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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!

Algonquin Hotel

New York City

Hotel cat Hamlet - Algonquin Hotel, New York City

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Rusty, Algonquin Hotel cat (late 30s/early 40s) drinking from a glass, and a later Hamlet, ca 1977, New York City Algonquin Hotel cats Hamlet (ca 1977 and ca 1983) and Matilda I, NYC 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 cat, New York City, retired 2010 Algonquin Hotel cat Matilda II, NYC However, the tradition was begun, and ever since there has always been a cat at the Algonquin. Incumbents had the run of the hotel to go where they pleased, 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 (included above right) remained in post for 10 years, when Matilda II (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!

Matilda III, Algonquin Hotel cat until 2017, New York City With Matilda III 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 were unknown; she appeared to be about 4 years old when she took up her hotel duties in December 2010.

She was fed by the doormen; she even had 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.

 Hotel cat Matilda III of the Algonquin Hotel, NYC 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, after November 2011 her freedom was somewhat restricted, and she was 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 was no longer allowed there. She could still go to the arrival area or take up a favoured position behind the front-desk computer, and was allowed in the coatroom, which was her most favourite haunt of all. Guests still frequently asked where the cat was, and hotel employees, now keeping more of an eye on her to avoid any contravention of regulations, could usually say where she was to be found.

In mid-2017 it was announced that Matilda was retiring from hotel duties and going to live with one of the hotel's regular guests. Although not an old cat at 11 years, she had been performing her duties admirably for nearly seven years, and there were signs that she was becoming tired of all the constant attention, especially from children. There's some information and a series of great pictures of Matilda III at the LoveMeow link below.

A change of resident

Hamlet, hotel cat at the Algonquin, New York City, 2017 Hamlet, the cat at the Algonquin Hotel, NYC True to the hotel's tradition her male successor, the first in some 40 years, is named Hamlet — as were all his male predecessors. A red tabby, he was found as a stray scrounging for food on Long Island and taken in by a rescue organisation, which noted his friendly and very sociable disposition. So when the Algonquin put word out around local shelters that a ginger cat was being sought to become the new resident, Hamlet was put forward and it was obvious that he met the requirements admirably. A clipped ear showed that he had already been neutered. For his first few weeks Hamlet lived upstairs at the hotel to become acclimatised, but in early August he made his debut at the annual Cat Fashion Show, which raises funds for an animal charity, and then took up his duties as the official 'meeter and greeter' of the Algonquin. He soon settled happily and successfully into his role, and took to social media, taking over from Matilda at the Algonquin Cat's Twitter account and Facebook page. Now there is Hamlet merchandise, and he also has his own business cards.

Matilda went to live in Duluth, Minnesota with her new humans. She had a large house and garden to roam in, where she could just 'be a cat'; but sadly she wasn't able to enjoy her new life for long. In October 2017, just three months following her retirement, she suffered a stroke and died.

Links and further reading

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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 no longer with us, but you can read more from his human companion here.

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