Pooch, pal spread joy to all they meet

Fashionable pet, owner are bikers sharing holiday spirit

December 25, 2005|By CHRIS YAKAITIS | CHRIS YAKAITIS,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Jim Brown and Sneezer roll into the Cancun Cantina Toy Run at the Anne Arundel County Fairgrounds as merely two of more than 5,000 bikers in attendance. But here and at dozens of other public gatherings throughout the year, the pair often steals the show.

Brown, 51, arrives this November morning in the customary fashion, with Sneezer, his 9-year-old Jack Russell terrier, strapped to his chest in a harness he has modified. She sports a full set of motorcycle gear as comprehensive as his own: leather chaps, riding goggles and a tiny helmet Brown made out of a soup ladle. For today's event, she also wears a full Santa Claus suit that includes a red jacket, green collar and black belt.

After dismounting from his Buell motorcycle, he switches Sneezer's helmet for a red cap that completes her outfit. As soon as they enter the fairgrounds, they're approached by kids who want to play with Sneezer and parents who want to snap photos.

For Brown, that's the whole point of their travels. He delights in seeing the reaction that his 18-pound riding companion brings out in everyone. And he rides her all over the Baltimore area to see that reaction, from nursing homes to children's hospitals to annual charity events such as the Toy Run.

"It's just a little thing to bring a little happiness into the world," he says. "A smile's just a small thing."

Sneezer also exemplifies the "courageous companion" nickname attached to her breed: Brown says she has helped him stay off drugs and alcohol and won't let him take the motorcycle out without her.

Brown brings an Arlen Ness model motorcycle as his donation for this year's Toy Run; Sneezer carries her own donation of cat and dog chew toys in a tiny backpack strapped to her Santa jacket. Together, they stroll the increasingly crowded fairway throughout the morning amid consistent exclamations.

"She is the cutest," says Whitney Duter, who works at the Harley-Davidson/Buell of Annapolis store where Brown buys some of his riding gear.

"My dog would go crazy if I did that to her," her co-worker Amanda Ryan adds with a laugh.

Debi Covert, a Pasadena resident, freezes the pair as they pass. "My son will love that!" she says, asking them for a photo. Brown lifts Sneezer's front paws to pose her in the shade.

The scene repeats all day long as leather-clad bikers walk by and turn to glance and grin at the shortest, most festive rider in attendance.

"Sneezy Claus," as Brown calls her, is just one of the many guises that Sneezer assumes over the course of the year. On the Fourth of July, she dons a red-and-white striped top hat and impersonates Uncle Sam. On Halloween, Brown takes her to Baltimore-area gatherings - this year he hit Fells Point - in a brown-and-black witch costume. For more formal events, she has a pink outfit that makes her look just like Minnie Pearl, Brown says.

But her standard attire is the biker gear. When she and Brown ride together, they almost always elicit reactions, he says, even just cruising down the highway and pulling up next to other drivers at red lights.

"The motorcycle irritates them at first," he says. "Then they look over and see Sneezer. And this smile melts into their person. They loosen their hands on the steering wheel. They loosen their tie. And when they pull away, you see them acknowledging her in the mirror, going, `Well ... that's pretty cool.'

"She just brings the sweetness out in people. A lot of these big, nasty old bikers. ... they've got a heart, and the minute they see her, they show it. It's magic. I really believe it's magic."

The magic Brown speaks of may have had the most profound effect on his own life. A recovering drug addict and alcoholic, he admits to a wild and somewhat out-of-control early adulthood.

"When I was younger, I didn't have much sense," he says, recalling times when he rode his motorcycle up sets of stairs and inside bars. "I actually enjoyed jumping out of planes. I wouldn't do it anymore. Sneezer's really mellowed me out."

Born and raised in Baltimore, Brown joined the Army during the Vietnam era, spending most of his time stationed at Fort Meade. When he left the service in 1978, he moved to California to work with his brother. While living in Los Angeles, he spent most of his time racing sprint cars.

"I'm a T-type personality. I'm a thrill-seeker," he says. "At 129 miles per hour, I would try to do anything."

To help support themselves, Brown and his brother bred huskies that were sometimes scouted by movie studios and used in films. One of these dogs became his first motorcycle-riding companion.

"She rode on my Honda out there just freestyle - right on my tank," he said. "She was 110 pounds, so she pretty much did what she wanted."

Brown stayed on the West Coast for 16 years, but without corporate sponsorship, racing proved to be a struggle. In 1994 he returned to Baltimore to care for his aging mother and took a job driving an 18-wheeler. A DWI charge threatened that livelihood.

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