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The Job Interview: Ollie the bat dog takes her work with the Fisher Cats seriously

Last modified: 7/23/2013 12:07:00 AM
The internet is full of videos of dogs doing special tricks, catching impossible-to-catch frisbees or sticks, flipping over mid-air or leaping long distances.

But they’re all amateurs compared to Ollie, the professional bat dog of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats AA baseball team in Manchester.

Ollie, a 5-year-old golden retriever, lives with Fisher Cats President Rick Brenner in Amherst. At more than half of the team’s home games, Ollie appears out of the dugout to fetch bats left by players after a hit or an out, often earning the biggest cheer of the game just by trotting out and trotting back, the picture of professionalism.

Brenner spoke with the Monitor about the unique role Ollie plays.

I hear Ollie has some impressive bat-dog pedigree, is that right?

Ollie’s dad was Chase, the bat dog for the Trenton Thunder who just passed away (July 8). I actually owned Chase when I was in Trenton as the chief operating officer for the Thunder and when I moved here, we had to leave Chase behind because the team bought him.

When Chase had puppies, I purchased one myself.

Did you plan from the beginning to have Ollie become a bat dog?

Absolutely, if he was up for it. Every dog has his own personality, so if he was suited for it, we wanted to try.

Are bat dogs common in minor league stadiums?

No, not really. There’s one trainer who travels around with Jake the Diamond Dog and they do promotions at stadiums. When we decided at Trenton in the 1990s that we wanted one of our own, we called him and he trained Chase. Chase’s debut was in Trenton in 2002. Now his other son, Ollie’s brother Derby, has taken over the duties in Trenton.

There’s a team in Greensboro (that) has a black lab who performs, but it’s kind of a unique situation that I feel very fortunate to be part of.

So how did Ollie-the-puppy become Ollie-the-consummate professional we see on the field today?

We started training him at Olympia Kennels in Chester when he was about 6 or 7 months old. When he was around 2 years old, he took the field for the first time and as he steadily performed and enjoyed the duties, he got better and better.

What kind of training goes into a bat dog’s education?

It’s about the ability for the animal to focus when there are large numbers of people, noises, distractions – what you would see at the stadium. When he’s in the stadium, there are nine players on the field, base runners, foul balls being tossed back to the umpire, but he’s got to stay focused on his duty. But other than that, he’s very much our family dog.

We didn’t get into the ultra-obedience training you see with seeing eye dogs or with police dogs. If you see those dogs in a crowd, they’re right up against their trainer and not interacting with anyone.

When we’re out in a regular situation, he’s wagging his tail, jumping up a little bit.

What are Ollie’s days like?

He generally stays at home with my wife and three children and hangs out and is a part of the family. He sleeps with our 10-year-old son Aiden; he and Aiden are just absolute buds. . . . Ollie comes to the office quite a bit, and then the routine is the same, really: nap, water, walk, nap, water, walk, chew on a bone. And then around game time we go down and say “Hi” to the players, and then he sits on his bed, catches a few frisbees before the game.

There is always a potty stop before the field. That’s a very important part of the routine.

Does Aiden mind sharing his dog with the team and the fans like this?

No, our kids love it. They love the fact that he’s got his own baseball card, that he’s a part of the team. Our 2-year-old would often swing his toy bat and drop it and say “Ollie, get the bat.”

Does he get the bat at home like that?

No, it doesn’t work like that. For training, you don’t use commands that most people would know, because you want to make sure that the dog is listening to you.

It’s not your typical command, and it’s not Latin or Russian, like police dogs get trained in.

It’s something no one would think to say. It’s really a relationship between him and me. The trainer did a great job building that relationship and then passing it on to me.

How often does Ollie work?

He’ll come to 50 or 60 percent of the games. If it’s too hot or if there’s a day game and it’s 95 degrees, it’s just not a good idea.

Is it difficult work for him, fetching the bats after an out or a hit?

Oh, no. He loves it.

How can you tell?

His body language. His tail goes up, he’s wagging his tail, he’s excited. There’s never an issue getting him in the car to go to the stadium. I just know. When you’ve got a dog that’s your buddy, you know.

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or spalermo@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)


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