St. Paul, Minn. Ever since he was a puppy, Bob liked to put his distinctive jowls around plastic bottles.
Now, it's an obsession.
Bob, a 5-year-old classic English bulldog owned by Edward Baxter and Carol Kusnierek of St. Paul, has become famous in his neighborhood for hunting down and carrying home discarded plastic pop bottles. The streets around his house are cleaner because of it, and he has literally become the poster dog for a local anti-litter campaign.
"He's a fanatic about it," says Baxter, who bought Bob five years ago from a breeder. "If we don't find a bottle, we have to drag him back home."
Bob may be a victim of his own success. He becomes visibly disappointed when he doesn't find a trophy to bring home on one of his walks.
"Nothing, Bob," Baxter says to his dog when they reach a bottleless sewer grate. That's the verbal command that tells Bob it's time to move reluctantly on.
Bob is an eye-catching specimen round as a butterball turkey and weighing in at 68 pounds. He's also ear-catching; as he snuffles along the sidewalk, peering left and right for booty, he makes a deep, throaty noise that Baxter and Kusnierek call "the motor."
Bob gets to cruise the block several times a day. He doesn't begin earnestly hunting for bottles until he knows the walk is at least halfway over, so he doesn't have to carry the bottle any longer than necessary. When he finds one, he crushes it with his teeth and marches home with it.
In the past five years, Bob has found more than 1,500 bottles, all of which end up being recycled by Baxter and Kusnierek.
"He can only manage one per walk, but every time he goes out, he tries to get one," Kusnierek says. "We didn't teach him. He took to it naturally.
"First, he'd pick up anything. For quite a while, he'd pick up aluminum cans, until he realized it was not a good idea in winter. Now, he picks up plastic bottles. His favorites are Mountain Dew, but he'll pick up water bottles, too. He's not fussy about size a 2-liter bottle is a struggle, but he's been known to do it."
It's easy to see the effect Bob has on kids, neighbors and strangers during his walks around the North End streets. "He's quite famous in the neighborhood," Kusnierek says.
Some of the kids think Bob's name is "Bottles." And kids aren't the only ones who want Bob to go home satisfied.
Baxter was walking Bob two weeks ago at about 1 a.m. when a squad car pulled up. The officer leaned out the window and said, "How come he doesn't have a bottle?"
"We're looking," Baxter told the officer.
The squad car pulled away, drove about two blocks down the street, then did a U-turn and drove back. The officer rolled down his window and said, "Here, Bob," and threw the dog a plastic bottle.
On a recent walk, Baxter and Bob passed letter carrier Bob Noha, who, like most postal route workers, says he knows every dog in the neighborhood. He says Bob rates "pretty high" on the friendly scale.
Bob's fame eventually spread to the office of Janice Rettman, District 6 county commissioner. A poster of Bob with a bottle in his mouth was used to convey an anti-litter message in the February issue of the district newsletter.
Baxter and Kusnierek hope Bob will inspire everyone who sees him to keep the streets clean.
"We'd like to think he has had an effect," Baxter says. "Over the last six or eight months, we've found fewer bottles."
"I think kids think twice about throwing bottles around," Kusnierek says. "Except when they see Bob coming.
"Then, they throw one for the pleasure of seeing Bob pick it up."