The "Dog Guy of Bellingham" once again can enjoy seeing people of all ages drawn to his vehicle as they greet and pet his three playful Alaskan malamutes.
"Except now I'm the 'Dog Mog Guy,'" the 50-something Gary Winkler said with a laugh. "I'm using my 1956 Mercedes Unimog German army carrier to haul the dogs around."
Winkler's ambition is to see his 170-pound malamutes - Fozzy, 3 years old ; Polar, 2; and Junior, 1 - become famous as "The Movie Dogs of Bellingham." The dogs' ancestors earlier appeared in several films, TV shows and advertisements.
Bellingham's Lauren Ayers, a 26-year-old Western Washington University graduate with a deep love for dogs, is among those working with Winkler to see that their film project, titled "An Interesting Journey" - a comedy about life, romance and dogs on a climb of Mount Baker - comes to fruition.
Question: Gary, what's the story about the movie?
Winkler: We're planning to work with Rod Parmenter, a director, and Michael Elliott (producer) to film a romantic comedy about a couple who realize they are in love as they climb Mount Baker. It's a true story based on my life.
Ayers: I operate Ayers Photography and I'm an aspiring novelist. I'm working on the book to go with the film. I met Gary when I saw his beautiful dogs outside Walgreens and I asked him about them. I've always loved the movies; my uncle was Rand Brooks (a longtime actor who appeared in "Gone With the Wind").
Winkler: I was looking for a writer, since I'm an outdoors thrill seeker and a story guy but not a writer. I met Rod Parmenter's dad, Thomas, when I was selling an old set of Chevy heads. Now we've wound up planning to make a movie.
Q: Gary, do you think the movie is a "go?"
A: I do. We hope to get it "in the can" by about the end of the year.
Q: Gary, you were a big attraction in town some years back when you drove around with those wonderful malamutes in the back. What happened to you?
A: I've been in Whatcom County off and on for a long time. I used to drive a Toyota truck. I would get stopped all the time. I remember how I got a ticket for an "insecure" dog instead of an "unsecured" dog. The judge laughed about that one. But then I was killed in an accident in 2001 and I was out of commission for a long time.
Q: Why do you say you were killed?
A: I slipped in some oil at a gas station on Whidbey Island and fell backward on my head. People tell me I died when I dislocated my brainstem, but I was brought back by emergency technicians. Fortunately I didn't suffer brain damage. One of them pulled out a pocketknife and did a tracheotomy on me, or I would have choked to death.
I was airlifted to Harborview and began years of recovery, with surgeries here and in Germany. I was paralyzed from the waist down for a while. Even before my accident I had broken so many bones that I have all sorts of metal in me. Airports are a real pain.
Q: Are you still in pain?
A: Every day. I still never know when I'll be able to fall asleep. One reason I hope the movie will make money is that I need $100,000 for surgery to replace five discs in my neck.
Q: How did you become involved with malamutes?
A: For years I had been the drummer in the largest rock band in Alaska. But I got tired of that life. I wound up leaving and coming to Whatcom County. I've had more than 200 malamutes, usually 10 to 20 at a time, and they're all descended from my first in 1978, named Bear. He was in the film "Never Cry Wolf."
Q: Why did you say you're "addicted to thrills?"
A: Because I am. Eleven years ago I had a doctor tell me I would never do anything like that again. But I've come back to climb Mount Baker, and now I love to go jet-skiing. I call it extreme therapy.
Gary Winkler's malamutes have their own Facebook page. See facebook.com/AnInterestingJourney.
Michelle Nolan is a Bellingham freelance writer.