The Beggar Dogs of Cherryland Humane Society and Their Mysterious Beginnings

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You’ve seen them all around Traverse City. Ceramic Beggar Dogs. Some people have seen them for 20 or 30 years and others have been collecting the money from them for 20 or 30 years. The Beggar Dogs are ceramic dogs that are sitting on the counters of Traverse City businesses that collect donations for the Cherryland Humane Society (CHS).

Meet Marilyn Jensen. She is a long-time volunteer with the Beggar Dog Program. She’s been on a Beggar Dog “route”, collecting donations from the dogs for so long she’s not exactly sure when she started. Her best guess is that she started doing the route about 20 or 25 years ago. Being a dog lover, she volunteered with CHS not long after she moved to Traverse City from Pennsylvania, even being on the board for a short time. Jensen has had three dogs who all came from Humane Societies and all lived very long lives. Her last dog, a Beagle, helped her get through the loss of her husband and she credits him for keeping up her spirits and helping her to go on with life. The Beagle died in 2009 and the circumstances haven’t been right for her to get another dog. Instead, she babysits her friends dogs when they are away and she travels the Beggar Dog route once a month to help the dogs at CHS.

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Jensen has about 20 stops on her route – party stores, grocery stores, card shops, restaurants, fudge shops and many other kinds of businesses. She says, “I have one restaurant that put all of their tips into the Beggar Dog which is one of my better stops.” She wishes that more businesses would participate and realize how all of those quarters and dimes can add up to help animals in need. There are 14 other volunteers besides Jensen who go around the city collecting the donations from the Beggar Dog.

Little is known when exactly the program started and who initiated it. Executive Director, Mike Cherry, says there are no records about the time the program started but he estimates that the the program began in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s. This seems to coincide with others who have seen them around for about the same amount of time, including sitting in businesses that have long since closed, such as House of Flavors. Cherry thinks it’s possible that previous board member Louis Wright started the program but that cannot be verified since he has since passed away.

There are 125 Beggar dogs in 125 locations. CHS collected $13,540 from the Beggar Dogs in 2013 and $9, 985.45 in 2012. Although figures aren’t available for the entire program, if you took an average of about $11,000 a year since 1980, that would come to approximately $374,000 over 34 years. That’s a lot of change!

Although it’s also not known who originally made the ceramic dogs for the CHS Beggar Dog program, J&P Ceramics of Traverse City does them currently. According to Pat Franke, they make them whenever they get the call from CHS and they usually do a dozen or two at a time. They have had the original molds for about 25 years or more, however they are very beat up after continual use. The company ended up having to copy the molds after the maker of the molds went out of business. Over time, they have accumulated a few more from friends in the industry who ran across them. Looking into retirement in the near future, Franke says that she has people who have volunteered to take over making the Beggar Dogs when she is no longer in the business.

If anyone has any more information on the origin of the Beggar Dogs, please contact Jennifer Isbell at Pet Friends Magazine here.

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2 thoughts on “The Beggar Dogs of Cherryland Humane Society and Their Mysterious Beginnings

  1. M. Kramer November 25, 2014 at 1:01 pm Reply

    I’ve seen these for as long as I can remember. The spare change helps…I hope!

  2. Sam Bourne December 1, 2014 at 1:29 pm Reply

    What a clever idea! I’d like to see more shelters take this approach. Thanks for sharing!

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