Photography by Trinity Martin
Over the past few months, many of us have found ourselves working from home, and while that may come with a newfound set of frustrations, our dogs couldn’t be happier. Unaware of any pandemic, our four-legged family members are experiencing a golden age, spending uninterrupted work days with their humans.
But for many Lake Oconee business owners, things are “business as usual” since their dogs are by their side whether at home or in the office. Customers have come to expect the familiar furry faces at the local shops and offices at Lake Oconee and are happy to see the following dogs back in business.
Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but dogs are man’s best friend. Just ask Greensboro Jewelers owner, Mark Blanton.
His heart was stolen, reluctantly, by a little dachshund named Winnie six years ago. Mark’s wife, Susan, brought a tiny wiener dog puppy home from the Oconee Regional Humane Society. She says the only way she could sell Mark on keeping her was to promise to let him name the dog.
He came up with Winnie Palmer Blanton, named after Arnold Palmer’s first wife, and immediately, Winnie had found her forever home.
She’s since led quite the pampered life, surrounded by diamonds and pearls at Mark’s downtown Greensboro storefront. But at home, she stays true to her instinctual roots, chasing chipmunks like any good dachshund. And, like any other proud father, Mark is there cheering her on to “take them out!”
But at work, this little huntress is only there to help customers find their new best friend, whether it be a top-quality diamond or a sweet rescue dog like Winnie.
For a store that caters to the laid-back lifestyle of the lake, Rudy couldn’t be a more perfect “employee” at Lake Country Outfitters.
The 11-year-old Terrier mix spends his workdays relaxing on his dog bed next to the register, and though he may be nearing retirement age in dog years, owners Holly and Preston Shaifer say he’s essential to their staff.
“If we don’t bring him in one day, people will fuss,” says Holly.
“We have one customer who comes in a lot and he says the best thing about this store is Rudy,” laughs Preston.
Rudy has become such a fixture in the store that people, especially children, seek him out for belly rubs and kisses while their parents shop, and almost all customers joke about his never-changing calm demeanor.
“He’s always been an old man,” says Holly.
Holly, Preston, and their daughter, Ann Hayes, adopted Rudy when he was eight weeks old. He was being fostered in Eatonton through the Oconee Regional Humane Society. Holly says they had picked out a female puppy from the litter, but ended up taking home the runt. “They kept telling us, ‘This is the puppy you want,’” Holly remembers. “He’s got the most personality. I know he’s the runt and you didn’t want a male, but I’m telling you this is the puppy you want.”
They heeded this advice and Holly says it was the perfect decision for their family.
“He’s always been this calm,” says Holly. She admits she can’t say the same for his sister, a yellow lab named Susie, who sometimes joins Rudy at the Shaifers’ other business next door, Lake Oconee Ace Hardware.
“Susie is the opposite of Rudy and gets really excited when other dogs come in,” says Holly. “Our Ace is very pet-friendly and we love it. We have our routine dogs that come in and they know they’ll always get treats,” she says.
Each register is stocked with treats for four-legged shoppers and the regulars know it. “It’s funny to see them come in and head straight for the registers,” says Holly.
But across the street, the sweetest treat you’ll find at the register is Rudy, curled up in his comfy bed waiting patiently for a pat on the head from shoppers at Lake Country Outfitters.
KeKe arrives to work in style.
With her perfectly coiffed fluffy hair and pink rhinestone collar, the Pomeranian mix pulls into Falanga & Chalker Law Firm at Lake Oconee in a sleek, black Corvette. Her custom car seat raises her up to eye level so she can see out of the window and flash her sweet smile – enhanced by a perfectly crooked tooth – at cars passing by.
Her owner, Robert Falanga says he enjoys the funny looks they get on the way in to work, but even more so enjoys the company that KeKe provides.
“I always wanted to have a dog of my own,” says Falanga. His wife had dogs, and while he enjoyed loving on them, it was apparent, he says, that they were attached to her. One day, his wife discovered KeKe online and suggested they pay her a visit. She was being fostered in a home in Atlanta and Falanga says as soon as their host let KeKe inside, he knew she was special.
“The lady opened up the screen door to the yard and she came running in, circled the couch two times, and jumped in my lap and started licking my face,” says Falanga. “My wife said, ‘Well, I guess she’s yours. She picked you.’”
And that’s exactly how Falanga believes it works. “They say every dog picks their person, not the other way around, and I’m her person.”
KeKe chose wisely that day and has enjoyed a life of luxury ever since. The now eight-year-old travels back and forth with Falanga between his Alpharetta and Lake Oconee offices and spends all day getting doted on by her coworkers and clients. She sits in on meetings, snuggled into her favorite spot on Falanga’s desk, or greets clients with her crooked smile from her perch on the red leather sofa in the lobby.
“She’s truly the most spoiled dog in the world,” laughs Falanga, “but she loves everybody and everybody loves her.”
BAILEY AND BRUNO
During the busy fall planting season, Todd Copelan, owner of Hickory Hill Nursery and Landscape Supply in Eatonton, is typically outside helping customers, buzzing between the greenhouse and rows of trees and shrubs across the property. But inside, you can count on the office being “manned” by Bailey, the Copelan family’s two-year old Doberman Pinscher.
“She’s been coming with me to work every day for two years and hangs out in the office all day every day,” says Copelan. “People love her. She’s very friendly.”
Bailey loves attention, he says, from both people and other dogs that visit the nursery. “Other dogs can come in here and eat her food and play with her toys and she doesn’t care,” he says. “As long as they play with her too, she’s good to go.”
Bailey will soon have a full-time playmate and co-worker; her little brother, Bruno. Bruno has been able to enjoy the first few months of his life at home with Copelan’s wife, Julie, a local teacher, and daughter, Lily Beth. But now that school is back in session, Bruno will be hopping in the truck each morning and heading to the office.
Copelan says that was one of the conditions of getting a new dog a few years ago when Julie and Lily Beth started hinting about puppies.
“I told them we had to pick from the top 10 smartest breeds, the top 10 most trainable, and they had to be able to jump in and out of my truck,” he says. “When we started researching, Dobermans were in the top five of both.” And there’s certainly no problem getting in and out of the truck for these four-legged staff members.
At Gatewood Schools in Eatonton, there’s one girl who stands out as the big dog on campus.
Layla, a two-year-old Golden Retriever, has been attending Gatewood since she was ten weeks old. She comes in everyday with her owner, Amy Ferman, who serves as the school’s media specialist. Layla spends her days in the library where students from preschool to high school love to pop in and visit.
“Layla helps me out with my story times and she plays a big role with helping students with their independent reading,” says Ferman.
Throughout the day, Ferman encourages students to read aloud to Layla to build confidence, because sometimes it can be intimidating to speak in front of humans. But Layla never judges.
Layla recently became a Certified Therapy Dog with Alliance of Therapy Dogs, Inc. Ferman says they will, of course, continue their work at Gatewood but will now also be able to volunteer in their community and surrounding counties.
“I am really excited to see what the future holds for us and to continue sharing smiles and love to everyone we meet” says Ferman. “I am so thankful to be on this journey with my favorite four-legged golden.”
Kibby works hard as the star of an award-winning children’s book series, but his mom, Andrea Cassell, works even harder.
The former Miami Dolphins cheerleader and former Mrs. Kansas is a professional vocalist, published cookbook author, and former host of her own weekly TV segment.
But it was her 30-year career as a special education teacher that inspired her newest endeavor; becoming a children’s book author.
This journey began when Kibby, her precious miniature white Labradoodle, had to get stitches and wear the infamous “cone of shame” to keep him from bothering them. Cassell says she noticed that people began to somewhat avoid Kibby in the cone, and she remembered that kids would often react the same way with her differently-abled students. She says this was the impetus for her first book, “Kibby the Space Dog,” which teaches children about not judging others for the way they look or because they are different.
The book, which quickly received the international Mom’s Choice Gold Award, opened her eyes to the possibility of sharing more heartwarming stories to inspire children. She followed with a second book, “Kibby Gets a Little Sister,” which relates to children with new siblings. Then came, “Kibby Moves to Georgia,” which follows Kibby’s real-life experience in moving to Lake Oconee, where he now lives with Cassell and her husband, Joe.
Cassell describes her series as “Children’s life lessons as seen through a dog’s eyes.”
She says Kibby has brought so much joy into her family’s lives and she loves sharing that love with others.
Kibby now has a busy book-signing schedule between playing frisbee with his dad and cuddling with his mom and bowl of popcorn.
Learn more about Kibby’s adventures at andreacassell.com or pick up his books around town at 44 Marketplace, Greensboro Antique Mall, the Georgia Writers Museum, Paper Soiree, or online at Barnes and Noble, Target, or Mascot Books.