CHARLOTTE, NC (Celeste Smith/Charlotte Observer) - At the Le Méridien and Sheraton hotel complex on South McDowell Street, Darla, a Dachshund/Chihuahua mix, scored her own dog bed.
Staffers offer treats to Dublynn and Hazel, 6-month-old golden retrievers. And Ollie, a Labrador Springer mix from Hilton Head, S.C., gets the run of the complex's parking lot deck -- all the better to burn off energy before returning to her hotel room. Her owner complimented the staff for being "really in tune with the dogs, letting them go anywhere."
They're all the furbabies of Hurricane Matthew evacuees staying at the Charlotte hotel complex. On Saturday afternoon, several owners raved about the accommodations -- and the staff's VIP treatment of their pets.
Over the last few days, there have been about 100 cats and dogs staying there, and about 1,800 guests, according to John Thompson, the complex general manager.
An online search showed the pet-friendly hotel complex to be affordable, too, according to Darla's parents, Mae Huber and Joseph McAlary. They traveled from Charleston.
Huber said what's also nice is the sense of community among the coastal guests with pets. One fellow guest brought out an umbrella for her while she was walking Darla.
Staffers love to shower attention on the pets. "They have treats for the animals, but they ask before they give them," said Susan Terry, who with her husband, Bill, traveled from Savannah with their golden retrievers and other family members.
She sat in the Le Méridien lobby cuddling the puppies in her lap while she talked. "They've made us feel so welcome...We've traveled around and never seen staff like this."
Guests have fled from a stressful situation, so making them feel at home is intentional, Thompson said. "A lot of people have traveled a long while to come to our hotel, and they're unsure about what's happening at home," he said.
Inside, the hotel set up a family room with movies, popcorn and sofas. For a Savannah, Ga., couple that just got married and had to evacuate, the staff set up a special dinner Friday night in the dining room, complete with flowers turned into a bridal bouquet, Thompson said.
They relaxed fees on parking and food, and issued free Wi-Fi all weekend for guests "to check on property and the welfare of their home."