Image: Matilda, pet mascot at Algonquin Hotel
Alice De Almeida
Matilda lounges on her chaise lounge in the lobby of midtown Manhattan's Algonquin Hotel.
By contributor
updated 10/22/2008 3:08:42 PM ET 2008-10-22T19:08:42

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.

Image: Greyhounds of Wyndham Orange County
Wyndham Orange County
Tom Smalley, General Manager of the Wyndham Orange County, sits with guests and his mascot greyhounds.
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 tableside 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.

  1. Don't miss these Travel stories
    1. Lords of the gourd compete for Punkin Chunkin honors

      With teams using more than 100 unique apparatuses to launch globular projectiles a half-mile or more, the 27th annual World Championship Punkin Chunkin event is our pick as November’s Weird Festival of the Month.

    2. Airports, airlines work hard to return your lost items
    3. Expert: Tourist hordes threaten Sistine Chapel's art
    4. MGM Grand wants Las Vegas guests to Stay Well
    5. Report: Airlines collecting $36.1B in fees this year

“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.

Image: Sparky Kia Smith, Hotel Palomar in Arlington, Va.
Hotel Palomar
"Sparky" Kia Smith, is the Maestro of Pet Services at the Hotel Palomar in Arlington, Va.
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.

© 2013  Reprints

Photos: Animal Tracks: A biker pup, bears and more

loading photos...
  1. Comic-con pup

    Ollie the French Bulldog, dressed in a "Shazam" costume, sits outside of the San Diego Convention Center during the 2014 Comic-Con International Convention in San Diego, California, on July 24. (Sandy Huffaker / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Elegant emu

    An emu named Kanoro is pictured in the enclosure in the zoo of Munich, on July 25, 2014. (Christof Stache / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Cat Cafe

    Customers drink a coffee as several cats roam at Cat Cafe Melbourne in Melbourne, Australia, on July 25. (Scott Barbour / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Biker boys

    Jeremiah Gerbracht rides his Harley Davidson motorcycle with his dog on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, on July 20. (Jonathan Alcorn / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Deep blue

    Dolphins swim in the Mediterranean sea off the coasts of Nice, France, on July 23. (Valery Hache / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Down the track

    Darren Weir trained galloper makes his way up the 1400 metre straight training track in Ballarat, Australia, on July 23. (Vince Caligiuri / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Helping out

    A resident pours sea water on a giant green sea turtle which accidentally got tangled in a fishing net off a village in Lingayen, Pangasinan province, on July 21. (Str / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Barrel buddy

    A polar bear sits by a cold barrel in Copenhagen Zoo, Denmark, on July 23. (Niels Ahlmann Olesen / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Perched above

    A stork enjoys a sunny afternoon in his nest on a rooftop in the small village of Frauenkirchen, Austria, on July 21. (Leonhard Foeger / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Cooling down

    A sea lion cools down visitors with water from a hose in the summer heat at the Aqua Stadium aquarium in Tokyo, on July 22. (Yoshikazu Tsuno / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. The storm is coming

    A cat walks in front of a glass wall reinforced with tapes as Typhoon Matmo approaches the northeastern coastal town of Nanfangao, Taiwan, on July 22. (Pichi Chuang / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Across the border

    A man returns to the Mexican side of the border after washing his horse in the Rio Grande at the U.S.-Mexico border at dusk near Mission, Texas, on July 24. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Fancy dog

    A costumed dog walks on its hind legs, during a free public circus performance to protest Mexico City's ban on circus animals in Mexico City's main square, the Zocalo, on July 22. (Rebecca Blackwell / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Big love

    A dog jumps up onto a participant wearing an inflated suit before taking part in "The Sumo Run" in Battersea Park, London, on July 27. (Justin Tallis / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Bear necessities

    A black bear in captivity waits for visitors to throw food into his pen at the the Maine Wildlife Park in Gray, Maine, on July 25. (Robert F. Bukaty / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  1. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  2. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  3. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  4. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments