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Posted on Sat, Dec 12, 2009 : 8:55 p.m.

Ann Arbor's Salvation Army kettle drive gets help from Howie the dog

By Erica Hobbs

Salvation Army of Washtenaw County bell ringers got a little help from a furry friend Saturday.

Howie, a 4-year-old terrier-beagle mix, did his part to give back this holiday season by taking people’s donations and dropping them into the red kettle at the Borders store in downtown Ann Arbor.

“We wanted to do something good, and he’s a fast learner,” said owner Valerie Wells of Ann Arbor. “We thought we’d put that to good use by helping out the less fortunate.”

The Salvation Army collects money throughout the year to provide food, clothing and other services to families in need. The local corp's holiday Red Kettle Campaign is its biggest fundraiser of the year, with a 2009 goal of $600,000.

Wells and Howie started volunteering for the Salvation Army last year and raised $1,200.

Though today’s total was not available, Wells said she thinks having the dog makes her more approachable during the fundraising effort.

“He had a lot of his tricks out there, so it kind of drew people to him a little,” she said. “Kids thought it was kind of cool, so that was a big draw.”

Howie’s tricks included playing the piano, ringing a bell and pressing his “easy” button, skills Wells has trained him with since birth using only positive training techniques.

In addition to volunteering with the Salvation Army, Howie is a therapy dog with Therapaws of Michigan.