CLEARWATER — Times were hard last year for Cody the chocolate Labrador and his owner, Karim Mansour.
Business was slow at the BP gas station at U.S. 19 and Nursery Road where they both worked.
But things got a little brighter when Cody donned a BP logo shirt and name tag over the summer, and began greeting customers with paws and a wag.
That lasted only until a state inspector said Cody had to go in late November. Dogs have no place alongside sodas and potato chips, the Florida Department of Agriculture said.
But Mansour — and thousands of supporters from across the country — vowed to get the dog back in uniform.
But now, Mansour said, "It was all for naught."
He closed his gas station on Saturday.
A $123 million construction project along U.S. 19 removed the stop lights and turn lanes in front of Mansour's store. With cars not forced to stop, business was cut by a third, he said.
Construction "does have an effect" on local businesses, said Florida Department of Transportation spokeswoman Marian Scorza.
And even if he did stay open, Mansour said when the construction is complete, his convenience store would no longer be as convenient.
The massive on-ramp planned to cross nearby Gulf-to-Bay is slated to begin its ascent just outside his store. He says cars would just zoom past.
And Mansour said his landlord would not budge on rent.
Both the Lab and his master were out of work.
"Customers couldn't get to me. The very day they closed it and took the stoplight out, they were gone. It killed me. It sucks. I lost my business," Mansour said.
And Cody was on the verge of making his return — as a legal therapy animal.
Mansour's doctor wrote him a note saying that Cody helped alleviate a medical condition his owner has. And the application to get Cody listed as a therapy dog was all but filed.
Now, Mansour is working with his father, who owns a Shell gas station at Belcher Road and Main Street in Dunedin.
But Cody, who still wakes up expecting to go to work, prancing at the front door when Mansour gets ready to leave, cannot come. His father's store has a Subway restaurant inside.
Dogs, Mansour agrees, have no place next to deli meat.
"He still loves his BP shirt. He's ready to go to work. But I just can't bring him here," he said.
Perhaps it was time anyway.
Mansour has decided to go back to school. He is currently applying to colleges, hoping to learn the heating and air conditioning trade, and start a business anew.
"That would be cool. Cody can ride along with me," Mansour said.
The dog that caused thousands of smiles might not be retired yet.
Dominick Tao can be reached at (727) 580-2951 or firstname.lastname@example.org