Created on Monday, 15 April 2013 Written by M. SCOTT MORRIS,Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal
BLUE SPRINGS, Miss. (AP) — Bervia Hooghouse knows he's not the easiest person in the world to approach.
He wears an earring and puts his scruffy, gray goatee in a braid. He'll often be found astride a Triumph motorcycle.
Bervia Hooghouse rides his motorcycle April 1 with his dog, Blue, in Blue Springs, Miss..(AP Photo/The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Thomas Wells.
"I know I'm not pretty," he said. "Even if I'm not wearing a bandana on my head, you can tell I'm a cyclist. It's in my DNA."
Hooghouse, a 53-year-old Blue Springs resident by way of Michigan, won't be changing his signature style anytime soon, and he doesn't have to. He hangs out with a good buddy who draws enough attention for both of them.
"Blue's been a star from the get-go," Hooghouse said. "He loves me to death, and I love him, too."
Blue is a 6-year-old blue heeler. If you've ever seen a dog riding in a sidecar in Northeast Mississippi, that's Blue.
"I've had state troopers pull me over just to get pictures with him," Hooghouse said.
The pair is used to turning heads, like the time they drove up on a school bus filled with kids.
"They were on a field trip or whatever," Hooghouse said. "I watched as the whole bus leaned to the side. The kids were out the windows, hooting and hollering. He loved it. He just loves kids."
Hooghouse wasn't looking for a dog when someone brought a puppy to work and said the pooch would go to the pound if he didn't find a home.
"I didn't need another dog. I didn't want another dog, but it's the best decision I ever made," Hooghouse said. "You could say he's a rescue dog because he rescued me."
Two other dogs, Misty Blue and Betty Boo, also rode with Hooghouse, but there's something about Blue's effect on people.
"I've had many good dogs, but he's special," Hooghouse said.
When the pair hit the road, they like to ride for distance. It's not unusual for them to join with other riders and end up three or four states away from home.
"When we're traveling, we like to go," Hooghouse said.
He's learned not to visit rest stops when he'd rather be on the road because carloads of people come by for photographs. But Hooghouse is more than willing to stop when he has the time.
"I like to ride the Natchez Trace a lot," he said. "Occasionally, I'll run across special needs kids at one of the rest stops. I stay longer than I usually would so he can play with them. With special needs kids, he knows. He'll take the stick right up to them, so they don't have to do the work, he does."
That might go back to something Blue learned as a puppy. Hooghouse had surgery and was a wheelchair user during Blue's early days.
"I could barely move at all," Hooghouse said. "If he wanted to play — and he loves to play — he had to get the toy right up to me."
A dog riding in a motorcycle sidecar is an odd sight, but Hooghouse and Blue take things further.
"I had a custom leather jacket made for him. I spent more money on his jacket than on my own. He's worth it. I want him comfortable," Hooghouse said. "It was only logical. I like to ride year-round. We'll ride in the teens, not that long, but we go."
Blue's never had a problem wearing goggles. At first, they were the same kind Hooghouse wears. Now, he has a pair of Doggles, which a company manufactures especially for dogs.
Hooghouse made a helmet. The front says, "Bad to the bone," and the back says, "DOG approved."
"State troopers love that," Hooghouse said. "Regular helmets say 'DOT approved.'"
Hooghouse's wife, Donna, works as a graphic artist and created the helmet decals. She also makes shirts and sweaters for Blue, who recently wore one with the word, "Security," on back.
"He goes through the shirts," she said. "He rips them. He's kind of rough on them. He likes the barbed wire out back."
Donna Hooghouse, 50, used to ride more often with her husband, but she's backed off in recent years. That's fine with Blue.
"He doesn't like for me to ride. He kind of gives me a look," she said. "Every once in a while, he gives me the business for being on there. I have to tell Bervia to make him quit."
Blue is friendly most of the time, but he changes demeanor as soon as Hooghouse cranks the motorcycle. When it's time to ride, he's focused.
He learned that lesson the hard way.
"He jumped out to chase a squirrel once," Hooghouse said. "He didn't do that again."
Blue isn't strapped in when he rides. Hooghouse said it'd be better for him to be thrown clear than to be stuck in the sidecar as it rolled.
"That's my thinking on it," Hooghouse said.
The dog is a willing participant. If Hooghouse delays a ride, Blue will whimper and bark, as if to say, "Let's go, man."
They make quite a team, and Blue doesn't like to be far from his buddy. Hooghouse supervises crews for Wheeler Roofing, and Blue's usually with him.
At first, Blue stayed in the truck, but one day, he climbed up a 40-foot ladder.
"I was getting something out of my truck, and he climbed up that ladder all by himself. It scared me," Hooghouse said. "From that day on, he's never climbed up without me. I can't make him stop."
Mark Gwin, general manager at Wheeler, said the company doesn't mind Blue hanging around work sites. Besides, the dog's been good advertising.
A crew was working at a Waffle House, and Blue went up the ladder, Gwin said.
"This boy saw him. He went inside and yelled, 'Hey, y'all, a dog's going up a ladder!'" Gwin said. "That whole place cleared out to look. It was great."
The workers use a harness system to get Blue down from roofs. That method isn't as impressive as watching a dog walk down a 40-foot ladder would be, but there's still entertainment value.
Hooghouse and Blue are bona fide celebrities. Wherever they go, people are fascinated by the sidecar-riding dog. Blue eats up the attention, and Hooghouse enjoys the reflected glory, too.
"I guess they look at it like this: If you have a dog, you can't be all bad," he said. "If your dog loves you, they can see it.
"I've had people give me looks I didn't deserve. With him, 99.9 percent of the time, he gets people to smile. It does my heart good to see people smiling rather than frowning."
As Gwin said, "Bervia looks rough, but he's really a sweetheart."