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Honorary mayor's work goes to the dogs

Last Friday, Hal Ott was the toast of Ruskin.

On Monday, he was back at work, hunched over an ailing German shepherd.

Humbling stuff for the town's new honorary mayor.

"I'd better keep my day job," chuckled Ott, 60, who owns Ruskin Animal Hospital and Cat Clinic. "I don't think this honorary mayor's job is going to pay well."

Maybe not, but Ott's victory in the Ruskin honorary mayor's race has definitely paid off.

Ott, who raised more than $7,000 during his monthlong mayor's bid, was "inaugurated" Jan. 16 at the Ruskin Chamber of Commerce's annual dinner at the Mariner's Club Bahia Beach Resort and Marina.

Ott's new role won't take him away from the animal clinic he founded more than 30 years ago. Nor will it award him any real political clout.

But half of that $7,000 will go to the charity of his choosing _ Critter Adoption and Rescue Effort Inc., a no-kill rescue shelter for homeless or neglected dogs and cats in Ruskin.

"I'm very humbled by it," he said. "I don't know that I'm particularly deserving, but I saw an opportunity to raise money for one of my favorite charities, so I threw my name in the hat."

Ott has been a veterinarian in Ruskin for 32 years. He was stationed at MacDill Air Force Base after receiving a veterinary degree from Auburn University and decided Ruskin seemed like a good place to raise a family.

Raising money for charity is easy when you've lived in a community as long as he has, Ott said.

"I just sent out letters to some of my good, supportive clients and some of the business people in the area that I knew, and they stepped up to the plate," he said.

While he may not have much political power, Ott does have an agenda. He's hoping to work with the county to bring a new dog park to Ruskin.

"There's a lot of development going on in south County," he said. "I'm hoping that maybe we could get a few acres set aside."

Ott easily toppled the race's only other entrant, Mariner's Club Resort manager Robert Newhart, who raised close to $1,000 with half going to the Mary Martha House for battered women.

Half of all the money raised goes to the Chamber of Commerce.

Chamber members handed out two other awards at their annual dinner. Donna Budd, a longtime officer with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, received the E.G. Simmons Award, and Donna Allmond, who served as volunteer chairwoman of the Ruskin Seafood and Arts festival, was given the President's Award.

_ Jay Cridlin can be reached at 661-2442 or