Although Conway is the image of his (shorter) predecessor, Rudy, the uncanny resemblance had little to do with Conway’s promotion from adoptable dog to County Shelter Mascot. He earned that station.
Rudy, the original shelter mascot, passed away suddenly on Sept. 1, 2011, and Sandy Larsen, senior vet tech, was devastated. So was Bobby Arthurs who, as chief enforcement officer for Animal Control, had never known the shelter without Rudy.
After coming in as a stray, Rudy had made himself the shelter mascot by refusing to live anywhere else. For the better part of a decade, Rudy was the ambassador for the adoptable pets inside the walls he called home. His grave is in a shady spot behind “C.A.T.S.” where he loved to go to monitor the cats and kittens in the shelter’s adoptable cat colony provided by FOTAS.
While Sandy and Bobby grieved, it seemed unlikely that they would have another mascot. After all, there was only one Rudy.
Then one day last fall, Sandy was making her usual rounds past the kennels, and she noticed that two new dogs had come in. They had been recently surrendered by the owner who said she couldn’t afford their care anymore. One was huddled against the back wall of his cage. He raised his head and gave Sandy a start. He looked just like Rudy.
When Sandy made her move to enter the pen, the dog greeted her with a low growl and a cold stare that said, “Don’t you even try…,” and Sandy yielded.
The next day, Sandy got in the kennel without even growl of protest. And even when she didn’t go in, she would stop and talk to the Rudy-look-alike on her rounds. Deemed adoptable, the two dogs were named “Conway” and “Loretta.”
By the time Loretta was selected for a transfer up north, Sandy knew that she wanted Conway to be the shelter mascot. Bobby was less certain and insisted that Conway remain up for adoption. Then Sandy and Patrick, a field officer, went to do a presentation at Wagener Elementary School, and everything changed.
Conway emerged as an avid ball player. Every time a ball was tossed, Conway would catch or retrieve it. Patrick talked about animal control, and Conway stole the show with his ball antics.
A group of special needs children attended. Perhaps the showman and budding ambassador sensed something. Sandy’s attention was pulled away momentarily, and when she looked back, “there was Conway stretched out along the laps of those children,” she said. He was just a natural performer. That was it; Conway got the promotion.
Ever since that Wagener trip, Sandy and Conway became inseparable. He accompanies her to clean the cat house and lets the cats rub on him. Is Sandy off work that day? Conway’s sullen look will tell.
Sandy and Conway walk down the hill to Rudy’s grave. She looks down at the Rudy-look-alike and says, “Conway, I feel Rudy in you.” The red dog looks up and as much as says, “He sent me.”
FOTAS volunteers work with the Aiken County Animal Shelter, 411 Wire Road. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.fotasaiken.org.