Lap of Luxury: Morris Animal Inn

The family-owned Morris Animal Inn caters to our four-legged friends.

Dogs' Best Friends: Three generations of the Morris family, from left: Lauren Downs, Marianne Morris, Walter Morris Jr., Michael Morris, Ashley Smith, Tricia Downs (mother of Lauren) and Joanne Morris (mother of Ashley) with the family dogs—Bella and Chase, black Labradors, and Lexi, a Great Pyrenees mix rescue dog.
Photo by Peter Murphy

The Morris family loves animals so much, they’ve made a living pampering strangers’ pets. The multi-generation Morris Animal Inn in Morristown touts itself as “the most luxurious pet resort in New Jersey.” Their claim is hard to dispute. The complex can house, groom and care for up to 300 animals in a range of lavish accommodations.

The luxury cat suites are 4-by-5-by-8 foot tiered rooms with ladders, cozy napping areas and mini-televisions; there’s even a fish tank across the hall to tantalize tabby. There is an aqua-massage tank for dogs, an enclosed stroller for cat nature walks, an indoor pool and bedtime tuck-in service. The Inn’s weight-loss and fitness program was featured on Nat Geo Wild’s show Spoiled Rotten Pets. “Some people might think the amenities are silly, but others love doing anything to pamper their pets,” says Joanne Morris, daughter of Walter and Marianne Morris, owners of the inn.

It all started with Walter Morris Sr., an animal lover who was a groomer and handler at a show kennel on the Frelinghuysen estate in Harding Township. In 1943, he won the prestigious Westminster Dog Show with a miniature poodle. “He was the top poodle handler in the country,” says Walter Jr., who grew up in a house across from the kennel. In 1960, Walter Sr. opened a small but elite grooming business in Harding called Poodle Palace. Walter Sr.’s granddaughter Joanne, who was seven at the time, earned $1 a day sweeping out dog hair.

After dabbling in the corporate world, Walter Jr. couldn’t resist following in his father’s footsteps. “The irony was that my parents never encouraged me to go into the family business,” Walter reflects. “I was intrigued by the pet side of it, not the show side with politics playing a role.”

In 1978, Walter Jr. and wife Marianne bought Poodle Palace, eventually moving it three miles to its current location on Sand Spring Road in Morristown. They renamed it Morris Animal Inn in 1986.

Today, three generations operate the 24,000-square-foot facility. Walter Jr. and Marianne’s daughters work full time: Joanne serves as vice president, and their younger daughter, Tricia Downs, is director of payroll and finance. Their son, Michael, a former employee, now works in construction, but helped remodel and expand the inn’s 12-acre campus. The new lobby, resembling a ski lodge with its dark wood and exposed beams, was completed in 2007. Four of Walter Jr.’s grandchildren work at the Inn during peak vacation seasons.

“Kennel is a bad word for us,” says Walter. “We are a pet hotel and resort. The industry has caught up to our standards in the past 10 or 15 years. We create a lifestyle for the pets.”

The Morris family has made some unusual accommodations for their clients. “We had a cat live here about five years,” says Joanne. (The cat’s owner had moved to a nursing home.) After Hurricane Sandy, the Inn operated on generator power for 12 straight days and took on a slew of homeless pets. “It was almost busier than the summer season,” Walter recalls. “One family brought in 15 cats for us to care for while they looked for a new home.”

What’s the favorite part of Walter’s day? Around midnight, when it’s quiet and most of the pets are asleep, he checks on all the animals. “I get attached to them easily,” he admits, smiling. While touring the complex, he points out a Labrador puppy. “This little guy was awake last night, wagging his tail and licking my hand.”

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