staying in each cabin need separate time to explore.)

Pat is the chef and serves a full country breakfast each morning. Whenever possible, she uses organic and local ingredients, including meat from Richardson Farms and eggs and produce from Tecolote Farm.

Decker Creek seemed to hit a travel sweet spot right away. Industry veterans advised patience, saying most new places book about 50 percent of their goal the first three years. But the reservations started rolling in within three days of posting their website in 2006; the first guest stayed in December that year. They now have regulars who come for every holiday and others so familiar they can book under just their dog's name. "We just say, ‘Popo's coming,'" Pat says.

They've talked about building more cabins — the demand is there — but that would mean hiring help, spending less time with guests and changing the rhythm of what they've created.

"Running a B&B is very labor-intensive, but there are good things," Pat says. "We get to be our own boss, and we get to hang out with other dog people."

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