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Behind the scenes: A hotel's bag of pet tricks
On occasion, Ginger will escort visitors to their room. Or she may romp with them. Last Friday, she and a Shih Tzu named Prada performed a canine fandango in a conference room, before Prada bolted down the hallway exuding puppy love.
But to be honest, when hard work is required, Ginger tends to nap. Which is why those with opposable thumbs frequently step in.
As concierges for pets and people alike, the staff must fill requests that go beyond dinner recommendations and Broadway tickets. Myerson, for one, helps book Hers and Furs peticures, hire a pet chauffeur and arrange a dog walker. In a pinch, employees have run up to a room to check on a pet, strolled a pooch around the block, and even provided dog-sitting services behind the front desk. Recently a guest from Canada gave Camacho an assignment: Go find a designer dog leash. With $500 in his pocket, he scoured such haut retailers as Louis Vuitton and Prada, finally finding his prize at Gucci. He gave the woman the leash and $103 in change.
"I love the challenges," he said. "They don't just trust us with their reservations, they also trust us with their pet accessories."
On a day-to-day basis, the responsibilities associated with the pet program are pretty manageable, if not minor. When the front desk learns that a guest is checking in with a pet, the staff will add some animal-centric accessories to the guest room decor: a leopard-print dog bed and bowls in the corner, for example, and on the desk, a free bag of goodies that includes organic dog treats, disposable bags, aromatherapy wipes and a toy (i.e., a squeaky, plush Starbarks cup or subway card). Guests can also submit special requests and messages via e-mail to Ginger.
"Dear Ginger," began a recent note, "Hi! My name is Sid, and I am a teacup Pomeranian too! . . . I'm looking forward to my pet package and seeing the sites of NYC."
The 200-room hotel typically hosts one or two dogs during the weekdays, and a few over the weekends. To safeguard visitors who might be allergic or skittish, pets are restricted to the second and third floors. Guests are allowed to leave their pets alone in the room but are asked to provide reception with a cellphone number, in the event of a ruckus. To alert housekeeping to the surprise inside, guests are given a doorknob sign that warns: "Grrrr. Caution: You are entering the temporary habitat of a very special creature." However, sometimes the note is superfluous: A simple knock anywhere along the hallway can set off a chorus of barks.
Mind you, the definition of "creature" is broad. Kimpton does not discriminate against pets that would cause a scene in a neighborhood dog park. Like a snake or a penguin.
Discovery Channel staffers, for example, once checked in with a sloth (special request: bananas), a penguin, snakes and an iguana. Four months ago, a couple from Australia sauntered in with a pot-bellied pig on a leash. For the porker, the staff assembled a grassy pigpen in the room, plus treats from the restaurant, including an odd intraspecies buffet of pigs in a blanket and bacon. The front desk has also seen a guest walk in with guinea pigs on leashes and another pushing a dog in a baby carriage.
"These are classics," Nelson quipped.
Overall, the pet-friendly program does not cost the hotel more than other special in-house services, such as champagne and rose petals for an anniversary, or cake for a birthday celebration. Nor does it require an extraordinary time commitment. The one exception: heavy shedders.
Hair of the dog? Nope.
After Prada left Manhattan to return home on Monday, I joined housekeeping in Room 304, where the Shih Tzu had bunked for the weekend. The breed does not shed, a coup for house attendant Tom Garcia. "Based on this room, it's really hard to tell that a dog has been here," said Garcia, who performed the heavy cleaning that preceded housekeeping's light dusting and linen exchange. "This wasn't a sheddy dog."
However, if the dog experienced substantial fur loss, Garcia would have to employ the big equipment. "The shampoo machine is huge," he said. " You have to move everything aside." In addition, if eau de canine permeated the room, he would set up an odor-neutralizing air freshener. But for today, the room looked fur-free and smelled like a scentless bar of soap.
Typically, the heavy-duty cleaning follows a 90-day cycle. But when a pet overnights, the schedule speeds up. For the thorough routine, Garcia stripped the sheets, then pushed the bed away from the wall, dusting the headboard and the trim bordering the carpet. He vacuumed around and under the bed, nearly disappearing beneath the box spring. He passed a cloth over the nightstands and the drawers of the armoire, which he also moved. Half the time he was in a deep crouch or an inverted L-shape. Before tossing the dog pad in the hallway, he vacuumed both sides. In the bathroom, he ran both metal bowls under hot water.
"I don't want any sign that an animal was in there," said Cherylann Welcome, whose hospitable name befits her position as director of housekeeping. "Just like you know that another person stayed in the room, but you don't want to see signs of it."
After 45 minutes of furious cleaning, the room glistened. Welcome closed the door to Room 304, satisfied that any evidence of Prada had been swept up and away. Even with a dog's heightened sense of smell, the next four-legged occupant wouldn't catch a whiff of her.