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Thursday, Jul 31, 2014

Hill: Calendar features “shop dogs” of St. Pete


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My timing was off with Rex, the white standard poodle whose good looks grace the cover of one of the neatest fundraising efforts I’ve seen: the Shop Dogs of St. Pete calendar, featuring dogs that go to work with their owners.

Rex, who is also “Mr. December” in the calendar, didn’t go to work on Wednesday, when I stopped by the Salty Dog, at 2310 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. N. in St. Petersburg; but it’s clear Rex is a major part of the dog-grooming business. Owner Stefan Hoffmeister said being able to bring Rex and their two other dogs to work was a big reason why he and his wife, Andrea Austin, opened the shop two years ago.

“I love having them around,” said Hoffmeister, who was grooming a small dog while we chatted.

Being in the shop is a “huge responsibility” for Rex, Hoffmeister said.

“He’s the first dog they see when they come in here, and he’s relaxed and nonthreatening; so dogs coming for grooming relax.”

My timing was off again Tuesday, when I stopped by the Strands of Sunshine shop in downtown St. Petersburg to meet Oscar. The Shih Tzu-poodle mix, who is “Mr. October” in the calendar, was a no-show at work that day.

“I go to yoga after work on Tuesday, and he can’t go to yoga,” explained Amy Marshall, the artist-owner of the shop at 4 Sixth St. N.

I was disappointed. Oscar was the reason I had come — although once I started looking at Marshall’s gorgeous jewelry, Oscar’s absence seemed a tad less important.

Like Rex, Oscar plays a major role at Marshall’s tiny shop.

He’s a conversation-starter, the official greeter. He’s even the reason some folks walk in the door, Marshall said.

“He thinks this is his petting store. He’s really into it.”

Oscar is good for business; he’s also good company, Marshall said.

Rex and Oscar are just two of the dogs featured in the shop dogs calendar; proceeds from sales go to the Pet Pal Animal Shelter and Keep Saint Petersburg Local, a volunteer-run organization that markets locally owned businesses. The calendars are $15 and are available at the shops whose dogs are featured. For information, email keepsaintpetersburglocal@gmail.com or go to www.keepsaintpetersburglocal.org.

Among others, the calendar features Sonny, the Boston Terrier at the Blue Lucy gallery on Central Avenue; Shelby, the blind black Labrador at Bananas Music on 22nd Avenue North; Lucy Bell, another black Labrador, at the St. Pete Opera Company on First Avenue South; and Sensi, the long-haired dachshund that’s the shop dog at 1 of 1 Customs, an apparel shop at 1701 First Ave. N.

My timing was better with Sensi, who wears an edgy, studded, hand-painted vest while he holds court at 1 of 1 Customs.

“Edgy” is appropriate for Sensi, which is short for “Sensimilla.” His human companion, Rasta Taylor is an artist with edgy sensibilities, and the shop sits between the Edge and the Warehouse Arts districts, at the western edge of downtown.

Rasta and Sensi are a trip.

When I walked in, a visitor was showing off his baby daughter to Rasta. While the men gooed over the baby, Sensi was cleaning her tiny toes.

No doubt, the baby will soon have shoes by Rasta. Sensi does: tiny sneakers.

Rasta paints anything.

“I put paint where paint ain’t,” he said, showing off a huge grin.

Of course, the calendar doesn’t include every “shop dog” in town, who often have loyal followings among regular customers. Is there one that’s special to you? Let me know.

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