Lola, Beacon, Otto And Atticus: Sag Harbor Arts Community Embraces New Puppies

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"I’m so tired. He so isn’t." Nick Gazzolo with his new puppy, Atticus.

There are four new faces in town — puppy faces, that is.

First is Lola, a 3-month-old mini bernedoodle whose sass and sweetness match her name. Then, there’s Beacon, a defiant, 16-week-old cockapoo who loves attention and will stop at nothing to get it.

Otto, a mini Australian shepherd, is charming, smart and fearless at nearly 3 months old, consistently making eye contact under his expressive brows. And rounding out the quartet, also 3 months old, is Atticus, a confident, mostly chill mini bernedoodle with an adorable shock of white hair on top of his head.

And coincidentally, at almost exactly the same time, all four pups landed in the homes of prominent Sag Harbor arts figures, who just so happen to be friends — author Emma Walton Hamilton and director Stephen Hamilton; Bay Street Theater Executive Director Tracy Mitchell; author Susan Merrell; and Nick Gazzolo, board member of the Sag Harbor Partnership, and writer Renee Shafransky.

“I think this is all that really matters in the world,” Ms. Merrell said with a laugh on Monday afternoon, playfully shooing a persistent Otto. “This is just such a sweet thing because these guys are all so precisely the same age that they’ll probably be playing together for life.”

The meeting of minds — and soon to be puppies, once they’ve had their vaccines — was facilitated by Nada Barry, owner and proprietor of The Wharf Shop, who noticed the sudden surge of puppies around the village.

And it wasn’t for the first time.

About 10 years ago, Ms. Merrell, Mr. Gazzolo and Ms. Shafransky, and the Hamiltons all adopted dogs within a few weeks of each other, and started meeting at the field next to Havens Beach for puppy play dates.

They called it “Wag Harbor.”

“Now, all of a sudden, what’s so sweet is that it’s happening all over again,” Ms. Walton Hamilton said. “So it’s ‘Wag Harbor 2.0.’”

But the pack will be missing two of its original members — Hitchcock, who died suddenly in December, Mr. Gazzolo said, and Waffle, one month earlier, Ms. Merrell said.

“It’s such a complete, sad disruption when you’re not bending your days around this being,” Ms. Merrell said. “Waffle was so special and, now, Otto is so special, and I think that’s sort of the way it is. If you’re lucky, you got a couple of them to love.”

Coming into this new chapter, Wag Harbor 2.0 will welcome Ms. Mitchell and Beacon, named not only for the restaurant, but also for the phrase “beacon of hope.”

Susan Merrell snuggles her new puppy, Otto.

“In all honesty, he’s been a lifesaver, he really has,” she said. “He’s just been a godsend, a great diversion from life’s lows these days and getting through the remainder of COVID stuff — and currently with the pressure of my job.”

She half-laughed and half-groaned, referring to the recent news of Bay Street Theater’s proposed relocation and rebuild. “There’s a few little things going on.”

Through it all, Beacon has stuck by her side since she brought him home on March 6 — “He will not leave you,” she said —  no matter how demanding her days may be.

“You can try and work all you want, but he’s going to be right there, nipping and playing and making sure the toy that he picks at that moment during a board meeting is gonna be the loudest squeaking thing he can find, and he’s gonna bring it right up on your lap,” she said. “He’s just a bundle of joy and, I’ll tell you, when you’ve had a bad day — or any kind of day, for that matter — he just makes it beyond glorious when you walk through the door. He is just too cute for words.”

About three weeks ago, the Hamiltons were the next to bring their puppy home. So far, Lola has blended seamlessly with the humans of the household, Ms. Walton Hamilton said, who plays the “mom” role. Her husband is very much “the dad,” and their children — Sam and Hope — are like her littermates.

Louie, the family’s 10-year-old goldendoodle, on the other hand, is not particularly amused.

“There’s a lot of flirting and rolling over on her back and then, if that doesn’t work, barking at him and jumping up and playing with his beard — a lot of silliness,” Ms. Walton Hamilton said. “He’s such a patient boy, except when she tries to steal his Frisbee and then it’s a big loud ‘no.’”

Slowly, Lola is forming friendships with miniature and moyen poodles Button and Barney, who belong to Julie Andrews, Ms. Walton Hamilton’s mother, who lives nearby in Sag Harbor.

Stephen Hamilton and Emma Walton Hamilton with their dog, Louie, and new puppy, Lola.

“The miniature, who is the same age as our old dog, is just not very interested,” Ms. Walton Hamilton said. “But the medium one is so sweet with her. His name is Barney, but we call him Uncle Barney because every time Lola comes over, he’s like, ‘Hey! Lola! Chase me! I’ll play with you!’ He’s just really kind.”

On Monday, Ms. Merrell’s senior cat, Olive, was busy hiding in the basement from an enthusiastic Otto, clumsily trying to make his way down the stairs. “You are literally too young to do this,” she semi-chided him.

“He’s a very unusual dog, I can already tell, in all ways,” she said. “He’s just like, ‘I can do that. Whatever it is, I can do it.’ He doesn’t want to be carried up and down stairs, he wants to do it all by himself.”

Closing out one week of living with Otto, Ms. Merrell said it’s going remarkably well. He is affectionate and calm, positive and friendly, and even sits with her and her husband, Jim, while they meditate in the morning.

“We’re really happy,” she said. “As we are starting to see ourselves emerging from this last crazy year, there’s some feeling of hope that, probably, people feel in all different ways of wanting to do something generative — write something, paint something, raise something.

“We’ve had a lot of sadness, and I think having something positive and hopeful, it feels like a really important time for that,” she continued. “It’s like, what do you want to spend your time doing, if you feel less sure about time?”

For Mr. Gazzolo, Atticus has already proven to be a light in the darkness, he said, a place of comfort and sweetness in his daily life for the last week. Just taking a walk down Main Street is always an adventure, he said.

“He meets, no kidding, an Irish wolfhound, 10 times his size,” Mr. Gazzolo said. “And he’s just talking all this trash to this wolfhound, and we’re like, ‘Maybe don’t pick a fight with a breed that has “wolf” in their name, when you have “mini” and “doodle” in your name.’”

He interrupted himself, bursting out laughing at the memory.

“Puppies are wonderful,” Mr. Gazzolo said, “and having a dog in Sag Harbor is that much more amazing because it is such a community, and you can see the same people, and they’ll get to know you and your dog, and love your dog, and ask about your dog — and you just feel that sense of ‘the village.’ Being a part of that is such a sweet part of the social fabric here.”

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