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Patrick Roberts

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Working Felines: Hotel Cats 1

Some years ago this might have been a very large section,
but these days there are many fewer hotel cats, and information
on both past and present ones seems hard to come by.

One of the best-known — even notorious — hotel cats of earlier times was Tiger,
who lived at the Ritz Hotel in London's Piccadilly district. He was supposedly resident to catch mice,
being nicknamed 'The Terror of the Ritz', but in fact he spent much of his time lounging around,
cadging treats from guests, as well as being spoilt by kitchen staff. He became so obese
that he had to be sent away on an annual holiday, in order to slim down!

of the Algonquin

New York City

Hotel cat Matilda III - Algonquin Hotel, New York

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During the 1930s Frank Case, owner of the Algonquin Hotel in New York City at the time, took in a hungry and dishevelled stray red tabby, an 'unemployed theatre cat' called Rusty, and started a tradition that continues today. In the 1920s and 30s the Algonquin was a favourite gathering place for stars of the entertainment world, and hotel lore has it that it was star John Barrymore who suggested a name change to a theatrical one, and so Rusty became Hamlet. He was given a cat door to help in his comings and goings, and is said to have enjoyed drinking milk from a champagne glass. All in all Hamlet enjoyed quite a step up from his previous existence; but he was no youngster and lasted only three years in the job before passing away.

Matilda II, Algonquin Hotel, NYC Matilda II, hotel cat at the Algonquin, New York City However, the tradition was begun, and ever since there has always been a cat at the Algonquin. Incumbents have the run of the hotel to go where they please, apart from the kitchens and the hotel dining room. Males always take the name Hamlet, while females are called Matilda. It wasn't until 1987 that the first female took on the job; like her predecessors she came from a shelter. Matilda I remained in post for 10 years, when Matilda II (pictured left) took over and was the first Algonquin cat not to have come from a rescue shelter. She was a pedigree Ragdoll who was 'cat of the year' in 2006 at the Westchester Cat Show. She joined the hotel in 1997 at the age of 2, making her in 2010 a mature lady of about 15 years of age, when it was decided that she should retire. She went to a very nice home in Brooklyn, where she can relax, watch the birds, sit in the sun — and doze on a four-poster bed!

With Matilda III (main photo above, and below) the hotel reverted to the tradition of taking on a 'rescue' cat, and she came from the North Shore Animal League; she had been stuffed in a box and dumped at the League's front door. Therefore her origins are unknown; she appeared to be about 4 years old when she took up her hotel duties in December 2010.

She is fed by the doormen; she even has her own e-mail address, answered on her behalf by the general manager's executive assistant. There's normally a birthday party each year in August, thrown by the hotel, to which other feline guests may be invited; these parties raise money for cat charities. The tradition was resumed in 2012, while in 2011 the party was more of a 'coming-out ball' for the new arrival. Matilda II's 2009 party was a high-class and high-fashion affair, with benefits going to the North Shore Animal League America.

Matilda III, hotel cat at the Algonquin, New York City Matilda III, hotel cat at the desk of the Algonquin, New York City Until recently one of Matilda's favourite supervisory spots, from where she could oversee the arrival and departure of guests; was on her personal chair in the lobby. However, since November 2011 her freedom has been somewhat restricted, and she is no longer allowed in the lobby. Other establishments that serve food have fallen foul of the New York Department of Hygiene's rules concerning animals, and since food can be served in the hotel lobby Matilda is no longer allowed there. She can still go to the arrival area or take up a favoured position behind the front-desk computer, and is allowed in the coatroom, which is her most favourite haunt of all. Guests still frequently ask where the cat is, and hotel employees, now keeping more of an eye on her to avoid any contravention of regulations, can usually say where she is to be found.

There's a short video at NBC Today about Matilda III (preceded by an ad). If you'd like to send Matilda a message, the address is on her page at the hotel's website.

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Our featured feline at the head of the page is Socks, pictured in 2003 surveying his 'estate' in the early morning sunshine. Affectionately known as Soxy, he blossomed from a thin and hungry stray into a substantial and handsome cat who loved life and company, and his gentle ways endeared him to many friends. He is now no longer with us, but you can read more from his human companion here.

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