While painted turtles may be the first thing that comes to mind when you mentions Longville, “The Turtle Racing Capitol of the World,” Bruno, the Town Dog should be a close second.
The furry brown Chesapeake-Lab mix —maybe even part wolf — has been a fixture of life in Longville for about 12 years now.
In all seasons of the year, Bruno makes almost daily trips into town from his home with Larry and Debbie LaVallee, 4 miles north on Hwy. 84, then back, loping along the shoulder or down the center line of the road. Sometimes he make a couple of round trips a day, although he’s been known to accept rides from locals who know where he lives.
Once in Longville, he follows a route that includes stops at the back door of Tabaka’s Grocery for handouts; the front door of the One Stop for more treats; and in the summer, Frosty’s Ice Cream Parlor!
From the post office to the library and practically every business, Bruno roams the downtown area, stopping now and then to rest in a doorway, bask in the sun or accept a few pats on the head.
He’s also been known to plop down in the middle of the road where Highway 84 and County 5 meet, forcing traffic to stop or drive around him.
Bruno began his wandering ways when he was young, following the garbage truck Larry drove into town. As a pup, Bruno had been dumped off in a box near the LaVallee’s driveway, and somebody brought him to their door, thinking he was theirs. The LaVallees, who’d recently lost their own dog, took him in, and he and Larry soon became buddies.
“Every year when people return to Longville, one of the first things they ask is, ‘Did Bruno make it through the winter?’” one Longville resident related. “He’s an important part of the town; a goodwill ambassador.”
Last year, the resident (who wants to remain anonymous) began thinking about having a statue of Bruno created.
Bronze turned out to be too expensive. However a wood sculpture was feasible and affordable. The resident had seen works by sculptor Paul Albright at his studio on Hwy. 34 near Akeley and approached him about the project. Albright accepted and visited Bruno last June to take some photos.
Meanwhile, word spread throughout Longville. Donation jars were placed out, and individuals and organizations started donating money and sharing stories about Bruno.
“One donor told how she’d gone into town on a bitterly-cold winter day to return a library book for a friend. In front of the library was Bruno, lying in the cold and snow. Loading him into her car, she drove back to her friend’s house and announced, “I’ve saved this dog from the cold.”
The friend took a look at the furry passenger and responded, “That’s Bruno! Take him back into town — this is what he does!”
The fundraising response was “wonderful.” From kids to adults, dimes to dollars, the money came in — enough to cover the cost of the sculpture.
Paul Albright has been sculpting for 30 years, mostly commissioned works. With this piece, he says his goal is to represent Bruno’s general attitude and personality through posture, wood choice and positioning.
He describes Bruno as a “laid back, independent, friendly dog,” who takes pride in his community, and reflects any number of small towns in the area — and, of course, how he was raised by Larry.
The sculpture of Bruno will show him lying down, with head turned and ears back, Yoda-like, friendly and alert. The black walnut wood will closely resemble the color of his coat, with an oil finish applied. It should be completed around mid-April.
The sculpture will be pedestalled on a simulated boulder that will have areas projecting out to allow for photo ops by visitors.
“I have always had a dog in my life and have met many dogs,” Albright added, “but this one stands out for many reasons. Once you meet him, you will know what I mean. And your reasons may be different than mine.”
The sculpture of Bruno will be installed this spring in a garden site between Guidepoint Pharmacy and the Longville Post Office on Main Street. A granite plaque will list those who donated $100 or more. Local artist Tom Kutschied gave his own “boost” to the fundraising effort, offering to paint a 9-by-12 inch portrait of the donor’s pet for anyone willing to increase their donation from $100 to $150. However that offer has now closed.
Donations are still being accepted at the Longville branch of First National Bank, for the Community Fund for Bruno account. They will be used to make a winter cover for the sculpture and to buy supplies to keep it maintained.