I Travel the World With My Dog, and I'm Crushed That a Hotel Enforced a No-Pet Policy on Hurricane Harvey Evacuees

Was there ever a more apt time for staff to toss out the written rules?

The good in humanity has buffered the blows of Hurricane Harvey. But amid all the destruction and the kindnesses that rose out of it, there have also, sadly, been moments when people prioritized their properties over others' shelter. For instance, televangelist Joel Osteen was widely criticized after he initially closed the doors to his megachurch, though it had room to shelter thousands. (After the move garnered significant publicity, he opened them).

As well, one Texas hotel got the very bad kind of media attention when it denied access to the dogs of a family who had fled the destruction, leaving them vulnerable during the storm.

According to People, Gillian and Phillip Parker, along with their 16-year-old daughter Allison and 81-year-old grandmother Sylvia, were initially relieved when they reached the Holiday Inn Express and Suites — but then devastated when the hotel told them they'd have to leave their three dogs in the eye of the storm.

It all started when the family received a mandatory evacuation order due to rising floodwaters. They fled and, seeking safety, came across this Holiday Inn Express and Suites in Katy, Texas. Upon check-in, the clerk said their three dogs — Arrow, Wiggum, and Buttercup — could not check-in due to the property's strict no-pet policy. Even after speaking with management, the staff stayed firm and refused to make an exception. With major road blocks, grim alternative housing options, and no signs of nearby other help, the family stayed in the hotel... but took turns sitting in their car with the dogs at all times, even through the night, beaten down by torrential rainfall as they hauled back and forth.

After the news spread widely, IHG, Holiday Inn Express' corporate owners, issued a statement to People apologizing to the Parker family, and clarifying that the hotel later began accepting guests' pets during the storm. An IHG rep also told People that the company would waive the family's fees and provide them with reward points toward a future stay. (In response, the Parkers told People they'd rather the company make a donation to disaster-relief efforts and the Fort Bend County Animal Services — from where two of their dogs were adopted — instead.)

But many people had already read the Parkers' story and were horrified by it. I'm among them. 

Like Andy Cohen and Lisa Vanderpump — and countless other ordinary, devoted pet parents — I travel with my pup all the time. (That's Ruby in the pic above.) At the hotels she’s checked into, Ruby's considered a part of the family, so I can’t imagine a hotel denying her a place to stay — let alone when 50 inches of rain are forcing tens of thousands of humans into shelters.

I understand rules are rules, but sometimes rules are meant to be broken, especially in dire situations.

Shockingly, and in the craziest twist of events, the hotel had even admitted it had made exception for pets in the past — but for smaller dogs. And we can only presume those dogs were not stranded in a deadly disaster unfolding. If they have allowed small dogs, under the table, how could they not make an exception for a family whose pets literally could have died outside their doors? How did they not understand the urgency of this crisis? That's what you might call a perfect time to bend the rules.

Indeed, as the situation barring their dogs unfolded in real time, it dealt a brutal blow to the family — who still had to worry over their flooded home, belongings, and the safety of their friends and family. As a fellow dog lover, my heart goes out to the Parkers.

And others are outraged too; Yelpers are persecuting the hotel through reviews on its page. 

And, while the late apology is a start, this hotel staff blew it bad in a family's — in a whole state's — time of need. 

Rules are rules, sure. But rules aside, it's about being human. It’s about making executive decisions that help protect and serve other human beings. In a time when strangers are helping strangers during one of the worst disasters to hit Texas, volunteers have contributed in remarkable ways, and other travel industry companies stepped up to the plate big time. So it's definitely possible, and honorable, and appreciated.

When lives are at stake — and even when they're not — I say this is time for hotel execs all around the country to think about what they can do to put the "hospitality" back in the hospitality industry if indeed their property feels a bit lacking when it comes to that personal connection.

And let's just say that pet people like the Parkers, and like me, have long memories and deep pockets for places that treat all members of their family like VIPs.

Want to help? Donations to the Fort Bend shelter can be made through Amazon Smile

UPDATE: A spokesperson for the hotel provided Jet Set the following statement:

"We are very sorry that the Parker family and their pets had this experience. Providing the highest level of hospitality is at the core of everything we do and we simply fell well short of our expectations in this instance. We have been in contact with this hotel to address the situation and to understand why this occurred — given the hotel was accommodating pets during the flooding.  

We have also made two separate donations totaling $5,000 to Houston PetSet’s Hurricane Harvey Disaster Relief Fund, which is working to raise the critical funds that will be necessary for animal rescue and welfare-related efforts, as well as Rescue Bank Houston, which provides grants to the animal rescue community in the form of donated pet food, delivered through regional affiliates.  

As a company comprised of different people — many of whom live and work in the impacted areas — we are highly sensitive to the needs of those impacted during this extremely difficult time and are working diligently to best accommodate guests, and comfort those seeking relief at IHG hotels."

Credit: Jimmyim/Instagram

To help those affected by Hurricane Irma go to redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS or text the word IRMA to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

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