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Owners devoted to dogs

June 18, 2007|by KAREN HANNA

MERCERSBURG, PA. - As he recovered from surgery, a Mercersburg, Pa., man said he recruited an unusual nursemaid: his dog.

Besides carrying dirty clothes to a laundry basket and disposing of discarded tissues, his white German shepherd can retrieve the TV remote or keys, Lance Lessler said. On Sunday, the dog even found a set of keys hidden in a bedroom.

Ten-year-old Britt is among about a dozen white German shepherds who share the Mercersburg home where Lessler and his wife moved less than a year ago.

The dogs will compete next week during a White German Shepherd Dog Club International Inc. show at Sleep Inn and Suites in Hagerstown.

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Though the American Kennel Club does not allow white German shepherds to compete, the Lesslers and their friend, dog breeder Barbara Hively, are devoted to the breed variation. Hively said owners may compete in show and obedience competitions through club organizations.

Lance Lessler said Britt even learned to determine what shoes to retrieve for him in the mornings. When Lessler grabbed white socks, Britt brought sneakers for him. On days when he was working, Lessler said he wore dark socks, and Britt would find his dress shoes.

"I don't know if he would do it now because I'm retired now and only have white socks," said Lessler, who took off his sneakers Sunday to demonstrate Britt's retrieving abilities.

Hively, who lives with the Lesslers, is helping organize the dog show. She said she was introduced to white German shepherds after her family got one of the dogs. She said they had just lost a mixed breed, German shepherd/Rottweiler, which had run off during a vacation.

"Since 1971, I've had 18 litters of puppies, which isn't many," Hively said.

Two of the dogs and a traditional black-and-tan German shepherd thrust their heads into the lap of a visitor Sunday, while two fluffy puppies relaxed in their crates. The dogs' great pyramid ears stood at attention as Hively carried a cat into the living room.

Deep, authoritative barks greeted visitors to the house, but the dogs quickly quieted.

The Lesslers said they have had golden retrievers, but since making the German shepherds part of their family - they own about half the dogs, and Hively has the other half - they have no regrets.

"I think they're really smart. I'd say their instinct and drive for learning seems so much more than the golden retrievers we had," said Linda Lessler, who, like Hively, shows the dogs.

The Lesslers said they operate Sugarloaf Shepherds, which breeds and sells dogs. Hively's breeding operation is called Vantasia.

Even though they raise and sell puppies, the Lesslers said the business isn't the main reason they've made German shepherds part of their pack.

Lance Lessler said he enjoys teaching the dogs new tricks.

To enable Britt to find the TV remote in the dark, Lessler said he coated it with deodorant to make it smelly. Britt was a fairly quick study after that.

"When I interact with dogs, I'm interested with interacting and seeing how their brains work, and I'm interested in seeing if dogs do have conscious minds," Lessler said.

Most of the dogs in the household are friends, their owners said.

After the dogs and Tommy, the cat, sniffed one another, one of the dogs and the cat laid down together.

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