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More than pets

Some pets chew up shoes. Some bring you the paper. But only a select few rise to the level of celebrity. Meet three who are stars.

Story by Barry Kaufman + Photography Lisa Staff

Everyone loves their pets; this is fact. If you don’t love your pets, feel free to find someone who will. But even the most faithful of pet owners — even those who set up Instagram accounts for their cats, buy cashmere blankets for their pugs or simply spring for the extra tasty dog food — have to admit that some pets carry a little spark of greatness.

Sometimes that spark makes a pet a local celebrity, fawned over by visitors from around the globe. Sometimes that spark lets a pet be a living symbol for an organization founded on heroism. Sometimes that spark brings home best in show.

That spark burns bright with these three pets, locals who have proven themselves to be more than pets.

Meet our three…

LOCAL SINCE 2009 • Harley was originally purchased to lead carriage rides through Sea Pines Forest Preserve. Today, he is the mascot of Lawton Stables.


This friendly clydesdale is enjoying his retirement

Some celebrities need no introduction. Harley the Clydesdale can be found at his customary stretch of fence every day, greeting folks who come to Lawton Stables to feed the animals, ride the ponies and enjoy a little slice of farm life amid Sea Pines’ resort elegance. Odds are good, in fact, that you’ve already taken a selfie with Harley.

“He loves the attention,” said Lawton Stables General Manager Haley Zimmerman. “All of our horses are used to people, but the way he stands by the fence and lets all the kids pet him… He’ll come in sometimes and he’ll have lipstick marks on his nose where someone has kissed him. I’m not even kidding. People adore him. He is a flirt.”

Born in Canada and raised in Michigan, Harley (Full name Otter Creek Master Harlequin) was raised as a draft horse, pulling carriages through the frozen tundra of his native north. It was his skill as a draft horse that first brought him down to Hilton Head, when he was purchased by Sea Pines in 2009 to lead carriage rides through the forest preserve.

He’ll come in sometimes and he’ll have lipstick marks on his nose where someone has kissed him.”

He was on the job for two years before a spot of arthritis in one of his limbs put an end to his carriage-pulling days. But when one door closes another opens, and Harley quickly found new life as the mascot for Lawton Stables.

“It’s basically early retirement – he eats carrots and chills and has a great life,” said Zimmerman. “I think he likes this life better than he enjoyed the carriage rides. Who doesn’t want to be retired on Hilton Head?”

Harley took to his new role like a pro, serving as the face for Lawton Stables and lording over the rest of the horses with his towering Clydesdale physique. “He definitely bosses the ponies around,” said Zimmerman.

Like most retirees, Harley is a creature of habit. It begins with breakfast – Seminole grain feed and a few nibbles from the bale of Timothy Orchard hay in his stall, then it’s time for him to meet his public. At 4 it’s time for another treat, letting staff know with a series of hoof beats on the gate if they’re even a minute late. “He definitely has his routine,” said Zimmerman.

And like any celebrity, he enjoys his pampering. Regular pedicures at the farrier, where he enjoys custom shoes to help with his arthritis, and medicated shampoo and drying of his “feathers,” the long hair around his hooves.

But it’s all worth it for Harley to be looking his best for his adoring public. “When he goes in at 4 to eat dinner, or if he’s getting washed or shoed, we get people asking where he is and if they can go back and see him,” said Zimmerman. “He’s definitely a fan favorite.”

LOCAL SINCE 2017 • Opha May, an English bulldog, is the first female mascot in the history of Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island.

Opha May

This English bulldog is the official mascot of Parris Island

Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island has long held the tradition of elevating a dog to the rank of private and naming it the depot’s official mascot. The first, in 1914, was an Irish Terrier named Mike, and each who have followed have had one thing in common: they were all male.

It’s appropriate, then, that the first female mascot for the depot would share a name with the first female marine. Opha May Johnson enlisted on Aug. 13, 1918, the first in a long line of brave female devil dogs. Opha May, the English bulldog who shares her name, would become the depot mascot a century later.

Her duties as mascot vary, but one point of pride for Opha May and her handlers is her appearance during graduation ceremonies.

“On parade days she knows what’s going on – she knows it’s go time,” said incoming handler Lance Cpl. Martin Sanders-Martinez. “She does what she does and looks nice. After that she walks off … and collapses on the cooling mat.”

It’s a hard job, but Opha May has the personality for it. “Opha is very much like a person – she shows a lot of emotion, and she’s very playful and friendly with other people,” said handler Cpl. Erin Lilleyfogle, who says that Opha May’s favorite toy is anything that squeaks. “She’s not really much like a dog – she likes to be around people. She does sleep a lot, but other than that she doesn’t keep to herself.”

She does what she does and looks nice. After that she walks off … and collapses on the cooling mat.”

Serving as dog handler is a voluntary duty, one that Lilleyfogle was in the process of handing over to Sanders-Martinez at the time of this interview. “At first I was very timid about being a dog handler,” she said. “I had dogs growing up, but I didn’t have the opportunity to train them. I took it as an opportunity to grow and took full advantage.”

Sanders-Martinez approaches his duties with equal enthusiasm. “I love dogs a lot. I was really excited when I found out I had the opportunity,” he said. “Few Marines have the opportunity to do that. It’s something very special.”

The bond between Opha May and her handlers is inspiring. Shortly after she spoke with LOCAL Life, Cpl. Lilleyfogle was tragically killed in an automobile accident. But she spoke of the bond she’d built with this special animal, saying that she’s already missed having Opha May around, just weeks after passing on her duties. “I already miss her. She was my roommate for two years. I still get to go into work and see her, but it’s definitely different being the one being in charge… It’s bittersweet.”

Our thoughts and prayers go out to Cpl. Lilleyfogle’s family, and we hope they can take solace in knowing she is missed.

LOCAL SINCE 2017 • Emanuell is one of top-rated Spanish Water Dogs in the world, winning Best in Show at the Rochester Minnesota Kennel Club Championship Show.


This Best in Show dog has his sights set on Westminster

Janet Rahn knows a thing or two about dogs. The story goes that her first word was “puppy,” and she’s made the animals her life and her livelihood ever since. Opening a kennel on Hilton Head in 1981, she would go on to tour with Team Purina doing dog shows, appear on David Letterman for his trademark “stupid pet tricks” segment and train dogs like Westminster Best of Breed winner Jango. She’s even currently training diabetic alert dogs to save lives.

The point being, she knows dogs. And when she first laid eyes on Emanuell, the Spanish Water Dog, she knew she’d found something special. Rahn was in Slovenia visiting with a close friend to help her with a different dog who had been difficult to train. She saw Emanuell and, “I fell in love with him,” she said.

“You can’t take your eyes off of him. And he has personality to go with his looks… He’s 100 percent showman. You want that temperament that says, ‘Look at me.’”

Emanuell was, as Rahn says, destined for it. Along with his looks and personality, Emanuell has a natural affinity for jumping up on tables and being showered with attention, something that is a fairly important part of showing a dog. “That’s his element,” said Rahn. “Not every dog enjoys that, but Emanuell thinks it’s the best thing ever. He wants to be looked at; he wants to meet with everybody.”

You can’t take your eyes off of him. And he has personality to go with his looks… He’s 100 percent showman.”

Still, natural talent only takes a dog so far. To compete at the highest levels, Rahn demands rigorous training. “There’s more training than people think. They see a dog running around in a circle, but really a dog is taught to show himself off,” she said. “It’s kind of like ice skating. It looks easy. But when you get to that level… it’s a lot on a dog.”

Which is why it’s so important than Emanuell gets to spend his downtime letting his finely-coifed hair down.

“It’s very important that when they come home, they swim, run in the field and get to be dogs,” she said. “The big thing people don’t realize about show dogs is they’re family pets first and foremost. They’ve slept in our beds; they’ve torn things up; they play with toys; they swim in the pool. He’s not treated like a china doll.”

The difference being, once Emanuell is done being a dog he goes out and wins awards. This past September he won Best in Show at Rochester Minnesota Kennel Club Championship Show. Next up, Rahn has her sights set on Westminster.

And she may be biased, but she likes Emanuell’s odds. “We haven’t seen him at his best yet.”


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