He doesn’t build toys, bake cookies or fly through the night delivering toys around the world, but he is one of Santa’s cutest helpers. For a few days every December, Santa Dog greets shoppers at the Bueche’s Food World in Flushing, collecting donations for the Humane Society of Genesee County. In his 40 years on the job, he’s raised an estimated $450,000!
Burch, a Golden Retriever, is the current Santa Dog. Five dogs have donned the red suit over the last four decades – all of them have belonged to Carl Liepmann of Flushing. He is the human behind this Genesee County holiday tradition, which started out as a way of collecting food for the shelter.
“I was judging some dog shows in California and while shopping at a local supermarket, I noticed a wishing well in the store with a sign asking shoppers to donate food for the local shelter,” Liepmann recalls. “When I looked, the well was empty. I thought about it and decided that if there was an animal present it would attract more people and hence, more food donations. “
Not long after that, Liepmann approached the Bueche family to ask if they would be willing to host Santa Dog in their grocery store’s lobby. “When I approached Phil Bueche with the idea, he was quickly on board,” Liepmann says. “Thankfully, the family has continued their endorsement of the Santa Dog fundraising project.”
With a location worked out, all Liepmann had to do was find the right dog; it would have to do a lot more than wear the red suit, too.
“It takes sitting quietly for 12 hours in the suit and a lot of training,” he explains. “Of course, the loving he gets from Bueche customers and kids goes a long way toward making it worthwhile.”
He may only don the suit in December, but Santa Dog works year-round.
“Santa Dog makes a visit to the Flushing Middle School where each child makes a $1 donation for a photo. He also goes along with me to the Early Childhood Center, where I talk to kids about caring for their pets.”
Along with his countless admirers, Santa Dog has a few important canine friends – “rein-dogs” to be specific. They are highly-trained and help draw in the crowds at Bueche’s every year. They collect a lot of food, and the donations have expanded over the years, too.
“Originally, we asked for food items, but now the funds are used for all the amenities we cannot budget for that improve life for animals at the Humane Society,” Liepmann shares.
Santa Dog and his rein-dogs will be at Bueche’s Food World in Flushing December 18-23. Stop by and give them a little pat, and if you can spare it, make a holiday donation that will have an impact on the lives of animals all year long.