Skye is a dog that just can't help being helpful.
Whether he's visiting nursing homes as a certified therapy dog or helping his owners decorate for Christmas, the 5-year-old golden retriever is always ready to lend a helping paw.
"He's a friendly dog that loves people, and he loves to be helpful," said his owner, Sondra Ashens of Wellington.
Ashens' photo of Skye is the first-place winner in The Eagle's 10th annual Holiday Pet Photo Contest.
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The dog's sweet but somewhat reluctant expression — is it "I'm just here to help" or "What are you doing to me?" —while sporting a wreath and holding a large candy cane in his mouth impressed judges as the perfect image of a pet caught up in the spirit of Christmas.
Cindy Kardatzke's photo of her white-and-gold cat, Chester, lying beneath a white-and-gold Christmas tree won second prize, and Shari Beck's shot of a litter of foster puppies hoping for new homes in time for the New Year took third.
The three winners will receive gift cards to pet stores.
Thanks to everyone who entered. Look for more of our favorite photos on Page today and on the Wichita Paws page on Saturday. Also, see more color entries at WichitaPaws.com. Click on "contest."
Sondra Ashens and her husband, Brad, were trying to decorate their home for the holidays when Skye decided to get in on the fun.
As befits a golden retriever, Skye "loves to retrieve things," Ashens said. "He'll put stuff in his mouth, and we'll just have him help us."
The wreath is one that she has always used on her front door, Ashens said. As Skye was checking it out, she thought, "I'll put this on his neck and see what happens."
And when Skye grabbed one of the candy canes they were using to line the driveway, Ashens couldn't resist snapping his picture.
Skye is a typical golden retriever, she said — a friendly, high-energy dog that loves kids and loves posing for photos.
He also holds a Companion Dog Excellent obedience title from the American Kennel Club and regularly visits patients in nursing homes in Winfield and Wellington as part of his work as a therapy dog.
"He loves to be where the action is," his owner said.
Last year's first-place winner in the Holiday Pet Photo Contest was a cat in a Christmas tree, and The Eagle received lots of similar photos this year — some beautiful and some funny.
One, however — of a sweet-faced white-and-gold cat lounging beneath a similarly colored tree — stood out above all the others.
Chester, a long-haired mixed-breed domestic cat, loves lying on his back and "loves laying under that tree," said his owner, Cindy Kardatzke of Wichita.
"As soon as we put it up, he crawled underneath it," she said.
Chester has never tried to climb into the tree and doesn't bat at the ornaments — except for this one particular night.
"I guess he was under there and thought he'd take a swing," Kardatzke said.
Chester, who is almost 3 years old, has a funny, quirky personality, Kardatzke said. "He tries to get attention, every time you walk by.
"He'll roll over on his back and meow at you so you take notice of him," she said. "I think he's pretty proud of himself."
Chester has a brother who's "not nearly as handsome," Kardatzke said. "I think he's aware of that and he shows off a little bit."
Shari Beck owns three Chihuahuas, but the photo she submitted is of five dachshund-mix puppies she is fostering for the Kansas Humane Society.
Beck, of Wichita, has been volunteering as a foster parent for almost five years now and said "it seems like I'm rarely without fosters."
She'll take a break, she said, but "usually the need is so great, I'll pick up whatever they need me to take care of" — puppies or kittens.
She's had this litter of puppies — four boys and one girl — for about seven weeks. She took them home from the shelter when they were just 1 day old.
The pups' mom — who has been adopted — is a beautiful, purebred black-and-tan dachshund, Beck said, and the dad is anyone's guess. Maybe a terrier?
"They look really, really dachshund, except they're starting to get the little terrier wispies on their face," she said.
As far as personality goes, they are "very dachshund," Beck said —"very friendly, pretty outgoing, and they absolutely love people.
"They have had lots of visitors so they are very social," Beck said.
The puppies were 4 weeks old when Beck took their picture, sticking bows on their heads and placing them in a gift box — like the after-Christmas presents she hopes they might be for someone.
The puppies will be returned to the Humane Society this week, Beck said, where they will be offered for adoption starting Jan. 1.
"We have been very good and have asked Santa for a home of our own for Christmas," Beck wrote with her contest entry.