By Angela J. Willard (Richards)
When Hazel Smith decided to bring a friendly special needs Chihuahua into her home, she never imagined how he would change her life.
A retired police officer, Hazel suffered from agoraphobia where even going outside to cut her grass was challenging. She was on several medications to help manage the symptoms of agoraphobia. She was a prisoner in her own home.
During this season of her life, her elderly Dalmatian "Binky” crossed over the rainbow bridge. The loss sent Hazel in search for a new companion. Hazel checked ads, visited humane societies and SPCAs in search for a new dog.
“One day when my husband and I were out looking we came across ‘Gunny’ a Dogue de Bordeaux. and we adopted him for my husband.”
Then finally Hazel came across an ad on Craigslist. A military family was being relocated and needed to rehome their 1½ year-old Chihuahua, “Hercules”.
“I called immediately,” explained Hazel. “I told the lady I would be out to get him when my husband got home from work. She said if he was still there I could come get him. Worried someone else might get him I told her to hold him for me and that I was on the way. I called my best friend and told her I needed her to take me to get him. When we arrived I fell in love with him right off.”
Hazel claimed the five-pound Chihuahua as her own and renamed him “Hooch”. “I thought it would be funny since we had a Dogue De Bordeaux”.
Hazel soon learned the meaning of the term “Velcro dog” but Hooch had very good reason to not want to leave Hazel’s side. Hooch is deaf.
Because Hooch wanted to be carried all the time, this made it difficult for Hazel to get things done around the house. “I tried carriers on the market for pets and babies, nothing worked for both of us.”
In her desperation to be able to be hands-free and still care for Hooch with his special needs, she decided to create a solution to her problem. “One day I picked up a canvas [remnant] that I had left over, and the Dog-On Bag hands-free pet carrier was born.”
With her new invention, Hazel and Hooch were able to not only get things done around the house, but leave the house as well. “When I had Hooch with me I discovered I could venture outside, away from home and even on short trips to a friend’s beach cottage, ALONE.”
This was a huge accomplishment for Hazel who could barely be in her own yard without anxiety setting in.
Every day Hooch and Hazel would go out for a bike rides and people would ask about her homemade Hooch carrier. She decided to venture out even more and make more carriers in different designs and then set up a table at a local Bark in the Park event. By the end of the day she had nearly sold out of her Dog-On Bags. A business was born.
Now, Hazel and Hooch have an in-home business, a website, and several retailers carry the Dog-On Bag. She has even expanded the reach of the Dog-On Bag as far as Italy. Her new-found strength and courage even set her on stage to audition for Shark Tank in seeking help for her business.
“Because of Hooch, I went from being medicated and scared to leave home, to no more medication for agoraphobia and panic attacks, and standing up at pet expos in crowds, and even auditioning for Shark Tank. Hooch saved me, gave me my life back, and more.”
By: Cherese Cobb, for Paradise Pets Magazine
Meet Oliver, the pit bull who is punching his timecard for the greater good. As the CCO (Chief Canine Officer) for Bzees — a women’s shoe company— he attends photo shoots and an annual brainstorm meeting (sans tie, of course). He’s also fetching hope by raising funds for U.S.-based animal rescue and advocacy groups, like I’m Not a Monster and Pets Across America. On top of all that, he’s turning the tide for pittys through Oliver’s Clubhouse: a Facebook page that encourages the fostering and adopting of the pit bull breed.
You may have seen this former shelter pooch, grinning with a tennie tucked between his teeth, on the Home Shopping Network, where he soared as the number one pin of the day. Lori McDermid, Bzees’ Vice President, adopted the white and black pup at six months old from the St. Louis Humane Society.
“I went there to drop off some Christmas stuff,” she remembers. Oliver was pressed against the glass, “looking pathetic, sad, and forlorn”. He’d been abandoned in a warehouse. “He’d been in isolation [because of Parvo] for two months. Then, when he came out, he got pneumonia, so he had to go back into isolation,” she said. “He was starved for attention. I couldn’t leave him there.”
Lori brought him home on December 22, 2010, just one day before her family’s annual Christmas trip. Oliver refused to leave the house. He thought that budging from his bed meant he’d have to go back to the shelter, says McDermid. The family shoved his bed into the car. Once he got to the lake house and met Akita-mix Polly and Coonhound-mix Monte, he bloomed into a “love bomb”.
“I never feel alone. He is just 24/7 affection,” McDermid told Paradise Pets Magazine. “He’ll actually puts his paws on my shoulder, and gives me a hug and a kiss every day.”
Even after enduring chemotherapy and surgery for the mast cell tumor in his arm, he’s a “court jester”. Case-in-point: when Lori was tossing her dogs’ bedcovers into the wash, Oliver was shredding the beds’ foam. It was floating down everywhere just like a Christmas movie, and he plopped himself right in the middle of it.
“He [also] has killed many a sneaker,” Lori laughed. “He takes [my husband’s] shoes by the laces, and swings them around his head like a cowboy with a lasso. It's a full-on show.”
From a work perspective, Lori explains that Oliver gives “a purpose to what we do”. “We love making shoes, and it's important. We innovate products to help people live their lives better,” McDermid said. Fetching Hope and Oliver’s Clubhouse —which McDermid hopes to make into a physical pit bull rescue once she retires— adds another layer to making people's lives better. While Bzees never runs sales online, they run a promotional for a couple of weeks every quarter, donating $5 from each purchase. They raised $550 for WoofTrax and $1,000 for the Colorado State University Flint Animal Cancer Center. “[In the next quarter,] we’re looking to support a group that is educating dogs to help others [in] need,” she said.
Oliver, with his tongue-in-cheek personality, is shattering the vicious, mobster-sidekick stereotype — literally one step at a time. Ninety percent of the time when someone meets Oliver, it’s their first encounter with a pit bull, says McDermid. “They’re loving, funny, completely opposite. But, if no one shows you, it's like anything, you don't know. The term ‘pit bull’ is scary. Once you're exposed, though, it's amazing how opposite the breed is from stereotypes.”
I'm Not a Monster
Pet Shelters Across America
The CSU Flint Animal Cancer Center
Cherese Cobb was raised in Maryville, Tennessee. A bibliophile, she considers herself a professional student, as she has an insatiable curiosity. When she's not writing, she splits her time between family, photography, and cat-worship, and uses coffee to survive all three. cheresecobb.wixsite.com/freelancewriter.
This article was originally published in Paradise Pets Magazine April 2017.
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