April 07, 2020

Celebrity dog helps at nursing homes

MACHIAS — Suzie packed her bikini and sunglasses and headed for Florida Monday. Although she’ll stop to visit friends at Graceland, there’s plenty of work in store for the 10-year-old toy poodle.

In addition to being an Elvis impersonator and the familiar of country music stars, Suzie is a licensed therapy dog. Lowell Miller will be taking her to nursing homes as he and his wife, Sandy, make their annual trip South.

“That’s how he relaxes,” Sandy said of her husband as she straightened a red velvet dress on Suzette, the 4-year-old teacup poodle the Millers refer to as “Suzie’s adopted daughter.”

Suzie and Suzette are themselves celebrities. They’ve starred in more than 2,000 television commercials for Sandy’s Sales in Machias. The sign hanging in front of the Route 1 surplus and salvage store advertises “toys, tarps, footwear, clothing and tools,” but there is little that can’t be found if a customer spends enough time in its jam-packed aisles.

Suzie and Suzette spend most of their days at the store, curled together in a basket behind the cash register. On Saturday, the pair were nestled atop a bag of microwave-warmed rice and displayed a marked lack of interest as Sandy dressed them for their interview. Suzie’s demeanor changed as soon as her dress went on. Sitting on her hind legs, she extended her polished nails for an admiring crowd.

“She’s not the same when she’s not dressed up,” Lowell Miller said. “She’ll bark and chase dogs. When she’s got her dress on, she just looks the other way like she can’t be bothered with other dogs.”

Sandy makes all of Suzie and Suzette’s clothes, and said she first began dressing Suzie four or five years ago.

“I had her at a yard sale and I bought a little hat and put it on her,” Sandy said. “She loved it.”

The dogs’ wardrobes now include everything from bikinis to the wedding dress Suzie wore when she “married” another dog in a dog chapel in Lutz, Fla.

“We even had them drive away with a just-married sign on the car,” Lowell said. “Suzie has her own 1957 Chevy.”

Sandy’s Sales devotes a shelf to pictures of Suzie with various country music stars, an opportunity that stems from Lowell Miller’s days as a booking agent for country recording artists. Suzie was such a big hit at the Elvis museum that Miller said he had to have a police escort to get through the crowds.

Suzie will stop in Memphis on her way South where she’ll star in a number of parades and visit nursing homes and shut-ins during her winter “vacation.” Sandy’s Sales will reopen in March, but Miller said he’ll also conduct some business when he’s in Florida.

“I’ll still be selling socks,” he said. “Remember, three for a dollar.”

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