“I know about pet-friendly hotels but this is crazy,” I overheard a woman say to the front desk clerk as she checked in at the Pacific Palisades Hotel in downtown Vancouver. She was taken aback to see upwards of 100 dogs roaming the reception area while their human companions casually sipped their wine.

The mystified woman was quickly enlightened – February 28 was the date of the “doggy dinner party,” a fundraiser for the Senior Animals in Need Today Society (SAINTS) . Moments after meeting in the hotel lobby, the canines and their two-footed buddies were ushered into the hotel’s Mambo ballroom so they could happily chow down together. Thankfully, there were no food fights.

“It’s expected that owners should be responsible enough to know their dog’s temperament,” said hotel organizer Lydia Miller. The only rule was that the dogs remain on-leash. And every one of them, from usually Bulldogs to my own Jack Russell Terrors, was on his or her best behaviour.

Tables were set for our three-course meal and mats were placed on the floor for the two-course doggie dinner (although the carpeted floor acted as one big serving platter). Hotel chef Karen Gin’s canine menu was meatloaf with mashed potatoes and for dessert, banana cake with peanut butter frosting. Several of the pickier, more spoiled eaters, like my own elderly male, ‘Spike’, were handed chicken tidbits from the tables.

One guest, ‘Sandy’, attended with her companion Nicole, one of SAINTS’ volunteers. Sandy was originally taken into a vet’s clinic to be euthanized due to severe separation anxiety. “Sandy came to us about three years ago with a lot of meds to control her anxiety,” said Carol Hine, principal operator of SAINTS. “Since then she is off all her meds and is a normal, happy and relaxed 13-year-old Chihuahua mix.”

The night was a huge success, according to Hine. “Everyone loved that their pets can be taken to a dining experience as family members and there aren’t that many places where you can take your furry family member,” she said.

Not only was it a fun night out; it increased awareness for SAINTS and the work they do, caring for senior dogs and special needs animals.

The event was planned to honour the memory of ‘Hanna’, an elderly yellow Labrador Retriever who finished her days working at the hotel as official greeter.

“Hanna was a really special case because she came from a very busy, overrun shelter,” said Hine. “She was old and nobody wanted her. She was only with us (at SAINTS) a month when the Pacific Palisades contacted us.”

Hanna was a shoe-in for the job. She got to hang out with Nelly Furtado and other celebrity guests and, when she passed away, the hotel had to bring in grief counselors for the hotel staff.

Some might say the Pacific Palisades is over-the-top pet friendly – its guests have included penguins, monkeys, cats and birds. “The monkey was a pet of an actress and the eight penguins were here from Edmonton for a commercial – they occupied two guest rooms which turned into a stinky mess, especially at meal times with their crates of frozen fish and room service,” said Miller.

Was the ballroom a disaster area the next day? Miller reported that the hotel suffered few casualties; the servers (seemingly) enjoyed themselves even though getting everyone’s meals to their tables was like jumping and juggling through an obstacle course. “The carpets didn’t suffer damage; we just had them shampooed for health reasons,” said Miller. “And we’ve already had many e-mails from guests hoping it will be the first of an annual event.”

Jane Mundy is a freelance writer and editor with a focus on food and drink. She writes for publications including The Vancouver Sun, The Globe & Mail, BC Business and Modern Dog. Jane has a passion for dogs and lives in Vancouver with two Jack Russell “Terrors.”