Cori, a 2-year-old black labrador, has joined the staff at the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel as the property’s official canine ambassador.
Cori is owned by concierge Joe Fallon, who previously cared for the hotel’s first four-legged ambassador, Catie Copley. Her presence became instantly associated with the hotel, spawning two children’s books, stuffed animals, and a bevy of dog-related events, such as an annual birthday party. Though Catie died in 2017 at age 15, a plaque dedicated in her memory sits on the side of the hotel building.
“After Catie passed away, I needed a break because she was a rock star,” Fallon says. “So I needed to take some time off.”
Now, Cori is greeting hotel guests.
The Copley Plaza is just one of the local hotels to put a furry friend (or two) on “staff.” The Kimpton Onyx Hotel in downtown Boston is the sometime home of Bowser and Bandit, two long-haired chihuahuas, that serve as “director of paws and stay” and “director of make fetch happen.” At the Mandarin Oriental in Boston, guests are frequently greeted in the lobby by Bonnie and Tara, two fluffy and cheerful golden retrievers.
It’s all part of creating a warm home-away-from-home experience for travelers.
“I think from a sales standpoint, if you look at the evolution of boutique and luxury concepts, and how the focus has gone from just supplying a room with a unique set of bedding to creating a lifestyle or a full, engaging experience, that doesn’t mean that your dogs are excluded,” says Dannie Halloran, director of sales at the Kimpton Onyx Hotel and the owner of Bowser and Bandit. “To a lot of people, it’s their family. I mean, these are my kids.”
The chihuahuas, whose responsibilities range from testing out new dog beds to making appearances at hosted wine hours, even have cocktails named for them in the hotel’s restaurant, Ruby Room, with the proceeds going to benefit Last Hope K9 Rescue.
Halloran brings the pups into the office from his Stoneham home several days a week. While Halloran loves to have his pets alongside him, he also sees their presence as another appeal to hotel guests.
That’s a big change from years past, when pups at a luxury hotel would raise eyebrows. These days, however, the inclusion of dogs in daily hotel life is a wise decision for properties looking to create an elegant and cozy retreat for harried travelers, said Emily Ma, associate professor of Hospitality and Tourism Management at UMass Amherst’s Isenberg School of Management.
“Having pets in residence could be one of the ‘wow factors’ that cheer people up, help customers to relax, laugh, and help [us] build connections with customers. Particularly for those who have, or love, pets, or customers traveling with kids,” Ma said.
An adorable hotel dog may also be a hit on Instagram and other platforms, which can help luxury properties craft a welcoming lifestyle image online.
“With the help of social media — and customers who tend to share unique experiences — it is likely that hotels with pets . . . can attract more attention from potential customers,” she says.
That they do. In Catie Copley’s later years (she lived to the ripe old age of 15), Carly Copley, another black labrador, came onboard at the Fairmont in 2013, greeting guests and employees and generally making herself comfortable in the hotel’s luxe surroundings.
But because of some recent health issues, the 8-year-old lab is hanging up her leash to pursue a quieter life at home with her caretaker, doorman Michael Eades, and his family of four. (Carly will still pop by for occasional special events.)
When Fallon started to think about welcoming a new pup into his Quincy home, he reached out to the Guide Dog Foundation on Long Island, New York, where Catie originally came from.
“I wanted to go back to the same people we got Catie from,” Fallon said. “They do amazing work down there. We reached out and they’re like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ ”
While Cori passed her guide dog exam at the foundation, her trainer noticed that she was better suited to be a pet, rather than a working dog. In her first two weeks at the hotel, she’s already made extensive progress, moving from behind the concierge desk to her dog bed in the hotel lobby to greet eager hotel guests.
The four-legged mascots at the Mandarin Oriental came all the way from Singapore. Bonnie and Tara are 9- and 11-year-old golden retrievers that belong to hotel general manager Philipp Knuepfer.
While living overseas, he found Bonnie in a puppy mill and Tara sitting outside a veterinarian’s office with a sign that read: “If we don’t find a new owner in six hours, she will be put down.”
“They kept her on a balcony, and she was very skinny and abused,” says Knuepfer, who has moved with the dogs from Singapore to Taiwan, then Washington, D.C., and finally Boston, where they live with Knuepfer and his family in their Weston home.
On his first day on the job in Boston two and a half years ago, he decided to change up the vibe in the hotel’s regal lobby.
“As beautiful as our lobby is, I felt it was very corporate,” Knuepfer says. “Everything was very, very proper. I wanted to make it a bit more family-style.”
By day two, his desk was moved into the lobby, and Bonnie and Tara started accompanying him to work, holding court beside his desk as guests walk through the revolving doors.
“The motivation was really to make the hotel more welcoming and approachable, softer. More like a living room,” Knuepfer said.
Now, guests flock to Bonnie and Tara in the lobby. Some have even requested the dogs join them to sleep in their hotel room, Knuepfer said. The hotel has also developed extensive pet programs for guests’ dogs, featuring gourmet menus that include artisan dog biscuits, mineral water, and customized in-room amenities.
Back at the Fairmont, it’s not unusual to find area workers strolling through the gilded lobby of the hotel to catch a quick visit from new recruit Cori during a stressful work day.
“People around here in the tower or other buildings around here, if they’re having a bad day, they come over to the hotel,” Fallon said.
Of course, welcoming a 2-year-old pup into the mix can be a challenge.
“She’s trained very well,” Fallon said. “But she’s got a lot of energy.”
Megan Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.