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by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | September 18, 2017

Cheryl-Anne SturkenHere’s a heart-warming story out of Florida after a full week of news reports on the devastating effects of Hurricane Irma that whipped through the state's southwest corner, causing billions of dollars in financial damage and an untold amount of emotional and physical distress. Amid the mass exodus of Floridians trying to outrun the storm, the Hyatt Regency Orlando opened its doors to nearly 1,000 four-legged pooches and their families seeking safe haven.

Dog looking out a window at the Hyatt OrlandoThe 1,641-room hotel has always had a pet-friendly policy, Katie Satava, marketing manager for the property, told The Hotel Insider. But the tense days leading up to Irma’s arrival in Florida on Sept. 10 saw people with pets in tow flocking to the hotel for safety. By the time the storm struck, the Hyatt was filled to capacity with more than 4,500 guests in all.

When it comes to canine check-ins, "typically, we have a 50-pound weight limit,” said Satava, “but telling guests in a time of crisis, who just want their pets safe with them, that we could not accept them because they exceeded the limit was absolutely not an option for us. We had dogs of every size, from a very large and frisky German Shepherd to little fur balls. They seemed to be everywhere in the hotel."

Well, not quite everywhere. Because the hotel does not allow dogs in its restaurants, it set up several pop-up markets selling sandwiches, salads, breakfast pastries and beverages so guests with furry friends in tow could conveniently pick up meals to eat in the lobby or take back to their rooms.

There were other logistics put in place. "We added a lot more relief areas for the dogs and places where they could be walked without having to endure the heavy wind and rain, like a covered area right off the lobby entrance," said Satava. "I think the staff manning the valet station probably had the most fun, because they got to know every dog by name."

The dog-weight rule was not the only policy the Hyatt Orlando bent last week. The hotel, which typically issues a $150 cleaning fee to guests traveling with pets, lowered that to $50 given the unusual circumstances.

Bottom line: If the Chicago-based Hyatt Hotels Corp. ever gives out an award to its most pet-friendly hotel, my vote goes to the Hyatt Regency Orlando hands- (and paws-) down.