Hot Jobs for Cool Pets
(Photo courtesy of Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society)
An increasing number of four-legged workers enjoy fun, non-traditional roles.
When dozens of strays seeking forever homes turned up on the doorstep at the Springfield, Mass. Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society, none other than Chip Billingsworth, Esq. reported their plight over the Internet -- in his own unsentimental style.
The famed white and black cat pounced on his desk, dialed up Facebook and announced all the commotion had spoiled his nap.
As unofficial "spokescat" for the shelter, Chip has collected hundreds of Facebook friends, who follow his posts for a unique paw print on local news.
"He's employed without having to wake up," Chip's human voice, Ann-Marie Larson, said.
Some "pretty big guns" follow Chip, according to Candy Lash, the Dakin's spokeswoman. The ASPCA's blog has featured his posts and called him a "marketing genius," she said. The shelter finally gave him the corner office.
"That's prime real estate with a big window on the world," Lash said. "There are people who would love his office, but a marketing executive deserves that." Then she paused.
"Now, I do some marketing for the Dakin, but we're not quoted like Chip. I'm worried about my job," she laughed.
Chip Billingsworth is among a growing cadre of animals with cool jobs. Schmitty The Weather Dog has appeared on the Providence, R.I. NBC local station with meteorologist Ron Trotta. Other pets "write" children's books, work in hotels as pet concierge, and pitch products on television commercials. Hundreds of blogs are attributed to dogs and cats, and more than a few dogs, cats and horses are certified to give therapy.
That's all a far cry from herding sheep, catching rats and tracking criminals, but Jim Boyle, owner of two collies who appear in television commercials for his Portsmouth, N.H. car dealership, says the critics miss the point if they think the pet owners are just showing off.
Boyle's two collies, Harley, 7, and Tucker, 5, have appeared on New Hampshire television commercials for the last five years.
"Every dealership in New Hampshire has a dog since the boys have done it," he said.
He's not sure how many sales he owes to the dogs' appeal, he said, and yet a lot of customers don't understand why two collies became successful television pitchmen for anything except dog food.
"It's hard to explain why the dogs are in a car commercial," he said, especially to people who don't own pets. He's even overheard some customers say, "Jim just wants to show off his beautiful dogs."
But Boyle has a reason. He maintains the dogs can make his point better than he could say it himself.
"Your dog is always happy to see you when you come home and gives you loyalty no matter what. We're the dealership that's always there for you," he said.
Other business sectors also have "hired" animals to advertise. Travel and tourism, for example, has exploded with employment opportunities for dogs, as hotels, in particular, announce they have become pet-friendly destinations.
Catie Copley, a black Lab, in April 2004 became "pet ambassador" at Boston's Fairmont Copley Hotel, according to Suzanne Wenz, hotel spokeswoman.
"A lot of hotels have brought dogs in," Wenz said, "Catie was probably one of the first." She does spread the word the hotel does allow dogs and cats, too, Wenz said, but she also does a lot more.
Now a 9-year-old, Catie also has two children's books to her credit, plus her own e-mail account and an appointment book for guests to reserve play time or a walk. When she's not working at the hotel, she makes appearances at the Boston Public Library, participates in Read Boston and goes to other community gatherings, especially for children, Wenz said.
Every year, the hotel throws her a birthday party with some 100 guests, including children Catie has befriended and her "dog friends" from neighborhood strolls.
Catie actually lives with head concierge Joe Fallon on the South Shore, Wenz said, and she works the same shift as Fallon. She also has a two-hour break every shift and a bed by the concierge's desk.
"She goes home at the end of the day," Wenz said. "She lives near a beach and she plays and swims." But after a couple of days off, Catie's anxious to get back to work.
"You can see her pulling on the leash," Wenz said when she sees the hotel.
Wenz said the inspiration for a canine ambassador came from the Fairmont Waterfront in Vancouver (British Columbia). In 2002, a black Lab named Morgan became canine ambassador. Wenz said Morgan came from a guide dog school, so when the Boston Fairmont Copley wanted a dog, management followed that formula.
Catie came from New York's Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, Wenz said. She had been trained as a service dog but then developed small cataracts. When the Copley called her agency looking for a dog to greet guests, her name came up, Wenz said.
"For some dogs, this is a great job," Wenz said. "Catie's relaxed and mellow and she's always been that way."
Many dogs with cool jobs, in fact, started as traditional working dogs. Monty, the Yale University Law School pet therapy dog, made the New York Times and National Public Radio when he arrived on campus last March, but on his first job, Monty caught rats in a horse stable, according to his owner, access services librarian Julian Aiken.
"We got him in England from a horse farm," Aiken said. He had always liked the idea of a working dog, he added, and though Monty had to give up ratting when they moved away from Oxfordshire, Aiken searched for another career for the Jack Russell/border terrier mix.
He read an article about therapy dogs, and Monty soon qualified to work in England, then in the U.S.
Chip Billingsworth also graduated from humble beginnings, Lash said. He was originally Chocolate Chip, so named for his white coat sprinkled with black markings. But then he began collecting degrees and titles.
Now, known as The Captain, Chip Billingsworth, Esq., he manages a staff, including his "voice," Ann-Marie Larson, administrative assistant at the Dakin's Springfield shelter.
"We needed to give him a last name," Larson said, "something noble, with stature, a statement without having to explain it."
"Somewhere along the line," Lash said," he picked up a law degree and became Chip Billingsworth, Esq." Then, people started calling him "The Captain," she said.
Larson writes Chip's material though he does collaborate.
As Chip Billingsworth might say, "It's complicated."
"He dictates to me; I'm the typist," Larson said. "He does talk back. He's very vocal."
Larson met Chip some six years ago when she started a job at the animal shelter in Greenfield (Mass.).
"I've known him for a long time," she said, "and I've seen him evolve into realizing he's got a family, a staff that loves him very much. He's relaxed now. OK, this is the life I've got -- people caring for me, a bachelor pad, soft lighting, and full-sized couch. But Chip's been through tough times," she said.
"He was surrendered as a stray," she said, "but that was hard to believe. He was declawed and very friendly. Even then, we knew the whole story wasn't there."
His age is also a mystery, Lash said. "He could be as old as 14. We don't really know, and he's not telling."
Lash said the Dakin staff is thrilled to see Chip given some recognition.
Chip was adopted a couple of times, Larson said, only to be returned because he suffers from a difficult medical condition, irritable bowel syndrome. He requires a special diet, she said, and a lot of trial and error to keep him healthy. He also doesn't have any teeth left. The Dakin decided it was unfair to send him to another home with the likely result the people would not be able to keep him, Larson said.
"We just decided he was going to be our unofficial 'spokescat'," Larson said.
Pictured: Chip Billingsworth, the unofficial "spokescat" of the Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society, takes a break from his duties. (Photo courtesy of Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society)
Do you know of a pet with a cool job? What job do you think your pet would enjoy doing? Tell us below!
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