Coal, 11, is a "good ol' boy"-kind of dog. The quiet, laid-back black Labrador retriever is well-behaved in public, where he enjoys meeting people, especially children. When Don Brucker leaned over to put on "the work collar," Coal became very excited, wagging his tail and emitting chirpy little barks.
"Show me!" said Mr. Brucker, who is Allegheny County's chief deputy fire marshal.
Coal, whose official title is "accelerant detection canine," searched the room and found a small metal cannister that had been hidden high up on a ledge. He stretched up and sniffed it, then sat down and wagged his tail -- his signal to let Mr. Brucker know that he had found something that can be used to intentionally set a fire.
The crowd at the Senator John Heinz History Center applauded loudly.
Coal and his partner go to work together every day. They get called out to about 200 suspected arson cases per year and 50 public relations details. Coal and many other dogs with jobs did demonstrations at the Hero Dogs of Western Pennsylvania event on Aug. 4. Their ranks included search and rescue dogs and service and assistance dogs that help people with physical and mental disabilities.
The dogs clearly love their work and intensely bonded with the partners they serve. I mention this because some "animal rights" advocates think it is cruel to make dogs work for us. Partners love their working dogs, and one of their big fears is what happens when dogs must retire from the work they love.
Bandit, a 2-year-old German shepherd, was there with Allegheny County Deputy Sheriff Maria Watts. He's an explosives detection dog, or what some would call a bomb sniffer. Every day Bandit routinely "sweeps" and sniffs the rooms and hallways of the Allegheny County Courthouse and the City-County Building Downtown. He's also called out to search for bombs at other locales, including the Pittsburgh Marathon, and he's trained to track missing people.
Bandit was very happy to meet and greet the many children who flocked to see him at the History Center.
"He's very friendly. You can pet him," Ms. Watts said. "Bandit is a jokester, and he makes everyone laugh when he's off-duty. But when he's working, he's working."
Bandit became her partner in May 2012, one month after her partner Bobby retired at the age of 101/2. At the end of his career Bobby, also a German shepherd, was repeatedly called out to search buildings at the University of Pittsburgh, the target of many bomb threats.
Bobby still lives with Ms. Watts and her husband, "but I never let him see me in uniform. I think it would break his heart." She worried that Bobby would miss his job and his many friends at the courthouses.
But a new position opened up. Ms. Watts and her husband have a son, Michael, a toddler.
"Michael became Bobby's job," Ms. Watts said. "Bobby let the baby lean on him and helped him learn how to walk."
Michael, now 2, and Bobby, now nearly 12, "are best buddies."
Bark in the Dark
Minne, 3, wasn't at the Hero Dogs event, but his campaign button was. Linda Dickerson gave me a "Minne For Mayor" lapel pin with a photo of her bichon frise in the foreground and the Pittsburgh skyline in the background.
Minne (named for the city of Minneapolis, not for Mickey Mouse's female friend) is not actually running for government office. Ms. Dickerson crafted the campaign hoping he can be the top fundraiser for the Aug. 24 Animal Friends event, Bark In The Dark. Her goal is $5,000, and by Thursday Minne had raised nearly $900 for the shelter in Ohio Township.
The top fundraiser gets to see his or her dog's picture on posters, pamphlets and T-shirts at next year's event. An orange and brown dog named Glitch is poster dog this year.
For nearly 20 years, Bark in the Park was one of the best-known fundraisers for Animal Friends, attracting hundred of dogs annually. For a change of pace, the setting was changed this year to Hartwood Acres in Indiana Township, the time moved from daylight to night time and "Park" was changed to "Dark."
Gates open at 5 p.m., the walk starts at 6 p.m. and at 7:30 p.m. there's a comedy show by Jim Krenn and Friends and music by The Guns of Brixton, a Clash tribute band. The event presented by VCA Animal Hospitals also has games, food trucks, pet vendors and adoptable pets.
Walk registration is $25, which includes a goodie bag, or $30 premium admission, which includes a T-shirt and admisison to the concert. Kids 15 and younger get in for free. If you just want to see the concert, arrive after 6:30 p.m. when the donation is $15 per car.
To donate or register for the walk, go to www.thinkingoutsidethecage.org/Bark 2013. There's also a Minne for Mayor Facebook page. Ms. Dickerson is well-known in fundraising and nonprofit circles and is the principal at 501(c)(3)2, a consulting firm for nonprofits.
Meet "Pit Boss" Shorty Rossi and pit bull terrier Hercules from the Animal Planet hit show "Pit Boss" next Saturday. They're coming for the third annual Paws for the Cause, which benefits the Western Pennsylvania Police Benevolent Foundation.
People are encouraged to bring their own dogs. The $15 registration includes a T-shirt and activities from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Kelly Field, 55 Steen Hollow Road, Oakdale 15701. Registration starts at 8:30 a.m., the walk is from 9:45 to 10:30 a.m. Mr. Rossi will speak at 12:30 p.m. There will be vendors.
Meet K9 dogs that work with local police, search and rescue dogs, autism service dogs, bomb detection dogs, and a bedbug detection dog. Demonstrations are 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. and 1-2 p.m. Raffle tickets -- $5 each or six for $25 -- will be sold, with the winner getting a private lunch with Shorty and Friends on Sunday.
Artist Dawn Tarr, who creates Shorty's canine portaits and "custom swag" will be taking orders for custom artwork. There's also a Smoking With Shorty event on Thursday starting at 6 p.m. at the Smoke Cigar Shop and Lounge, 1118 Washington Pike, Collier. Cost is $25 at the door.
Pet Tales appears weekly in the Saturday Home & Garden section. Linda Wilson Fuoco: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-3064. First Published August 17, 2013 4:00 AM