By Peter Jones, Staff Writer
Reprinted with permission from the Littleton Independent & Centennial Citizen
It’s a dog day afternoon at a bank lobby in western Centennial.
A tough named Bronco waits in line for the next teller, nervously clutching his checkbook between his teeth. A few bank customers are on to him. Something does not seem quite right.
It is not every day that a Labrador retriever saunters into a financial institution and makes a deposit – much less at midday, when there is virtually no one waiting at the drive-through window.
“Okay, Bronco,” a teller says, prompting the four-legged regular to put paws to counter and drop his moistened deposit materials.
“They gave him his own, checkbook,” explains, Vicky Kirkland, Bronco’s trainer and human companion. “I just put my deposit in there and send him in.”
She even gets cash back.
The arrangement came in hand after Kirkland endured a difficult medical procedure several years ago.
“It really hurt to walk,” she says. “It really got to the point where I’d just open the bank door and send him in. He’s pretty good at waiting, but sometimes he’ll butt in line.”
It is little wonder 10-year-old Bronco deposits the checks. As a professional “tirck” animal it is unclear who throws who a bone in the Kirkland household. Every dog has his day – but not necessarily as the subject of a legally binding custody arrangement.
“If I had gone to court, the likelihood is I would have lost Bronco altogether,” Kirkland said, “so my ex-husband and I negotiated joint custody.”
When Bronco is with Mom, he joins his half-brother, Haines in the dog-eat-dog world of show business and canine training.
By virtue of single-handedly rolling themselves into blankets and winning shell games that have foiled many humans, the siblings have made the local TV news. “Old dog,” Haines has even performed his “new tricks” on Animal Planet’s “Pet Star” program.
Bronco was not always top dog, though. For nine months, he was a less than successful service animal to a handicapped owner.
“When (service training) doesn’t work out, they send the dog back to the trainer. He had a career change,” Kirkland explained.
A Wagging success, her Littleton dog-training company, offers a “progressive” program that runs the gamut – from doggie “manners” and standard “sit commands to tricks and service training.
When Bronco is not performing or serving as a teacher’s aide, he follows Kirkland to the Goodson Recreation Center, where he patiently waits outside as his owner works out. In nearly a decade he has become something of a Goodson institution.
“I love Bronco,” said Mary Marx, who has often stopped to keep Bronco company over the last five years. “I used to carry dog food in my car all the time for him because he expects me to feed him.”
Bronco silently maintains his regular perch as children, parents and senior citizens make their friendly rounds.
“Everyone knows his name,” Kirkland said. “I’ve seen people come out here and have full conversations with him.”
It helps that Bronco has undergone “desensitization” training, rendering the dog’s patience virtually full-proof, as children climb, ride and otherwise kid-handle the stoic canine. He is typically adorned in holiday duds, sunglasses, cowboy gear, Easter Bunny ears, a fishing hat or other fashion accoutrements.
Goodson patrons have had to be careful what they feed Bronco, though. The dog was diagnosed with cancer in the soft tissue of his leg several years ago. He is now in remission.
“He has two more chemo treatments,” Kirkland said, “He is in the 26 percent range of survival now, but that may be with the amputation of the leg.”
Bronco may soon be named an honorary Goodson board member or an official mascot. An ornament of a Labrador wearing a cowboy hat hangs on the Christmas tree in his honor.
“(I have a) picture of him with his hat and glasses on,” Marx said. It sits in my bedroom, so when I get up, I look at it and I’m happy right away. Just look at those eyes. He is so friendly and gentle.”