Canine enlivens Boston hotel

Black lab greets guests at Fairmont Copley Plaza

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BOSTON -- The 94-year-old Fairmont Copley Plaza hotel spent $38 million on a facelift, refurbishing its soaring lobby with 21-foot-high Italian marble columns, gilded ceilings and Waterford crystal chandeliers.

Lisa Poole, The Associated Press
Four-year-old Harper Dunne, of Fort Worth, Texas, takes a walk with Catie, canine ambassador of The Fairmont Copley Plaza hotel.
Click photo for larger image.

Yet the most popular upgrade didn't have anything to do with French antiques or the ornate arches in Peacock Alley, an entrance hall lined with eight-foot mirrors and Renaissance friezes.

No -- the most exciting thing to happen here lately was that the "Grande Dame of Boston" got a dog.

Catie Copley, a 68-pound black lab, now greets guests with a heartfelt wag and a curious nose. The hound came to the hotel as a gimmick in 2004 to showcase the renovation and has breathed life into the once stuffy 5,000-square-foot lobby.

"She's the world's most famous dog," said Sarah Trimmer, 11, on vacation from Bel Air, Md., who dragged her family to the Copley Plaza recently to give Catie a scratch.

Catie may be the most famous hotel pet since a family of ducks starting riding the elevator at The Peabody hotel in Memphis, Tenn., in the 1930s.

In Boston, some guests call three months in advance to book a walk with the pooch, dubbed a "canine ambassador" by the hotel. Tour guides on Boston's Duck Tours talk about Catie in the same breath as Trinity Church's architecture when describing Copley Square.

Catie has her own business cards, an e-mail address and sends care packages to other dogs staying at the hotel. She poses for photos, has been in Swedish dog magazines and is writing a book. She hobnobbed with Jane Fonda's dog, cuddled with actress Bernadette Peters and wagged her behind for actor Paul Newman and his wife, Joanne Woodward.

"It's the most successful guest services program I've seen in my career," said Jon Creillin, manager of the Copley Plaza, where rooms range from $249 to $3,500 a night.

Lisa Poole, The Associated Press
Catie takes a break from her ambassadorial duties at the hotel.
Click photo for larger image.

Catie trained to be a seeing-eye dog but needed a "career change" when she developed cataracts, said Jim Carey, the concierge director who takes her home most nights. Two of Fairmont's Canadian hotels had successful canine ambassadors -- including one pooch who was walked by Queen Elizabeth II -- and the Copley Plaza decided to give it a try.

Catie and Carey take a 20-minute subway ride to work each morning, with Catie lying in the same spot in the first car next to the driver.

At work, she curls up on a powder-blue bed next to the concierges, who keep her walk schedule in a black leather appointment book. Most mornings Carey lets her run the hotel halls, her nails clicking across the marble floors. Guests and tourist huddle around her bed, and she gives a wag each time someone pats her head.

"It's a down-home, welcoming feeling," said New Yorker Curtis McKinney, 44, who comes to Boston once a month for business and now stays exclusively at the Copley Plaza. "We started coming here basically to see her."

McKinney was in Boston not long ago with his 8-month-old puppy, Asia. Catie saw the dog and took off, scampering around the lobby in circles. Three little girls shrieked with delight, and new guests who hadn't heard of Catie looked befuddled. Carey made a quick hand command and Catie hustled back to her bed.

"She's not supposed to do that," said Carey, blushing like a proud father.

Lisa Poole, The Associated Press
Jim Carey, Catie's owner, works at the concierge desk.
Click photo for larger image.

Carey laughed about changing his title to "Catie Copley's manager," and he isn't entirely joking. He seriously sees a sitcom in Catie's future, and maybe a movie. The book -- a mystery with the working title "Catie Copley Undercover" -- is due out next spring from Boston's Godine Publishers. (Catie's co-author is a human, Deborah Kovacs.)

Carey's real dream is to throw out the first ball at Fenway Park and run the bases with Catie before a cheering crowd. He met Red Sox owners at a function with the pooch recently and says he pitched the idea.

"The power of the dog is unbelievable," Carey said. "One of these days they are going to call me and say 'Jim, tonight is your night.'"

Catie closed her eyes and lay on the cool marble floor at his feet.

If You Go ...

Fairmont Copley Plaza: 138 St. James Ave., Boston; http://www.fairmont.com/copleyplaza/ or 617-267-5300. Rates $249-$3,500. For information about Catie visit http://www.fairmont.com/cop/catiecopley/.



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