An April party celebrated the life of Dora, whose cheery disposition has endeared her to many.
A group gathered April 13 in a condominium at Marina Tower in downtown Sarasota to say goodbye to a friend who was headed north at the end of season.
Those in attendance sipped wine and ate cheese as they swapped stories about the guest of honor — who was having a great time at her own party, chowing down on a New York strip steak and some dog yogurt.
The event was a celebration of Dora, an 8-year-old Rottweiler who made a lasting impression on some of the people she encountered on her daily walks with owners Kathy and Gerry Nichol.
Dora quickly endeared herself to store owners and employees working along her regular route. She was regularly lavished with treats. Among those who befriended her, Dora earned a nickname: The Mayor of Palm Avenue. The routine became as important to the humans as it was for the dog.
“If we miss a couple of days, I hear about it,” Kathy Nichol said.
Although the Nichols leave Sarasota for their other residence in Madison, Wis., each year, the farewell to Dora had a more somber, final tone to it. In March, a doctor told the Nichols they found nodules in Dora’s lungs — a sign of a fatal condition.
As the Nichols packed up, they did so knowing it was likely the last time Dora would be anywhere near her usual self in Sarasota. Gerry Nichol suggested they go out for a group dinner with those who had grown close to Dora. Kathy Nichol thought their bayfront home would be the perfect venue, a low-key environment where Dora could be comfortable.
The Nichols weren’t aware of anyone else who had thrown a going away party for their dog, but it felt like an appropriate tribute for Dora — and for the connections she’s made in Sarasota.
“It seemed so fitting for the people who looked forward to seeing her every day,” Nichols said. “We’re so sad about the fact we’re going to lose her.”
Sandy Tessler, a friend of the Nichols, said she understood why those who got to know Dora felt so drawn to her. A big part of it is her smile, Tessler said. Dora is a particularly emotive animal, and her sociable demeanor is hard to resist.
“You know she likes you and you know she’ll take care of you,” Tessler said. “She melts your heart.”
Kathy Nichol agreed, adding that Dora stood out as special even among other Rottweilers she and her husband had owned. Whether it was on Palm Avenue, at the farmers market downtown or the Capitol in Madison, Dora had a way of drawing a crowd. She was smart, friendly, loving.
“She touches these lives, even though it’s just my walking by with her,” Nichol said. “She makes a connection. She brings some happiness.”
Nichol recounted a recent walk she was taking with Dora in Madison. She had an appointment to get to, but on her way, people kept walking up and making conversation about the dog — first a fellow Rottweiler owner, then a woman who knew the director of the rescue group where the Nichols got Dora.
Although she appreciated the camaraderie, Nichol couldn’t ignore the reality that she had a place to be. But as she prepares to say goodbye, she wants to savor the opportunities Dora gives her to forge connections with other people in her communities.
“I’m thinking to myself as I walk: Kathy, don’t be impatient with moments like this, because it won’t be long before you’re walking and people won’t stop you because she’s not with you,” she said. “And I’ll just be Kathy. It struck me — so much of the interaction I have on my walks daily is because of this dog.”
Dora, meanwhile, has basked in the attention she’s received in the four years she’s lived with the Nichols. From the streets of Palm Avenue to her farewell party, Kathy Nichol said Dora’s receptiveness to affection from humans — even strangers — was just another one of the attributes that’s made her so special.
“She’d just sit there and lap it up,” Nichols said. “I think there’s something about her personality that attracts people. She’s always been the favorite everywhere we’ve lived.”