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Downtown Dogs: Gertie

Photos By Hillary Ehlen

Bringing your dog to work is starting to catch on in the Fargo-Moorhead area. Businesses around the metro are adopting a more pet-friendly environment in their offices. Not only is it comforting for the animals, but pet-friendly offices have proven to be less stressful on workers, regardless of the type of workplace.

Before this pet-friendly office craze began, there was an original pioneer in the movement. Her name is Gertie and she has been greeting patrons of Vinyl Giant and Game Giant since the business opened.

Erica Sponsler and Aaron Swinkels are Gertie’s owners and have been bringing Gertie to work with them since the beginning. While they now occupy space on Second Avenue in Downtown Fargo, Gertie was roaming the aisles of the former Vinyl Giant location on 13th Avenue too. Her welcoming demeanor and big puppy smile have long been staples of the business. It’s also helped attract customers into Vinyl Giant and Game Giant too.

According to Sponsler, they can really only estimate what Gertie’s lineage is. “Our best guess is German Shorthaired Pointer Mix, probably some lab too,” she said. For how friendly Gertie is now, that was not the case in the beginning.

Both Sponsler and Swinkels were looking to adopt another dog after their previous pup was tragically hit by a car at a young age. After grieving and mourning, they decided to get another dog and were looking at a rescue in Pelican Rapids, Minnesota, when they found Gertie.

“We got Gertie from a rescue in Park Rapids, Minnesota, six years ago in September. At the time, she didn’t appear to have many connections with humans and was distant. She was picked up as a stray,” said Sponsler. “She was a master escape artist when she first came home with us, but once she understood we were going to keep her safe, she has become the most loyal of dogs.”

Swinkels recalls times when they first got Gertie where he would leave the door open a crack at their home. While he had his back turned, Gertie would scamper out of the house and into the wild. Needless to say, there were several search parties (on multiple occasions) the first few months Gertie was in their home.

Another issue that Sponsler and Swinkels have had is determining just how old Gertie is. They were not given a clear age when they first adopted her and she certainly does not show any specific age to them. Yet, they do have an estimate. “This lady has never revealed her age to us, but we think she is seven-eightish years old,” said Sponsler.

From a once shy and frightened dog, Gertie has become quite the social butterfly at the store. Now, when Swinkels leaves the doors to the store open (almost always), Gertie will not run out. She will simply plop herself in front of those open doors and wait for the next customer to come in or she’ll simply watch the world go by. When a customer does come in, she is quick to get up and greet them too.

While it is quite the far cry from when she first came home, Sponsler and Swinkels believe that Gertie has always had very “people-friendly” qualities to her.

“I think it is really incredible how well she can read people. The first time we had her around kids, her whole demeanor changed into a gentle protector. This helps make her a great shop dog for Game Giant and Vinyl Giant,” Sponsler said. “She loves to sit at the door waiting to greet the next customer. A quirky characteristic of her is that she likes to lay like a frog with her back legs kicked out!”

This frog-like technique can be confirmed by this writer. My advice? Bend down and give her a rub on the belly, Gertie loves a good belly rub. You know you’ve found the sweet spot when she shows you her teeth.

It’s true that Gertie has impacted every customer that walks into Vinyl Giant or Game Giant in one way or another. However, whatever she has done for patrons pales in comparison to what she has done for Erica and Aaron. In fact, they cannot imagine a life without Gertie in it.

“It’s hard to imagine our life without her. She is part of the family. She goes with us to work and vacation when possible,” Sponsler said. “She brings us fulfillment. There would probably be fewer bike rides without her!”

When asked what their advice would be for fellow pet owners in the Fargo-Moorhead area, Sponsler responded with a simple, yet impactful nugget. “They are part of your family. Treat them with respect and love. You will both be much happier for it,” she said. It is clear that Sponsler and Swinkels abide by their own advice with Gertie.

Both Sponsler and Swinkels agree that the best part about owning a pet in Fargo-Moorhead is that they get to bring her to work with them almost every day. Swinkels noted that you can tell Gertie is upset on days where she does not come to the store. She is always eager to get to her spot in front of the door. Also, given that Gertie is a very social dog, they also enjoy that our area is extremely pet-friendly with events going on for dogs to meet other dogs.

“She gets to come to work with us every day at Game Giant and Vinyl Giant. Our customers love her,” said Sponsler. “There are also several events in the FM area that focus on you and your pup. It is fun to socialize with other dogs and humans.”

If you have gone into Vinyl Giant or Game Giant in the past, even if it was once for a short period of time, chances are Gertie was the first to say hello. She has been doing that for a number of years even after Sponsler and Swinkels transitioned their business to Downtown Fargo. Gertie has been there every step of the way and chances are, she will be there the rest of the way too.

For Erica and Aaron they would not want it any other way. Gertie is a vital piece to their business and family. Fargo-Moorhead may be becoming more pet-friendly in the workplace, but Vinyl Giant pioneered that shift. Gertie has been at the helm of it since the beginning.

Vinyl Giant and Game Giant
626 2nd Ave N

Gertie’s Favorite Things In Fargo

When she is not in the store

M.B. Johnson Park in Moorhead. Gertie loves that this particular park is off-leash. “Gertie has lots of space to run free and socialize with other dogs,” said Erica

For cool accessories

Like many pups, Gertie loves Hot Dog Pet Salon Downtown. “Their collars are super cute and last a long time. They have other great essential products for your dog. The staff is awesome too,” said Sponsler

When she wants to be adventurous

Gertie loves to take walks in the woods with her owners. Not far away is Buffalo River State Park which features plenty of woods to roam.

Nolan Schmidt

Written by Nolan Schmidt

Nolan is the Co-Editor of Fargo Monthly. Schmidt is also the Editor of Spotlight Media's Bison Illustrated publication. He is originally from Bismarck, N.D. and is a proud graduate of Minnesota State University Moorhead.

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