Source: USA Today (Extract)
Posted: July 03, 2023

HONOLULU—Like most other dogs, Jack enjoys basking in the sun and watching over his property through the second-floor balcony. His stuffed yellow duck may or may not be by his side.

However, his property isn’t a house or apartment – it’s a hotel, the Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club, a boutique hotel in Waikiki.

As his name suggests, the almost 3-year-old French and English bulldog mix is the mascot for the hotel. He’s lived there his entire life, in a suite on the second floor with his owners.

“This is his domain,” Lynette Eastman, general manager of the Surfjack and Jack’s owner, said.

When he’s not perched from his lookout spot, Jack is downstairs meeting with guests and other dogs who want to play with him – it happens a few times a day – or going on walks to say hello to his neighbors. “Everybody sees him and says hi and knows this is Jack’s place.”

The hotel is one of the few in Waikiki that welcomes pets with open arms – without an extra fee for pets nor any restrictions on pet size, amount or type. “It’s more than accepting dogs, it’s wanting dogs, loving dogs,” she said. The Surfjack also has a pet photographer to capture memories people have with their pets on property.

The Surfjack is one hotel who is letting their guests reap the many benefits of being around dogs by adding them as canine ambassadors. Research backs why they’re called man’s best friend – dogs provide comfort while helping to decrease anxiety. Even just petting a dog reduces the stress hormone cortisol.

These hotels are also tapping into a notable demographic – dog lovers. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, about 48 million U.S. households own a dog.

Hotels … have gone to the dogs

There was always a plan to get a live mascot for the Surfjack since it opened in 2016 but it wasn’t until four years later that Eastman and her husband found the right one. “That year, 2020 was a big year,” she said, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic and medical issues her husband was dealing with.

“It became more important to have something that represented goodness and happiness not only for my husband and I but for the hotel too,” Eastman said. In December 2020, she adopted Jack when he was seven months old.

On a Saturday afternoon, a family with two little kids are playing with Jack. Eastman said they went to see Jack each day of their stay.

Running a hotel that focuses on dogs comes at “the cost of us doing business,” Eastman said. The hotel takes two days to turn over each room so that carpets and couch covers can be shampooed and there’s no lingering pet smell.

But it’s worth it, Eastman said. Having Jack and dogs around the hotel just “takes it to a whole other level.”

More than just a pet

Everyone in Boston knows about the Fairmont Copley Plaza’s canine ambassadors, starting with Catie Copley. In 2004, black Labrador Retriever Catie Copley joined the hotel’s family and also became the Fairmont Hotels & Resort’s first canine ambassador. Catie was adopted from the Guide Dog Foundation, a 77-year-old organization empowers people with disabilities to live independently with the help of a seeing guide dog.

Catie quickly became an icon for the hotel – and city of Boston. She had her own bed in the lobby and dog house in the front of the hotel until she retired in 2016. Two children’s books were written about her and given to children who stayed at the hotel. Some of her fans include the late Paul Newman, who would return to the hotel with his wife to see Catie.

“If someone’s flying all day on a plane … they’re stressed out, they’re tired,” said Joe Fallon, the hotel’s concierge for over 17 years and canine ambassador caretaker. “They come down the main hallway and look over to the left and see (a canine ambassador), there’s a smile on their face. When they look at the dog, everything sort of melts away from what they had to go through for traveling.”

When Catie passed away in 2017, Fallon recieved letters from all over the world and Boston Mayor Martin Walsh declared June 23 to be Catie Copley Day.

The hospitality brand currently has about 20 canine ambassadors across its North American properties and one in Kenya to greet guests and provide a sense of comfort. The dogs are so beloved, they even have their own Instagram accounts, stuffed animals in their likeness for sale in the gift shops and, like Catie had, children’s books. All Fairmont canine ambassadors are owned by hotel staff and tag along to work with them.

Training to be a seeing guide dog is a “very, very rigorous” program that starts when the puppies are as young as six weeks old, according to Allison Storck, spokesperson for the Guide Dog Foundation.

Many of the Fairmont canine ambassadors were from due to health or behavioral reasons. Catie was released early when she developed small cataracts in her youth. “Dogs will ultimately be dogs and remain a dog, and not necessarily go down the career path (of being a guide dog),” said Storck. Some dogs become a sniffing dog or work in a hospital as a facility dog.

The current hotel dog is Cori Copley, another black lab adopted from the foundation. People can reserve walks and visits with Cori. In partnership with the Guide Dog Foundation, the hotel hosts advocacy events where trainers educate the public on guide dogs. Cori can often be found at community events, like book-readings for kids.

“It’s your dog but you’re sharing the dog with so many people,” Fallon said.

It’s not uncommon for travelers to spend time with Cori if they just lost a pet. People who work near the hotel often come inside to visit Cori if they’re having a bad day. It’s also become tradition that during the famous Boston marathon, the elite marathon runners stay at the Fairmont Copley Plaza and pet Cori for good luck before heading off to their race.

“I’m no scientist or anything like that but there’s something about dogs that make people feel better,” Fallon said. “They almost know when people have bad days, it’s hard to describe but you see it.”