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Old April 8th, 2002, 09:38 AM
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Vancouver hotel's greeter enjoys a scratch behind ear

Vancouver hotel's greeter enjoys a scratch behind ear
'Ambassador' Morgan works like a dog to welcome tired, stressed travellers
Daniel Girard
WESTERN CANADA BUREAU


VANCOUVER One of the newest hotel employees in this city brings some peculiar traits to his position a readiness to walk off the job on short notice; a need for midday naps; a habit of publicly scratching what itches anytime, anyplace.

But no one can ever accuse him of not working like a dog.

Meet Morgan, an 18-month-old black Labrador retriever who has never seen a guest he cannot charm with a nuzzle, a flash of his big brown eyes or a wag of his thick, shiny tail.

As a new ambassador for The Fairmont Waterfront hotel in downtown Vancouver, Morgan can be taken by guests for walks to nearby Stanley Park, or for a little window-shopping along Robson St. He's also ready to play with dogs who may be visiting and is happy to just hang out offering companionship to those missing their four-legged friends. A jog along the oceanfront, however, is not high on his wish list.

The cost is a little time, some affection and a willingness to stoop and scoop. But please, no treats, because a guy with such a high public profile needs to watch his waistline.

"We want to make people feel as comfortable as we can," said Heike Tiemann, sales representative at The Waterfront. "When you see this face when you come in, even if you're not a dog lover, you think: `Wow!'"

Now Tiemann, 26, may be a little biased. In addition to being a hotel employee, she's also "Morgan's mom," and takes the dog home each night.

But judging by the reaction of most guests, Tiemann's words are not just those of a proud parent. A suit-clad businessman pauses in the marble-floored lobby to give Morgan an aggressive pat. A couple says hello by reverting to the gibberish typically reserved for babies and pets. Two women talk about taking him for a walk.

"It's a great idea," said Cheryl Fischer, 36, a visitor from Burlington, Wash., who now owns a golden retriever and had a Morgan look-a-like for nearly 13 years before that. "Who could resist him?" said Fischer, coming over to visit Morgan before checking out and beginning her drive home. "Look at his eyes. He's gorgeous."

Great reviews for a guy unable to keep his first job. Morgan was being trained by British Columbia Guide Dog Services but proved a little too interested in playing with fellow canines and visiting people in his path, to ever be able to safely navigate for the blind. When it became clear that Morgan, who's had intensive obedience training and can ring a bell when he has to answer nature's call, needed another career, Tiemann and her husband, Jason, adopted him on behalf of the hotel. He began his new job in late January.

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`In our post-Sept. 11 psyche, any of the comforts that replicate the feeling of being at home, or at least part of a family, even when you're on the road, is helpful.'

Walt Judas
Tourism Vancouver

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"The qualities that won't work for a seeing-eye dog are perfect for an ambassador for the hotel," said Jill Killeen, spokesperson for Fairmont hotels in Vancouver.

The hotel last year tried Teagan, a 6-month-old Wheaten terrier, in the ambassador's position but found him a little too shy for the job. He now resides with an employee.

While The Waterfront bills itself as the first hotel in North America to have a dog among its workforce, others see pets as a way of making guests feel more at home prompting them to stay there rather than with a competitor.

Two years ago, the Pacific Palisades Hotel, a few blocks away, allowed a Sony robotic dog to roam the lobby. Named Pal, the English translation of his Japanese name, the pet was a hit until one fall too many from the arms of an affectionate guest left him with a broken leg. He has now been retired to an executive office. The Palisades is also one of the few city hotels that not only welcomes guests and their dogs and cats but pampers the pets with, among other things, fresh-baked treats.

Walt Judas of Tourism Vancouver said marketing schemes that appeal to guests' desire to be in a homey, secure, familiar environment are proving to be particularly popular in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in the United States six months ago, which have caused great upheaval and reduced business in the global travel industry.

"In our post-Sept. 11 psyche, any of the comforts that replicate the feeling of being at home, or at least part of a family, even when you're on the road, is helpful," he said.

Morgan, who walks to work with Tiemann each weekday for an 8:30 a.m. start, sits on a big pillow outside his custom-built doghouse, which features a cedar shingle roof, parquet flooring and a bone-shaped nametag. A leash stops him from running into the driveway or approaching people who do not like dogs.

Doorman Bradley Thompson, 36, who owns two dogs, said most days a parade of guests and hotel neighbours comes by to visit Morgan, booking him out for walks and sightseeing or trying to smuggle him treats including rib eye steaks and lamb bones. His outings are monitored so he doesn't get too much exercise.

As much as Morgan enjoys all the affection and attention, Thompson said the dog will not miss the two hours of nap and down time he gets around lunch each day, and has absolutely no interest in putting in any overtime.

"At quarter to five, he's up pacing and looking for mommy," Thompson said. "He's definitely ready to get home."

But when Morgan is out for a walk, he's all business. A brochure introducing him to guests details the usual commands, and stresses that the 36-kilogram dog is trained to always walk on your left side and is too big for children to hold the leash.

While the doghouse, cushy pillow and stainless steel water dish come at a cost, Morgan works his shifts for payment that his owner said is much greater than any paycheque. "He's a real showman," Tiemann said. "So, the attention he gets is its own reward."
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