Hundreds of thousands of families are without homes and struggling to survive in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, and it seems Holiday Inn isn’t budging on their “no-pets” policy, refusing to offer shelter to people who include pets as part of their family. Animal lovers around the country are already expressing outrage with the hotel chain after a Houston family were forced to take turns sitting in the family’s tiny Prius with their 3 large dogs that were not permitted inside.
That’s when we were alerted to the same thing happening to 69-year-old Sugar Land, Texas resident Cyndi Lombardi. She was evacuated from her home and found a room at the Holiday Inn Express in Wharton, Texas. When the manager realized she had her two cats in a carrier, she was unapologetically kicked out of her room and sent back out into the storm, her life – and the life of her two cats – put in serious danger.
I reached out to her for the details and were shocked by what she wrote back. The story is gut-wrenching, and best told in her own words. She describes how an event like this brings out the best and the worst in people. Here is her email in it’s entirety:
I don’t usually write stuff like this, but I feel that in writing my story I can get some closure on the events of the scariest day in my life.
I live in Sugar Land, Texas, with my two loving rescue cats, in a lovely upscale apartment complex. My life is blessed and abundant, and I have a great job, and I’m healthy.
However, our families barely survived the hurricane as their home in Sienna Plantation was hit by a tornado, and then severe flooding leading to mandatory evacuation.
We were told that the evacuation route was University Blvd to 59 south, to the 10 Spur and head west.
We all got in our vehicles with kids, pets, and limited luggage in a matter of minutes.
When you are told to evacuate quickly, you take the things that are most important.
For me those were my documents, cell phone, cash, credit cards, my two kitties, a floating flash light, protein bar, lip gloss and diet coke.
Oh, and cat food and litter.
I headed out and the roads were sometimes impassable, so I drove on grass and medians to get to 59 south. It took hours for what would have normally been a 15 minute drive.
When I got to the 10 spur, I must have picked up debris and nails ,and my one tire went totally flat. Who gets a flat tire in a hurricane? me!
The state trooper told me to turn around and head further south on 59 to the closest gas station, but none were open.
It was pouring rain, high winds and no one in sight and getting dark.
I sat in my car clutching my kitties and prayed, when 2 good Samaritans came along in a truck. Prayers answered!
I sat in their truck while they put on my spare tire in the torrential rains and high winds, and the kitties slept in the carrier.
I tried to give them cash but they wanted prayers, instead.
I headed south on rt 59, to Wharton, Texas and found a Holiday Inn Express, and parked.
I waited in the lobby, praying for a cancellation , and finally got a room.
No towels, carpets wet, roof leaking, but I didn’t care, as my plan was to just get a few hours’ sleep and leave at day break and head west.
When the manager saw my cat carrier, she yelled and was very rude. Said I was being evicted, and being charged a $ 500.00 fine, also.
She was so mean, it shocked me, considering the hurricane usually brings out the kindness in people, not a mean streak.
I offered to pay extra, and keep the cats in the carrier as I had nowhere else to go. I was tired, hungry, and water dripping off me, and shivering , and at that point felt the tears welling up.
The manager came to the room I had just entered, with some sort of “ goon “ , disguised as security.
I was shocked . I asked if he was security, but he said no, he was just following the lady manager. Still can’t figure out why he was with her.
I’m 69 years old and certainly not the type that looks threatening, or needing an escort out the door. He may have been her “ friend”.
She could have said “ we’ll keep the carrier in the storage room while you get some sleep “
She could have said you can sit in the lobby with the carrier until the sun comes up.
Instead I was escorted out the door.
By then it was pitch dark, pouring rain, roads flooding, rivers overflowing onto route 59 and I had nowhere to go.
I headed back up 59 north, with both windows open the whole way, and a “ get along tire “ on my car , mind you.
I clutched the steering wheel with my left hand, and the kitty carrier with my right hand the whole way.
My daughters took turns staying on the phone via blue tooth the whole way, so I could still talk on the phone, hands free.
That was a life saver.
It took hours on flooded roads, stopping so many times, and no lights or other cars in sight.
Every time I drove in the high water I prayed the car would not sink and that I could get out with the kitties, via the windows I had left totally open, if I had to.
Hours later, I made it back to Sugar Land, and was able to get up Highway 6 back to my community.
I parked blocks away from the complex as the front was flooded and I carried the kitties in the carrier over my head to get back in my apartment.
Luckily, I live on the 3rd floor and it had not flooded, even though it was under mandatory evacuation.
Once inside, I sponge bathed the kitties, took a bath, we all ate, and then collapsed on my bed around 3:30 am.
The next day I thought about it, and concluded that the manager could have made some sort of compromise, due to the catastrophic situation.
Did the Holiday Inn Express, in Wharton, TX, need to put my life , and my pets’ lives In such extreme danger, just so the manager could exert her authority and enforce the rules????
She could have let me sleep in the lobby for a few hours, instead of coming at me with some fake escort, and escorting me out the door in torrential rains and high winds.
I’ll never forget her extreme rudeness as opposed to the extreme kindness from the two good Samaritans that changed my tire.
All I can say is that a catastrophic hurricane brings out the best in some people, and the worst in others.
As for me, I’ll never stay at a Holiday Inn express again, as long I live.
They can take their points and “ shove it “.
In the meantime, our Pet rescue group is busy making plans to help resume pet adoptions and fostering.
That’s my idea of bringing out the best during a bad situation.
Too bad Holiday Inn Express ,in Wharton Texas , could not have done better in a bad situation.
Shame on them!!!!!
Cyndi’s daughter Meryl elaborated, “I asked [my mother] to wait in the car while I tried to speak to them on the phone. I called the onsite manager first and she would not talk to me. Instead, I was told she “left” and that there was no one of authority for me to speak to. The young woman on the phone sympathized with us but had her hands tied by the authority of her manager. I was then able to locate the General Manager’s private cell phone and called him next. I pleaded and begged and cried for him to let my mom stay. He said, ‘Our hotel does not accommodate pets. Your mother can stay but the cats cannot,’ and then he hung up the phone on me.”
As for Cyndi, her daughter said, “My mom? She’s unstoppable. Already back to her old tricks, helping rescue pets in the wake of Harvey, working as much as she can without Wi-Fi and staying dry. She may be 69, but she has the spirit and energy of a 20 year old.”
Cyndi volunteers for a rescue organization called Mutts n Meows. The apartment community she lives in, Retreat at Riverstone, has turned their business office into a drop-off point for donations of pet supplies for Mutts n Meows.
UPDATE: In response to this story, a spokesperson with IHG, the conglomerate that owns Holiday Inn Express, reached out to us with the following:
We are very sorry that Ms. Lombardi and her cats had this experience, and we are in the process of trying to connect with her to personally express our apology. Providing the highest level of hospitality is at the core of everything we do and we simply fell well short of our expectation in this instance — no ifs, ands or buts about it.
A big thank you to CatingtonPost.com for bringing this matter to light because we were able to quickly identify and get in touch with the franchisee — who is now accommodating guests with pets. When these isolated issues occur, we work to expedite a resolution. We have also been hyper-proactive in communicating with our franchisees in the impacted areas to underscore the importance of accommodating guests with pets.
UPDATE 2: Cyndi reached out to us again to let us know she had spoken with Michael Torres, VP at IGH and described him as, “very kind and cordial on the phone, humble, and an animal lover, as well.” He offered her upgraded rooms, free stays, an reward points as an apology, but she asked for a modest donation to the rescue group she works with, Mutts n Meows instead. So, he immediately made a $1,000 donation into the rescue’s non-profit account. Cyndi said, “I thought that was very kind and generous. I’m so glad that something good came from my horrible experience.”
UPDATE 3: An IHG Spokesperson contacted us once more to let us know that they are now requiring all their hotel brands in the areas affected by Harvey to allow pets free of charge. They made the following statement: “Many of IHG’s brands, including Hotel Indigo®, EVEN® Hotels, Staybridge Suites® and Candlewood Suites®, and many individual Holiday Inn Express® hotels, already are pet friendly. As IHG hotels continue to shelter individuals and families displaced by Hurricane Harvey, IHG has mandated that all its branded hotels in impacted and surrounding areas welcome pets free of charge during disasters. We have and continue to communicate this requirement to all hotels.”