By Beth Rasin
If you’re strolling down a Middleburg sidewalk and catch a sudden movement in a store window, you may have just glimpsed one of the many canines (and the occasional feline) who grace the local shops and offices.
At Sonabank, for instance, Bichons Frises Cara Mia and Coco BiChanel often dash back and forth between windows, especially if they spy a dog outside. They’ve been coming to the bank with senior vice president Linda Sandridge since the branch opened on Main Street in 2011.
“Sometimes I’ll be sitting at my desk, and all of a sudden I’ll look up, and tourists will be taking a picture of the dogs through the window,” Sandridge said.
“It’s a really dog friendly town. Everyone has them, and they’re welcome here.” -Marcy Harris
But it’s not just passersby who reap the benefits of the calming canines.
“I forgot sometimes how intimidating it can be to be in a bank, if you’re applying for a job or a loan,” said Sandridge, whose office displays a painting of her first bichon frise, named Sue Sue and art depicting the breed. “Coco once jumped into the lap of a woman working on a mortgage loan, and you could just see the tension drain from her face.”
“Coco” and Cara Mia are sometimes joined by branch manager Natalie Lacaze’s Catahoula Leopard hound mix, Stella, and visitors often bring their own dogs as well, with biscuits on offer in the lobby as well as the standard coffee.
Since dogs seem to be everywhere you find horse people, it’s no surprise that both The Tack Exchange and The Tack Box have pet “employees” watching over the merchandise.
Claire Nichols’ yellow English Labrador is an institution at The Tack Exchange on Federal Street. “People will come in just to see her,” said sales associate Georgie Summers. “She’s quite a character.”
She’s most likely to be seen at the store, which sells new and used horse tack and rider apparel, on weekends — but she’s currently on maternity leave, having just had her first litter of five puppies. Once they’ve been weaned, she’ll be back on duty.
“She greets people and loves kids, and when she’s tired she’ll lie down in the office,” said Summers. “We have a water bowl for dogs that come in, and we’re very animal friendly.”
Just a block down Federal Street, Rachel Efird’s Cardigan Corgi Ruby is on duty at her station in the bridle case at The Tack Box. “She’s grown up here,” said Efird. “I picked her up in Upperville when she was eight weeks old, and she came right here.”
Now six, Ruby spends lots of time sleeping, although she does get up for certain favored customers, especially Faith Fort, who stops by with her Corgis Biscuit, Jelly and Spencer.
Given the size of the two-story store, however, she enlists some help from Mike the patched white tabby cat. Tack Box owner Berk Lee brought Mike back from New Orleans after a rescue mission to the area with Middleburg Humane Foundation following Hurricane Katrina.
“He has his own room that he sleeps in at night, or he’d ride the saddles,” said Efird with a laugh, adding that his job description includes quality control, greeting customers and sometimes security.
In his down time, he can be found sunning himself out back on the porch steps, where he has squirrel friends, but he’s not allowed out the front door. “If he goes out the front door, Punkin [Lee, from Journeyman Saddlery across the street] will call,” said Efird.
Everyone has a least favorite part of their job, and for Mike, that’s UPS delivery time. He hisses at the driver, who, said Efird, does not carry cat treats.
But he also participates in charity work, as he and Ruby both wore red noses May 25 for Red Nose To End Hunger day. Ruby also walks in the Middleburg Corgi Corps during the town’s annual Christmas Parade, and both animals have been known to dress up for the holidays.
Just a few doors down from The Tack Box, Zoey the rescued German shorthair pointer sits among the supplies in John Deering’s Middleburg Auto Parts store, usually sleeping but sometimes practicing her tricks: jumping through hula hoops or over stacked boxes of merchandise.
She especially likes kids and will leave her spot in the back of the store, where she sleeps with her stuffed opossum, if she hears them. “She doesn’t visit everyone, but if she hears a kid’s voice, she will always come,” said Deering. “Some people have kids who say they want to go to the auto store to see Zoey!”
While the door to the store is often open, Zoey has never gone out the front. “It’s like she doesn’t know it exists,” said Deering. “It works like an invisible fence, and she respects the boundaries.”
Deering, who started working at the store in 1983 and bought the business in 1998, hardly remembers a time without a canine mascot in his store. “I think I went six months without a dog when I lost one once. I said, ‘It’s too much heartbreak.’ But then I started searching the internet again…” he said.
Meanwhile, at Marcy Harris’ Stitch embroidery shop, one or two French bulldogs, Mitzi or Minnie, may be found sleeping on the sofa as you enter the store on Federal Street if they’re not in the front window. Harris has discovered that nothing gets a reaction on social media like photos of the white and
fawn young dogs.
“My dogs love kids, and kids love dogs, so they’re a nice way to entertain if someone brings children with them,” Harris said. “The dogs get a lot out of it too. They love being here and meeting people.
“It’s a really dog friendly town,” Harris added. “Everyone has them, and they’re welcome here. I feel like it’s becoming acceptable to bring a pet to work even in mainstream life. I’ve lived here 20 years, and as long as a dog is on a leash, I’ve never seen one turned away anywhere — even in the Safeway!” ML