‘The best things come in the smallest packages’ doesn’t hold true for this pet-friendly Bangalore hotel, for their mascot is a large breed with a large heart. Without further adieu, Lyle Michael introduces Burnie, Chief Happiness Officer at The Lalit Ashok
Among the very few pet-friendly hotels in the country, it is the only one with a resident Happiness Officer and a furry one at that. The Lalit Ashok knew they would make a huge impact on their guests (pun intended), whether animal-loving or otherwise. With his own quarters – two in fact – an air-conditioned kennel, two dedicated handlers, an ID card, a monthly salary, a pet brunch to his name and the freedom to roam the 10 and a half-acre estate, Burnie the St. Bernard is relishing his second lease of life, the staff at The Lalit even more so. Among the star attractions here, he’s well taken care of for he holds one of the most vital roles, that of ensuring the guests are happy. That’s a tall order, one that Burnie fulfills simply by being himself, his big, soft, amiable, playful and gentle self.
When hosting the UpperCrust Food & Wine Show recently at the vast, green expanse that is The Lalit Ashok, our attention was drawn to the poster announcing Sunday’s Pet Brunch and two St. Bernards walking past it, tails wagging away, handlers in tow. Upon further enquiry, we discover Burnie is Chief Happiness Officer here and his partner, platonically, the reticent lady Panda, is his companion. Going back four and a half years, Bernie was rescued from a cement factory near the hotel where he was kept captive for two years, an actual bag of bones, and found his home in the hotel where he was groomed, conditioned and socialised over a period of time; and today, is spreading joy with his title as CHO, a post he has held for nine months now. Further discourse informs that Panda, as well, was a rescue dog, less friendly and temperamental though, who also resides on the hotel’s premises and is adopted by Rooms Division Manager Sudhanshu Singh.
The other commanding figure at The Lalit, the equally joyous, engaging and poised GM Bhaskaran T – well-travelled with 20 years in hoteliering – smiles as he recounts, “The Pet Brunch actually began before Burnie was thought of, thanks to Executive Director (The LaLit Hotels, Resorts, Palaces), Keshav Suri, an ardent pet lover with four dogs in his brood, three of whom are rescued. It is a blessing that most of us here are animal lovers and quite a few, pet parents, which is why Burnie was welcomed with open arms and rules the roost today. When he was rescued and examined, the vets were quick to pronounce his time on earth at one month tops! He sure proved them wrong, thankfully, not just alive and kicking now, but weighing a healthy 55 kgs with more to go.” Taking us through his diet, Executive Chef Ashish Sanyal begins, “Marie biscuits are his favourite, and there’s nothing extraordinary for Burnie. It’s a gruel of beef or chicken, dry food, boiled eggs and chew sticks alternatively. He loves his chow and yes, company.” Burnie is a people’s dog. You can pet, you can play and you can say, “I’m coming back for a holiday as long as the CHO is intact!” True, for you will find him strolling the lawns, prancing around during playtime or with you at the poolside section of the café, laying by your feet, deep in thought while you enjoy your blueberry muffin and coffee, perhaps. He’s here to keep you in a serene frame of mind and to bring a smile to your face.
Is he doing a good job? “Of course!” laughs GM Bhaskaran. “He’s a star employee, purely lovable. He’s a member of The Lalit family who even sleeps in my room when I stay back (oftentimes) and carries my number on his name tag. Guests come to take him for walks, drives, selfies with him and play ball. He’s the most popular staff member. Initially there were trust issues when he came to us but the progress he has made today, it’s fabulous to witness and share with our guests.” Having grown up with four pets at a time as a young lad and currently, pet parent to Husky, Aslan and Indie, Sansa (rescued by CUPA, (Compassion Unlimited Plus Action), the GM knows the power of unconditional love and the advantage of including the same in Lalit’s package. “We have six rooms designated as pet-friendly and truly, Burnie is not a nuisance to anyone. Most enjoy his company. Oh, he even sits in on town hall meetings and farewell parties.”
As the conversation flows – with ample to exchange among pet lovers all – we catch the glee spread across the faces of handlers Mubin and Prem as they run around with the gentle giant throwing his favourite cloth for him to fetch and hand over, fetch and hand over, take a breather, repeat. Any favourite toys? Nope, just the one cloth keeps him happy. Sandhya Nair, Manager, Marketing & Communications joins in and shares, “Burnie is loved by one and all, especially his handlers. It has been a year and a half since Lalit became pet-friendly and guests can now even bring their pets on their stay here. If you do not have a pet, worry not, Burnie is all yours, to spend time with at Sutra The Lounge or wherever else on the lawns. The Sunday Pet Brunch at 24/7, the multi-cuisine restaurant, is the highlight, which sees about four to five pets at a time with their parents ensuring they make the best of the doggie array we have laid out for the furballs, from food to accessories, toys and more. And we do not charge them, just the humans.” In association with CUPA, The Lalit and its pet-parenting staff have built a strong network of animal lovers and are more than pleased with this outcome, as it has brought them happiness in immeasurable amounts, either at the hotel or at their homes.
From slave to master, spreading smiles wherever he walks, Burnie’s is a tale of inspiration and appreciation, for others to follow and for the good work that the folks at The Lalit are putting in to reinforce the necessity of a pet in any individual’s life. Strive to give the animals in distress a window of opportunity and affection; in Burnie’s case, a whole hotel! And remember, that it is in the love you give that the love you receive shall be determined.