Plenty of hotels flaunt their pet-friendly status these days, but some properties are going a step further, appointing a resident pup to serve as the face of their front of house.
And they are even teaming up with local rescue organizations to help dogs find forever homes.
“You’re almost completely disarmed when you walk into a hotel and you see a dog curled up on the couch or coming to greet you,” said Joel Morales, chief marketing officer at hotel real estate group Castlerock Asset Management.
“Dogs have a way of being welcoming and intuitive. It just breaks down any walls.”
Castlerock’s Bobby Hotel in Nashville has had an on-property dog since it opened in 2018, when Sasha, a former “office dog” at Castlerock headquarters, was promoted to the role of dog-in-residence at the Bobby.
Sasha has since retired, but her tenure inspired the launch of a more formalized canine program, developed in partnership with local animal rescue group the Nashville Humane Association and Pets for Patriots, a nonprofit specializing in helping U.S. military veterans adopt companion animals. Under the initiative, a shelter dog is hand-selected by the Nashville Humane Association and, following a stint at the hotel, is later adopted out as an emotional support animal for a veteran in need.
Sasha, the first dog-in-residence at the Bobby Hotel in Nashville, relaxes in bed. Photo Credit: Courtesy of The Bobby Hote
As part of their residency, each dog undergoes a period of extensive, professional training, which helps them master the art of avoiding designated areas — including the hotel’s exits, elevators and food and beverage outlets — and waiting until a guest initiates interaction before extending a greeting.
“There’s a stigma that shelter dogs can’t be trained to be companion dogs, and this is a really important program that helps to address that stigma,” said Morales, adding that guest response to the dog-in-residence at the Bobby has been overwhelmingly positive.
That said, for the hotels, having a dog-in-residence “isn’t for the faint of heart,” Morales said, citing considerations that must be made around vet visits, liability insurance, ensuring the dog is given enough time off and the extra cleaning required.
“But putting in this extra effort and this extra investment is really important to us,” Morales said. “You’re working with a living, breathing animal, and there’s a huge amount of responsibility that goes behind that.”
Few hotels are as familiar with the many commitments of pet ownership as Maine’s Inn by the Sea, which has been home to an on-property dog-fostering program since 2015. Established in partnership with the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland, the Inn by the Sea’s initiative was created to offer rescue dogs a temporary home, with hotel staff attending to each dog’s needs 24/7.
Jack, the hotel dog at Honolulu’s Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club, plays a part in the hotel’s marketing and social media strategy. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club
Inn by the Sea guests are encouraged to interact with the pups and, in the best-case scenario, fall in love and choose to adopt one of the inn’s fosters.
According to Rauni Kew, public relations and green program manager for the Inn by the Sea, a part of Preferred Travel Group’s Beyond Green portfolio, the property has helped facilitate the adoption of 176 dogs to date.
“We have so many conversations with people where they say, ‘Why do you foster dogs at a high-end, luxury hotel?'” said Kew. “And the answer is because we’re green. And then all of a sudden, they’re interested in what else we do that’s green. So the dogs have been great ambassadors for the hotel and our green program.”
Indeed, having a dog on-property can go a long way toward boosting a hotel’s public image. At the Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club in Honolulu, for example, the property’s hotel dog, Jack, has become something of a local celebrity since joining the Surfjack full-time three years ago, a hotel spokesperson said.
Locals and guests alike, as well as their own dogs, are invited to interact with Jack and even book complimentary play dates with Jack for their own canine companions. Surfjack has also incorporated Jack into its marketing and social media strategy, leading to a marked increase in what the property calls pet-related inquiries and stays.
The St. Regis Aspen offers pet visitors play time with the property’s Doggy Social Coordinator, Kitty the Bernese mountain dog. Photo Credit: Courtesy of The St. Regis Aspen
Social media stardom similarly happens to be a sweet spot for the resident dog at the St. Regis Aspen Resort in Colorado. Kitty, a Bernese mountain dog, has been a mainstay at the luxury property since 2018, his name a homage to St. Regis founder John Jacob Astor IV and his own canine companion named Kitty.
The Bernese is featured prominently on the St. Regis Aspen’s social platforms and has even garnered his own sizable online following. Kitty’s Instagram has amassed more than 60,000 followers.
Castlerock’s Morales pointed out that few types of content perform better from a social media perspective than dog-related posts.
“As we all know, people really love engaging with pet content over social,” he said. “And it’s been a great way for us to engage with our guests.”