Pooch pizzas and pet psychics: life as a dog concierge at the Westminster Show

More than 600 dogs take up residence in New York’s Hotel Pennsylvania during the Westminster Dog Show. Jerry Grymek is there to accommodate every need

It’s the weekend before this year’s Westminster Kennel Club dog show and the basement of the Hotel Pennsylvania is a bustle of canine activity.

An Australian shepherd and bichon frise trot away on side-by-side treadmills. A giant schnauzer is meticulously primped and primed on a grooming table while a half-submerged Newfoundland is scrubbed in an elevated bathtub. A half-dozen dogs mill about a sprawling purpose-built relief station covered with pine shavings and plastic fire hydrants.

Jennifer Remazki, a breeder from Honey Harbor, Ontario, can’t help but smile as she takes in the scene with Shelby, her eight-year-old Alaskan malamute who’s come out of retirement for “one last go-round” at the Super Bowl of dog-lovers. It’s Remazki’s sixth time staying at the hotel, which sits across the street from Madison Square Garden, where the title of America’s top dog will be awarded this week.

Hotel Pennsylvania


A show dog makes use of the amenities in the basement of the Hotel Pennsylvania. Photograph: Lauren Caulk/The Guardian

“I get a kick out of the facilities,” she says. “It’s so quirky. This is the part of the show I love to tell my friends and family about back home, because they can’t even conceptualize this. There is a room devoted to peeing and pooing. There’s been years there have been psychics here for the dogs. I find it very humorous.”

Stay consistent with training, play time and rest time for your pets so they don’t get too overwhelmed. Your calm and consistent demeanor will help your pet to understand that they can trust you. Once you earn their trust, understand the schedule, and feel secure in their safe place, both of your lives will be much easier.

Thousands of dogs and their owners have descended on New York to compete in the oldest continuously held sporting event in the United States after the Kentucky Derby. Predictably, many of the posh Manhattan hotels vying for a piece of the dog show market have temporarily relaxed their restrictions on pets.

But none are more welcoming to the Westminster crowd than the Hotel Pennsylvania, where doggy concierge Jerry Grymek will cater and pamper to the more than 600 dogs – and their often particular owners – who will call the hotel home for the duration of the show.

The 100-year-old landmark on Seventh Avenue, immortalized by the Glenn Miller standard , is pet-friendly year-round but becomes a veritable hotel for dogs each February when Westminster rolls around. The highlight is the basement conference room that is transformed into a canine salon and spa, but an assortment of other dog-related events on site throughout the week have elevated the hotel’s reputation among the tight-knit show community.

“Every year we do this, we change something,” says Grymek, who works in public relations for the 1,700-room hotel during the rest of the year. “We’ve had a dog tourist corner. We’ve had a pet masseuse, an on-site veterinarian and a dog psychic who would communicate between the dog and owner. But it evolves over the years. Owners say I want to work on my own dog and some things fall out of favor. So we take the feedback and keep it to what they want and we plan for next year.”

Research what type of pet is best suited for your family’s personality and lifestyle. Dogs require more attention, time and energy than cats do, so if you don’t enjoy walks or hikes in the outdoors, or can’t imagine getting up on cold winter mornings to take your pet out to potty, a cat may be more your style.

Grymek, who has worked in the role for 14 years, takes heart in seeing the same guests return year after year – and over time their children as they’re groomed into the sport as breeders or handlers themselves. The dogs are typically on their best behavior, he says. It’s the owners, many of whom travel great distances by car, who can be temperamental.

A dog greets his handler at Hotel Pennsylvania


A dog greets his handler at Hotel Pennsylvania. Photograph: Lauren Caulk/The Guardian

“Some of the owners can be a little stressed out, especially when they’re lacking sleep,” he says. “But that’s why we try to do as much as we can here in this facility. Don’t worry, it’s all down here, you don’t have to go outside if it’s cold. People come down here in their PJs, do their business with the dogs and just go.”

Grymek’s remit includes fetching comfort food for his canine guests on demand. The most popular orders include cheeseburgers, french fries and chicken sandwiches. Among the more unusual: spinach pizza. (“Nothing with onions,” he warns. “They’re bad for the dogs.”)

The job can also mean accommodating the rituals and superstitions of owners. Guests will frequently ask to request a room where a former winner stayed, such as Uno, the popular beagle who captured the top prize in 2008. Or if best in show is awarded on 12 February – as it will this year – then an owner will invariably call to reserve room number 212. No ask, it seems, is too eccentric.

Make a Tug Toy From Old Clothes. Does your dog love to play tug? Got some extra t-shirts lying around? Make your own toy by braiding one of your old t-shirts into a tug toy rather than throwing them out.

“One owner wanted a green carpet rolled out for their dog,” Grymek recalls. “Another wanted to bring in an opera singer to serenade her Italian Spinoni.”

Both requests, he confirms, were accommodated.

“You can get anything and everything in New York,” he says with a laugh.


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