An argument could be made for calling Stow, Dog City, USA.
The latest example of the city going to the dogs, in a good way, is the fire department taking on Otto as a kind of unofficial canine representative, the inspiration for Stow Fire Dogs Pack, a walking program for dog lovers who like to socialize.
"He's a mixed breed of some sort," said Firefighter Brad Wilson, Otto's owner. "I just usually say 'bully' (in describing him) because he's got some type of American bulldog or something in him."
"He's ultimately going to serve as a mascot of sorts," Wilson added.
Stow is a city where Otto should fit right in. The police department has its K-9 program with Mingo and Spectrum on patrol. They should soon be joined by a third dog to replace Colt, who died last October following a brief illness. In addition the service department has Payka, a border collie brought in several years ago to chase messy geese from city property and the city offers the amenity of a dog park, Bow Wow Beach at Silver Springs Park.
"Animal lovers are kind of a unique and passionate group and Stow has quite a few," said Wilson. "We have one of the coolest dog parks in the country, I think."
as a 'social club'
Stow Fire Dogs Pack is designed in part as a way for residents to get to know the fire department and its members. Wilson describes it as a "social club."
"Dogs have always been my thing. I've been involved in rescuing them, I've been involved in volunteering at shelters and things like that," he said. "(Stow Fire Dogs Pack) is an opportunity for me to just try to bring the fire department and that passion of mine together and maybe do some good, just try to make this a little bit better place, try to connect the public to us and let them know our fire department and the guys in their fire department a little bit."
Currently, Otto has a Facebook page which can be accessed by searching "Otto the fire dog." But Wilson said it has not been very active and he expects it will be converted or rolled over into a broader Dogs Pack page, which among other things, he hopes will feature postings about other members of the fire department and their dogs.
The Dogs Pack began moving forward at the annual Stow Junior Firefighter Academy even on May 13. Wilson was there with Otto making his public debut, handing out flyers and signing people up.
Wilson estimated that as of May 16, about half dozen people were registered and he has distributed flyers to area animal hospitals, groomers and pet stores.
"Hopefully, those will bring us some people," said Wilson.
The idea is for residents to get together with members of the fire department for walks and some other activities, including a picnic at Bow Wow Beach in July. The cost for taking part is $15, which will be donated to the police K-9 program, said Wilson.
"We're hoping to have our first walk on June 4," said Wilson. "We'll try to map out an area. We're going to try and shoot between one and two miles for a walk."
Members will be encouraged to walk a marathon with their dogs, at least 26.2 miles over the course of the summer. Each participant will be given a "marathon log" to record their miles. The logs can then be turned in at the fire department's Oct. 12 open house, where those who met the goal will receive an award and a special award will be given for the most miles. Wilson said participants are not confined to group walks.
"They can log any walk they go on," he said.
Participants will also receive a T-shirt, the opportunity to take part in training exercises and and other special offers. For more information, contact Wilson by email at email@example.com or by calling 440-212-9853.
Wilson said another purpose of the program is exercise, for both the two-legged and four-legged walkers.
"We'd like to get people out there to walk," said Wilson. "It's super important for people to walk their dogs if they don't walk their dogs. Even if you have a big back yard, dogs need to be walked. They need to get out into the world. They need to feel different ground under their feet. They need to smell different things. They need to experience those different things. That's mentally stimulating, that's good for a dog. That's one of their primary motivations is to just get up and move. So for us, that's good too. We need to get up and get out there and walk and together, that builds a stronger bond between owners and dogs."
Wilson said he hopes the program will be more than temporary and perhaps even evolve.
"We're going to try it and see if it works," he said. "If it's worthwhile, then hopefully we'll be able to do it again next year, for next summer, and maybe come up with a different idea."
Otto has 'anxieties'
Unlike the police and service department dogs, Otto is neither owned by, nor does he have an official capacity with the city.
And also unlike those other dogs, he was not chosen as a puppy to have a role with the city. A little over 4 years old, Otto was a "rescue" dog that Wilson said he has had for about three years.
Initially, it was believed that Otto might take part in the department's educational efforts, including visiting classrooms. He was sent for training at Sit Means Sit Dog Training in Copley, which is owned by Stow resident Paul Pollock. Pollock also trained Payka, the city's goose chasing dog.
But Wilson said Pollock quickly recognized an issue with Otto.
"He just gets some anxieties around things like the (fire) trucks and busy settings that we weren't able to work out of him in training," said Wilson, adding that, "He didn't make it far into his training before the trainer realized this wasn't going to be for him. So, no, there was no charge from the trainer for Otto's training."
Wilson said he might take Otto to city events. At the junior firefighters academy, for example, Otto "was real nervous when we first got there. Over time, being there all day, he calmed down and was pretty relaxed by the end of the day."
But Wilson said he does not want to subject Otto to that kind of stress on a regular basis.
"We don't want to make him miserable, forcing him to do stuff he doesn't want to do," said Wilson. "We could force him to do that kind of stuff, but that's not fair to him."
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