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Benji's big-city adventure

April 29th, 2003, 10:18 PM
Benji's big-city adventure
Hotel rolls out the red carpet for pet 'guests'

Carolyn Green
National Post

The venerable Fairmont Royal York Hotel in downtown Toronto has been welcoming canine guests for years. But early this month, the hotel kicked up its pet program a notch with the introduction of its Very Important Pets package.

"We designed the VIP program to address a growing demand from guests who are now choosing to drive to Toronto and bring their pet," says Melanie Coates, the hotel's director of communications and public relations. "We realize that canine companions are part of the family ... and if we can keep owners and pets together through our VIP program, everyone will have a vacation."

Ms. Coates has a point. When my husband, Bill Cox, and I take mini-holidays, we prefer to bring Benji, our three-year-old bearded collie/terrier mix, with us.

Intrigued by the Royal York's pooch-pampering promises, we booked a standard room earlier this month to sample first-hand the hotel's VIP package. (Rates start at $219 a night and $10 is donated to the Toronto Humane Society.

In preparation for our visit, we took Benji to the groomer's the day prior to departure for a wash, cut, blow-dry, manicure and pedicure. The following morning, we set out for Toronto, a two-hour drive from our home in Napanee.

Upon arrival at the Royal York, doorman Terry Cole was expecting us and greeted Benji by name, followed by a few pats on his head to officially welcome him to the hotel. With luggage retrieved from the car by an amicable bellman, Benji, Bill and I proceeded to the reception desk.

Strutting through the spacious lobby, Benji could hardly contain his excitement. He may not be able to speak human but an unrelentingly wagging tail was a clear indication this was something special.

When we reached the reception desk, Jasmine Kim, a hotel check-in agent, greeted him with enthusiasm. After all the formalities were completed and Benji was officially registered as a guest, Ms. Kim presented us with a "doggy bag" containing a cornucopia of goodies, including an international PawsPort -- with pages to note his vaccinations, type of food and medications, owner identity and numerous pages on which to paste photos -- a package of Jerky Naturals, a temporary dog-tag ID so the owner can note the hotel name and room and telephone numbers, a small bottle of Chiro-Dog massage oil which I figured might come in handy to rub around his wagged-out tail, a bottle of French Poodle pillow spray and a doggy toothbrush and toothpaste.

The kit also included information about local poop-and-scoop regulations and the hotel's policy about leaving the dog in the room. (Dogs cannot be left unattended unless they are in a crate, but they are allowed in public areas, except those that serve food.)

Shortly after arriving in our room where a clean yellow blanket and a collection of towels awaited us, we heard a knock on the door. It was room service -- not for us, but for Benji -- bringing bowls for food and water, a package of homemade treats and some bottled water. Bottled water for a dog!

We found a welcome letter from the hotel, information about nearby green areas where we could walk Benji, and a list of dog sitters/walkers, most charging $20-plus an hour. We also noticed the "people" room service menu offered a selection pet food treats.

With more than 1,000 rooms in the hotel, any room or suite can be designated a pet-friendly room. But to ensure the next guest has no negative side effects, the hotel cleans the room, performing a thorough vacuuming and dusting, including the walls. As well, all linens, including the bedspread and bed skirt, are changed. After the room is steam-cleaned, an ozone air purifier is used.

Should a pet guest make a mistake, the human guest is not charged extra because the hypo- allergenic cleaning eliminates any signs or smells. However, if a dog chews on wallpaper or furniture, charges may be levied.

Fortunately, Benji did not embarrass us. As we strolled through the lobby and ventured outside, we learned Benji was a big hit. Staff members and guests alike fawned over our 27-kilogram pooch as if he was a celebrity, asking us his name, breed, age, etc.

Although the dog-sitting/walking service generally must be booked 24 hours in advance, we did not need it: We visited our nephew for dinner and Benji was a welcomed guest.

When we returned to our room that evening, we noticed the maid had provided turn-down service.

Not only was our bed turned down, but Benji's bed had been made up.

Above his bright-yellow blanket was a matching heart-shaped pillow to rest his head. And rest he did, with not a peep out of him throughout the night.

However, all good things must come to an end. After our night on the town, the three of us piled into the car and returned home. Benji's great adventure was over. More fatigued than we were, Benji retired early to his regular bed.

Yet judging from his dreamy whimpers during the night, we are confident he truly enjoyed his trip.

Copyright 2003 National Post