Hotels Have Gone to the Dogs — and Cats, and …
By Sandy Robins
updated 12:08 p.m. PT, Wed., Oct . 22, 2008
There’s a well-known expression that affirms dogs have owners and cats have staffs. This is particularly true of one glamour puss named Matilda, who lives at the Algonquin Hotel in midtown Manhattan, where she’s been greeting guests for 13 years.
Guests absolutely love her. The pedigreed Ragdoll receives e-mails from around the world, gifts on her birthday and cards at Christmas.
Matilda is typical of many hotel pet mascots. She plays the role of surrogate pet to travelers who suffer from “fur withdrawal” and are happy to stop and scratch her tummy in return for an appreciative purr.
Perks enjoyed by the blue-eyed cat include scrumptious meals from the kitchen, her own chaise lounge in the hotel lobby, a private closet for her litter box and food, and a place to escape when guests get too noisy at her self-appointed nap times.
There has been a cat residing at the Algonquin since the 1930s when a bedraggled stray wandered in and was offered a permanent home by the hotel’s owner, Frank Case. The cat was named Hamlet by actor and regular guest John Barrymore, and may very well have been the world’s first unofficial hotel mascot.
These days, dogs, cats and birds are being signed on by hotels and resorts around the country.
“It’s all part of guest relations in the pet-friendly hotel industry,” says Alice de Almeida, who has been Matilda’s “right opposable thumb” for the past four years. “The hotel seems to revolve around her. From a guest standpoint, having her on hand to greet everyone in the lobby instantly makes travelers — especially if they are on business — feel more at home. Guests often write to her when they get home as if they’re corresponding with a friend.”
For de Almeida, replying to all the mail is almost a full-time job.
‘Center of attention’
An effective pet mascot must be savvy with public relations. Many find themselves hosting yappy hours and pet adoption drives to raise money for pets in shelters. Matilda hosts an event every year to coincide with her birthday. This year, members of the Westchester Feline Club staged a fashion show and cats took to the catwalk in outfits from Meow Wear to raise money for the North Shore Animal League. However, Matilda, upset at being upstaged by other felines, refused to attend her own event.
Dogs are definitely more social on such occasions. Dallas and Sienna are two retired racing greyhounds who now greet guests and host events at the pet-friendly Wyndham Orange County in Costa Mesa, Calif.
Tall and elegant, they certainly add cachet to the hotel’s stylish interior.
“They are wonderfully gentle dogs and enjoy being the center of attention,” says general manager — and their owner — Tom Smalley.
Smalley recently started a Paws and Claws weekend breakfast on the hotel’s lakeside patio that is popular with locals and their pets. Consequently, guests missing their own pets are surrounded by a variety of pooches snacking on bacon and other buffet tidbits served table side on special pet platters. Smalley donates $1 from every breakfast to Greyhound Pets of America, an organization that helps find permanent homes for greyhounds that have been retired from the race tracks in Tijuana.
At the Farmer’s Daughter Hotel — across the street from the famous Farmer’s Market in Los Angeles — the hotel lobby is constantly full of song and twitter from two parakeets named Simon and Jane.
“They were a birthday gift from my niece,” says Peter Picataggio, principal of the Farmer’s Daughter Hotel Group. “She gave me a gift certificate to a pet store. The day I bought them I decided to keep them with me in the hotel until I went home. I put their cage in the lobby and everyone who went past stopped to enjoy them and commented, so we decided to keep them there permanently. Guests are always talking to them and kids are very amused by them. These days, they are very much a part of the hotel.”
The St. Julien Hotel and Spa in Boulder, Colo., has adopted the prairie dog as an unofficial mascot. The hotel sells plush prairie dog toys for $20 and donates $5 from each purchase to the Rocky Mountain Animal Defense to help relocate urban prairie dogs in the area.
Other wildlife is also getting in on the guest relations act. The Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa in Galena, Ill., has an eagle as their “mascot at large.” The magnificent bird is often seen swooping over the hotel’s grounds just east of the Mississippi River valley.
Mascots and merchandise
Matilda and other mascots, including a Labrador-Jack Russell mix named Sparky Kia Smith of the Hotel Palomar in Arlington, Va., have gone into the merchandising business. Sparky “sells” trading cards with pet advice and travel tips. Matilda markets cat ornaments and has the hotel’s signature drink named after her. (The Matilda is a blend of cointreau, mandarin-flavored vodka, orange juice and champagne.) The drink is proving to be a real money spinner for the hotel as guests order it regularly to raise a toast to the celebrated feline.
Many pet mascots aren’t allowed in guests’ rooms. The Kimpton Hotel Group, however, unveiled Guppy Love in 1993. The program provides a complimentary goldfish in a bowl in each room “to keep guests company while traveling,” their Web site says.
Steve Pinetti, Kimpton Hotels’ senior vice president of sales & marketing, says Guppy Love is all about offering guests one more unique way to relax, indulge and promote health of mind, body and spirit in a hotel home-away-from-home atmosphere.
Guest relations truly have gone to the birds — and dogs, cats, goldfish and prairie dogs, for that matter.
Sandy Robins is an award-winning pet lifestyle writer. She is the recent recipient of the Humane Society of the United States’ Pets for Life Award. Her work appears in many national and international publications.
© 2009 msnbc.com. Reprints
© 2009 MSNBC.com
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