June 28, 2017

Rana Alshami holds 'Patches,' the kitten, right before Cychee Greer brought her home from the Hilton Key Largo Resort. 

THERESA JAVA/Free Press Rana Alshami holds 'Patches,' the kitten, right before Cychee Greer brought her home from the Hilton Key Largo Resort. 

KEY LARGO — Rambo, a 14-year-old Pekingese, gets to go for a car ride every day. His owner, Karen Simonetti, said when she turns her car into the parking lot at the Hilton Key Largo Resort where she works, Rambo’s tail starts to wag. 

“He knows where he’s at and he starts to go nuts,” she said. 

Simonetti has been bringing Rambo with her to work for more than a year now, ever since the Hilton was purchased by Davidson Pivot and became a pet-friendly resort for its guests and its employees.

This has worked out beautifully for Simonetti, since she and Rambo have both had hip surgeries and now are able to keep an eye on each other all day.

Embracing pets as part of people’s lives is something Lizzette Romero understands. She has been serving as the Hilton’s human resources manager since October.

Romero keeps a small cozy office down the hall from the front desk. She turns of the fluorescents and keeps a lamp on. The room is where employees can can find a reprieve and regroup themselves.

There’s a computer and phone for employees to use as well as chairs with blankets. There’s also a cat condo and four kittens: “Patches,” “Cay,” “Baker” and a shy one that hasn’t been named yet.

They were adopted from the Upper Keys Humane Society last month. Romero asked, “Who doesn’t love kittens?”

And she’s right. She’s had more employees visit and talk to her since adopting the kittens. 

“Now, I’m not the scary HR lady,” she said. “I get a lot more visitors.”

Two chefs come in about a half hour early just to visit the kittens. According to Romero, the kittens have opened a lot of dialogue among the staff of 103 and havefostered a true “open door policy” for her office.

Cychee Greer, an employee who has bonded with “Patches” so much, was permitted to take her home last Thursday. 

“She is so cute, I’m so excited,” she said.

Romero, who has worked in human resources for about a decade in two different states, said she has never been employed by a pet-friendly business before.

She said she got the idea several years ago after seeing a huge orange tabby cat named “Oscar” at an upscale jewelry store on the west coast. He was sprawled over the glass case looking comfortable and she thought it was cool how the employees and customers interacted with the cat.

Recently, after reading a newspaper article about a Japanese IT firm that brought aboard nine cats to be “stress ambassadors,” she talked with Hilton General Manager Joy Boyd about bringing cats to her office. 

Romero credits Boyd with instituting the formal pet-friendly policy for employees.

“It’s been proven that pets reduce stress, and a happy employee is a productive employee” Romero said.

The kittens are supervised around the clock. The night auditor checks on them, the front desk agents bring them to their space. Rana Alshami, the front desk supervisor, said she had the kittens with her the other night for about an hour. “We had a blast,” she said.

The kittens have their routine: they play, eat and nap. They play hard for a couple of hours in the morning with plastic spoons, straws and paper clips. Then they chill out. 

“If you watch them play, you can’t help but to smile,” Alshami said.

The Hilton is currently undergoing renovations. When those are finished, it will remain pet-friendly, according to Romero, and the kitties will be able to roam further — and they’ll get a bigger cat house. She’s already asked the engineer to start planning.

The Hilton Key Largo Resort is located at 97000 Overseas Highway in Key Largo. For more information on its pet policy, visit keylargoresort.com or call 305-852-5553.