Canine companions

Michele Ennis, 27, of Gainesville cuddles her 7-year-old Pekingese called Princess. "She gets in the bathtub every night, and I spray her with the baby-powder scented dog perfume and brush her coat," Ennis says.

TRACY WILCOX/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Tuesday, August 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, August 1, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
As Donna McGrath walked down the aisle toward her husband-to-be, Danny Puckett, his golden retriever Bo stood idly by the alter.
With bow tie in place, Bo stood quietly as his owner and caretaker pledged his vows to his new wife and welcomed her into their family.
However, Bo's presence took some guests by surprise, not because he's a dog, but because he has been dubbed the world's largest golden retriever, weighing more than 160 pounds.
"After we left for the honeymoon, Bo stopped eating," McGrath said. "We had to cut the trip a day short so that Danny could get back to him."
Long before McGrath had to pass Puckett's "Bo test" to see if he could date her, Bo had already etched his place in Puckett's heart as top dog in his life.
Puckett's intense relationship with Bo may seem out of the ordinary, but it closely resembles the best friend status that man and dog have become accustomed to.
For some their pets are more like children than friends and are pampered with the utmost care.
Michele Ennis made her future husband Bubba go through a similar test with her Pekingese, Princess.
Now, Princess is the baby of the Ennis home and proudly struts around the house in a new pearl necklace.
For many, their pets have become members of the family and without them life seems to come to a grinding halt.
Like Bo without Pucket, Princess stops eating whenever Ennis is out of town.
Through their experiences, some pet owners have developed exceedingly close relationships with their furry friends.
These are some of their stories: Nancy Hasse As the holiday season came to a close three years ago, the decorations around Nancy Hasse's mint green home gradually came down.
While she took down the Christmas tree, her hairless Chinese Crested, Beanie, sat atop a nearby wrought iron chair, eagerly watching as Hasse reached higher and higher for ornaments.
When her back was turned, she heard a loud crash behind her, followed by the loudest cries she has ever heard.
She quickly turned around and saw Beanie dangling with her leg stuck in between two metal bars of the chair.
The crash she had heard was Beanie's head hitting the white tile floor at full force.
"She flipped upside down and hit her head," Hasse said. "I've never heard cries that loud in all my life."
Hasse thought nothing of the accident after Beanie's cries stopped, until a few days later when Beanie began acting listless and grew silent.
Since she wasn't fully sure what was wrong with Beanie, Hasse took the dog to their veterinarian, who then sent them to the UF College of Veterinary Medicine.
The vets there soon realized that the lenses in Beanie's eyes had been knocked loose when she crashed onto the tile, and she had already lost sight in one eye and was within days of becoming completely blind.
They felt that if they acted soon they could save Beanie's vision, but surgery would be necessary.
Hasse agreed to it. UF Veterinarians removed the damaged lens and repaired the remaining one as best they could.
Now, Beanie has limited vision in one eye and can still get around the house, although hesitantly.
"I had to carry her everywhere for a long time," Hasse said. "She was too scared to walk anywhere; she still doesn't like to go outside."
Since the accident, Hasse and Beanie have grown closer than ever.
Not only have they won look-a-like contests, but Beanie also likes to travel come along whenever Hasse and her husband leave the house.
"Once, when I was packing my suitcase, Beanie jumped into it with three of her toys," Hasse said.
Although Beanie receives expensive daily eye medication, Hasse says that she is worth it.
Following the surgery, Hasse bought a dog stroller so that Beanie could still go outside and get some fresh air.
"My husband and I like to go on walks, but because of her sight Beanie was afraid to go outside," Hasse said.
After seeing a picture of a Chinese Crested, Hasse knew she had to have one of her own because of their unique look.
Since there are only about 4,000 hairless Chinese Crested dogs in the world, Hasse had to search all of Florida for Beanie.
After saving money in a can for years, she finally found a store in West Palm Beach that had the dogs for sale.
"Once she got hurt, I knew it was meant to be that I found her," she said.
Danny Puckett Danny Puckett and his golden retriever Bo grew up together.
As a student at UF 11 years ago, Puckett bought Bo from a breeder in Cross City.
The playful puppy grew bigger each day. But, Bo's youthful growth spurts didn't end as he grew up.
"By six months he weighed 80 pounds," Puckett said. "He was a real fast learner too. It only took a day to teach him to speak and shake hands."
Soon, Puckett had to move out of his small apartment in Northwest Gainesville into a bigger place.
Fully grown, Bo's weight reached more than 160 pounds.
However, as Bo continued to get bigger, health issues became a concern and he had to lose weight.
With Bo's help, Puckett created a logo for Top Dog Lawn Care, a company he started as a student.
The ad said that customers could meet the world's biggest golden retriever - which was a huge draw for Puckett's business.
Ten years later, Bo still accompanies Puckett to work.
Puckett even attached an awning to his work trailer for Bo to sit under while he works.
Thanks to Bo's advertising prowess, Puckett was able to earn a number of apartment complex accounts around Gainesville.
Through one of these accounts, he was set up on a blind date with Donna McGrath, who would later become his wife.
"The first time we met, he came by the office downtown and brought Bo with him," she said. "I couldn't believe it - he made me meet his dog."
Puckett says that any date had to get approval from Bo.
If he didn't like her, it wouldn't work out, he said.
After a few months, Puckett proposed to McGrath.
Bo played the crucial role of groomsman at the ceremony at the Sweetwater Branch Inn.
When McGrath gave birth to their daughter Chloe two-and-a-half years ago, Bo began acting as a watchdog for the baby.
"After I had Chloe, Bo really adjusted," McGrath said. "It was almost as if she was a younger version of Danny."
When the family goes for walks, Bo carries his own leash because he doesn't like to be restrained, Pucket said.
He always walks between Chloe and the street to protect her.
Michele Ennis Princess lives the life her name implies.
Not only does the seven-year-old Pekingese have her own Dooney and Bourke carry bag, she also eats chicken or steak for dinner most nights as part of her special diet.
Further, she dons a necklace made from leftover pearls from Michele Ennis' parent's former Gainesville jewelry shop.
"She gets in the bathtub every night, and I spray her with the baby-powder scented dog perfume and brush her coat," Ennis says. "We also take her every two weeks to get groomed."
Princess was a gift from a former boyfriend, and as soon as Ennis held her for the first time, there was an immediate connection.
"We've been like this since I got her," she says. "From the beginning she was my 'Nini,' and a little crazy."
She was the runt of the litter and wasn't expected to live past three months, Ennis said.
But after a lot of care and a special diet, Princess now weighs a healthy eight pounds.
When Ennis met her future fiance, Bubba, he too had to pass the Princess test, like all of her suitors, in order for her to even go on a date with him.
"If they're not nice to her or she doesn't like them, I won't date them," she said.
Bubba passed that test and later proposed to Ennis. Princess was third to hear the news, only behind Ennis's mother and best friend.
Since Ennis and Bubba do not have any children yet, Princess gets their undivided attention.
She often waits atop the dining room table for the couple to get home from work.
"One time she got up there and couldn't get down," Ennis said.
Despite her glamorous life, Princess gets skittish whenever there are small children in the house and when it rains; she will hide behind the toilet or other furniture until the 'threat' is gone.
Whenever she needs to go outside she runs to the door, barks once and waits for someone to open the door.
She doesn't like to go for walks because she gets tired, Ennis says.
"If I take her outside I usually carry her," she said.
Haney Dodd Fifteen-year-old Haney Dodd wanted to convince her mom that she could take care of a dog on her own.
The family had had pets for years, but Haney had never had a dog of her own and desperately wanted a Chihuahua.
Finally, two years ago she got Wilson. "I found him in a newspaper ad," Haney said. "I've always thought they were cute."
Ever since Haney came home with Wilson, she has gone to great lengths to make sure that his life is a comfortable one.
She bought a stylish bag to carry him in, even though he doesn't like to use it, and has amassed a wardrobe consisting of several shirts and some pajamas.
Now, each day Haney walks Wilson several times on a leash and dresses him so that he doesn't get cold.
Each night before they go to bed together, Haney dresses Wilson in his full-length pajamas.
"Even after two years, she still babies him," Haney's mom Betsy said.
One of Haney's favorite shirts for Wilson is a green and reads, "I love Mama," across the front.
The Dodd's have other dogs too. Lucy, a miniature Doberman, often quarrels with Wilson.
"Wilson gets jealous whenever I'm around the other dogs," Haney said. "He starts growling and barks at them."
Wilson gets to go on most family vacations and has been camping, to the beach and even to church.
During these adventures, and on a day-to-day basis, Haney is constantly taking pictures of Wilson.
The flash from the camera gets so annoying that she often bickers with her younger brother about it.
"I like to keep pictures of him all over the place," she said.

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