In dog-eat-dog world of lodging, Cottonwood canine has a leg up

Posted: Thursday, August 19, 2004

COTTONWOOD, Idaho Some of the best views in the tiny farming community of Cottonwood can be seen through the eyes of a dog.

Well, technically, through the temples of a giant, dog-shaped bed and breakfast.

The big dog, known as Sweet Willy Colton to his owners, opened for business this summer southeast of Lewiston.

''He was originally going to be a billboard, but over dinner one night in 1998 one of us said, 'What if it was a bed and breakfast?''' said Dennis Sullivan, Sweet Willy's creator and owner of Dog Bark Park. ''We scribbled some plans out on a napkin that night.''

Dennis and his wife, Frances Conklin, built the 35-foot beagle over the next several years, while maintaining their chain saw art business and gift shop.

Sweet Willy's accommodations are bigger than they appear from the outside. Weary travelers can freshen up in the bathroom, appropriately housed in Willy's hindquarters. A bed, bookshelf, table and breakfast bar take up Willy's stomach.

And those who climb the ladder to Willy's nose find a loft, complete with board games and another sleeping space snuggled in the snout.

''When honeymooners come, we might put in a bottle of champagne or some bubble bath, and when anniversary couples come we might put in flowers,'' Conklin said. ''We try to keep sort of personal little treats around.''

The beagle bed and breakfast grew out of their main business carving wooden dogs of all breeds using chain saws.

''I carve the head and tail and Frances does everything in between,'' Sullivan said. ''I started about 20 years ago. It wasn't a mid-life crisis, I just didn't want to be a general contractor anymore.''

Sullivan was interested in the folksy craft of chain saw art, but found most artists were making bears or eagles. He chose to carve dogs instead, starting with the beagle.

He branched out into Labradors, spaniels, shepherds and sheep dogs, even carving a series of chain saw sculptures depicting Seaman, Meriwether Lewis' beloved pet Newfoundland.

Now Sullivan and Conklin are veterans of home shopping network QVC, selling thousands of the carved canines when featured on the show a few years ago, he said. Visitors to their gift shop can have their own pet immortalized through a personalized carving.

Their dogs are identifiable through an obedience tag and a red bandanna, Conklin said.

''The dog tag shows they're licensed, and the bandanna shows they've been through obedience training they'll stay and be quiet,'' she said.

The couple moves through the carvings quickly. Each dog is cut from a wooden slab, using a template and a scroll saw. Then, using a chain saw, Conklin cuts out the legs and shapes the back before passing the piece to Sullivan, who saws the head and tail. The sculpture is painted, licensed and set out for display with the rest of the animals at Dog Bark Park.

They decided to build a bigger dog to draw travelers to the business, which sits on property bordering U.S. Highway 95.

Sweet Willy's predecessor, 12-foot Toby, still watches over the business. But to Sullivan and Conklin, bigger is always better at least when it comes to beagles.

''Once word got out that we were planning to build a bigger one, people kept asking when it would be finished,'' Sullivan said. ''Part of the reason for building it was the process. I wanted to enjoy building the dog. So I used to say it was guaranteed to be finished by 2050, or two weeks earlier if the weather holds.''

Hundreds of yards of rebar and 21 tons of concrete later, Sweet Willy was finished. Along the way, Sullivan said he learned a few things.

''The ears are made out of carpet and they're 14 feet long. You have to tie them down when you're up there, or they'll push you off the scaffolding if they catch a breeze,'' he said.

Conklin and Sullivan kept the inside rooms of the dog rounded, mimicking the outside of the structure. The rounded shape made interior construction especially difficult, Sullivan said.

''I'd get frustrated, but one visitor told me that if you ever get discouraged, think of the people driving buy with a smile when they see your dog,'' Sullivan said. ''It brought me back to what this should be. Of course, we're in this business to make money, but we could use a little smile once in a while too.''

Sweet Willy is frequently booked, Sullivan said, and he and Conklin don't want to limit business. Plans are in the works for more big dogs for boarders.

''It may be renamed Jurassic Bark by the time we're finished,'' Sullivan said.



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