Pets on the Job
Animals of all kinds — dogs, horses, even monkeys — have been called upon through the years to provide their unique skills and talents alongside humans in police and fire work, the military and in a service and therapeutic capacity.
And while we are eternally grateful to them, what has largely escaped notice until now are those household pets who don’t start out as loyal employees, but when duty calls they quickly prove themselves by pitching in and helping to get the job done. Throughout the Granite State, numerous cats and dogs — as well as a chicken, parrot and turtle — spend long hours toiling beside their human counterparts in retail, hospitality and even the medical fields.
Well, that’s what it looks like, anyway. So we asked eight of New Hampshire’s most hardly working pets about their jobs, and with a little bit of editorial prestidigitation, they spilled the beans about their lives both on and off the job.
May we all take some degree of inspiration from them.
Chief Tropical Bird at Churchill’s Garden Center in Exeter
One fateful day, an Amazon parrot by the name of Oliver was biding his time at a local pet shop being his usual colorful and cute self, when one of Churchill’s owners happened to stop by. The parrot sprang into action. “I bobbed my head, wiggled my wings and looked at her with my head upside down,” he recalls. He absolutely aced the job interview and was hired on the spot.
Oliver is one of several non-human employees who toil at Churchill’s — his frequent sidekick is Scooter the donkey, whose official job title is Donkey in Residence — though Oliver is probably the most vocal. His vocabulary consists of phrases like “Hello, Oliver” and “I don’t know,” but he has also added the ever-helpful “Debit or credit?” that certainly comes in handy when he’s within earshot of the cash register.
Oliver can also whistle and laugh like a person, and he believes that the customer shopping experience should be somewhat unpredictable. “I like doing a perfect imitation of somebody right after they’ve laughed,” he says. “They’ll pause with surprise for a moment and then erupt with big laughs when they realize it was me.”
The downsides of his job include cold winters and the neighborhood cats who prowl around outside so they can get a closer look at him. But overall he loves his job and suggests that retail professionals who are thinking of adding a parrot or donkey — or other critter — to their staff heed his advice: “Think long term, love without question and talk back only occasionally.”
Photo by Joel Rhymer
Library Cat at Freedom Public Library in Freedom
Since he was first hired at the Freedom Public Library in 2004, a brown tabby cat named Louie has spent his working hours greeting patrons at the circulation desk, sitting next to young children who practice reading out loud to him and cleaning dropped popcorn kernels off the floor after movie night.
Unlike other library cats around the country, Louie doesn’t actually live at the library, but his commute is almost as short since he lives just across the street with Library Director Elizabeth Rhymer. From the moment he walks through the door, Louie gets right to work, helping patrons return books, getting volunteers organized for the day and assisting at Wednesday morning story time. Even during the library’s busiest times, Louie never loses his cool; when the circulation desk gets too crowded with people clamoring to pet him, he climbs over stacks of books and DVDs so everyone can have a turn.
Sometimes co-workers will pull pranks on each other. One April Fools’ Day, his human colleagues stuck a barcode on his head and posted a photo online with the headline “Check Out Louie (April Fool!).” From the looks of it, Louie did not appreciate the humor.
Based on his lengthy tenure, other cats who’d like to enter his field of work would be wise to heed his advice: “Remember that you’re an ambassador for reading and libraries,” he says. “Sometimes people come to the library just to meet me and they end up becoming regular patrons.”
When asked if he had anything more to add, Louie stretches and yawns before responding, “It’s time for dinner, I’d better go home.”
Photo by Jim Tonner
Official Greeter at TwinDesigns Gift Shop in Bristol
It’s safe to say that Diane, a 46-year-old Cooter turtle, is probably the most famous terrapin employee in the entire state. After all, she has her own Facebook page and website where viewers can watch her hard at work on her very own live webcam. Plus, WCVB’s “Chronicle” featured Diane on the program this summer.
Her human co-workers — brothers Jim and Brad Tonner, who own TwinDesigns — have also featured Diane in a children’s book, “The Story of Diane the Turtle,” and The Cat’s Meow even produced an exclusive collectible of Diane for its 2014 collection.
Fortunately, Diane has not let her celebrity affect her day-to-day responsibilities at the shop. Every day she welcomes visitors from eight weeks old to 100, and who range from mild-mannered tourists to members of the New England Vikings Motorcycle Club, who recently presented her with an official club patch.
She spends her days holding court and entertaining visitors who peer at her in her tank. It’s a good bet, however, that Diane could feasibly add another task to her job description and become New Hampshire’s very own version of Punxsutawney Phil. Since she doesn’t eat from November to March, when she finally does take her first few bites of turtle food in the spring, you can be sure that spring has truly arrived. “With all due respect to that groundhog in Pennsylvania, I think my forecasting is much more accurate and optimistic,” she declares.
Photo by Gloria Najecki
Yoga Dog at The Yoga Center in Concord
Dozer, a blind American Bulldog who lives and works in Concord, gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “downward dog.”
Every dog needs a job, and though Dozer enjoyed the time he spent with his humans — Jim Readey, a yoga instructor, and portrait artist Gloria Najecki — he was determined to find his calling.
One day, he accompanied Readey to a yoga class and the rest, as they say, was history, or dogstory.
“I learned I was really good at yoga, well, one of the poses anyway,” says Dozer. Savasana means “corpse pose,” and as such, it does look like the practitioner is playing dead. For Dozer, however, it was really just a nap. “I excel at napping,” he adds without a hint of pride, noting that the vast majority of the time, he is able to remain in the pose for a full 90 minutes, which, in turn, has helped to inspire the other students to relax into their own poses.
He likes to greet students with a sniff as they arrive before escorting them into the yoga studio. He considers it part of his duties to keep track of everyone, so if someone heads to the bathroom, Dozer follows and waits by the door, then escorts the student back into the room.
He does all this despite having a disability that might cripple some people, but says that many people don’t even notice right away. “Some people feel sorry for me when they find out I can’t see, but they really shouldn’t,” he says, adding that though he’s gotten pretty good at memorizing where objects are, he sometimes bumps into people because they have the annoying habit of moving around, unlike furniture that tends to stay in the same place.
When it comes to giving advice to other dogs who’d like to work at a yoga studio, Dozer cuts to the chase: “My job is taken, so don’t bother putting in your application here anytime soon.” And for other yoga professionals who are thinking about adding a dog to the staff? “Don’t hire an agility dog; they’ll run around the studio like fools and drive your students nuts,” he advises. “And don’t hire just any dog who says he wants the job, try to find one who is actually living a yogic lifestyle already and can model relaxation or napping really, really well.” His voice then drops to a whisper. “I kind of hate to say it, but I imagine a lot of cats could do this job too.”
CEO Rusty’s Heirloom Tomatoes in Dunbarton
When Ken Cook launched his post-retirement business in 2009, dabbling in organic vegetables — selling to consumers at farmers markets and to local restaurants on a wholesale basis — he knew all along that his feline companion, a buff orange, long-haired rescue named Rusty, was going to run the show.
“We wanted to attract both children and adults to the business and make it both fun and educational to learn about the many different kinds of tomatoes,” says Cook. “What better way to accomplish that than with a cat?”
He named the business Rusty’s Heirloom Tomatoes and also left no doubt who was in charge by placing the cat at the very top of the organizational flowchart, naming him CEO, which is the only way any self-respecting working cat would have it. Cook put himself at the bottom of the totem pole, as grunt and worker bee.
Rusty wholeheartedly agreed. In addition to showing up at the farmers market, customers also visit Rusty’s house — which he graciously has allowed Ken and his wife Greta to share with him. Sometimes, Rusty leads tours of the gardens and the small shed where produce is displayed for sale.
Occasionally, he becomes so excited about his tomatoes that he jumps in the trunk of a customer’s car so he could see them enjoy the fruits of his labor at home.
Cook also crossbreeds tomatoes, saves seeds and conducts trial breeding. He even named a tomato after the cat: Rusty’s Oxheart. The multicolored red, green and pink oxheart is traditionally rare and Ken felt it reflected Rusty’s uniqueness.
Once the business took off, CEO Rusty decided to let his human business partners do a little more of the heavy lifting. Today, Rusty runs the farm from a cozy sunroom off the back of the house where he can peruse seed catalogs and farming magazines, and help supervise both planting and harvesting by gazing out at the raised beds that cover almost an acre of land on the farm.
Photo courtesy of Mount Washington Observatory
Weather Observer at the Mount Washington Observatory in North Conway
Cats have long been known to forecast the weather. A couple of old wives’ tales say that rain is on the way if a cat sneezes or washes behind an ear, or that a bad storm is imminent whenever a cat snores.
So it’s no surprise that the forecasters at Mount Washington Observatory have long relied on cats to help out. After all, cats have been an essential part of life at the Observatory since it first opened in 1932, serving as the best — and only — defense against rodents at headquarters, which back then was nothing more than a wooden shack.
In recent history, the most famous feline employees have been a calico cat named Inga — her frosted-whiskers picture postcard made her famous — and Nin, whose white fur bore black patches. Marty is the current summit cat, hired in 2008 because the staff figured that a black Maine Coon cat would be easy to spot against the snow.
Mike Carmon, education specialist and weather observer, has worked alongside Marty ever since. “Marty is a great way for our members and fans to relate to our mountaintop weather station as not only a place of work, but also a home for the weather observers,” he says.
In summertime, Marty spends most of his shift outdoors, visiting with tourists and getting plenty of exercise out on the rocks. During the winter, however, like his human co-workers, he rarely goes outside, and takes great pride in assisting the night staff with weather observation throughout the graveyard shift.
Carmon brings educational programs about weather and the summit to classrooms around the country via videoconference, and depending upon his mood, Marty will help out. Though he doesn’t like to stay in front of the camera for long, during one presentation Marty started playing with one of his toys during the program, scampering back and forth behind Carmon as he talked. Carmon was oblivious to being upstaged until he heard the student viewers laughing.
“Marty definitely attracts people who may not be otherwise interested in a mountaintop weather station,” he says. For staff, he’s a great companion since all of the observers are away from their families, friends and pets for a week at a time while on shift. After all, Marty is the only staff member who never leaves the summit.
Photo by Tim Shellmer
Canine Ambassador at The White Mountain Hotel & Resort in North Conway
First Marty, now Tully; the North Country would appear to be a hotbed of employment opportunities for pets.
It’s no surprise, since the mere presence of a non-human colleague can make any business feel friendlier and more welcoming to potential customers.
At the White Mountain Hotel & Resort, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Tully spends his days “meetin’ and greetin’ guests,” as he puts it, which include both two- and four-legged varieties. Some of his other responsibilities include kissing babies and going for walks on the “Tully Trail,” the resort’s dog path, and in December he sits on Santa’s lap during the annual Brunch with Santa. Tully takes a page from the hotel’s two-legged employees and makes it known that he is not opposed to accepting an occasional tip in the form of a dog cookie or other treat, that is, if his service has warranted it.
Though his job may look easy, he cautions aspiring canine “meeters and greeters” that not just any dog can glide into the job and excel; Tully had plenty of training under his belt before he showed up for his first day of work. He dutifully attended rigorous classes in “Hotel Training” — aka puppy training classes at a local obedience school — and only after he passed with flying colors did hotel owners Carol and Gary Sullivan allow him to join the team.
Tully gets along well with the other employees, but he has a particular soft spot for his co-workers at the hotel’s front desk because they tell him how handsome he is all day long. He also has quite the following on the hotel’s Facebook page, and whenever his pictures are posted they get far more “Likes” than any other photos.
Photo by Diane Richter/Compassion Veterinary Hospital
Rooster Ambassador of Love at the Compassion Veterinary Hospital in Bradford
Many veterinarians keep a resident cat or dog on hand as part of the staff to help calm both human and animal clients. But when Dr. Diane Richter decided to bring a Golden Japanese bantam rooster named Chicken Nugget on board at her practice, some were taken aback.
They needn’t have worried; after all, Chicken Nugget enjoys cuddling and nuzzling up to folks a lot more than many furry four-legged assistants do.
It’s no surprise since he was spoiled early on. Dr. Richter adopted him as a day-old chick, and she and her three boys cuddled him so much that he grew rather fond of it, eventually deciding that being inside the house was better than being “cooped up” outside. Before long, he started to accompany Dr. Richter to work each day.
In addition to helping his human colleagues check in clients, keep track of supplies that need to be replenished and sending appointment reminders to patients, Chicken Nugget’s most important job is to educate youngsters. Dr. Richter often brings him to local elementary school classes when she talks to students about her own job. Admittedly, it’s hard for the kids to listen to her when Nugget takes over and starts doing tricks. “I like to show off,” he admits. His standard routine consists of crowing on command, playing dead and giving kisses before letting the girls and boys gently pet him. “Many of them have never touched a chicken before, much less a handsome rooster like myself. Lucky kids.” Humble, too.
An Important Announcement from Mayor Merlin
Photo by Helen Nicholls
If you’re thinking about hiring your own employee — or two — here’s some advice, straight from the horse’s, er, dog’s mouth.
Merlin is an 11-year-old papillon, who won the title of Canine Mayor of Concord while working alongside owner Helen Nicholls at No Monkey Business Dog Training.
"Here’s my advice for humans to consider before they make Take Your Dog/Cat/Turtle/Chicken/Parrot Day a year-round endeavor."
- Examine the pet’s resume in the context of the job. If the position is a very public one, does he have significant experience dealing with all kinds of people? If not, either ease him into the job gradually or else find a backoffice position that involves less interaction with the public.
- Animals, like people, can get stressed on the job and need regular breaks in their schedules. It’s important to plan for breaks and lunchtime, and make sure there’s a private place where they can retreat when they need to de-stress or if they’re having a bad day.
- How are his communication skills? For dogs in particular, they communicate most effectively when they possess a large degree of trust and friendship with humans. If the prospective employee is skittish and nervous, it’s best to find a quieter position for him.
- People looking to introduce a dog into the workplace need to ensure their dog has proper social manners and are under control at all times. They should do well with other people and animals so they can be good representatives of dogs in the workplace.
The final word from Diane the Turtle:
"Please only do this if you are willing to take care of your turtle or critter. We are not novelties, we are wonderful living creatures, and if you love them as I have been loved for 46 years, then it will be a wonderful experience for all." — Diane, Official Greeter, TwinDesigns Gift Shop, Bristol