From shelter dog to boatyard dog

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A Connecticut boat shop is home to the winner of last year’s Boatyard Dog Trials

Taylor & Snediker Woodworking, tucked on a side street of Pawcatuck, Conn., has made wooden-boat building and restoration the company’s work for more than 20 years.

Truman has found a home with Shawn McGinnis and the crew at Taylor & Snediker Woodworking in Pawcatuck, Conn.

Recently, the company welcomed a new addition to its 10-person staff. This “employee” hasn’t quite honed the skills necessary for small-craft construction or the knowledge to recondition a Chris-Craft, but he’s got plenty to keep him busy. For example, he cleans up after coffee, licks up unseen floor crumbs and entertains the staff by running beneath boats with leftover wood scraps.

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 VIDEO - See Truman and McGinnis at the Taylor & Snediker yard.

Truman, a caramel-colored Walker hound mix, previously lived in the Humane Society of Knox County, Maine. He now has found contentment with his new owner, Shawn McGinnis, and the handful of craftsmen at Taylor & Snediker who make old boats new again. After only a few weeks, the 18-month-old dog seems to have adjusted well to his new role. Plus, Truman is good for morale, says Annapolis, Md., native and former University of Connecticut professor Bill Taylor, who co-owns the yard with Joel Snediker.

Truman’s path here began with an award — the “Pup Cup” to be precise. Last August, he was the winner of the Boatyard Dog Trials world championship at the Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors Show in Rockland, Maine. Youthlinks, a Knox County nonprofit agency that pairs young members of the community with local charities, took on the challenge of training a shelter dog for entry into last year’s Boatyard Dog Trials. The event, celebrating its seventh year in 2009, was a rigorous battle of agility — and sometimes hilarity, when the human handlers had to fill in for animals reluctant to perform the tasks themselves. Truman ran through an obstacle course, responded to multilingual commands, and jumped from an unsteady dinghy to be crowned victor.

Team Youthlinks helped transform Truman from shelter dog to

This winter, the Pup Cup champion was featured in Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors magazine. That same issue’s cover featured a photo of Taylor & Snediker-built tenders for three renovated Buzzards Bay 30s.

Flipping through the pages of the magazine, Snediker found the column about Truman. “That’s your dog,” he said to McGinnis, 47, who was looking for a new pet.

“What the heck?” McGinnis thought, and got in the car. Six hours and several detours later, he arrived at the Humane Society of Knox County in Rockland, Maine. Truman now shares McGinnis’ home, a 1963 Pacemaker, berthed at Mystic, Conn.

McGinnis’ fascination with boats began at age 15, and he got his first taste of living aboard at 19 when he joined his father for a six-week trip from Miami to Georgia in a 16-foot Swampscott Dory.

McGinnis’ Pacemaker, a 43-footer, is called Quandary, but the decision to adopt Truman was anything but. McGinnis says he spent about a half hour at the shelter, where he played with the dog and took him for a walk. Truman was well-behaved and McGinnis was sold. He drove home with Truman that afternoon. “He was a great find,” he says.

Truman is intelligent, McGinnis says, though perhaps a little too smart for his own good. He can open sliding doors — with knobs or handles — and so he is tethered on a loose line in the large room where McGinnis works. “If you get him off the leash and let him run, he’s like a rocket ship,” McGinnis says.

Truman and his six fellow boatyard playmates busy themselves in the boatyard sleeping in front of the wood fire, chewing scrap lumber and chasing one another. They also watch over a group of craftsmen immersed in their work: varnishing, bent over wood saws, analyzing the structure of a damaged keel or restoring the integrity of a hull. Taylor & Snediker builds small craft, but their other work is restoration, like the 40-foot 1958 K. Aage Nielsen Yawl and a 1960 30-foot K. Aage Nielsen sloop currently undergoing a transformation at the shop.

“Everything put together eventually falls apart,” Taylor says, his own theory on restoration with a mix of pragmatism and philosophy. Taylor tells the story of Theseus, the ancient Athenian lobsterman who slowly replaces each part of his boat as it wears away.

“In a certain metaphysical way, shall we say, it’s still the same boat.” But if Theseus were to retain the old pieces? “Then you get into, ‘Is an object greater than or equal to the sum of its parts?’ ”

Their work is an art both Taylor, 56, and Snediker, 45, have spent a lot of time thinking about — and practicing.

“We had a lot of boats when I was growing up,” Snediker says, “and we spent more time working on them than we were using them.”

Snediker found his way to Mystic, Conn., years later, where he worked in a boatyard. He and Taylor met as tenants in the same apartment building, and discovered they were a natural team. In 1988, Taylor & Snediker Woodworking was born in a large basement in Mystic. They’ve since moved their operations to Pawcatuck, about a block from where Connecticut ends and Rhode Island begins, but their “company boat,” — a 26-foot Eldredge McInnis Bass Boat — remains at Seaport Marine in Mystic. “[It’s] the pick-up truck of the sea,” Snediker says.

Taylor and Snediker also held onto the company logo: a woodblock print-style image depicts the owner’s former dogs, Copper and Pete, holding a hammer in their mouths above their name. It’s an image that encapsulates their point of view at the yard: they’re old-fashioned boat people who love their dogs.

A love for dogs, Taylor likes to say, is a prerequisite for employment. Almost every member of the staff brings one to work.

McGinnis climbs up into a 1958 22-foot Chris-Craft Sea Skiff and Truman gazes up at him from beneath the hull. By anyone’s estimate, this championship dog has found just where he belongs.

For information on other animals still available for adoption, including Truman’s understudy, Benny, call (207) 594-2200. For information on Taylor & Snediker Woodworking, phone (860) 599-0800.