To hotel's guests, Edie says 'hello'




The first 18 months of life have been eventful and unconventional for a white boxer/Labrador retriever who spent time on the streets as a homeless stray, two weeks in an Ohio animal shelter and a number of months in prison.

She's now working five days a week at an upscale hotel in Downtown Pittsburgh where she's the "official canine ambassador." She spends much of her time in the lobby of the Fairmont Pittsburgh, where head concierge Mark Chambers calls her "my personal assistant."

She lounges in a plush gray dog bed behind the concierge desk until her services are needed. She greets and plays with guests who like dogs and doesn't mind being ignored by people who don't. Her presence is requested for business meetings. Guests and employees compete for the privilege of taking her for walks around the hotel.

Mounted on the wall behind the concierge desk is art by local artists, including reproductions of Andy Warhol's artwork that inspired the new name of the canine ambassador.

The dog is now named "Edie," after Mr. Warhol's superstar diva, Edie Sedgwick.

On the job for less than two months, "Edie already has quite a following," said Mr. Chambers, who suggested her artsy name. Repeat guests ask for her by name, and "locals" who live or work Downtown stop in regularly to see her.

Edie has an email address (edie.woof@fairmont.com) so that out-of-town fans can keep in touch.

Life is not all work and no play for Edie. She gets a daily lunch break and all the naps she needs in the office of Julie Abramovic, public relations manager at the Fairmont.

At the end of the day Edie goes home to Regent Square with Ms. Abramovic, where she lives the life of a regular pet. But every morning "she is very excited to be back at work.

"Edie would make a great pet for anybody, but she can do so much more," Ms. Abramovic said. That's because she had nine months of high-level training with Circle Tail Inc.

That agency near Cincinnati trains service dogs for people with disabilities, including the hearing impaired. Sixty-five percent of their dogs come from shelters.

Marlys Staley, executive director at Circle Tail, plucked this dog from an Ohio shelter when she was about 8 months old.

"They said she was a stray so we don't know much about her origins," Ms. Staley said. She called her Joi (pronounced Joy) because she was such a happy dog, constantly wagging the long, thin tail with a noticeable kink that indicates life wasn't always so good.

"The shelter said it was like that when they picked her up. They think it was broken and never set. It was healed when they got her," Ms. Staley said.

Here's where life got interesting for Joi. Many of Circle Tail's puppy raisers are inmates, so Joi served time in an Ohio prison.

The inmates do a great job raising and training puppies, Ms. Staley said. "We used to have 50 inmates, but because of state cuts we're down to 30 inmates. We also have foster families raising puppies, and we could always use more."

Professional trainers found that Joi was smart and eager to please but didn't have the work-all-day ethic that service dogs need.

When Ms. Abramovic applied to adopt a dog that would work in a hotel, Circle Tail knew that would be a great fit because Joi/Edie loves all people, children, dogs and cats.

On the job at the pet-friendly Fairmont, Edie meets other pets when they check into the hotel.

Earlier this month "we had a number of families with children and pets fleeing from Hurricane Irene," Ms. Abramovic said.

Go to www.circletail.net to read about the organization that gives dogs like Edie a new leash on life. Five to 10 service dogs "graduate" each year. Dogs who don't quite make the grade are available for adoption to carefully screened families. The organization also operates a small shelter, finding homes each year for about 275 dogs.

Puppy visits

Puppies training to be service dogs for children with autism will be at Petagogy, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. today and noon to 2 p.m. Sunday. The new store at 5880 Ellsworth Ave., Shadyside, sells premium and natural pet foods and supplies.

The puppies are from Perfect Fit Canines, a local nonprofit organization that obtained its first dogs last October -- yellow Labrador retrievers named Sofia and Sebastian. The organization currently has six dogs in training. Representatives will be at the store to provide information about their program and to recruit volunteers to raise puppies for 12-16 months.

The shop -- pronounced Pet-uh-go-jee -- is donating 10 percent of today's and tomorrow's sales to Perfect Fit Canines.

Autumn pet walk

The Sept. 25 Tails on the Trails 2011 is a major fundraiser for the Beaver County Humane Society, which is building a new shelter. People collect pledges to walk, with or without dogs.

The walk starts at Brady's Run Park shelter No. 7, Brighton Township. There will also be contests, displays, food, raffles and door prizes.

Register online at www.tailsonthetrails.org or at the shelter (adjacent to Beaver Valley Mall in Center) or at the walk. Registration is 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. The walk is 1:45-3 p.m.


Linda Wilson Fuoco: lfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3064.




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