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New firehouse dog, spots and all, on the job

Five-month-old Dottie Sue is an excitable, happy young Dalmatian pup, and why shouldn't she be? She has a new home, a new job and a great big family at the Sunnyside Fire Department.

When it came to getting a new dog to serve as an instructional aid for local children, firefighter Tony Castillo was resistant. For five years, Castillo had the pleasure of owning the fire department's last mascot, Peggy Sue.

Peggy was rescued from a shelter as a full grown dog and when Castillo first got her, she was a jumpy, timid animal. With some training, Castillo was able to bring Peggy into classrooms to help teach kids the importance of fire safety.

But this last year, Peggy became ill and, in early November, she died.

Castillo was not ready for a new dog when he was told about a listing for Dalmatian puppies in Oakville. But, Castillo and Carolyn Hazzard decided to visit the breeder while their daughter, Toni, attended a swim meet in Federal Way.

Upon seeing the puppies, Castillo was decidedly unimpressed. He had a very clear image of what he wanted in a Dalmatian and the three puppies the breeder had were not what he was looking for.

Castillo wanted a female Dalmatian with lots of quarter sized spots and black ears. One of the three puppies was male, another had very few spots, and the last had a variety of spots, but they were a bit irregular.

After informing the breeder that he'd like to wait for another litter, Castillo proceeded to play with the third puppy. He continued to tell people that he was not going to pick a puppy from that litter, but the third puppy kept drawing him back.

Eventually the puppy won him over and Castillo adopted her. He christened her Dottie Sue.

"She is very bright," Castillo says. "That is going to be the best thing because she is very trainable."

Dottie has just begun her training, but Castillo says she has already learned to sit on command and she is really clever in searching for things with her nose.

Dottie has a stuffed fox at home, Castillo said, and one day, he hid it from her.

"She rooted around until she found it," he said.

Castillo says dogs need to have a certain aptitude toward that sort of search and that Dottie shows potential. If she continues to develop this ability, Castillo says he would like to see her trained to aid in fire investigations.

But Dottie's first priority will be training to aid Castillo in teaching local children fire safety. Eventually, she'll be able to stop, drop and roll and may even help children to understand the dangers in hiding if there is a fire.

Dottie made her first public appearance at a Christmas assembly at Outlook Elementary School. Castillo said she was a little edgy at first, but she relaxed and really came to enjoy herself.

Castillo says that having Dottie is great for his work with local children. "Kids really identify a Dalmatian with the fire department."

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