2015-09-23 / Business News

The dog’s life

For local shops, canines mean business

“When we were redoing our logo and looking through pictures, Layla on the board really captured the essence of who we are,” said Paige Bakhaus, owner of Hooked on SUP at the Cape Haze Marina in Charlotte County. 
COURTESY PHOTO “When we were redoing our logo and looking through pictures, Layla on the board really captured the essence of who we are,” said Paige Bakhaus, owner of Hooked on SUP at the Cape Haze Marina in Charlotte County. COURTESY PHOTO Glance through their modeling portfolios and you’ll see the camera loves Sarge, Lexi and Tesla. Big eyes, expressive faces, a natural seated or lounging pose, often in the grass. The epitome of model perfection. They’re among an elite group of more than 25 Naples and Bonita Springs residents taking the advertising world by storm.

And they’re complete dogs. Literally.

The canines and their fellow models and actors are clients of Michele Ryan, a Naples dog trainer and retired professional dancer who recently tapped into the growing demand for animals in advertising. Lexi, a golden retriever, just completed a commercial shoot for Duke

Energy; Bailey another golden, was featured in a national Anhueser Busch print ad as a 7-month-old puppy; and a fivemember canine posse wrapped up a photo shoot in South Beach last week for a Fossil print ad.

Lily & Co. on Sanibel Lily & Co. on Sanibel Eight clients, a hodgepodge of purebreds and mixed breeds have been selected for an editorial fashion shoot next week in Tampa. The gig was coordinated be Janelle LaFond, a Tampa wardrobe stylist who runs an online boutique. The style pages will be published in three local magazine and shopped around for national placement. Vogue, Glamour and Harper’s are a few that have been mentioned, Ms. Ryan says.

Using animals in print and TV advertising works. Many memorable commercials include them: Stuart, a TV-watching terrier for Xfinity, the Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales playing football in the snow, and the past few Doritos Super Bowl spots featuring cats and dogs, most notably a missing cat.

On set in South Beach Tesla, Rockie, Lola and Spirit are represented by Train Pawsitive. 
COURTESY PHOTO On set in South Beach Tesla, Rockie, Lola and Spirit are represented by Train Pawsitive. COURTESY PHOTO “Statistics show businesses using dogs in commercials, print ads or marketing get 55 to 60 percent more business than without an animal,” says Ms. Ryan. “They’re a memory point.”

Scholarly research delving into the psychology behind it notes people respond emotionally to animals. Some companies build their brand with an animal.

Lily & Co., a jewelry gallery on Sanibel Island, was named after co-owner Karen Bell’s labradoodle Lily and Dan Schuyler’s red Labs Gracie and Angel. The duo came up with the name 10 years ago during a brainstorming session with their advertising agent. The dogs’ bios are also posted on the business’s website.

“We wanted to include the names of all three dogs but it was just too long,” Mr. Schuyler says. “Then we started thinking Tiffany & Co. and Lily & Co. was perfect.”

Dog trainer Michele Ryan and Remi. 
COURTESY PHOTO Dog trainer Michele Ryan and Remi. COURTESY PHOTO Lily arrived on the island 11 years ago to a lot of fanfare. She’s an eighth-generation labradoodle from the original Australian breeder who introduced the world to the popular Lab and poodle mix.

“It’s a small island and everyone knows Karen and knew she was getting this puppy. She waited a year to get Lily,” says Mr. Schuyler. “We had a big party when Lily arrived at the airport. It was a big deal.”

It’s been a party since, with Lily wearing tiaras and dripping with diamonds in the store’s print ads. The store hosts an annual birthday bash, which last year raised $15,000 for the Animal Refuge Center, a no-kill shelter in North Fort Myers.

Lily’s advertising debut was also a major business coup. Three weeks before the store’s grand opening, Lily & Co. ran teaser print ads showing its adorable and very photogenic namesake wearing a $29,000 Marya Dabrowski necklace. The next day while Mr. Schuyler was power-washing the parking lot, a woman pedaled over to the store.

Michele Ryan, Lexi and owner Rich. 
COURTESY PHOTO Michele Ryan, Lexi and owner Rich. COURTESY PHOTO “She said she wanted to see the necklace the dog was wearing,” says Mr. Schuyler. “She bought it and some watches. It was a $35,000 sale. I called Karen and said ‘I think we’re on to something.’”

Ms. Ryan’s Train Pawsitive represents a variety of clients — from miniature schnauzers and shih tzus and huskies to shelter rescues and 100-plus-pound bull and Italian mastiffs. The 10-week modeling and acting class includes a professional portrait session.

The classes are fairly new, an idea she conceived late last year while pondering advanced classes she could offer her canine clients. During her dancing career Ms. Ryan toured with theater companies and performed with The Ramones, Usher and Janet Jackson, growing a list of show business contacts, production companies and a close relationship with California agent Gloria Winship who has been in the business 40 years.

“I wanted to do something totally different that wasn’t being done,” Ms. Ryan says. “Gloria thought it was a great idea and calls whenever she has a client in Florida looking for animal talent. I’m her on-set trainer for Southwest and Central Florida and Miami.”

Acting and modeling training requires solid obedience skills — following basic sit, down, stay and come commands. “Dogs also have to be desensitized to lights, camera and action and socialize with different people, places, things and noises.”

Golden retrievers and Labradors are the most requested breeds; they’re also the most popular family dog options. Ms. Ryan represents 10. Dogs are paid anywhere from $100 to $400 and up for their time. “What I love is that any dog can do this and it’s not as much about appearance as it is with human models,” she says. “Owners love to show off their dog — who doesn’t — and it’s plain fun. Owners just beam with pride and the dogs have fun.”

Sometimes dogs just can’t help being dogs and make, pardon the pun, faux paws. During Lexi’s Duke Energy shoot she leaped over coffee table and sofa, landing on Ms. Ryan hidden behind the furniture.

“The cast members and camera crew were just laughing,” she says. “It was so funny and she was so graceful; she didn’t knock anything over. A dog that can jump can get in movies.”

There was also the case of Rockie, a miniature schnauzer, who unbeknownst to trainer and owner had peed on a chair while waiting his turn during the Fossil photo shoot. “The funniest thing was he didn’t get himself wet,” Ms. Ryan chuckles. “He’s the funniest, most sociable and loveable dog. Nothing fazes him.”

Long before paddleboarding became a thing, people would snap pictures of Paige Bakhaus standing on her board, her little Yorkie Layla peering over the tip.

“Layla was always with me and everybody thought it was great,” says Ms. Bakhaus, the owner of Hooked on SUP at the Cape Haze Marina in Charlotte County. “When we were redoing our logo and looking through pictures, Layla on the board really captured the essence of who we are.”

Layla, 12, and her 2-year-old siblings, Baily, also a Yorkie, and the newest addition, Georgia, a 45-pound miniature pig, greet guests at the business. “Our animals are a big part of who we are and a huge part of our lives,” says Ms. Bakhaus. “When you come here it feels like you’re hanging out with a family. We have people come by just to see Georgia. Paddleboarding isn’t her favorite thing but she likes boating and swimming. She and Bailey get on the sandbar and run like crazy. It’s so cute because she’ll buck and do a 360 like a bronco.”

When Barry O’Brien began his new career as a Realtor with Keller Williams in Palm Beach Gardens, he looked at his colleagues’ business cards, noting an abundance of suits and ties and the irony that most of the times they dressed more causally.

For his card, he used a photo taken at a golf tournament, a cigar in mouth and his now 11-year-old fluffy white bichon frise Alex in his arms. “I broke all the rules,” he says. “I figured it’s laidback, it’s Florida. I just wanted to introduce a sense of humor.”

Mr. O’Brien gets the occasional comment about Alex and he points out the irony of posing with a little dog while another Realtor friend in Alabama advertises herself on billboards with her big German shepherd.

At Lily & Co. visitors come in just to see Lily, Gracie and Angel. The two Labs are the stores’ official greeters, trained to take positions at the front door whenever they hear a car door close.

“We have regular guests that stop by the store even before they check into their hotel to get their dog fix,” says Mr. Schuyler. “Pets are a big deal to people and our dogs are a huge part of Lily & Co. When we don’t have them here people get upset.”

A local doctor also picked up on the dogs’ popularity and calming effect. He’s been referring patients to the store for pet therapy. “We didn’t know until we saw a lady in the lounge petting the dogs and crying,” Mr. Schuyler says. “She was sent over because she lost her husband the month before.”

Lily, a diva, continues to star in the gallery’s advertising, photographed decked out in jewels, drinking a cup of cappuccino, wearing a toque and holding a spatula. She won the Smart Show jewelry expo’s national Top Dog Award.

“We were at an international jewelry show and one of our vendors strolled by and looked through our book of advertisements,” says Mr. Schuyler. “He stopped at Lily and said to throw the others away, use Lily and you’ll be successful.”

Not all dogs have their day and some just aren’t cut out for show business. Ms. Ryan can usually tell if a canine is destined for its moment in the spotlight. She’s also contemplating cat modeling and acting. “There are callouts for cats,” she says. “Some companies want sociable cats and kittens.”

And that could prove very interesting given the finicky nature of the feline, known as next to impossible to herd. ¦

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