PALM HARBOR — The dinner guest of honor that Sunday evening in mid August got her cheeseburger medium rare, diced into cubes. She saved the bun for last.
"You know, she needs to get out more often. She needs more adventures in her life," said Tara Smith, another guest. "She needs a bucket list."
The three shelter workers looked at Angel, lounging on the deck at Boyle's Backyard Bar & Grill. Because of her age, she has been at Suncoast Animal League far longer than most other dogs. She's everyone's favorite, sweet-tempered and gentle. They wanted to do more for her.
A few days later, they had 50 bucket list items and a Facebook page.
No 9: Eat a grilled grouper sandwich.
No. 13: Be a first mate on a boat ride.
No. 48: Receive a love letter from an admirer.
No. 50: Find a forever home.
• • •
Most dogs only stay at the shelter about a week before they're adopted.
Angel has been at Suncoast almost six months.
"You have the puppies, and you have the little, small, fluffy dogs," said Annette Dettloff, co-founder of the shelter.
"But when you have a 12-year-old medium-to-large-sized dog, people aren't going to gravitate to that; so you really have to become a little more creative."
An Australian cattle mix with perky ears, short brown fur and black spots on her tongue, Angel is easygoing, energetic and affectionate. Her personality profile says she's an excellent walker, a lover of attention and a wise soul.
After a family gave her up, Angel went to Hillsborough County Animal Services. When they could no longer care for her because of her age, she was rescued by Suncoast.
"There's so much emotion involved with everything that we do," said Rick Chaboudy, executive director of Suncoast. "In here, she's everybody's dog. She deserves to be somebody's dog."
• • •
The first bucket list taker was Danielle Giroux, a shelter volunteer. She packed a picnic basket with Milk-Bones and chicken meatballs for Angel, Lay's chips for herself and a few friends. They went for a walk, took selfies and dined on a blanket at a park in Palm Harbor.
Smith, a volunteer, became Angel's "scheduler," Dettloff her "secretary" and voice online.
"Ms. Dani was explaining to me that my forever family is coming soon," Angel posted on Facebook with pictures from the picnic. "We walked around, rested on the blanket and talked about girlie things like the best conditioners for our hair and shopping. I had a grand ole time!"
"I really just kind of thought of it like Angel's personality," Dettloff said. "She's just a sassy little girl who is extremely confident and is not afraid to tell people that she's fabulous — because she really is."
Since Angel's Bucket List page was created in mid August, more than 600 people have begun to follow along. Hundreds like and share each post.
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"Angel, how are you around cats?" one commenter wrote.
"I think kitties are silly little boring creatures. I pay no attention to them unless they spill kibble. Then I LOVE them," Angel replied.
"I've enjoyed walking with you, but I hope one day, as sad as it will be, that when I get there you won't be there," another wrote.
People have volunteered to let Angel run the bases at the Dunedin Blue Jays complex, to take her paddleboarding and treat her to Sunday brunch.
So far, she has ventured out for ice cream, had her portrait drawn, gotten a massage and had her nails painted pink during a spa day — purple shower cap and all.
On a visit to WTVT-Ch. 13, Angel panted happily on the ground.
"Even though she's 12, she's still a very active dog," Chaboudy told an interviewer. On cue, Angel stood up and wagged her tail.
"Boy oh boy, I am so much very exhausted after my GIANT & SUPER IMPORTANT debut on TV this morning," Angel wrote on Facebook. "I hope my secretary will tell me someone saw me and wants to meet me to adopt me."
On Thursday, a small package arrived at the shelter marked "LOVE LETTER 4 ANGEL."
Inside, a bedazzled handmade card read, "I love you TO THE MOON AND BACK. I adore your beautiful eyes, your shiny nose, your pretty tongue + your gorgeous hair. You are truly an angel on earth."
"I was going to do a dramatic reading," a volunteer said, "but I'm starting to tear up."
• • •
Ten down, 40 to go.
Angel is pretty healthy for an older dog (she's 75 in human years). Mild arthritis doesn't slow her down. Her ideal family would be attentive and ready for adventures: car rides, walks on the beach, burger nights.
"Who knows how much longer she has, but she's got all kinds of energy," Chaboudy said. "If she was a person, you would want her to be your best friend. She finds the best in all of us."
A few people have made calls about Angel, but nothing has worked out so far.
"She has not had that magic moment happen yet," Dettloff said. "It's going to reach that one person, and that's all we need, to reach that one person."
Contact Claire McNeill at email@example.com or (727) 893-8321. Follow @clairemcneill.