Emma Hughes gets to know the dogs, cats and ducks bringing animal magic to some of Britain’s best hotels. Photographs by Steven Brooks.
It’s a cold, crisp Thursday lunchtime at the Rosewood on High Holborn in London. I’m in the cobbled courtyard, watching a stream of taxis drop off guests checking in for the weekend. Next to me, one of the hotel’s most highly regarded staff members is on hand to greet the new arrivals. Pearl, who’s friendly, attentive and all smiles, is the perfect host. She is also a golden retriever.
Back in 2013, it was decided that the newly opened 300-room hotel was missing something—and that something, it turned out, was a puppy. After a boisterous start (‘Put it this way, we never needed to use the shredder in the office,’ the head porter whispers), Pearl has settled into a comfortable routine. Breakfast at 7.15am sharp is followed by a walk, a nap, another walk at noon (she likes Lincoln’s Inn Fields or, when it’s sunny, Hampstead Heath), another nap, a light dinner and then a final walk before bed. In between, she makes herself available for pats and strokes in the middle of the lobby. In many ways, it’s an ordinary dog’s life – just with a lot more of the good stuff in it.
Unsurprisingly, she’s a hit – particularly with people who’ve had to leave their own dogs at home. ‘People book in specially to see her,’ says managing director Michael Bonsor.
‘She’s really treasured and she makes a huge impact on guests. We once had a little girl staying with us who didn’t want to go out at all, but she and Pearl were very attached to each other. We arranged for her to take Pearl on a little outing so she would see some London sights. They had such a lovely time that, when they got back, they both fell fast asleep straight away.’
There have been hotel animals for as long as there have been hotels. The Duchess of Argyll shared her suite in Grosvenor House with a series of poodles and the Savoy’s oyster bar is named after Kaspar, the (admittedly inanimate) cat that, since 1927, has joined tables of 13 in the restaurant to ward off bad luck.
Now, they seem to be as much a part of the upscale-getaway experience as a 24-hour concierge and Farrow & Ball on the walls. Social media’s rise as a marketing tool has played a part: animals are a ‘like’-magnet (Pearl, who’s on Instagram as @pearlofrosewoodlondon, has more than 4,000 devoted followers), yet it runs far deeper than that. ‘Pearl makes the place feel more like a home than a hotel,’ states Mr Bonsor simply.
Not all resident animals are permanent fixtures. Ellenborough Park near Cheltenham has three extra-special seasonal guests: a family of mallards. The two males and a female arrive each spring, nest and produce a brood of ducklings, which waddle winsomely around the grounds. Today, they’re practically on the payroll.
‘They’ve been coming here for years,’ says Debbie Purvis, the hotel’s business-development manager. ‘It’s always wonderful to hear them quacking away on the roof for the first time and they’re incredibly tame. Once, they all went for a dip in the pool and the guests loved it – having a duckling swimming beside you in a five-star hotel is definitely a novelty. We have no idea why they chose us, but we’re glad they did.’
The mallards are so popular, in fact, that when they’re away, the staff draft in holiday cover: runner ducks belonging to farmer Meirion Owen. Guests can take part in duck herding with the Quack Pack, coaching them around a specially constructed watery obstacle course with help from one of Mr Owen’s collies.
Watching from the sidelines is Zeffie the two-year-old sharpei, who belongs to the hotel’s general manager. ‘She’s very friendly, but she does get a bit overexcited around the ducks,’ admits Miss Purvis. ‘Although she’s never actually managed to catch one, she certainly likes to have a go.’
It isn’t just humans whose days resident animals brighten. At The Gallivant in Rye, East Sussex, visiting dogs are welcomed at reception by Brock, a three-year-old Norfolk terrier. A social-media star, he’s regularly snapped frolicking on the nearby beach with human and animal guests.
‘People fight over who gets to take him out for his walks,’ admits marketing co-ordinator Katie McNie. ‘Brock gets on with other dogs brilliantly and he, as well as Dougie – a one-year-old French bulldog who used to reside here – have really helped to establish us as a dog-friendly hotel.’ Under their influence, rooms have been equipped with dog blankets, toys and bowls, plus unlimited biscuits.
Brock likes to hole up in a cosy spot for the day, whereas Dougie preferred to follow his nose – usually towards food. ‘He was often in the restaurant socialising,’ discloses Miss McNie. ‘And there was one occasion when we came back from a meeting to find him on top of a desk in the office eating some beef-jerky samples we’d been sent. He escaped a couple of times, too, and we had to chase him down the road.’
More and more people on The Gallivant’s team are now looking into bringing their dogs in – although Miss McNie isn’t one of them. ‘My retriever is very badly behaved and I have a feeling he’d just create work for me,’ she laughs. ‘But perhaps one day we’ll have as many animals on the staff as humans. That would be great.’
Back in London, the fires are blazing at Hazlitt’s, a Georgian town house on Soho’s Frith Street. It’s attracted plenty of larger-than-life characters over the years – the suites are named after the likes of the renegade Duke of Monmouth – but the chap lounging by its fire is especially louche. Godfrey (who takes the honorific ‘Sir’) is a ginger tom of Hogarthian proportions who arrived at Hazlitt’s three years ago from another venerable institution: the Battersea Dogs & Cats Home.
‘Soho can be a stressful place for animals and we wanted to make sure we got a cat who would be happy living here,’ points out Agnieszka Ashworth, who looks after reservations – and Godfrey. ‘Luckily, he isn’t interested in going outside. In fact, he’s not interested in moving full stop. He’s been on a diet ever since we got him.’
Having come from a house full of students, 10-year-old Godfrey is ‘used to comings and goings’. When he’s not in one of his day-beds (his favourite is in housekeeping), he processes through the communal areas like a general surveying his troops. ‘He’s not allowed in the bedrooms, but there was a time when someone got their suitcase out from under the bed and found him in it,’ Miss Ashworth reveals. ‘The previous occupant had been feeding him.’
Everyone agrees that Godfrey is as much a part of the fabric of Hazlitt’s as the wood panelling and four-poster beds. ‘You just expect to find a cat in a place like this. It completes the picture.’
Where sleeping dogs (and cats and ducks) lie
- Rosewood London, WC1 (020–7781 8888; www.rosewoodhotels.com)
- The Gallivant in Rye, East Sussex (01797 225057; http://thegallivant.co.uk)
- Ellenborough Park, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire (01242 545454; www.ellenboroughpark.com)
- Hazlitt’s, London W1 (020–7434 1771; www.hazlittshotel.com)
- The Old Swan & Minster Mill, Oxfordshire (01993 774 441; www.oldswanminstermill.co.uk)
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