Tinker the mini-horse knows many tricks. But the one he’s most successful at is raising money for the Salvation Army.
“Tinker is one of our largest, if not the largest, bell ringers that brings in the most donations,” Milwaukee County Salvation Army Community Relations Director Faithe Colas told ABCNews.com. “He’s so adorable and he’s so cute and people can’t believe he’s actually there and actually picks up the bell and rings it.”
Tinker’s owner, Carol Takacs of Allenton, Wisc., is an animal lover, so the idea to get Tinker involved with red kettle bell ringing came quite easily to her.
“My whole thing with animals is they are happier and healthier if given something to do,” Takacs said. “When you become my pet, you’re my best friend and I love you to death, but you’re going to do something to make your life longer and happier.”
One day about five years ago, Takacs walked out of a store and was greeted by a Salvation Army bell ringer. That’s when the idea dawned on her, “Maybe I could do a little twist on this.”
Takacs worked with Tinker for six months to get him prepared to take on the following donation season.
“I called the Salvation Army and they were wonderful to me and welcomed me with open arms. It just took off from there,” Takacs said. “Tinker has the mentality of baby Einstein. He’s very calm and placid. I had a little girl come up last week and put her hands on either side of his face and look at him in the eyes and just say ‘I love you.’”
Tinker not only rings the bell with his mouth, he also bows to his donators and picks up a banner that says “Thank you Merry Christmas,” after passerby’s drop change into his kettle.
“I got him to understand to hold things. He understands ‘hold.’ He understands ‘move your head.’ He understands ‘pick it up.’ He’ll ham it up for people. When people come over, he’ll bow for them, he’ll salute them without me even asking him anymore. He understands that’s his job while we’re there,” Takacs explained.
Tinker is only about 2.5 feet tall, and Takacs says “a lot of that is fuzz.” He is pampered from head to toe before he sets out for his bell ringing duties. Takacs admitted this is because she likes “everything with a little sparkle to it.”
She said, “He gets a facial at first. He might get a hot bath and I’ll blow dry him right away. If he’s not really dirty I’ll vacuum him, then I’ll do his bangs kind of like The Beatles. And they actually do make hoof polish. They come in all different colors. Then we add his bow on his back side. And then he gets his little Santa hat, and he even adorns his little Salvation Army apron.”
On days when it’s not too chilly out, Tinker is joined by one of Takacs’ other “children,” Ta-lu-la, a 7-month-old Papillon puppy. She is always appropriately dressed for the holidays as well, usually in either a Christmas sweater or Christmas dress, depending on the weather.
“People see Tinker and then they look up and they see her,” Takacs said. “They tell me, ‘You really do have a dog and pony show here.’ I can sit her up on Tinker’s back side and she’ll just sit there and wait for people to come along. She’ll climb up on Tinker’s neck to get closer to the people.”
Tinker, who starts ringing his bell in November, earns ten times more than the normal human Salvation Army volunteer.
“I am told that a normal bell ringer brings in about $250 a day,” said Takacs. “Tinker brings in about $2,500 a day. A lot of people put $100 bills in, and I am so humbled by this. I’m having so much fun, my horse is having fun and everyone seeing us is having fun while we’re helping people. It’s amazing to me. I’m so happy.”
When asked if Takacs will be bringing Tinker back next year, she quickly replied, “I will do this as long as Tinker can.”