Search, rescue and therapy dog doubles as mascot at Franco Harris’ Super Bakery
Oakley the border collie is much more than the unofficial mascot at a bakery’s office in McCandless.
She’s a 4-year-old certified search, rescue dog that has helped sniff out clues in a number of emergencies.
She’s also a therapy dog.
The bakery’s owner is none other than Pittsburgh Steelers Hall-of-Famer Franco Harris.
Harris extended an office invitation about three years ago to Oakley to “work” at Harris’ Super Bakery, alongside Oakley’s owner and bakery employee Jackie Harris (no relation).
Oakley is certified through the International Police Work Dog Association (IPWDA) as a wilderness and human remains search dog.
Oakley’s intensive wilderness search certification included training on picking up the scent of a live subject from sniffing the scent flowing on air currents.
Oakley has worked on numerous search and rescue missions in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
She most recently helped in the search for Nalani Johnson, the Penn Hills toddler found dead in Indiana County.
In her role as therapy dog, Oakley regularly visits patients at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, Passavant and Cumberland Crossing hospitals.
Jackie Harris accompanies Oakley everywhere. They are volunteers, never receiving compensation for their services.
Oakley goes to work with Jackie Harris at Super Bakery’s corporate offices.
“When Jackie mentioned a rescue/therapy dog, I really didn’t know what to expect,” Franco said. “But, then, when Oakley came in … the personality of this dog, you just gravitate right away. And she just really grows on you, and you get attached.”
Oakley serves as a mascot of sorts, hanging out in Jackie’s office, cruising the hallways, relaxing in the conference room, enjoying her favorite snacks, like ice cream, and even greeting visitors at the door.
Franco affectionately calls her “Fido.”
“I’m not sure he ever calls her Oakley,” Jackie Harris said.
Franco said he is impressed with how much Oakley helps people through her volunteering rescue and therapy efforts.
“This dog is incredible,” he said. “Jackie shares stories on what she’s doing and the results of having Oakley with her. It makes you go ‘wow’ and I’m thankful for all that this dog does.”
Oakley even provided therapy in-house at Super Bakery when a co-worker died and Franco and his entire staff were grieving.
“She could just tell how sad everybody was, especially Franco, and she was like, all over him, just trying to comfort him and stuff,” said Cindy Eastley, office manager. “It’s really great having her here.”
Oakley has her own chair and blanket in Jackie’s office and, unlike her co-workers, Oakley is allowed to sleep on the job.
“She is as happy as can be coming to work, even on a Monday,” Harris said. “Oakley rushes out to the doorway each time it opens, as Franco’s son, Dok, is her favorite treat giver.”
Because of the unpredictable nature of search and rescue, Oakley and Harris are able to deploy right from Super Bakery.
She said having a pet-friendly workplace is a blessing.
“I’m grateful to Franco as it allows me to volunteer effectively as a search dog handler, responding quickly. I can leave for Children’s Hospital right from work. I couldn’t otherwise do that because I live so far away in Beaver County (one hour) from work.”
Oakley serves as a search and rescue team member for both Lawrence County in Pennsylvania and Tyler County in West Virginia.
Oakley has been deployed on eight “call outs” since receiving her search and rescue certification last year. It required several years of training.
“Most of the calls that we have had are HRD — human remains detection — finding bodies,” Harris said. “K9 teams require both a handler and a dog and I have to know how to ‘read’ Oakley. I work with her everyday. I can read her change in body language.”
One water search on the Shenango River was quick, with Oakley locating a drowning victim from a boat within 20 minutes of arriving on scene.
“I was so very proud of her, and myself at that moment (as her handler). Many investigators, police and first responders were on shore watching my little girl do her wonderful job. It was a very proud moment for me and we were able to bring closure and a loved one home,” Harris said.
Joyce Hanz is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.