A mixed-breed named Ella might be the only dog in this long-running series to have the governor himself proclaim a day in celebration of her human dad. When Gary Eichten, the host of Minnesota Public Radio’s Midday call-in program, retired from his 40-plus-year career at the station January 19th, he invited noted dog-lover (and governor) Mark Dayton to be his last guest. The governor returned the favor by proclaiming January 20th Gary Eichten Day in Minnesota, an occasion presumably celebrated by Ella and Gary with some well-deserved R & R. Sidewalk Dog was honored to intrude on Gary’s peaceful retirement to talk with the legendary host and producer about hard-hitting issues like treats, fetch and the canine aristocracy.
Sidewalk Dog: Hi, Gary; how are you?
Gary Eichten: I’m just fine, and Her Doggieness is standing by, eager to be interviewed.
SD: Does she have some witty quotes prepared?
GE: She prefers to ad-lib.
SD: How are you enjoying your retirement so far?
GE: It’s very nice to get off the treadmill for a little bit; to sleep in a little bit and hang around with Miss Ella.
SD: Does Ella enjoy having you around more often?
GE: No! She doesn’t care at all; she’s a mama’s baby. I think she’s a little upset that her relationship with Mom is disrupted. There’s this man in the house.
SD: How did Ella come into your life?
GE: We had two rescue dogs for many years and they both died within a few months of each other in 2008, so we were dogless for a year, but friends were always saying, ‘I have a wonderful dog for you’ or ‘this poor dog needs a home’ and all of that stuff. Many times we got to the altar, but never got married. Finally, a good friend of ours who had worked at the Animal Humane Society made one last gasp to hook us up with a dog. So we said ‘Oh, all right,’ and we looked at the picture and she met all of our criteria. She’s not the prettiest dog in the world, but she’s cute, and she’s big, and she’s old (at the time, 7 years old, best anyone can tell). We went to check her out and of course it was love at first sight, so that was the end of our search.
GE: Queen Ella, Lady Ella, Belle, Belle of the Ball, Ella Bella. Nobody knows what her real name was, since she was found with no tags on, but her name at AHS was Eleanor, which was a nice elegant name, but kind of hard to say. So that devolved into Ella.
And now, a bit more about Queen Ella, as explained by Gary…
Breed: If those DNA tests are correct—some friends of ours gave us one—we sent that in, and although she’s mostly black with a little coloring here and there, it turns out that she’s apparently mostly golden retriever and husky. In fact, we went over to our vet and reported this with some skepticism, but the vet said, ‘no, no—look at the dog: If she were gold-colored, she’d look like a golden retriever.’ She’s a mongrel, she’s a mutt.
Favorite toy: Which one? She’s got a couple dozen—two big toy boxes full of stuff. It’s more a question of the latest acquisition. She’s very maternal about her toys, so she marches around with all of them. I think if all was said and done, it would be her ball. She’s a great fetcher, very athletic, she flies around and brings the ball back right to your hand. She’s very good at it. She really enjoys that.
Favorite treats: She was introduced to Lean Treats by the vet. She eats the hell out of those.
Dog’s favorite place to hang out: She has a chair; I bought her a big stuffed chair that sits in the living room looking out over the picture window. She sits in her chair and kind of gazes out over her queendom.
Favorite dog-friendly store: She loves Frattallone’s Ace Hardware on Grand Avenue. She loves to go in there for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is she gets a lot of treats. They have a nice selection of dog toys, and she knows exactly where they are. She sprints immediately to the dog toy section, picks one out that she likes and she’s a happy camper. Of course, we’re out another 6 or 7 bucks, but that’s OK.
Dog’s best trick: She really doesn’t have any tricks. If you insist, she’ll sit and shake hands, but she really is kind of bored by all that. Just not interested, really. ‘I am Ella, after all, and you’re not.’
Dog’s best friend: She has two good friends: The first is a big Great Pyrenees that lives down the street—Dylan. They’re good buddies, she likes him a lot. And then there’s an old-timer, and I think it’s a love connection. Ozzy is his name. He’s a big chocolate lab, and he’s definitely got an eye for young Ella.
Favorite way to get attention/treats: She doesn’t bother us. She just waits. She’s very easy to live with. She never barked for the first few weeks that she was here and we were concerned that something was wrong with her barker. If you don’t feed her, she just sits around until you feed her. She doesn’t insist that it’s time to get up now; she just sleeps until you get up. She doesn’t actually make any effort at all. She comes around with her toys once in a while, and throws the ball at you if she wants to play, but that’s it. She’s a real charmer. Somebody lost a real good dog when they lost her, and we found a real good one when we found her.
Favorite naughty behavior/bad habit: I can’t think of any. Oh, wait a minute, I take that back. She did crawl up on the table at Christmastime to devour a whole thing of chocolate brownies and cookies. That was a bad, unpleasant trip to the vet, and an expensive trip to the vet.
Be honest: Do you ever use baby talk when speaking to your dog? Oh sure. Of course! [Laughs] Doesn’t everybody?
SD: At least in private.
GE: Sure; you don’t want to make a total fool of yourself.
Is your dog friends with any other celebrity dogs? I don’t think so. She certainly wouldn’t think so. She is the master. She’s the queen. All hail Lady Ella.