by Lorie Lewis Ham
This week we have the honor of interviewing the famous Toy Schnauzer service dog Finnegan McNeil, who even has his very own popular Facebook page. You may notice that because Finnegan is Irish, he has just a wee bit of an accent, which is adorable. Enjoy our chat with him and learn more about service dogs, and this adorable pup!
KRL: Tell us a little about your background and where you came from, how you ended up with your dad, etc?
Finnegan: Winnegan was born in Gainesville, Florida at Tinker Toy Schnauzers, one of five in my litter and one of two that grew up to be toy size. Winnegan is a rare liver-brown Toy Schnauzer, though American Kennel Club registered as a Miniature Schnauzer, since Toy Schnauzers are not recognized by the AKC. Winnegan’s Dwaddy brought me home at seven weeks old. Winnegan is also a chocolate Schnauzer, which means chocolate lips, nose, eyes (with whites) and paw pads. Winnegan’s real name is Finnegan, but Winnegan is the nickname that very good fwriends use because that is Finnegan pronounced with an Irwish accent.
KRL: Can you tell us just a little about your dad? His job, where you guys live? Has he had service animals before? How did he get into service dog work?
Finnegan: Winnegan’s Dwaddy is a retired news media executive and newspaper columnist that now has a real estate company where we live in Panama City Beach, Florida. My Dwaddy also does special assignments for an international news service organization, mostly stories and interviews with technology executive icons. (Dwaddy keeps his private and professional life separate from Winnegan’s life and fame.) Dwaddy got involved with service dogs mostly because of need.
KRL: How and when did you become a service dog?
Finnegan: Dwaddy was diagnosed with an inner ear disorder called Meniere’s disease about the same time that Winnegan was born, in June 2009. Winnegan started with puppy classes at PetSmart, and then Winnegan went through AKC Good Canine training. As Winnegan got older, Dwaddy noticed that Winnegan would begin to get worried and signal him about an hour or so before Dwaddy had a Meniere’s attack. Then one day when Dwaddy and Winnegan were traveling alone, Winnegan noticed that Dwaddy could not hear so Winnegan started notifying Dwaddy that his cell phone was ringing. After all, it might be an important phone call! It developed from there until Winnegan was notifying Dwaddy about texts or email, doorbell rings or smoke or fire alarm sounds. Winnegan starts by muzzling Dwaddy; and if that does get his attention, Winnegan mouths Dwaddy’s hand, or if the door bell rings, Winnegan walks back and forth to the front door; and if all else fails, barks!
In April of 2011, Winnegan was evaluated by a private canine evaluator using the Assistant Dogs International (ADI) standards for a Hearing Alert Service Dog. Winnegan passed and the evaluator wrote a letter of certification. When Winnegan lived in San Francisco, and walked a lot with Dwaddy, Winnegan would even refuse to walk across an intersection unless the light said “Walk”–but Winnegan cheated since the lights in San Francisco have audio signal indicators too, aye!! If Dwaddy wanted to cross (because no traffic was coming) and it said “Do Not Walk,” Winnegan would dig in my heels and refuse to walk! Dwaddy would have to pick me up or drag me across the street with Winnegan protesting all the way! Small breed service dogs are the perfect size for notification service dogs, because they can travel more easily than large breed service dogs. After all, the airlines are not too happy when someone shows up with a large breed service dog because they take up so much room! Also dogs with hair (instead of fur) make much better service dogs because they do not shed if kept properly groomed.
KRL: How did you become so famous?
Finnegan: When Winnegan went on an Alaskan cruise to Alaska, Dwaddy started a Facebook profile for Winnegan so that photos could be easily posted for his grandchildren in Florida. Well, Dwaddy had a lot of fun with it, posting photos of Winnegan copiloting a charter plane (wearing earphones), buzzing glaciers and cruise ships, taking dog sled lessons, chasing bears and other adventures. Winnegan got hundreds of very good fwriend requests each day, so Dwaddy would just accept them. It wasn’t a few months before Winnegan hit the Facebook cap of 5,000 very good fwriends; but they had just started allowing subscribers; so it kept growing until Winnegan had over 80,000 daily visitors to my profile (which was made a public profile) with 43,000 subscribers, over 38,000 friends requests and 5,000 very good fwriends. Last September, Facebook made Winnegan change my profile to a public figure page, but only about 6,500 fwriends and subscribers converted over to the page.
All of Winnegan’s very good fwriends are again finding Winnegan so that they can follow Winnegan’s daily adventures as a service dog and get Winnegan’s daily blessing and axiom zinger. Winnegan is now back with over 70,000 daily visitors as measured by web analytics and growing daily! After Winnegan became so famous, Dwaddy decided that he would use Winnegan’s celebrity to raise public aware of service dogs, especially small breeds and to raise money for charities. The photo that made Winnegan the most famous was one of Winnegan wee-weeing on Facebook’s sign in Palo Alto to show them what Winnegan’s very good fwriends thought of the new timeline profile.
KRL: How did you end up on Twitter?
Finnegan: Winnegan got a Twitter account in April 2013, mostly as an experiment to see how well Twitter fans like Winnegan. Seven months later, Winnegan now has almost 8,000 very good followers! Winnegan’s second biggest countries for very good fwriends are England on Facebook and Saudi Arabia on Twitter.
KRL: How did you end up with your own Yelp?
Finnegan: Dwaddy originally started Winnegan on Yelp to review how well businesses treated and coped with service dogs. However, Winnegan wrote a famous Yelp review about how I howled during a San Francisco Symphony at Davies Symphony Hall. After that, Winnegan was famous with both Yelpers and Yelp employees! Everyone thought it was funny, which it was afterwards—but at the time, it was very embarrassing for Dwaddy!
KRL: What do you like best about being a service dog?
Finnegan: One of the best things about being a Service Dog is that Winnegan gets to go everywhere with Dwaddy. Even the bathroom; after all, I have to take very good care of Dwaddy, aye!! Another best thing is raising money for charities! Winnegan has now raised over $30,000 dollars for service dog organizations and animal rescue organizations; and Winnegan has now been offered five-figure coffee table book deals, which Winnegan will probably do soon for the benefit of charities and public education about small breed service dogs, aye! But the very best thing is Winnegan’s very good fwriends, who have traveled over 4,000 miles to meet Winnegan in person, aye!!! Winnegan’s very good fwriends are awesome!
KRL: What is the hardest part?
Finnegan: The hardest part of training is that Winnegan does not pay attention to other animals, children or even food when I have my Service Dog harness on! That is the part that many dogs cannot do with any amount of training. Dwaddy can even set Winnegan in the middle of a flock of chickens and Winnegan will just sit there, watching them! Service dogs also do not eat or even urinate or defecate except when permission is given to do so!
It is also very hard sometimes when Dwaddy and Winnegan encounter someone that no wants to let Winnegan into their business or other public area; but we have only had this happen four times in almost three years. In late 2012, Winnegan was denied entrance to a restaurant in Northern Alabama. After Dwaddy said something about it on Winnegan’s profiles, that restaurant could not use their phone or fax machine for almost two days because of Winnegan fans calling them! Winnegan’s very good fwriends called the Governor of Alabama (who happens to know Dwaddy personally), the Police Chief and the Mayor of the town and five top executives of the restaurant chain. They finally agreed to remedial American Disability Act training for employees at over 40,000 locations as well as to make it an integral part of their new employee orientation! They did not want a Federal Civil Rights violation being filed against them.
KRL: Tell us about your snappy wardrobe.
Finnegan: Dwaddy bought Winnegan some clothes because when we lived in San Francisco, because as Floridians we were both freezing, even in the summer! As Winnegan got more famous, my wardrobe just very good expanded from clothes he bought and that Winnegan’s very good fwriends have sent from all over the world! Many of them come from very good fwriends that bought clothes for their dogs when they were puppies, but that they have now out grown. Winnegan now has over 200 articles of clothing and costumes, over 150 “lwids” (hats) and over 200 bandanas!
KRL: I see you travel a lot–can you tell us a little about your traveling?
Finnegan: Winnegan has traveled well over 60,000 air miles (commercial and private) and well over 25,000 road miles. Winnegan has even wee weed in 43 states in the United States, five of the Canadian provinces and one territory! Winnegan always travels in my pet seat carrier (with reinforcement anchor strap) that doubles as a backpack and two wheel luggage cart, aye! You can read a newspaper story about one of the cruise trips that Winnegan and Dwaddy took at this link: http://www.sdjewishworld.com/2011/08/23/cruise-passengers-trail-in-finnegans-wake/
KRL: What do you like best about being on social media?
Finnegan: Having very good fwriends in 89 countries around the world is the best part! Winnegan fans are very loyal and devoted! It can be challenging though! If the groomer cuts Winnegan’s moustache much more than 1/4-of-an-inch, Winnegan fans start emailing complaints! They like Winnegan’s very good moustache to be long, aye! Sometime it is hard, especially when Dwaddy needs to buy groceries in a hurry and has to get somewhere for a meeting; and Winnegan and Dwaddy get mobbed with fans wanting to take photos! Dwaddy says that because of all the popularity that Winnegan has gotten big headed and that sometimes Winnegan gets upset if people no come up and say aye to me, but Winnegan denies that, aye!!
Learn even more on Finnegan’s website!
KRL: Anything else you would like to add?
Finnegan: Winnegan will only walk to Dwaddy’s left side because that is where I was trained to walk; Winnegan’s late brother Oscar always walked on the right side. And Winnegan’s very favorite food? Very good fresh Shwrimp, of course, preferably from the Very Big Lwake (Gulf of Mexico) where Winnegan lives!
Please tell all of Winnegan’s very good frwiends how much Winnegan very much appreciates and loves them, aye! Thanks!!!
You can learn even more about Finnegan and his adventures, and about service dogs, on his website!
You can find more animal rescue, therapy & service animal, and other pet related articles in our pet section.