Bell ringer from Pottsville, canine partner Snoopy touch hearts of red kettle donors

Nov. 25—SCHUYLKILL HAVEN — The familiar sound of a Salvation Army bell, a dedicated bell ringer and dog named Snoopy are touching the hearts of customers at Redner's Market as the holiday season gets into full swing.

On their way out of the store, practically everyone stops to say hello to Brian Thomas and his faithful companion, a friendly 8-year-old beagle named after the iconic canine cartoon character.

Clearly, Snoopy is the star of the show, giving and receiving kisses from admiring dog lovers.

"I love him," confided Tasha Ruhl, the recipient of numerous doggie kisses. "He's my baby."

As a fundraising team, Thomas and Snoopy appear to be quite effective.

"Everybody comes over to see the beagle," he said. "They make a big fuss."

Recently, people leaving the store frequently dropped something into the familiar red kettle.

Thomas recalled an incident when a woman put a dollar bill into the kettle. After Snoopy showered her with kisses, she went back and dropped a $20 bill into the kettle.

A man who stopped by declared, "I love that dog. You're such a pretty girl." Oblivious to the gender gaffe, Snoopy wagged his tail briskly.

Inseparable from his companion, Thomas has had Snoopy since he was several weeks old.

From information he found on the internet, Thomas has trained Snoopy as a service dog.

Among other commendations, Snoopy wears a Medic Alert Diabetes patch.

Indeed, that training came in handy recently for Thomas, 61, a diabetic, who lives in Pottsville.

"He saved my life the other morning," Thomas said, casually. "My sugar dropped to 65, and Snoopy woke me up."

Snoopy sleeps next to Thomas and is able to sense changes in his master's breath that accompany low blood sugar.

Snoopy was the first service dog to be allowed to sleep overnight with its owner in Penn State Hershey Medical Center, Thomas claims. It was two or three years ago when Thomas was having heart surgery, he said.

From the get-go, it was inevitable that the little beagle pup would be named after the beloved character from the Charles M. Schulz comic strip "Peanuts," which also featured Charlie Brown and Lucy among its cast of characters.

From childhood, Thomas has been enthralled by Snoopy. He's not exactly certain why, but he took to Snoopy from the first time he saw the cartoon in 1965.

Over the years, Thomas has amassed a large collection of Snoopy toys, figures and memorabilia.

In the alcove at the entrance to Redner's, tending the red kettle, he's decked out in a Snoopy T-shirt and a Snoopy hat.

The pair's involvement in the community is not limited to serving as Salvation Army bell ringers.

They're greeters at a church. They'll visit several nursing homes on Christmas morning.

"Me and Snoopy," Thomas says, "are on a mission from God."

They're also familiar to shoppers at Fairlane Village mall, where they frequently walk for exercise. Ruhl noted that she often sees them at Renninger's Farmers Market near Orwigsburg.

Lt. Derek Barrett, commanding officer at the Salvation Army Pottsville Corps, said the Thomas-Snoopy team is a great asset to the corps red kettle campaign.

"They're well known," he said. "People like to see bell ringers that they recognize."

The corps hopes to raise $90,000 before Christmas, slightly more than last year. Not only do things cost more, Barrett said, the need is greater this year.

On Saturday before Thanksgiving, the corps distributed 250 Thanksgiving boxes at its headquarters, 400 Sanderson St., Pottsville.

Oblivious to the good he's doing, Snoopy just loves meeting and greeting people.

Everybody gets a generous dose of tail wagging from the affectionate love pup.

Speaking for his partner, Thomas says they both benefit from their work in the community.

"Doing the red kettle campaign makes us feel good," he says. "We make people smile."

Thomas recognizes Snoopy is a hard worker, and shows his appreciation on occasion.

For Snoopy's eighth birthday, Thomas fried him a T-bone steak and treated him to a big dip of peanut butter ice cream at Heisler's Cloverleaf Dairy bar in the Lewistown Valley.

Thomas and Snoopy are at the Redner's south of Schuylkill Haven most afternoons until about 5 p.m.

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