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Dog in a BP shirt greets customers at Clearwater store

CLEARWATER

The sequence of events happens dozens of times every day at the BP gas station/convenience store at U.S. 19 at Nursery Road.

An unsuspecting customer pulls up to the drive-through window. But instead of a store clerk, up pops two paws, deep brown eyes and the tongue-flapping grin of a happy chocolate Labrador retriever named Cody.

Kids in the back seats of minivans often squeal with joy.

Even the usually stony faces of gruff construction worker-types can't help but crack a smile under the dog's unpretentious greeting.

"He hears the bell and goes running. When he pops up, that sets it off," said Karim Mansour, the store's and dog's owner. "Uncontrollable giggling."

The only thing that tops Cody's enthusiasm for a customer, is a customer who has a dog with him.

It all started one day five months ago when Mansour decided to bring his dog to work. He didn't think much of it at the time — he just wanted to have his best friend with him while he worked the sometimes slow, and occasionally, dangerous, early morning shift. The dog was given free rein of the store, and as a joke, Mansour put a shirt with a BP logo on the dog, and gave him a name tag.

"While he's here, he's an employee. My rule is, 'all employees need to wear the shirt,' " Mansour said.

Without trying, Cody, always eager to greet any friendly stranger, quickly became a celebrity among store regulars.

"The first time I saw him, he had his tail just waggin' and waggin'," said Richard Mealey, who comes in a few times a week. "I love dogs. He's great."

But the best part might be the double-takes the dog elicits at the drive-through window.

"Oh, he's adorable," said customer Candy Thompson when greeted at the window by Cody. "Oh, he's such a big lover."

Photo shoots with cell phone cameras from the drive-through window are commonplace.

But the BP station is also like most other convenience stores — a sometimes strange melting pot of people from every class and creed, who at any given time could be going through some rough emotion. For those customers, Cody is the solution. He can do what the normal gas station clerk usually cannot.

"Convenience stores are so unpredictable. People come in drunk, stoned, angry, you name it," Mansour said. "He calms them down. Animals have the ability to soothe the human soul."

Earlier this year, a woman who had been fighting with her husband came into the station.

"She came in all sorts of bawling and crying," Mansour said.

Cody, sensing something wasn't right, went to the woman. She put her face next to his, and sat on the floor with him. After several minutes talking to Cody, the woman pulled herself together.

"By the time she was done petting him, she'd stopped crying and seemed a lot better. 'Finally,' she must have thought, 'someone who listens and doesn't talk back,' " Mansour said.

Ironically, Mansour acquired Cody three years ago when an acquaintance, who was going through a divorce, could no longer take care of him.

Since Cody's following has grown, Mansour said, he has also seen a slight uptick in customer retention — a boon, considering his business has seen a slump in recent months.

"That Hess down the street is a superstore. It wipes me down. But people might come the extra half mile or so to get the more personal service — or just to see the dog, he said.

"In a dog-eat-dog world, when our economy sucks and business is hard, you've got to find a way to stand out."

Dog in a BP shirt greets customers at Clearwater store 11/24/09 [Last modified: Monday, October 24, 2011 6:02pm]
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