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This mayor’s a dog

Golden retriever named honorary mayor of Montmorency County

News Photo by Julie Riddle Cedar the comfort dog and honorary mayor of Montmorency County is a huggable politician.

ATLANTA — The mayor can balance a stapler on his head.

He also wears silly glasses, eats from a child’s hand, and occasionally drools.

Cedar, the soft-coated, gentle-spirited canine who was recently voted honorary mayor of Montmorency County, is more than a fuzzy face who occasionally takes himself for walks, leash clamped between jaws.

The golden retriever with a wavy, reddish coat and wide dog grin is also a professional comforter, his doggy presence a welcome addition at local schools, health centers, and anywhere people need a little cheering up.

Raising $800 for the Elk Country Animal Shelter in Atlanta at $1 a vote, a first-ever county mayoral election featured eight dogs touting campaign slogans promising to take a bite out of crime and better access to toilet water and supporting an individual’s right to lick faces for no particular reason.

News Photo by Julie Riddle Preschoolers at Atlanta Community Schools gather around Cedar, a certified pet therapy dog who also has an impeccable sense of style.

“An honor to meet you, sir,” a staff member at Atlanta Community Schools said Tuesday as Cedar waited for a class to be ready for a mayoral visit. The four-legged politician is also a certified pet therapy dog who is a regular in the school’s classrooms.

A roomful of preschool faces lit up as Cedar entered, owner Sandy Baum at the other end of his leash.

“Sometimes, when you pet a dog, it just makes you feel all better,” said Baum, who uses most of her free time making people smile with a visit from Cedar.

The good-natured therapy dog, who has been certified for the past three-plus years through Therapy Dogs International, is calmly dignified in the midst of a mob of 4-year-olds, accepting their clasping arms and tail-tugging enthusiasm with composure.

An accomplished performer, Cedar works for treats and praise, balancing books, tape dispensers, and towers of blocks on his head, or letting Baum spin a fidget spinner on his snout.

News Photo by Julie Riddle A student is delighted by a visit from Cedar, who often pops into classrooms at Atlanta Community Schools.

At the school, where Baum brings Cedar for visits as often as she can, nobody is surprised at the dog who wears goggles in the high school science room or headphones in the computer lab while kindergarteners tell him about their day’s project.

The dog’s tricks, and his placid demeanor, come naturally, said Baum, who realized he could be a good therapy dog when she tried stacking cereal on his nose.

The games they used to play together now give comfort to other people all around northern Michigan. In between trips to the school, Cedar visits nursing homes in Hillman and Fairview, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services buildings in Alpena and Atlanta, veteran’s court at the Montmorency County courthouse, an oncology floor in Traverse City, and an annual summer bereavement camp for children who have lost a loved one.

Children who have deep heartache can have trouble expressing their pain to other people, Baum said. Cedar has had many secrets whispered into his soft ears, secrets he’ll never tell.

At nursing homes, where Cedar’s nose is gentle among the wheelchair-bound waiting silently in the hallway, a soft smile or thin fingers reaching for silky fur may be the first sign of pleasure staff have seen in years.

News Photo by Julie Riddle Surrounded by his admirers, the golden retriever who also serves as his county’s honorary mayor welcomes pets at Atlanta Community Schools on Tuesday.

In the school office, a young girl is melted into a chair, sad sniffles and downcast eyes telling the story of a tough day. Attempts to cajole a smile are met with silent head shakes, until a big dog climbs onto the chair next to her, silly sunglasses over his eyes and a box of tissues on his head.

Quietly, small fingertips connect with a nearby tail, and misty blue eyes gaze into gentle brown ones.

“He’s a happy presence,” said school Principal Tawny Hisscock, who has seen the dog break through to calm and soothe the toughest kids. “He kind of grounds you. No matter where you are, he brings you back.”

In the high school math classroom, Cedar sat still, a stapler on his head, while the teacher paused for a grin in the middle of a hectic day.

It’s not only kids who need Cedar, Baum said.

News Photo by Julie Riddle Happy grins and reaching hands are the usual response to a visit from Cedar, a certified pet therapy dog who visits classrooms, nursing homes, and other organizations around Northeast Michigan.

Faculty, staff, and visiting adults broke into smiles as they ruffled the dog’s big head in the hallway Tuesday, stress melting from their faces.

When Cedar visits DHHS offices, it’s the workers who need him most, Baum said. Employees there have tough days, seeing difficult things and having to make hard decisions, she said.

The unjudging, accepting eyes of a dog help make those tough days a little more bearable.

In hospital hallways, uniformed staff reach for the dog just as much as patients.

“I needed this so bad,” tired nurses tell Baum as they caress the dog, calling the extra hand washing afterward “totally worth it.”

News Photo by Julie Riddle Pet therapy dog and honorary mayor Cedar supervises a phone call by administrative assistant Amanda Flick at Atlanta Community Schools on Tuesday.

A few gray hairs on Cedar’s snout testify to his maturity, his puppy days long behind him. He’s not old, though, Baum said.

“We’ve got way too many things to do together before you get old,” Baum told the dog, who looked back at her with calm affection.

The mayor with a fur coat became a father this fall, and Baum hopes little Chip, his furball of a son, will follow in his dad’s pawprints.

The world offers up a lot of negativity, Baum said. A furry friend with a weakness for stuffed animals, who walks in parades and dresses up for Halloween and gives kisses on the nose, may be the antidote, she thinks.

“If we can go around and make a few people smile and put some positive things in their day, that’s what I’m trying to do,” Baum said. “Dogs make everyone feel good.”

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, jriddle@thealpenanews.com or on Twitter @jriddleX.

News Photo by Julie Riddle A kindergarten student at Atlanta Community Schools gets help in the computer lab from a curious canine visitor.

News Photo by Julie Riddle Owner Sandy Baum balances a stuffed husky, the mascot of Atlanta Community Schools, on the patient head of Cedar, her certified pet therapy dog and also the county’s honorary mayor for 2020.

News Photo by Julie Riddle High school students at Atlanta Community Schools welcome visits from Cedar, a comfort dog who is a regular in their classrooms and hallways. Eliciting cooing baby talk from the girls and friendly pats from the boys, the dog was declared by one classroom to smell better than most middle-schoolers.

News Photo by Julie Riddle Preschoolers react with delight as owner Sandy Baum balances a cup on the head of bespectacled comfort dog Cedar at Atlanta Community Schools Tuesday.