KINGS BEACH, Calif. — “It’s here, it’s here!” an excited voice cried. Before a ponder could be considered (who? what?), Woody Woodpecker cackled, “”Ehh ehh ehh EEEEEH eh, eh eh eh EEEEH eh, ehehehehehehe” over the phone.
It could only be Michelle Okashima, enthralled with the Woody Woodpecker toy that just arrived for Hot Diggity Dog and Cat, formerly Scraps Dog Bakery in Kings Beach, which Okashima now owns and operates.
The entrepreneur is a character herself, with a simpatico for animals that seems an almost spiritual embrace.
She first met Michael (Mike the Dog) in 2006, when he pranced out of a Humane Society of Truckee-Tahoe volunteer’s car, doing his “happy dance,” ready for Michelle to adopt him.
“I fell in love with his spirit,” she recalled. “There wasn’t a moment’s hesitation when I paid his adoption fee … Some things, I would like to think, are fated. I prefer this than admit that sometimes I am irrational and impulsive.”
Michael, an American Staffordshire terrier, has gotten a lot of press, being a top fundraiser for Bark for Life, honored with the “Prestigious Paw Award” for his efforts two years running in his fight against cancers both human and animal. He stole the show as Crab the Dog at Shakespeare at Sand Harbor in 2012.
However, Mike is not the only star at Hot Diggity Dog and Cat.
“George himself is a powerhouse,” said Michelle of Mike’s younger “brother,” a beagle and champion show dog.
“OMG George has a personality … I’m pretty sure he hears regal trumpets blazing as he walks.”
George often acts as mischievous instigator and also as a hearing dog for Mike, who is legally deaf.
Michelle, a high-energy achiever in her own right, is a Sierra Nevada College graduate — earning a Bachelors in Biological Sciences, a Bachelors in Humanities with a minor in visual and performing arts, and concentration in literature history and psychology, with an emphasis in indigenous people and behavioral science — in four and a half years.
She was also the center of her father’s universe, who was kind, compassionate and funny.
“I am my father’s heart,” said Michelle, of the man whom she loved dearly, and was murdered in 2003. “Discovering your parents are human is devastating.”
It was a turning point in her life.
Rather than move forward with the veterinarian school application process, she took time off and birthed a story of love — a cathartic measure — “A Quest for Kalama.”
The tale of two geckos unfolds: The hero Kalama is thunderstruck by deep love, who must quest to find a worthy wedding gift of reflection and beauty.
“It speaks to the importance of selflessness and sacrifices we make for love,” said Okashima.
The story weaves Hawaiian heritage, magical island imagery, and, after a great and adventurous journey, Kalama finds the perfect wedding gift: a momi, or pearl.
FOR THE LOVE OF ANIMALS, AND TOYS
To say Michelle Okashima loves animals does little to capture a great and reciprocal relationship. Her life needed to be easier after losing her father.
She began working at Scraps in Kings Beach in 2010. “Having my dogs with me definitely made me feel better,” said Okashima.
In training Mike as a therapy dog, she learned new methodologies and techniques, finding that actions often speak louder than words.
“I now am more attuned to the silent movements that speak so loudly they are missed in the white noise of life,” she said. “I have come to understand that when you’re tired and weary, taking a nap in a warm sunny spot heals the soul.”
The self-professed “kid at heart” also loves toys — dog toys, cat toys, toys that squeak, bark, and “fight back.” She orders puzzles that build a stronger bond between owner and pet by engaging their (the pet’s) natural instincts.
And she plays with them, personally testing how the toy du jour will hold up.
One day, while “testing” a snake-shaped toy, she imagined being a dog, shaking and tossing and squeezing on the squeaky apparatus, having a blast, a couple entered the shop.
What else could she do but offer them a snake?
SHAKE, RATTLE AND ROLL
Okashima found the toys didn’t always need help or a sale to fly off the shelves in the Old Tahoe-style 1940s cabin, complete with fireplace, stone work, and rich, pine paneling. “It has a personality all it’s own,” said Okashima.
And, apparently, a personality that’s also out of this world.
On a housewarming gift buying foray at Crimson Moon Intuitive Arts in Carson City, Okashima was having a chit chat with Rev. Val Vines, spiritual consultant. Rev. Vines stopped and asked out of the blue, “What business are you opening?”
She advised Okashima the building stands over a “portal,” where a big, beautiful black lab Riley serves as guardian to help lost dog souls “cross over.”
“What a hoot,” said Rev. Vines. “Riley came to me — it was so funny — I asked Riley to go up and nudge her leg, she (Okashima) totally got it.”
Upon inquiry, Okashima discovered indeed a big black dog Riley used to walk to the shop often to visit. Riley passed on some years ago, but lingers close in the netherworld.
Rev. Vines’ first “read” on Okashima was that of a “sweet, giving spirit, with a heart like the animal kingdom.”
“O.K.,” said Michelle. “I’m a guardian for live animals, why not dead ones?”
HEART AND SOUL FOR PETS
She believes a well-rounded dog (or pet) is a happy one: mind, body and spirit.
Okashima takes the health of her animals, and yours, seriously. Like the Scraps retail business, Okashima stocks healthy foods, carefully considering all types of dietary needs. Her product research included consulting with Wendy Robinson, DVM of Tahoe Integrative Veterinary Care in Truckee. Find an assortment of grain-free products — rabbit, duck, venison and more — both bagged and canned for canines and cats. And even a five-sized, cat-faced lid to top them off.
Hot Diggity customer Michael Alber, three cat and one dog pet parent, said, “The store has high quality products and I appreciate that it is a locally owned business. And maybe most importantly, Michelle is a pleasure to do business with.”
Alber, who favors the Orijen food brand, appreciates the fact Michelle is upbeat, and “very curious about a lot of intellectual topics outside of the dog and cat world.”
Hot Diggity Dog and Cat has a wide range of supplements, natural wound care, pre and probiotics, dental chews and more.
In the future, Michelle envisions a pet wellness center, with seminars about nutrition — “basically anything about pets.”
Presently, Michelle works with Paws 4 Love.
According to their website, www.paws4lovereno.org, Paws 4 Love — through pet therapy — encourages literacy, volunteerism and well-being within the community. Each month, therapy teams visit area libraries to participate in this engaging program where friendly dogs lend a loving, non-judgmental ear to beginning readers.
This program has seen success in Washoe County and Tahoe Truckee Unified School District schools. Okashima advised, “A recent study with third graders reading out loud to dogs for 10 minutes, once a week, showed those students improved their reading fluency by 12 to 46 percent, compared to no improvement for the class that had regular classroom instruction.”
Michelle is also a tester and trainer for Therapy Dog Inc., and is hoping to put a group together to get more area dogs trained.
ONE GOOD TURN
Michelle loves Kings Beach, and finds it charming to live in a town that was won by and named after a gambling man: Joe King. Michelle exudes empathy and brings the community full circle. In addition to shelf upon shelf of zany toys, nutritious and natural pet supplies, Okashima supports local artisans.
Find pet feeders crafted from wine barrels by a Washoe County teacher at Hot Diggity. Soaps, both people and pet, are available from Sierra Essentials of Truckee. Wondering where to trek with your furry friend? Pick up a copy of “The Dog Lover’s Guide to Lake Tahoe,” by Susie Ramsey. The shop’s walls are hung with art by Nina Miller and Tahoe photographer Joy Strotz. Want to immortalize your pet in paint? Michelle will point you toward Scott Piechocski, an animal portrait artist.
If he had to paint a picture of Michelle, Alber said, “I think Michelle would be a beagle, like George. Beagles have an independent streak, but they are loyal and when on task, extremely focused.”
“Kalama, you must find a wedding gift for Mililani. It must look like and be as beautiful and shine as soft and bright as the moon when it is full. It must also reflect the beauty of the one you are so in love with. Complete this task to my satisfaction and I will see that the gods bless your union with Mililani.”
The goddess Hina, ‘A Quest for Kalama’