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Denton Record-Chronicle

Survivor turned spokesdog for Dog Days of Denton

When Cody strolled up to the table at Jupiter House on Thursday morning, he played coy.

He gingerly sniffed my hand, revealing a slight underbite when I reached up to scratch between his ears. His terrier tongue lolled out of his terrier head as he let his human, 25-year-old Lauri Sulewski, do all the talking.

This was Cody's third media interview. You could tell he's gotten the hang of it. The 4-year-old looked dapper in a green and blue plaid shirt with a spotted bow tie situated above his "Dog Days" medallion. He patiently panted as I took his photo, knowing full well this isn't Vanity Fair and I'm no Annie Leibovitz. 

Since being crowned the official "spokesdog" at Dog Days of Denton last year, Cody has been the pooch mayor, appearing in parades and community events. But it hasn't always been pomp and circumstance for the mutt Sulewski rescued in 2013.

"He's truly a survivor," she said. "We've been through hell and back together."

Sulewski adopted Cody during an event at a local Petco store when he was 8 months old. The paperwork Sulewski received shed some light on her new best friend: Cody had been living at a dirty, overcrowded shelter in the East Texas town of Wolfe City that eventually was shut down.

While he was at the shelter, the pup contracted a severe case of kennel cough that turned into pneumonia. 

"The vet said, 'You know, dogs don't survive pneumonia,'" Sulewski said. "I didn't know if he was going to live or die."

Cody spent two nights in the hospital and went through several rounds of breathing treatments. He regained his strength, but the kennel cough wasn't the only thing Cody took with him from the shelter.

Two years later, Cody dislocated his knee, an injury that required surgery. When Sulewski took him to the veterinarian's office, they noticed a low white blood cell count. They went to several doctors to try to pinpoint the problem and finally ended up at the Texas A&M animal hospital. The vets there told Sulewski that Cody had a parasite living in him, likely from his stay at the animal shelter.

Eight months after he injured himself, Cody was finally able to have surgery.

"When you adopt a dog, it's for better or worse as long as they live," Sulewski said. "You can't just give up on them when they're sick."

Today, a healthy Cody enjoys naps and Nylabones. He chases squirrels and wags his tail when people come up to pet him on the downtown Square. The only time he barks is to alert everyone of the skateboarder zooming by.

"He is just way too cute," one woman notes.

"That dog's got a lot better manners than my kids," another man adds.

Last year, Sulewski took Cody's good manners and entered him in the Dog Days of Denton spokesdog contest. She dressed him in a clown costume and wrote an essay about why Cody was the clear choice. The judges seemed to agree and picked Cody to represent Denton dogs for an entire year.

The two have done their best to hold up their end of the bargain. Sulewski and Cody have walked in two parades and made appearances at several community events. They've donated to the Linda McNatt Animal Care and Adoption Center and the Cumberland Presbyterian Children's Home. Cody has been the subject of professional photoshoots and has had fans whenever he and Sulewski hit the town.

"He's really enjoyed his time as spokesdog and being able to help his community," she said. "We'll both be sad when it's over."

On Saturday at the Dog Days of Denton, Cody will watch 15 new dogs vie for his title, a record number of contestants according to event organizer Kevin Lechler. The event is in its 24th year and features multiple dog contests and training activities. Vendors sell dog products, and Lions Club members take "glam-fur" shots of the four-legged attendees. 

This year, local veterinarian Julian Black will go over basic pet first aid, and the Denton County Sheriff's Department K-9, Rocky, will show off his investigative skills. This also will be the first year Dog Days hosts Lyndon Villone and his dog, Ice. Villone is a former U.S. Marine who founded Heel the Heroes, a program that outfits veterans with service dogs in an effort to combat post-traumatic stress disorder.

"This is truly is an event created for dogs," Lechler said. "Dog Days of Denton was the original festival for dogs in Texas and has been copied repeatedly, proving that no matter where you go, people are crazy about their dogs."

Lechler's words ring true for Sulewski, who included Cody in her graduation photos when she got her psychology degree from the University of North Texas in May.

"Cody gives me a reason to live," she said. "He licks my tears away when I cry. He's always there to cuddle and make me smile. I just couldn't imagine life without him."

CAITLYN JONES can be reached at 940-566-6862.

If You Go

What: 24th annual Dog Dogs of Denton

When: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday

Where: North Texas Fairgrounds, 2217 N. Carroll Blvd. in Denton

Cost: Admission to the event is free, but all dogs must be on a leash and current on their vaccinations.

Website: www.dentondogdays.com

FEATURED PHOTO: Cody, a 4-year-old terrier mix, attempts a casual pose outside Jupiter House coffee shop on Thursday. Cody was named the 2017 Dog Days of Denton spokesdog last October and has served as an unofficial "dog mayor" for the past year.