John Lichtenberger said his dog, Willy, has stolen his identity. When he introduces himself around town as Queen Creek’s neighborhood preservation manager, he usually tells people that they won’t remember his name, but they’ll remember his dog’s.
The 3-year-old, 90-pound Willy is a familiar figure around town. A Rhodesian ridgeback, Willy has been going to work with Lichtenberger since he was 10 weeks old.
"Everybody got used to seeing him, so I just kept bringing him," said Lichtenberger, a 5-year Queen Creek employee who brings Willy to work about 75 percent of the time. "Now people ask where he is before they acknowledge me."
Willy goes with Lichtenberger to meetings, local events and around town when he handles code enforcement and inspects subdivision landscapes. Willy is rarely on a leash and is obedient and trustworthy, Lichtenberger said.
Bringing Willy along to residents’ homes breaks the ice and helps calm agitated homeowners not too happy to see a code enforcer in the first place.
"A dog offers something other than code violations to talk about," Lichtenberger said. "Most people like dogs, and if they don’t they’re curious about his ridge."
Willy’s back ridge runs along three-quarters of his body. It is caused by hair standing up against the grain, like a cowlick, and is instantly noticeable because of its darker color.
Lichtenberger received an outstanding achievement award last year for his work with Willy from the American Association of Code Enforcement for his innovative code enforcement techniques.
Peoria code enforcement supervisor Lora Isaacs, a board member of the Code Enforcement League of Arizona, said Lichtenberger’s work with Willy is the first she has seen in her 16 years of code enforcement.
"It’s very innovative and really fitting for Queen Creek," Isaacs said.
"John is a great code enforcement manager. I think he does a great job, as does Willy," she said.
Management has been supportive of Willy, Lichtenberger said. Cynthia Seelhammer, Queen Creek’s town manager, said the town strives to have the friendliest environment.
"I think Willy is an extremely good-natured, attention-attracting trademark," said Seelhammer, who keeps a pet snake in her office. "Animals, livestock and pets are part of the family character of Queen Creek."