Puppies toted around in purses is no longer a bizarre sighting, especially as more and more people are bringing their pets everywhere they go—including meetings and events. In fact, it’s become such a phenomenon that many hotels have now started to welcome canine companions with open arms.
Last summer, Fairmont Chicago Millennium Park in downtown Chicago launched Bark Near the Park, a package that allows all guests to bring along their pups. Here, they’re treated just like their human counterparts—maybe even better.
The program was sparked by one of the hotel managers, who brings his golden retriever, Chinook, to work every day. With the dog’s growing popularity at the hotel, it soon became a no-brainer to invite other fourlegged friends.
“We started with visits from other colleagues’ dogs,” says Marketing Manager Colleen Sweitzer, “and it evolved into a package.”
As part of the program, dogs are given bowls, a toy and their own bed, as well as an inroom dining menu offering salmon, rotisserie chicken and prime rib—not to mention a gift bag full of Chinook’s favorite pumpkin peanut butter bacon dog biscuits, made fresh at the hotel. The package also includes two hours of dog sitting and/or dog walking, perfect for conference and event attendees that are tied up for hours.
While some might think that an influx of dogs could pose a problem, so far there haven’t been any complaints or challenges. Sweitzer notes that pet owners are traditionally responsible for their pets’ behaviors, and if there were problems, the incident would be treated exactly like a negative human interaction, which would entail nicely asking the guest and their dog to leave the premises. But Sweitzer doesn’t see this becoming a problem because she says owners tend to be very responsible and aware of their pets’ behaviors.
“Four-legged friends are just as important to families as kids in some cases,” she says. “When you’re catering to all your guests’ needs, it’s important to take into account that everyone is not cookie cutter.”
The Fairmont isn’t the only Chicago hotel to spoil pets just like their guests—all five Kimpton properties are pet-friendly, and the Kinzie Hotel also recently debuted a program called Pamper Your Pooch.
Much like Bark Near the Park, Hotel Kinzie’s program includes an in-room dining menu—prepared by a seasoned star chef, no less—as well as activities such as spa treatments and pet photo shoots.
If any issues do arise, this hotel is also prepared with staff trained to handle unruly dogs or other issues.
“For many, [dogs] are an integral part of our family, and their presence gives us a better experience,” says Andrew Eck, general manager of Hotel Kinzie. “It only makes sense that we bring them outside of the house and into our everyday routines some of the time.”
Pet-themed events are also a growing trend that has taken cues from a number of longstanding events that have successfully incorporated animals.
While costumed dogs frolicking in a rose garden might seem more like a meme than real life, it happens every fall at the Chicago Botanic Garden when the 385-acre estate (located in Glencoe) hosts a two-hour Halloween parade. It’s the only time dogs are allowed in the gardens. Registrants must agree to assume full risk for injury, damage and loss, and they are responsible for pickup of any pet waste.
Michelle Cinqui, coordinator, visitor events and programs, notes that there have been no issues (knock on wood) since the event’s inception in 2002.
When planning a dog-friendly event such as this, Cinqui says you have to “go with the punches and be flexible. Many things happen and can change the whole event in a moment’s notice.”
As well, the Anti-Cruelty Society in River North hosts a number of fundraising events in which attendees can bring their dogs, including the 22-year-old tradition also known as Bark in the Park.
The event, which takes place every May, is a 5K walk followed by an on-field after-party with dog-friendly activities that include agility courses and caricature drawings. All of the money directly benefits adoptable animals waiting at the shelter.
At all of their events, including Bark in the Park, the Anti-Cruelty Society has one trained volunteer or staff member for every adoptable animal that comes. Each handler brings along treats, cleaning supplies and other materials.
“It’s heartwarming to watch how excited both the animals and guests get when they interact together in these environments,” says Christine Natarelli, special events manager. “It makes all the hard work that goes into each event worth it.”
PAWS Chicago, another no-kill shelter, hosts three annual fundraising galas—where pets are always welcome (and more are available for adoption). Animal Magnetism is a spring cocktail party for nearly 600 guests; there’s also the 5K Walk/Run activity in the summer and Fur Ball, a black-tie event that brings more than 700 guests to The Drake Hotel each November.
Just like the Anti-Cruelty Society, PAWS leans on trained volunteers to handle the adoptable animals. They also work as dog handlers for guests when necessary and clean up any possible accidents. Each event also has an area called the Dog Spa, where pets can hang out on an indoor lawn.
“The most important thing to remember about our pet-friendly events is that the pets themselves are the reason we are there,” says Sarah McDonald, associate director for media and community relations at PAWS.
Keep Calm and Bring Your Dog
Given this growing trend, expect more and more dog owners to take their canine friends everywhere, including meetings and events.
“I think the trend to bring [pets] places is to avoid leaving them home alone where they are bored,” says Natarelli. “People love their pets and want to be with them as much as possible.”