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For two dogs, contest is a big, hairy deal

He's lazy and a thief with a passion for newspapers. She's elegant, works full time and loves butterflies. They've never met but have a common bond.

Courtney, a cinnamon-colored golden retriever, and Rufus, a pound adoptee of unknown lineage, are finalists in the Hallmark Card YourPets Card competition.

Their happy doggie faces can be found on cards for sale online and in more than 13,000 stores.

A couple of years back, Ron Twardosky was looking for a puppy, a companion to enjoy the family's home in rural Hernando County. He and wife Pati found a little white furry fellow at the Citrus County pound.

After some thought, Twardosky decided that the tiny fur ball was the one, not realizing he would grow so big. He needed just the right name. Ron settled on Rufus.

The little fuzzy guy with standup ears and a big nose found adventures around the house. One morning when Ron walked outside, Rufus plopped down at his feet with innocent eyes but a telltale black circle around his mouth.

He offered a "Who, me?" look and Ron dashed for his camera. He clicked once and got a winning photo that's now on Hallmark cards and has earned more than $500 for the Twardoskys — $250 for being a contest finalist, and another $250 in a subcategory of "Best Hair" — and another $500 for charity that the Twardoskys chose: PetLuv Non Profit Spay Center in Brooksville.

Rufus' dirty face came from a romp in a 20-pound bag of potting soil.

When Pati learned of the Hallmark contest, she added the caption, "What Chocolate Cake?" to Rufus' picture and mailed it.

Soon news arrived saying their entry was one of 67 chosen as a finalist from about 7,000 submitted to the greeting card giant.

Meanwhile, there was the case of missing newspapers. Twardosky said that sometimes the paper was there in the early morning, sometimes not. The mystery continued until one day he went to clear some tall grass. He found about 50 newspapers, still in their delivery bags.

Not all were his. Rufus had also collected from the neighbors and hidden them in the same spot.

"He's the laziest dog in the world. He will go for the newspaper, but who knows where it'll turn up," Twardosky says with a laugh, petting the now-large wire haired Rufus, who offers a doggie smile and turns belly-up.

Unlike Rufus, Courtney, owned by Barbara McCormick of Trinity, goes to work every day. McCormick, director of the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, has owned Courtney for four years. The soft and gentle dog is often just what a child needs when something bad has happened.

Courtney was a student in the Kids and Canine program at Dorothy Thomas Exceptional Center in Tampa. The center pairs a golden retriever with a truant middle school student, who is responsible for training the dog to be an assistant for physically disabled people or children with autism.

Her distraction with things that moved, like butterflies, proved that Courtney was not a good candidate for the disabled. McCormick arrived, looking for a dog.

Jennifer Wise, Kids and Canines program director, said, "The career change for Courtney from service dog to Crisis Center dog was just perfect."

Rowena Wilkinson, a colleague and friend of McCormick's, caught Courtney sitting in an elegant pose, and Wilkinson, who has garnered awards for her photographs, grabbed her camera.

The picture was a finalist in the Hallmark contest, awarding McCormick $250, which she shared with Wilkinson.

"It was a spontaneous moment on a balcony. Courtney just seems to know she's pretty," said McCormick, stroking the retriever's silky, sleek fur.

Courtney and Rufus are now up for the final award, including $1,000 and a trip with their owners to Hallmark for a professional photo shoot, their card on sale for a year and possibly becoming part of the Hallmark permanent collection.

Gail Diederich can be reached at gdiederich@sptimes.com.

>>THE CONTEST

To vote

The winner will be chosen through an online voting process that continues through Sept. 14. To participate, go to www.hallmark.com/you. Click on "Your Pets" and then "vote."

For two dogs, contest is a big, hairy deal 08/08/08 [Last modified: Monday, August 11, 2008 12:15pm]

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