An architect and jewelry designer, Marion Cage McCollam created her dog's custom tags when she couldn't find any fitting of the Rhodesian Ridgeback in stores. It's little wonder that both Whistler, who is often curled in the display window at Marion Cage Jewelry (3719 Magazine St., 504-891-8848; www.marioncage.com), and the pet ID tags he inspired turn heads.
"I got him a very plush dog bed and put it in the studio, but his first time here, he found his way into the store front," McCollam says. "I wasn't too sure about that at first, but he started bringing customers in and they started asking, I kid you not, 'How much is that doggie in the window?'"
Though she'd wanted a dog for years, McCollam didn't entertain the idea seriously until she opened her Magazine Street store in 2009. "I felt like it would be great to have a shop dog, but I didn't want to do the puppy stage because of my customers," says the designer, who volunteers at the Louisiana SPCA. "I really wanted to adopt a dog."
Several months later, Leslie Guthrie, owner of Guthrie Contemporary Gallery and of Whistler's 2-year-old daughter Esme, mentioned two adult male Ridgebacks being retired by their breeder. McCollam was intrigued.
"I called [the breeder] and described my situation," she says. "I told her I had to have a dog that was amenable to people of all sizes and shapes, and she said, 'I have the dog for you. He's the perfect match.'"
A week later, McCollam drove to Florida to get the dog and found the statement to be true in more ways than one. "Red is not a typical color for the breed," says McCollam, who also is a redhead. "I got lucky. I got one to match me."
McCollam describes her loyal friend as an "expert chillaxer" who gently helps customers by following them as they browse and leaning into them with an endearing, lingering nudge. The shop-savvy assistant — named for whistling while he sleeps — also gets credit for being the artistic muse behind McCollam's new collection of pet ID tags. The tags come in polished pewter or brass to match collars with white or yellow metal hardware.
When he's not modeling tags for customers or resting in one of his favorite places, Whistler enjoys going to the neighborhood dog park with Esme, to Canine Connection for baths and to Audubon Park, where he likes to chase squirrels. Bred in Africa to hunt lions, Rhodesian Ridgebacks have a reputation for being stoic and bonding strongly to their owners. Whistler is true to form. The 7-year-old champion show dog and breeding stud is so smitten with his owner that she calls him her giant shadow.
"People ask if it's hard not to have a yard, but he doesn't want to be anywhere I'm not," she says.
favorite things ...
Baths at Canine Connection
Lounging in the sunny display window
My sheepskin rug