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As lodge mascots, St. Bernards Heidi and Bruno boost morale and elicit smiles
Last year, a group of Timberline Lodge guests came looking for a Heidi.
'She's just flopped on the floor back here talking a nap,' says Kristin Garrett, the front office manager.
The guests were looking for Heidi Mann from sales and catering, but they laughed when they realized Garrett was referring to one of the lodge's St. Bernards, whom guests often ask to see.
Heidi and Bruno are full-time Timberline employees who receive the perks of food, medical benefits, photo shoots, and, of course, love.
'She's a mascot and puts on a smile on people's faces,' says Garrett, Heidi's owner. 'We have guests who make special visits up here just to meet her. It's kind of touching.'
The Heidi tour
On a Friday morning, Nick Harper picks Heidi up from the front office for a nature walk, or 'Heidi tour.' It's one of the U.S. Forest Service's interpretive programs and features a stroll through the high country with a talk about Mount Hood's history and winter ecology.
As the two emerge from the lodge, skiers, snowboarders and lodge guests surround them, and Harper introduces Heidi.
'Oh, hello, sweetheart!'
'What a lady!'
'Can I get a picture of her?'
They're even more tickled to learn Heidi has a younger St. Bernard companion, Bruno, who is owned by Wes Gagnon, Timberline's food and beverage manager.
'She's a morale booster,' Harper says of Heidi, who runs around in the snow, then stops to bury her head and rest. 'She gets these spurts ... crazy, tired. Crazy, tired.'
The tours last however long guests want to hang out with Heidi and play in the snow. The only thing they have to watch for is Heidi's size -- she's 120 pounds and larger than Garrett's teenage daughter.
'She has to be careful. She'll be playing around and accidentally knock a kid over,' Harper says, laughing. 'But the kids love her.'
The first two St. Bernards to call Timberline home in the 1930s were Lady and Bruel.
Huskies became the lodge mascot for a brief period, but after the Kohnstamm family took over management of the lodge in the late 1950s, the St. Bernards were reintroduced.
Timberline staff members estimate between about eight or nine generations of St. Bernards named Heidi and Bruno have called Timberline home since the 1960s.
The current Heidi joined Timberline about 18 months ago as a puppy, while Bruno arrived just before Christmas at 8 weeks old.
In the earlier years, the St. Bernards lived at the lodge, roamed the building and had the run of the mountain while greeting visitors and befriending skiers.
They were featured in ski area brochures, on ski pins and on Timberline Lodge matchbook covers. 'Heidi's Rose,' a 1980s children's book still popular and available in print, is based on the Timberline Heidi and further popularized the pups.
In the 1990s, as the mascot job became more high-stress, Timberline staff noticed the dogs were a little short, a little moody and a little lost. They also tried to follow staff home at night.
'We talked to dog psychologists who said the dogs needed an alpha -- a master -- in their lives,' says Jon Tullis, director of public affairs at Timberline. 'We took it to heart and developed a new policy that the dogs would belong to employees.'
The modern Heidis
Now Timberline St. Bernards come and go with their masters -- both to and from work and when their masters move away from the area. Their time at the lodge depends on the dogs' health and demeanor.
When Garrett heard a buzz that the lodge was planning to get a new Heidi more than 18 months ago, she expressed interest in becoming Heidi's owner.
'It's an ideal way to own a dog,' Garrett says. 'The company takes care of her by paying for her food, handling her vet bills and allowing her to spend the day with me.'
Garrett describes Heidi as member of the family whose photos are framed on the wall just like Garrett's two daughters.
So far, Heidi has done photo shoots for Ralph Lauren, Pottery Barn, Portland Monthly magazine and photographer Hannah Anderson.
'She's very photogenic,' says Pam Connors, a voice recognition software specialist visiting from Portland. 'My dog (a German short-haired pointer) died a couple months ago, and I love any opportunity to hang out with them. Dog energy is something a lot of people should have -- it's unconditional.'
A large painting of Richard Kohnstamm, the man who transformed Timberline into a historic landmark, and a St. Bernard is featured in the entryway of the lodge, highlighting Timberline's history with the dogs.
Back from her tour, Heidi stretches out by the fireplace, and Bruno joins her to flirt with skiers.
Kohnstamm died in 2006, but his son Jeff carries on the tradition of a St. Bernard mascot-in-residence.
'Timberline is a place that celebrates tradition, and one such tradition is being greeted by Heidi or Bruno when visiting the lodge,' said Jeff Kohnstamm, president of RLK and Company, the operators of Timberline Lodge, after Bruno's arrival. 'They have brought so much happiness to people over the years. We are really happy to keep that tradition alive.'
When lodge employees noticed there wasn't current art depicting Heidi and Bruno, they called up Steve Ludeman, a watercolor artist from Welches.
Much of Ludeman's art has revolved around Timberline, a place he and his wife refer to as their second living room, and the mountain, where he was a ski instructor from 1987 to 1999 and has served as a volunteer for the U.S. Forest Service Wilderness Stewardship Program.
As Ludeman painted portraits of the dogs late last summer, memories trickled back of patting Heidi and Bruno's heads and tickling their chins between ski lessons. He now is working on a painting of the newest Bruno (the old one departed with his owner last fall).
'I've always appreciated the dogs and thought of them as part of the legend and mystique of the lodge,' Ludeman says. 'Everybody has a sense of place. Mount Hood and Timberline have an important sense of place for me.'