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County residents share reasons for owning dogs

Donna McGee with Izzy and Smiley, a 5-year-old English mastiff and 9-year-old golden lab respectively, play at Cranberry Township Dog Park on Friday, Feb. 9. Kyle Prudhomme/Butler Eagle

For Butler County’s older adults, their reasons for owning a dog can be as varied as the canine breeds they have taken into their homes.

Donna McGee, 72, of Cranberry Township, is a dog mama to Smiley, 9, a yellow Labrador, and Izzy, 5, a 160-pound English mastiff, that McGee says really should be named Dizzy.

“She’s as gentle as she is big,” said McGee. “She thinks she’s a lap dog anyway.”

Donna McGee with Izzy and Smiley, a 5-year-old English mastiff and 9-year-old yellow Labrador respectively, play at Cranberry Township Dog Park on Friday, Feb. 9. Kyle Prudhomme/Butler Eagle

McGee said of her two dogs “their personalities are amazing. You can take them anywhere off leash.”

“Smiley kind of raised her (Izzy),” said McGee saying the Lab instilled good habits in the bigger “little” sister.

“They can go out about 50 feet in front of me and stop and wait for me,” she said of their walking routine. “They listen, and they are sweet to everybody. They are as calm as can be.”

Donna McGee plays with Smiley, a 9-year-old yellow lab, at Cranberry Township Dog Park on Friday, Feb. 9. Kyle Prudhomme/Butler Eagle

McGee said she goes to the Cranberry Township Dog Park a lot and in the summer takes Smiley and Izzy to the Misty Pines Dog Park and its lake for a swim or to the Luck Paws pet resort in Freedom that has a swimming pool for its four-legged clients.

She also likes the Sewickley Heights Park which has off-lead trails on hundreds of acres for Izzy and Smiley to frolic along.

“It keeps me going out and socializing,” she said about her dog walks.

“I try to make their lives good,” she said. “It’s work, but anything worth having is work.”

“There’s absolutely nothing like having a dog that loves you,” she said.

Joy Bray relaxes with Skipper, an 8-month-old pure bred Pembroke Welsh corgi, at Diamond Park on Saturday, Feb. 10. Kyle Prudhomme/Butler Eagle

There’s also nothing like having a dog that makes you smile, according to Joy Bray, 64, of Prospect who brought her 8-month-old Pembroke Welsh corgi pup, Skipper, to the recent Carved in Ice festival in Butler.

Bray, who brought Skipper, to the festival as part of the dog’s socialization process, got the pup from a breeder in Missouri.

“I want to make her a good girl. I’m a responsible dog owner,” Bray said, adding she is working to make sure Skipper is social around other dogs and people.

While Skipper has her own fenced-in yard and dog door at Bray’s house, her owner wants to be able to encounter other dogs and animals without problems when they are out and about, such as on their trips to Preston Park for exercise.

Joy Bray and 8-month-old Pembroke Welsh corgi Skipper interact with other people at Diamond Park on Saturday Feb. 10. Kyle Prudhomme/Butler Eagle

“My actions are reflected in my dog,” said Bray.

Her training with Skipper seems to be paying off. Already Bray and Skipper have made trips to Kansas City and Delaware with few problems.

“She’s the third Corgi I’ve had. I really like that kind of dog. Corgis make me smile every day,” said Bray.

“They do this pose where they lie on their stomachs with their back legs stretched out. It’s called a sploot. People will laugh at that,” she said.

“We have this stupid laser tag game where I have the laser pointer, and she will be chasing that. It’s fun,” she said.

Mark Fletcher and Lady B, a 5-year-old pure bred red nose pit bull, which he adopted from the Butler County Humane Society, walk at Butler Memorial Park on Friday, Feb. 9. Kyle Prudhomme/Butler Eagle

What’s fun for Mark Fletcher, 65, of Butler, is using the encounters he has with other people when he’s out walking Lady B, the 5-year-old, 75-pound red nose pit bull, to educate them about the breed.

“They are smart, loving and the get along with people,” said Fletcher. “It just kills me when people talk bad about pit bills ... Pit bulls are the greatest, gentlest, breed there is. It’s all on its owner, the way it’s raised, the way it is taken care of,” he said.

“Lady B lives in our house. She has her own room and her own bed, but she sleeps on my bed,” Fletcher said.

While Fletcher and his wife, Shelly, adopted Lady B from the Butler County Humane Society last summer, the Fletchers have had pit bulls and Rottweilers as pets for the last 14 years.

Larry Lidstone with Gunner, a 9-year-old German shepherd and sheepdog mix, walk at Butler Memorial Park on Sunday, Feb. 11. Kyle Prudhomme/Butler Eagle

Larry Lidstone, 70, of Butler, also adopted his dog, Gunner, a 9-year-old German shepherd and sheepdog mix from the Butler County Humane Society six years ago after another of his dogs, also a humane society rescue, had passed away.

“I’ve pretty much always had a dog,” Lidstone said, adding he’s pretty happy with Gunner.

“He likes to walk and go outside. He likes his treats, and he’s very affectionate. He listens to me most of the time,” he said.

“We mostly walk and play outside. He likes to be outside. We usually get out every day. We adjust to what the weather is,” he said.

“He’s brought a lot of happiness into my life,” Lidstone said. “It’s nice having a buddy be there for you.”

He said dogs are great companions.

“They don’t usually get mad. They don’t hold a grudge like people sometimes,” Lidstone said.

Bill English with Dixie, a pure bred treeing walker hound, walk at Butler Memorial Park on Sunday, Feb. 11. Kyle Prudhomme/Butler Eagle

Bill English, 71, of Butler can’t decide whether he’s trained Dixie, his treeing walker coonhound, or she’s trained him.

“She’s got me trained. We go out walking every day whether there’s inclement weather or not,” said English. “She will not go in my yard.” This means a trip to a nearby park for dog and owner to stretch their legs and for Dixie to take care of some business.

“We go to Memorial Park or Alameda Park. I try to get a couple of miles in every day,” he said.

He said he sort of inherited Dixie from his granddaughter Kaitlynn, Dixie’s original owner. He said he has walked the dog every day since Dixie was a pup, and when his granddaughter got married, Dixie apparently didn’t like changes the wedding brought or her new home, so she was given to English.

“The breed gets its name because they like to tree their prey. Around here, they’re mostly used to hunt raccoons at night ...,” he said. English said he has never hunted with her, but she is a good watchdog and lets him know when something is amiss.

“She’s got quite a voice. Her howl can be intimidating,” English said. “One time we were walking and another guy let his dog loose. He came up barking and snarling. Dixie planted her feet and began to howl. It was comical to see. The other dog stopped dead in his tracks.”

John Michalski with Joe’s Piper, a 3-year-old therapy pit bull mix, walk outside of the Butler YMCA on Sunday, Feb. 4. Kyle Prudhomme/Butler Eagle

John Michalski, 54, of Butler, relies so much on Joe’s Piper, his half pit bull, half Dalmatian dog, that he registered him as a support animal.

“I don’t know how I would be or where I would be without him,” he said.

A chance encounter three years ago with a woman who knew someone with a litter of puppies for sale brought Joe’s Piper into his life.

“Pit bulls have a bad reputation, but he’s like a big baby. He likes playing with older people and kids,” Michalski said.

One time, he said, he and his dog were out walking and he fell because his knee buckled; Joe’s Piper stood over him on watch.

Sometimes he finds it hard to deal with Joe’s Piper because the dog is so strong. It’s especially difficult since a fall left Michalski with torn tendons in his shoulder and neck and in a back brace.

“Sometimes when we’re walking and it’s snowed, he’ll pull me along, and it feels like I’m skiing,” he said.

But he’s found ways to cope such as taking his dog to a park’s fenced-in tennis court, shutting the gate and letting Joe’s Piper work off a little energy by running around the enclosure.

And man and dog go night fishing together at Michalski’s favorite spot near the Oneida Valley Dam.

Michalski worries more about his dog’s health than his own. He said while he can afford Joe’s Piper’s food and treats, dog medical care can be expensive.

He’s hoping a local retailer has a low-cost veterinarian clinic that he and Joe’s Piper can attend.

Donna McGee with Smiley, a 9-year-old yellow lab, play at Cranberry Township Dog Park on Friday, Feb. 9. Kyle Prudhomme/Butler Eagle

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