Where should I eat? How do I get show tickets? Can you hail me a cab? These are questions a New York City hotel concierge is used to answering. But when 3,000 canine competitors and their owners and handlers come to town for the famed Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show (on February 11 and 12 this year), the Hotel Pennsylvania’s dog concierge has a vastly different set of needs to address. Luckily, Jerry Grymek laps it all up.
Did you grow up with pets? Yes—we had guinea pigs, fish, cats and dogs. I’d be an all-animal concierge if I could. I haven’t had a dog recently because I travel so much and now I have a baby. But once he gets a little older we’ll definitely talk about getting a pet.
What’s your favorite dog breed? While it’s difficult to pick just one, I have a special place in my heart for corgis because of their enthusiasm and, with their little legs, they remind me of guinea pigs. But it’s a tough question—I get to see the same dogs come to compete year after year, so I get attached to them, too.
Do dog show guests confide in you about their canine relationships? Cats are self-sufficient, but dogs are so dependent on us. They feed off our energy, and we develop such a close bond. So people tell me stories about that—how their dog wakes them up, helps them pick out clothes, supports them emotionally, knows what they are thinking and so on.
What was your career path leading up to this work? My background is in public relations. The Hotel Pennsylvania has been hosting dogs for decades, but this partnership started in early 2000, when I was helping the front desk with dog show guests, media and interviews. Back then we just had a small area for the dogs. But over the years the show has grown so much, with more people, events and qualifications. As my experience with the show, crew, guests and media grew, my role grew.
Do you prepare for the show year-round? Even though we have it all down to a science, we always want to improve. So we find out how the show might change next year and how to streamline things so guests and their dogs get the best experience. Around August, people will know if they’ve accumulated enough points to compete, so that’s when bookings start to surge. We’re Westminster’s top hotel, because while other hotels have weight limits for dogs, we accept all sizes. We’re a five-paw hotel.
How do you get ready for the influx of dogs? It’s about making sure we have extra housekeeping staff and cover our bases—preparing for any potential accidents in the lobby, getting all the dog spa elements and supplies in place, booking events, getting sawdust for our in-house relieving area downstairs, stocking up on poop bags, distributing magazines and packages. There are a lot of moving parts.
There’s a whole floor dedicated to dogs? They need to have a place to relieve themselves, to run around and to be groomed. In February in New York City you don’t know what the weather is going to be like. If it’s snowing, dogs can get out their energy in our fitness area. If a pup’s coat is ruined by the weather, our grooming area is open. It’s great that we’re right across the street from Madison Square Garden, where the show is held. Guests can use our facilities and walk right over to the event.
Once prep is done, what are your duties during show week? When the dogs and their owners and handlers start arriving, I’m there to greet them and help with requests. I make sure everything is running smoothly at the Dog Spa and handle “pupparazzi” interviews and media calls.
What are some common requests from guests? Some people are superstitious and want the same room they had the previous year if they won. Sometimes owners will ask for a cot for themselves so the dog can sleep on the bed. We often get food delivery requests, because if the owner doesn’t have a handler, he or she doesn’t want to go out to eat and leave the dog alone.
What is the most outrageous demand you’ve received? One time, we were asked to roll out a red carpet as soon as a particular pug arrived—and we did! We also had a dog that loved opera, and the owner wanted the dog to be relaxed. So we hired an opera singer just for the dog. The pup wore a tuxedo and a top hat for the performance and even barked for an encore.
Of all the dogs you’ve helped which one is the most prized? We’ve hosted Rufus the colored bull terrier as well as Uno the beagle, both of whom won Best in Show. Sadly, both dogs have passed away. Uno was especially loved by everyone. He was Westminster’s most popular champion. We still call his regular room “Uno’s Room,” and competitors often ask to stay there. They want the luck!
What are show days like for you? Show days are Monday and Tuesday, but it’s really Westminster Week. There are so many events held by the Westminster Kennel Club and sponsors. On a typical day, I’m on call all the time. There are media calls after midnight and TV crews that start at 5 a.m. So I stay at the hotel and run around, mostly between the spa and the lobby.
Do you get complaints from non–dog show guests? Occasionally international visitors will book the hotel having no idea about the show. They’re surprised, but honestly they think it’s amazing. They’re excited to see all the dogs.
How do the dogs react to fans and the media? It always amazes me how much they love the attention and are so poised. These dogs are used to stadium-size rooms and the sound of thousands of people clapping, so they’re real pros.
What are your recommendations for anyone traveling to New York City or elsewhere for a dog show? Book early! For Westminster, don’t wait until January. If you’re traveling to a new place, pack comfort items for your dog, just as you would for people. There are dogs that have never seen snow or that may feel anxious, so bring their favorite toys or blanket. If they have a comfort food they especially like, treat them. We’ll have people order seven cheeseburgers with no onions (they’re dangerous for dogs). Cheese pizza is also a com- mon request. We know which local restaurants will deliver.
What is your favorite part of your job? Seeing all these dogs in one place. Since all the breeds are here, you get to see a variety of canines, from a two-pound Chihuahua to a 130-pound bull mastiff. It’s a crazy week, but it’s so much fun.
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