September 30, 2012

Bill Nemitz: New job for the doggie in the window

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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

"He really, really loves me. I can tell," one such admirer would pronounce every time he visited, which was almost daily. Judging from Fairbanks' furiously wagging tail, the young man was really, really right.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should also note that Fairbanks occasionally lost his cool and barked up a storm when other dogs -- at least the ones with attitude -- paraded by. Turns out Bankster has a low threshold for trash talk.

Inevitably, of course, the whole thing went digital. As of last week, the Facebook page "Friends of Fairbanks" had 162 likes, dozens of photos and countless compliments from friends and strangers alike.

Observed one poster: "Fairbanks was particularly handsome today. He even had lipstick on his face. Clearly a hit with all the ladies!"

Advised another: "If you're having a bad day, just walk on down ..."

Which brings us back to the tough part.

This week, my wife starts a new job -- and Fairbanks is not part of the deal. After a full year of watching the world go by, he is once again unemployed.

No more running around in circles as he senses it's time to head out in the morning.

No more racing to the car and, without missing a beat, vaulting into the way back.

No more thumping his tail against the rear hatch door as Old Port cobblestones rattle the floorboard.

No more falling asleep within minutes of arriving home at night because it takes serious energy, after all, to charm an entire city day in and day out.

So now what?

Friday afternoon, I had a chat with Nancy Freedman-Smith. She owns and operates Gooddogz Training in Portland and thus knows a thing or two about the canine psyche.

I explained our dilemma and asked if maybe Fairbanks should go to one of those doggie day cares for awhile. But Freedman-Smith sees nothing to be gained from a dog his age spending the day with a pack of young whippersnappers.

Or, as she put it, "I used to slam dance -- and I don't slam dance anymore."

Besides, Freedman-Smith had a better idea.

"Why not give him a new job?" she suggested. "What about making him into a therapy dog?"

It turns out Freedman-Smith actually trains therapy dogs (which, when you think about it, Fairbanks already is) to brighten the days of the elderly folks at Portland's Barron Center.

If all goes well, she said, Fairbanks could be strutting his stuff for the seniors in no time at all. In fact, he's welcome to try out for the center's annual Halloween Pet Parade. (Fairbanks in costume? The mind boggles ....)

Now keep in mind that the Bankster won't know until Monday that the Old Port display window is no longer his to smudge. But Friday evening, in an effort to cushion the blow, I thought I'd sound him out on the possibility of giving up his rock-star status and transitioning to something a little more sedate and (no way to sugar coat this) a lot less glamorous.

"What do you think, Banks?" I asked as he lay on the floor, exhausted after a long week of charming the masses. "Want to become a therapy dog?"

Nothing. No smile. No wag of the tail. No rush for the door.

Just a steady, poker-faced, unblinking stare.

I get it.

He wants me to talk to his agent.

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:


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