September 30, 2012

Bill Nemitz: New job for the doggie in the window

I've got a pet question -- and it's not about fleas, food, shedding, barking or any of the other run-of-the-mill issues normally associated with the family dog.

click image to enlarge

Fairbanks gets a hug from his person, Andrea Nemitz, as he levels his love-me doggie gaze out of the window of the Black Parrot boutique on Middle Street in Portland in January. Those were happy times for “the Bankster” – he was fully employed charming passers-by in the Old Port, who reciprocated with visits and cookies.

Photo by Jack Milton

No, this one's much more complicated: How do you tell your dog he's been laid off?

It happened last week. Fairbanks, our beloved golden retriever, worked his last day in Portland's Old Port and, coward that I am, I'm waiting until Monday morning to deliver the bad news.

More on that in a minute. First, a little about "the Bankster."

My wife, Andrea, and I adopted him nine years ago this weekend through the good folks at The Golden Retriever Rescue Lifeline, who saved Fairbanks and a dozen other unwanted goldens from death row in Alabama and ferried them all the way to Maine in the back of a Ryder truck.

He had company for the first few years. But then we lost Colby, his yellow-Lab companion, and Fairbanks was left to his own devices in our big old house in Buxton.

Don't get me wrong -- life for the Bankster wasn't half bad as he grew from scrawny puppy into the kind of specimen you see on those big bags of dog food down at the supermarket. And the more handsome he grew, I swear, the more he knew it.

Problem was he spent his weekdays stuck at home while we went off to work. He'd stare through the glass of the porch door, his brown eyes a guilt trip in progress, as we turned the key and disappeared for the day.

Until a year ago. That's when the missus took a job managing a high-end clothing boutique in the Old Port and had an epiphany one morning: Why not bring the Bankster to work?

And just like that, a star was born.

From the moment he first set paw in the shop, Fairbanks hopped up into the display window overlooking Middle Street. And there, day after day, week after week, month after month, something truly unexpected happened.

Downtown workers, hurrying to get coffee or make an appointment, froze in their tracks at the sight of the "doggie in the window" staring out at them with that come-hither look -- the kind that says, "Yeah, I know. I'm gorgeous. Deal with it."

Tourists, cameras in hand, tripped over one another posing with the four-legged highlight of their visit to Portland.

At times Bankster sat so motionless that passers-by mistook him for a funky mannequin. Suddenly he'd move and scare them half to death and, once again, out came the cameras.

Then there were those for whom the funny faces and tapping on the window just didn't cut it. They had to come in and actually touch the Golden Wonder -- sometimes two dozen or more fawning groupies a day.

A few actually hung around to buy something, which in my humble opinion entitled Fairbanks to some kind of cash commission. (If only he'd stopped caving at the sight of a dog biscuit.)

But other drop-ins, truth be told, had no interest whatsoever in a Lilith dress or a Hache handbag or any of the other merchandise that served only as Bankster's backdrop. They just wanted to pet the dog.

More than once, visitors told my wife they'd just lost a pet of their own. Eyes misting, they'd get down on their knees and hug Fairbanks and for that few seconds, he'd stand ever so still and quietly channel their grief.

Other times, men and women with developmental disabilities would come by, often with cookies, and shower their affection on this creature who smiled (yeah, he can do that, too) and welcomed them without reservation to his ever-growing community.

(Continued on page 2)

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