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South County dogs are valued assets in local businesses

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America’s big dog shows don’t have much on the canines of South County.

By MELODY JAMESON

Next up, ladies and gentlemen, it’s the working class…here they come into the ring now: A Great Pyrenees who looks after a hundred-member family; a non-judgmental Beagle who supports music students; a five-pound Shih Tzu mini who misses absolutely nothing in the vacuum store, and an English Bulldog with a no-nonsense appearance who keeps things properly lined up in an accounting firm.

Each of them is on the job every day, making appointed rounds, manning – or should we say “dogging” — specific duty stations, making contributions to their respective businesses according to their individual capabilities.

Every one of them is valued far beyond money by their human companions.

And, incidentally, three of them are rescues; a fourth was considered the least of her litter.

But those not-so-good ole days are history now for Liam, the Great Pyrenees with free run of the Aston Gardens Assisted Living Facility adjacent to The Courtyards.

Liam had been roaming the streets of Bradenton when he was picked up by Manatee County’s animal services personnel and was spotted there by humane society staff on the lookout for likely pets, notes Terri Ivey, an ALF staff member and now his chief caretaker. His condition was poor, his snowy white coat matted and dirty, his general health in question as he fought a serious ear infection. What’s more, he was down to 118 pounds - a low, unhealthy weight for a full grown specimen of the breed originally bred for rugged outdoor mountain work, she adds.

Impressed by his gentle nature and unwilling to consign him to euthanasia due to his condition and lack of claimants, humane society staffers wanted to take the big guy on. With a clean-up, regular meals, veterinary attention and a sheltered environment away from noisy, threatening traffic, in the company of other dogs and caring humans, they figured the extraordinary bulk of a Great Pyrenees would take shape again.

At about that same time, at the Aston Gardens ALF, a search was underway to replace Buttons, the house standard poodle, who had been reclaimed by a former owner. The most important specification: a big dog, tall enough to stand at wheelchair height.

Learning about Liam, ALF Director Michelle Orlando dispatched Candise Brown, a special needs nurse, to check out the four-year-old former stray who suddenly had two interested parties in his camp. “She took one look at Liam and knew he was the one,” recalls Ivey. That was more than three years ago.

Today, a fully recovered Liam is in command of the facility lobby, frequently found at his chosen duty station between the coffee table and the sofa in the living-room-like welcome area. From that vantage point, he has a clear and unobstructed view of the entry foyer, rising to greet – and inspect – all visitors, ready to determine friend or foe. Now at his normal weight – 155 pounds – with a massive head and a nose that knows, Liam’s once over is not to be ignored.

But, that’s to be expected of a “gentle giant” whose loyalty is to the 100 or so residents and patients who call the ALF home, says Ivey. He visits with many of them on a very regular basis, cadging the treats they carry for him as they get around the facility and sometimes accompanying her on rounds of the ALF’s second floor, she adds. He also makes house calls in the special needs/Alzheimer’s unit where his presence is a calming influence, coaxing patients to focus on stroking his broad back and lap-filling head.

Not long ago, Liam reached a new height. He has the distinction of being a beneficiary under a will, Ivey says. One of the facility’s late residents included Liam as he devised his estate, leaving monies to fund the dog’s medical/dental plan, provide food and other necessities.

After a day of greeting and fraternizing, comforting and pleasing, Liam and Ivey meet at the front door for their evening walk around the complex. Frequently, she also will cater to one of his other favorite entertainments - a ride in her car - before he retires for the night in a facility office, preparing for yet another day on the job with people who consider him nothing less than family.

Amber, the Beagle, like Liam, stays with her humans through the night – just not at her workplace. She comes and goes each day with Steve and Ruth Downie, proprietors of Music Avenue in the Beall’s shopping center.

The full-sized Beagle, named for her glowing eyes, wandered across the Downie’s path - into their lives and then into their hearts – about 18 months ago, says Ruth. “We had been thinking about having a dog, but just hadn’t done anything about it,” she adds with the lilting British accent she brought from Shropeshire. So, somehow Amber took care of it.

She now has charge of the store where the Downies give lessons on a variety of string, percussion and keyboard instruments, sell various instruments and also provide basic repair services. In fact, Steve asserts “If Amber had opposing thumbs she’d run the cash register, too.” Lacking the thumbs, she, instead, serves as official greeter, meeting everyone coming through the door – adults and youngsters alike – with a warm canine welcome. “And, she makes the place homey,” Ruth adds. “She’s very definitely a people dog.”

She’s also a music aficionado, although it’s not known whether that’s an innate or an acquired trait. Affectionately called a “sound hound” by one Downie student, Amber habitually settles under the key boards or the piano during lessons. In this position, she listens uncritically throughout the lesson, raising neither her voice nor a paw if a wrong note is struck, offering encouraging companionship to those trying to acquire a new skill.

Frequently complimented for her intelligence, her soft sleek tri-color coat and her willingness to humor humans, Amber also is a hit, Steve points out, with people who do no business at Music Avenue. One of her admirers is a gentleman who brings his wife to a nearby beauty salon every week and then drops into the store to spend the wait time visiting with the friendly Beagle who never tires of the attention.

Down the walkway a few doors, there’s another canine on the job – an assertive if tiny handful named Diamond, about eight years old. No more than five pounds after a full meal, Diamond has been “door dog” at Cypress Vac and Sew for two years. She shares her life – and zest for life – with Sherri Huffman, store manager. She also monitors the shop door like a cat watching a bird, Huffman notes, ‘but never tries to go through it.” The predominately Shih Tzu miniature, through whose veins also may course the blood of the imperial Japanese or Chinese Chins, captured Huffman’s attention when she visited C.A.R.E., the South County’s no-kill shelter, after losing a beloved pet. “She needed attention,” Huffman recalls, she was noticeably underweight; looked as though she’d not had much concern directed her way. And, she had not been in the shelter long enough to recover. Huffman saw “a diamond in the rough.” She initiated the adoption and took home her three-pound, black and white handful.

“Handful” in Diamond’s case, Huffman indicates, refers to both her small size physically and her outsized personality. Diamond today rules both her store and home roosts, Huffman allows. “She’s very territorial,” adds her admiring human. Gaining back two pounds, taking her to her natural healthy weight, not only added size, it added spirit.

Playful, consistently pleased with toys, Diamond regularly receives gifts from store customers and visitors, Huffman says, adding “it may be Christmas, it may be no occasion at all.” What’s more, Diamond is spoken to in different languages, - French, Spanish, English - “but always interprets the words as loving.” Her capability, her contribution to her workplace, Huffman indicates, is that she’s simply irresistible and irrepressible.

Those probably are not terms often used to describe Rosie, the English Bulldog, intrepid greeter at Confidential Accounting in Ruskin. But Rosie’s pugnacious appearance actually camouflages a big heart and a sunny personality.

In fact, Rosie, at five years, is a sun lover extraordinaire. Her post, as she sees it, is immediately inside the exterior glass door to the accounting firm’s offices, according to Teddi Aberle owner of the practice that serves small businesses and Rosie’s human parent. Here she will rest in a pool of sunlight until the door rattles her to duty and she rouses to welcome clients, new and old.

Aberle, an English bulldog fan, purchased Rosie from a breeder. The pup had been labeled “runt of the litter,” she remembers, and to this day, at 35 pounds, is considerably lighter than most mature members of her breed. No matter, with her smooth fawn coat and her aggressively inquisitive expression, she is an office dog to be reckoned with.

It’s that expression that got her the moniker. “Remember Rosie the riveter from the World War II posters; the female in a jumpsuit, ready to do her part for the war effort?” Aberle asks rhetorically. Rosie, she adds, naturally looks ready to go to war. She even wears a neck scarf.

If Rosie does battle, though, it’s with her toys and treats. Like all of South County’s working dogs, she has the run of her office, checking on staff working in their private spaces, escorting clients to the appropriate specialist, sometimes even performing a trick or two on command. She will happily pounce on a rag bone in a faux example of capture or catch in mid-air a tossed tasty morsel with the help of her jutting lower jaw. Among her very favorites are those strips that look and smell like old bacon.

At home, Rosie is the last child in the household of Aberle and her husband. There are six grown children, all launched, so Rosie now is the young’un to be raised, Aberle admits a mite ruefully. There never are any disputes over the vegetables, however. “Rosie loves her raw carrots and cauliflower and cucumbers,” the accountant adds. Maybe she gets that they keep a bulldog fit for her work at the office.

While neither Liam nor Diamond, Amber nor Rosie are trained for the show ring, each is special. Liam, says Ivey, “has touched a lot of lives” and Huffman calls Diamond “the best dog in the world.” Downies think of Amber as “a real asset” who “has changed our lives although we would not have believed it before” and Aberle asserts Rosie spreads “lots of love and joy.”

Such, too, are gifts South County canines bring to their jobs.

Copyright 2011 Melody Jameson

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