This mayor’s a dog
Golden retriever named honorary mayor of Montmorency County
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.”
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, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jriddleX.