Each year, we present a portfolio of Coral Gables dogs and their owners from all walks of life. What follows are this year’s dog portraits of “parents” and their pooches.
Gunner & Maverick
English Golden Retrievers, 7
Ashley Cusack, Senior VP, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, EWM Realty and husband Jimmy Cusack, a litigation lawyer
Ashley Cusack and her husband have two Goldens who, at 83 and 95 pounds respectively, have been known to pull her to the ground when they spot a squirrel during a walk. “I’m always on the lookout for what’s around the corner,” she says.
The dogs are best friends who play with each other so boisterously that the Cusacks can only let one into the backyard at a time. Otherwise, the yard gets torn to pieces.
“They love to wrestle and play, and when Gunner is tired and just lying there and ignoring Maverick, he [Maverick] kind of grabs onto Gunner’s haunches and will pull him across the floor. It’s pretty funny to see.” While the two Goldens shred chew toys with a vengeance, “they know to stay away from shoes. I happen to like shoes.”
Australian Shepherd, 6
Mario Fernandez, Proprietor, Belle Fleur florist shop on Alcazar
Choco, named for his chocolate brown covering, is the ultimate neighborhood dog, says owner Mario Fernandez, who takes him to work at Belle Fleur every day. “He loves people. He’s like a Walmart greeter at the flower shop. He thinks everyone is here to say hello to him, and he remembers the people he likes.”
If he doesn’t like you, or doesn’t know you, Choco will try to “herd” Mario away from the person, even as they walk down the street. “I walk him three or four times a day, but sometimes he just escapes and walks himself,” visiting neighboring shops, says Fernandez.
Choco’s obsession is to tear the “squeaky” part out of squeaky toys, something he enjoys doing when he’s not worrying a bone given to him by the owners of nearby Fugato Fusion Cuisine. “I also give him a ham hock every day,” says Mario. “It keeps his teeth clean.”
Pembroke Welsh Corgi, 1 1⁄2
Nicholas Moncada, Director of Reservations, Biltmore Hotel
Despite being a pure-bred Corgi (Queen Elizabeth’s favorite pets), Juno “was actually a rescue,” says her owner, Nicholas Moncada. “One of the neighbors in our condo was moving downtown and they didn’t accept dogs there.”
Juno is named after the wife of Jupiter, the king of the Roman gods, “and that is ultimate royalty, queen of the dogs,” says Moncada. Juno is also a certified “Good Canine Citizen,” an American Kennel Club designation which means she is gentle with people and suitable to be a therapy dog.
But at home, she is “the pack leader, the queen bee in our house. We live in her world.” As a herding breed, Moncada says that Juno’s nature is to boss her owners around. “We always joke, my partner and I, that we are her cattle…. When she wants to go somewhere, she will herd us toward the door, or herd us toward the cabinet that has her snacks.”
Toni Schrager, Senior VP, Brown Harris Stevens
Yogi, a cross between a Bernese mountain dog and a poodle, got his name because “as a puppy he just sort of waddled, like a bear,” says owner Toni Schrager. “He’s a Velcro dog [sticking to you] and the sweetest dog I’ve ever had. I tell my kids, ‘You are lucky I didn’t have him before you, or we might not have had you.’”
Yogi was adopted as a puppy during the pandemic, and in the early days had the bad habit of eating anything. “He ate an Ace bandage off of his leg. It must have been 12-feet long. At 2 am, we took him to the ER and they had to make him throw up.” He has eaten gloves, face masks, socks — even a bathing suit bottom, which the vet offered to return to Schrager’s daughter (she declined).
These days, he limits his “hunting” to patrolling the seawall of the Schrager’s Gables Waterway home, where large iguanas formerly congregated. “Now they don’t come back. They must have an iguana grapevine that said, ‘don’t go there,’” says Schrager.
Stanley & Jackson
French Briard, 11
Lee Schrager, Senior VP, Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirit of America and husband Ricardo Restrepo, a pediatric radiologist
Lee Schrager, best known as the guiding force behind the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, says he never had a dog when growing up, and that he always wanted a sheep dog. His younger dog, Jackson, comes from that family, while the older Stanley is a breed that he fell in love with after being given one years ago by a friend.
“They are like two different kids,” says Schrager. “The Briard [Stanley] is very independent and very bright, good with people, while the Sheepadoodle is a baby, very mischievous and very needy. He pushes the limit every time… even after training, he continues to eat TV remotes if we leave them around. He bites them so they can’t be used. We’ve lost six.”
While Stanley is used to being the top dog, Schrager says “Jackson also wants to be the alpha dog, so that can be a conflict.” The tableaux: Jackson jumps onto the bed and then, barking furiously, refuses to let Stanley climb up.
Belgian Malinois, 2 1⁄2
Officer Stephanie Laricci, Coral Gables Police Department
Willie joined the Coral Gables PD in March, imported from Hungary, where he was first trained, “so he knew a couple of commands in Dutch,” says Officer Stephanie Laricci, the dog’s handler.
Willie is currently undergoing training at the City of Miami’s Canine Patrol School, a 480-hour course that results in FDLE certification — if he passes. One of the tests is whether the dog can be “re-called” after he goes into pursuit.
“Their highest drive is to bite a suspect, but they have to respond to the call back,” says Laricci, who takes Willie home every night to her home in the Redlands. “Their obedience has to be super top notch so they can overcome their instincts.”
Willie is also being trained to search for hiding suspects, for things dropped by a suspect, and for bombs and narcotics. Laricci also has to pass the test, including being able to carry the 60-pound dog — and to deal with being bitten by Willie in the midst of a scuffle. “They have you get bit, so you don’t stress out,” she says.
Photos by Jonathan Dann
Want to see more? Check out last year’s pups and their proud owners.