By Priya Hutner
Michelle, along with her certified therapy dogs, Mike the Dog, left, and George the Beagle visit children in hospitals and veterans. | Joy Strotz Photography
“You cannot control the tragedies that happen to you, you can only control how you react to the them,” says Michelle Okashima, owner of Hot Diggity Dog and Cat in Kings Beach, explaining that this quote is close to her heart.
Michelle has experienced deep grief in her life and it is this pain that has fostered her desire to make a difference in the world. Michelle dedicates her life to giving back to others. Along with her two closest companions, Mike the Dog and George the Beagle, both certified therapy dogs, they spread joy to people with their love.
The bright, yellow house on North Lake Boulevard is where I met up with Michelle, Mike and George. Mikes’ stocky four-legged frame rests at the top of the stairs watching me intently. George, on the other hand, is eager to connect.
I reach into my pocket to offer them a treat, when I realize the irony of offering a paltry store-bought organic Milk Bone in a shop is filled with fresh-baked gourmet dog and cat confections.
The shelves are filled with an abundance of pet toys, my mind flashes to the busy bee scene from Best in Show.
“Mike has the personality of a laid back surfer, he’s an easy going, go-with-flow type, while George is the outgoing ambassador ready for a parade,” Michelle says. Both dogs are keenly attuned to the needs of their human counterparts.
Michelle has been volunteering for community organizations and training dogs for as long as she can remember.
“I’ve always had a passion for dogs and horses,” she says.
She also had volunteered for Pet Network helping to find homes for hard-to-place breeds.
In 2003, tragedy struck when Michelle’s father was murdered after taking in a family in need.
“He was the sweetest and most giving person I knew,” Michelle says. Her father’s death triggered PTSD for Michelle.
“I realized I had a choice, I could become an empty shell of a person wandering around doing nothing or make my community and the world around me a better place,” she says. Michelle set out to use her story, so that her father’s death wasn’t in vain. “I am my father’s daughter,” she adds.
In 2006, she rescued Mike, a certified therapy dog that makes the rounds visiting children in hospitals and veterans in the facilities in the area.
“People are drawn to Mike. They want to talk to him. He tends to draw people out to help them express themselves,” she explains.
“I remember visiting the Veterans’ Hospital and a man started calling out to Mike, ‘Hey, Tigger.’ The man thought Mike was Buster Brown’s dog from the 1940’s,” she adds. She found an image of the dog and Mike does bear a resemblance to Tigger.
Mike also provides a service for people in physical therapy. Michelle explains that massaging and petting Mike helps people with mobility and dexterity in their hands.
Mike the Dog also is a star. He performed in a performance at the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival and was featured in a demonstration video for the Humane Society. And, then, there is George, the most outgoing of the family. He is a trick dog. He waves, offers a high five, plays dead and rings a bell.
“George is the king of the household. He tells us when it’s time to get up, have breakfast and go out,” Michelle says.
Michelle recently launched a new business called Nose with a Notion, a company that sells products to raise funds for local charitable organizations. She holds up a purple, stuffed bone, “This is a Bark For Life Bone, all the proceeds benefit cancer research.”
John and Linda Eissman of Leaning Dog Stuffies create the colorful, stuffed pet toys. And, Holly Redpath, owner of Sierra Essentials, provides candles to support the cause.
Hot Diggity Dog and Cat and Nose For a Notion support numerous organizations locally including Bark for Life, Paws 4 Love, Feed the Family, Dog Days in the Park, Relay For Life/Bark for Life, The American Cancer Society, Paws to Read, the D.G. Menchetti Young Shakespeare program and Toys for Tots.
Mike and George also can be found at the Veterans Day Parade in Reno and the Thanksgiving Community Feed in Tahoe.
Altruism comes naturally to Michelle Okashima, and so for Mike and George they, too, are willing participants to be of service. Michelle says that she also is focused on growing her business and hopes to write a children’s book someday.
Michelle is looking for local artists who are interested in creating products for Nose for a Notion to help support its efforts. If anyone is interested, contact Michelle.
Hot Diggity Dog and Cat is located at 8675 North Lake Blvd. in Kings Beach or call (530) 546-2725.
Michelle Okashima is dedicated to spreading joy. | Joy Strotz Photography