The leisure industry’s dogged pursuit of the lucrative "doggie dollar" has encouraged many venues to put out the welcome mat for pet guests in their quests to be pet friendly. It’s also created sheltered employment for a variety of animals as hotel mascots or official greeters. Hotel pet mascots receive free board and lodging, veterinary benefits and lots of loving care and attention. Positions are open to a wide variety of species. The trade-off for human guests is that it presents opportunities to get up close and personal with a variety of animals, allowing for further appreciation of the human-animal bond we share with our own pets and beyond.
The Algonquin Hotel, New York: Matilda
Matilda the cat at New York’s famous Algonquin Hotel is an adopted Ragdoll, the 10th cat to live in this landmark hotel. This hotel has had a resident feline since the 1930s, when then-owner Frank Case offered a glass of milk to a bedraggled orange tabby that had wandered in seeking refuge from the cold and rain.
Case decided to let the cat stay, and called it Rusty because of his coloring. Actor John Barrymore, a regular at the hotel’s famous Blue Bar, suggested the cat needed a more dignified name such as Hamlet, a role he was performing on Broadway at the time. Since then, every male cat has been Hamlet and every female named Matilda.
Many in the pet industry believe that in hindsight, by welcoming in the first Hamlet, Frank Case was not only creating a tradition at the hotel, but also a precedent many establishments would follow.
The hotel’s current feline is the third Matilda. Her job description includes being on hand in the lobby around 3 p.m. every afternoon, often sitting on a luggage cart, to welcome incoming guests. She is always available for photo opportunities, and her job description includes providing a “fur fix” for travelers who may be missing their own pets left at home.
Hotel Monaco, Chicago: Oliver
The San Francisco-based Kimpton Hotel group has created sheltered employment for a variety of dogs at their boutique hotels around the country. From Labradors to Beagles to Pomeranians, all breeds are considered. Recently, the hotel’s newest doggie concierge, Oliver, was at puppy school still undergoing his training in guest relations.
Hotel Palomar, Dallas: Higgins
A new appointee at Hotel Palomar in Dallas is a Beagle mix named Higgins. Having completed his training as Director of Pet Relations, he is on hand to host yappy hours and even offers guests special Waggs packages that include reduced rates.
Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Amelia Island, Fla.: Amelia
Parrots and parakeets are also perched to greet guests at various establishments, such the famous Farmer’s Daughter Hotel in Los Angeles. A white cockatoo named Caspar is the resident feathered crooner at the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa in Ojai, Calif. Then there’s Amelia, the blue-and-yellow macaw who entertains young guests in the pirate-themed kids' room at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Amelia Island off the Floridian coast.
Amelia has a vocabulary of 30 words, her favorite expression is “arghh” (pirate-speak) and her duties include entertaining young guests along with pirate-attired staffers by hosting pirate parties and sleepovers.
Peabody Hotel, Memphis
The famous ducks that strut their stuff and play in the fountain at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tenn., are well-known around the world, and provide a wonderful distraction for both businessmen and weary tourists alike.
The tradition dates back to 1932 when the hotel's then-general-manager Frank Schutt and a friend named Chip Barwick had returned from a weekend hunting trip. After having a little too much whisky, they thought it would be funny to place some of their live duck decoys (it was legal for hunters to use live decoys) in the beautiful Peabody fountain.
Their folly was a huge success, and the ducks became a permanent attraction. Under the directorship of the current Duckmaster Anthony Petrina, the ducks report for swim duty at the fountain every morning at 11 a.m and leave at 5 p.m.
Buttermilk Falls Inn and Spa, Milton, N.Y.: Pickles
At the Buttermilk Falls Inn and Spa, a llama named Pickles is a firm favorite with guests. Pickles was born on the property after owner Robert Pollock rescued the animal's mother and other camelids, giving them free reign on the property’s 40-acre organic-farm area. Pickles enjoys guest attention and poses happily for photographs.
The llama logo is used on the menu of the hotel’s restaurant to indicate dishes containing ingredients grown on the property and also embellishes staff t-shirts. Further, Pickles has spawned a variety of branded merchandise on sale in the gift store.
Orchard House, Granville, Ohio: Bacon and Miss Piggy
Pot-bellied pigs Bacon and Miss Piggy are the official greeters at Orchard House, a bed and breakfast establishment in Granville, Ohio. Innkeepers Andrew Kohn and Donald Jones first adopted Bacon and then Ms. Piggy to keep him company. The twosome spends their days rolling in the mud and posing for photographs.
Giraffe Manor, Kenya
Visitors to Giraffe Manor, an Tudor-styled guest house in the shadow of Kenya’s famous Mount Kilimanjaro, are often joined at breakfast by a giraffe putting its head through the window and nibbling on croissants and other treats.
The estate is home to eight rare Rothschild giraffes. A conservation project to save them from extinction was started at the Manor in 1974 when the grandson of a Scottish earl, Jock Leslie Melville, and his American wife, Betty, bought the stately home.
Apart from the giraffes' presence at the breakfast tables, guests can also get to see eye to eye with these very tall, gentle creatures from the second-floor bedrooms.
Table Bay Hotel, South Africa: Oscar the Seal
At the tip of the African continent, in Cape Town, South Africa, guests arriving at the Table Bay Hotel that overlooks famous Table Mountain are greeted upon arrival by a beautiful, life-sized, gold statue of Oscar the Seal.
Before the advent of this grand hotel, an old fisherman named Oscar used to fish here from the rickety pier. His constant companion was a Cape fur seal that would show up daily, and the old man used to feed him fish from his catch.
As the hotel was being built, the staff embraced the old man and the seal, and when the fisherman died, they decided to name the seal Oscar in his memory, and claimed the animal as the hotel’s official logo. Sadly, Oscar the seal was fatally injured in a boating accident. However, his link to the hotel lives on as many seals still come to jetty at the Table Bay to bask in the warm sun. They have become a popular photographic attraction for visitors from around the world.
Savoy Hotel, London: Kaspar
In London, the famous Savoy Hotel on the Strand has Kaspar, a sculpted black cat that always attends meals when there would otherwise be 13 guests at the table. He is brought out and given a full place setting to make up the numbers to a much luckier 14.
The story goes that in 1898, a visiting South African diamond magnate named Woolf Joel held a banquet at the hotel and, at the last minute, one of his guests cancelled, leaving 13 people at table. One of his guests said it was unlucky. Joel was not superstitious, but a few weeks later he was shot dead in his Johannesburg office.
Anxious not to have similar incidents damage their reputation, the hotel subsequently provided a member of the hotel staff to sit at tables of 13 in order to avoid the unlucky number. But that idea proved unpopular with guests wanting to have private conversations. So in 1926, British sculptor Basil Ionides was commissioned to design and carve a model of a black cat, as the British consider black cats to be lucky.
During World War II, Kaspar was catnapped by some mischievous Royal Air Force personnel and flown to Singapore, only to have Sir Winston Churchill himself demand the cat’s immediate return. Thus, Kaspar has been in residence ever since.
The Goring, Buckingham Palace
Another London institution, The Goring, has the answer for foot-weary tourists. The hotel has a flock of wooden sheep with real fleece. Initially, George Goring placed one at the hotel bar. Later, they became fixtures in the guest rooms as wooly footstools.
Kimpton Hotel, Chicago: Goldfish
Are you feeling lonely in your hotel room and the hotel mascot is out wallowing in the mud or confined to guest areas only? Well there's a fix for that too.
As part of their Guppy Love program, the Kimpton Hotel Group will place a goldfish in a bowl in guest rooms during their stay. Thus, each hotel has a fish tank and an entire school of finned companions. The fish are named in keeping with the city in which the hotel is situated. For example, the Chicago guppies are all named after mobsters and colorful characters from the gangster era.
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