The dog sitting on the front steps of the weathered, two-story Glen Burnie house looks like the average, run-of-the-mill sort - a mostly bearded collie with a generous helping of mutt. He sports a thick mat of shaggy, white- and brown-splotched fur and black-rimmed eyes.
But Recess the Wonder Dog, as his owner calls him, is on the fast track to fame, well on his way to setting a world record for most-petted canine. To that end, he has visited more than 600 elementary schools across the country with his owner, Richard Lynn Stack.
To add to his growing celebrity, Recess is registered in New York as a candidate for the U.S. Senate, and there's talk of the Olympics.
Stack hopes to prove, for the second time in 13 years, that a Wonder Dog can be made, if not born.
Until four years ago, Stack owned Josh the Wonder Dog, who is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most-petted dog and who ran for president of the United States. Josh was a stray who wandered into Stack's life at an opportune moment. Now Recess appears to have done the same.
With Recess, Stack said, "It's like a new adventure every day."
Stack, 58, has retired from a career as a lawyer and now devotes himself to writing children's books about a little mutt named Josh (the book came first) who doesn't let anything stand in the way of his aspirations. Stack says his books encourage reading, teach children about self-esteem and show them that with a lot of hard work and a little pluckiness, they can do anything.
Hey, Stack says, if a dog can do it, so can a kid.
He had never worked with children, and he had never studied marketing before writing his first book. He wrote it after watching a Christmas cartoon that he thought sent the wrong message: The characters stole; they sneaked around at night; they didn't listen to their parents.
Even I can do better than that, Stack said, and published The Doggonest Christmas in 1988 with his more positive message.
"I have a strong philosophy of life, and I think it's important for kids to get that philosophy very early," he said.
Josh wandered into Stack's yard as The Doggonest Christmas awaited publication, and he looked so much like the illustration of Josh - the dog in the book - that the name just fit.
Stack's first appearance to promote the book in a classroom was at the invitation of a teacher at Shady Spring Elementary in East Baltimore. When she called, Stack put her on hold and asked his assistant, "Is this something we want to do?" Apparently it was.
A short time later, Stack and Josh planned their first tour - 10 Georgia schools in a week. They loaded up a trailer with books, hitched it to the car and hit the road.
The books sold out, Stack said, "and I realized this was something I could make a living at." Eventually, he decided to stop practicing law entirely and devote himself full time to visiting schools and turning real-dog Josh into the Wonder Dog.
Stack managed to get Josh named grand marshal of a Mardi Gras parade and got his paw prints placed in the concrete at Opryland in Nashville, Tenn. Pursuit of the most-petted record began around 1989 when, during a school presentation, a man remarked that surely Josh was the most-petted dog in the United States. He wasn't at that time, but Stack began keeping track. By 1997, Josh had the record.
That year Josh and Stack mounted a political campaign and filed an application with the Federal Election Commission for the BINGO Party (the name stands for: Be my best; I'm for Josh; No to drugs; Go for my dreams; Open a good book). The campaign targeted schoolchildren.
Shortly after his presidential run, Josh died of cancer. Two weeks later - and just in time to start the next round of school visits - Recess showed up. A friend of Stack's who lived in Brooklyn found the dog hiding under a truck in her front yard. She called Stack, who had been looking for a successor to Josh.
He wasn't Wonder Dog material yet - most of his matted, dirty hair had to be cut off - but he had potential. "He was the dog," Stack said. "He looked like a really personable, gangly mutt."
It became a fast friendship that bodes well for a second Wonder Dog empire.
Stack and Recess will visit Maryland schools next month and start a nationwide tour in October. They expect to hit 200 schools in 35 weeks. Before they leave, they'll get their motor home fixed, have more copies of the books printed and clean out the basement to make room for them. A Web site promoting both Wonder Dogs and the books will be finished, and the tour schedule will be set.
And at some point, Stack will have to find time to sit with a bowl of silver dog tags, machine-pressing them one by one with an image of the fictional Josh and the Wonder Dog logo, "Dare to Dream." He'll sell them during the tour for $3 each.