by Matt Alderton | November 09, 2017
Animals can make an ideal addition to meetings and events. Not only are they delightful to behold, but there are numerous physical, mental, and emotional benefits that derive from human-animal interactions. Here are five great ways to entertain -- and relax -- meeting groups.
Pooch Petting
At the Hilton Milwaukee City Center in Wisconsin, meeting attendees can receive a dose of canine comfort courtesy of Millie, the hotel's "Canine Concierge." A one-year-old mini Goldendoodle, Millie works with her owner -- Hilton Milwaukee's "human" concierge -- to bring joy Tuesday through Sunday to hotel guests who are attending conferences and conventions. Stationed in the lobby, Millie -- whose name combines the first and last syllables of "Milwaukee" -- spends her time greeting guests from atop the concierge counter, from a rolling luggage cart, or from her monogrammed doggy bed that's full of toys. She even has her own business cards.

Equine-Assisted Leadership Training

Groups meeting at Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado in Santa Fe, NM, can ride horses -- or, even better, they can learn from them. That's because the resort has a special partnership with EQUUS, developers of The EQUUS Experience, a self-mastery and leadership development program that's co-facilitated by horses. Offered at the resort's onsite stables, the program teaches participants how horses -- known for their agility, sensitivity, sociability, and resilience -- use invisible cues and non-verbal communication to elude predators, retain order and safety, regulate each other's nervous systems, and maintain peace. By physically interacting with horses, attendees experience horses' character firsthand and learn to apply the same principles as business leaders in their respective organizations. The program entails no riding and is available in both hourly and multi-day increments.

Cattle Driving or Sheep Herding

Groups can also get up close with horses at Big Cedar Lodge in Ridgedale, MO. There, however, horses don't teach leadership; rather, they teach teamwork. Case in point: the resort's "Cattle Drive" activity, which allows groups of ten or more to saddle up with their co-workers or clients, with whom they'll ride on horseback to gather the resort's colorful herd of cattle and Texas longhorn. Together, the group will drive the herd to greener pastures in the rolling Ozark Mountains, flexing their collaboration and communication skills along the way. Upon delivering the herd successfully to its new destination, groups enjoy a hearty meal at a rustic streamside campsite. Or, instead of cattle driving, try sheep herding at Flying L Hill Country Resort in Bandera, TX. Groups can watch Duke, the resort's resident sheepdog, quickly work sheep through an obstacle course at incredible speed, then try their own hand at corralling them.

Convening With Creatures

Modern-day meeting attendees are bored with ballrooms. Instead, they crave unique, out-of-the box meeting venues. Animal sanctuaries and zoos are ideal venues with which to scratch that itch while also mingling with the animal kingdom. For example, check out the Bronx Zoo in New York City, where groups can host a reception for up to 80 guests and a band of gorillas in the indoor area of the Congo Gorilla Forest. Or, visit the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center near Colorado Springs, CO, where groups can learn about the history and biology of wolves, coyotes, and foxes, then pose for a photo with resident wildlife -- and, of course, a trained wolf handler. And if you're meeting abroad, consider the Flanders Meeting & Convention Center in Antwerp, Belgium, which is located in the heart of the city, inside Antwerp ZOO. The venue offers groups choices such as an "Aquarium Dinner," held beside blacktip reef sharks and anemonefish in one of Europe's largest reef aquariums, and "[email protected]," which includes dinner and a nighttime walk through the sleeping zoo. You can even host a breakfast with penguins or yoga by the flamingo pool.

Buzzing With Bees

Bees may not be cute or cuddly, but they're essential to the Earth's ecosystem. A growing number of venues have onsite apiaries, or bee habitats, which offer an up-close-and-personal look at their environmental contributions. One such property is the Fairmont Waterfront in Vancouver, BC. The hotel shares its 2,100-square-foot herb garden with honeybee hives on it third-floor terrace. All told, there are 500,000 honeybees living in six beehives that produce up to 800 pounds of honey per year. In the summer, the hotel offers daily apiary tours with its very own "Bee Butler" or a member of his "Bee Team," during which guests have the opportunity to see and learn why bees are so important to the planet.