12 Guinness World Records and Counting

Sheri Soltes | December 12th, 2023 (Volume 2)
Sheri Soltes recounts her innovative efforts on behalf of Service Dogs, Inc. in setting Guinness World Records, including the construction of the world's largest dog bowl, to fundraise and draw attention to their work. The organization uniquely trains shelter dogs to aid individuals with disabilities, support children in court, and assist first responders.


So this is the world’s largest dog bowl being constructed and sponsored by Purina. And we actually won that about a month ago at our giant Mighty Texas Dog Walk that we have every year to raise money for Service Dogs, Inc. So we were really happy. We beat England, they measured theirs in the metric system. We had no idea what they were talking about, but we got a team of engineers and at 15 feet, 3 inches, we kind of think we nudge them to the side just like the Boston Tea Party. So this was our Mighty Texas Dog Walk, 2000 people walking dogs. And this year our theme was, my favorite things, and your favorite thing is your dog bowl. But when we do this dog walk, we always had this problem. How are we going to get people to come to the dog walk?

Because really, charity dog walks are a dime a dozen, they’re kind of precious, they’re kind of boring, and they usually get about 200 people. And we thought, “Let’s take a tip from pro wrestling and make it about global domination.” So we started challenging other countries to beat their Guinness World Records. So the very first year we beat Canada for most dogs walked, and a couple years later we beat England. But in the ensuing years, they cheat a ton. So we had to start coming up with other world records that we could beat like most dogs wearing the same bandana. Most dogs doing yoga together. Most people and dogs in the same picture, which we did with the drone. The Petcos were sponsored by Petco. And my favorite, that’s me, super-duper airbrushed 10 years ago. World’s biggest fur ball. It’s simple, it’s visual, and it’s slightly disgusting.

And that’s how we roll 310 pounds. It’s unchallenged. People brush their dog, they walk down that $3 red carpet from Party City and they put their fur in the giant furosphere. A few years later, we beat Ireland, metric system again, no idea. World’s biggest cake for dogs baked by the Austrian Pastry Guild. The frosting is instant mashed potatoes, which the dogs and a few of our roadies enjoyed. A couple of years ago, the theme was Dogs are Magic. So I was levitated by Ray Anderson from Esther’s Follies, that takes a lot of core work. Last year we beat China, made international news again, world’s biggest coloring book, which was printed by our friends at Lamar Billboard Advertising company. One of our deaf clients is a manager there. Now, freaking Guinness has a lot of rules. You got to have witnesses, you have to have judges, you have to account for things.

We filled out all that stuff. We turned in all of our documentation. But after a few years of doing that, things changed. Guinness closed their US office and they just put everything into their London office and they wanted to charge us $14,000 just to apply to be considered. They don’t come down and look at you. This is just to fill out the form and we’re trying to raise money to train these service dogs for people. So to quote Bianca Del Rio, my spirit animal, “Not today, Satan. Not today.” So when you win, what do you get? You get a certificate with clip art. You don’t get the frame. You don’t get a piece of cardboard to put behind it. So was it worth it? This is why we do this. This is our program. We get dogs from animal shelters. We’re the only service dog group in the world that uses shelter dogs and train them to help people with different types of disabilities.

The hearing dogs touch you and they alert you to things. We started training dogs that help children when they have to testify about trauma in court. And most recently we added the dogs that work with first responders. That’s Austin and Peaches. His job is to work at NASA, which he now has an internship there. So to tell you a little bit about this, again, the hearing dogs, that’s Cookie and Sherlock, you can tell these are not purebred, test tube, Nazi lab dogs that are all German shepherds and labs.

People are like, “What kind of breed?” And I like to say, “It’s just like your co-workers. If you can do the job, we don’t care who your parents are.” So this is one of our veterans. This is Rayham Bright. Once a Marine, always a Marine. Served us in the Vietnam War and his dog’s name is Beatrice. When his wife Betty died, he was worried he couldn’t keep the family farm. When we paired him with Beatrice, he said, “That is such a long name.” And we said, “Well, we call her Bea.” And he got teary-eyed. And he said, “That’s what I called my wife. And I really think she sent me Bea.” So he’s been able to stay on the farm. Now, these courthouse dogs, they help the child when they’re having an interview about what was done to them. They can go on the witness stand.

We train them to be very quiet because they don’t want the jury to know the dog is there. Or you can get a mistrial. They get a higher rate of conviction because a child will open up more and give more details and it’s really satisfying. And even when the trial’s over, the children will come back to visit the dog and color pictures and things like that. Most recently we were approached by a fire department chief that said, “First responder suicides are approaching that of veterans.” They’re like seven a day, like 22 a day, seven a day. So we trained dogs for paramedic stations, fire departments, ER workers at hospitals. Somebody said, “You only have six feet to get over whatever happened to one patient until you have to go to the next patient.” And another one said, “We meet you on the worst day of your life, whether it’s on the side of the road or at the ER.”

So there’s a lot of substance abuse, divorce, things like that. But these dogs learn a hit on somebody that may have had a triggering event. One of our handlers took the dog Chanel with the bandana on vacation in Utah. They were hiking and she started pulling him up a path past the barricade. There was a woman standing right on the edge of this giant canyon. All her stuff was piled up next to her and her driver’s license was on the top. And Brandon, who’s a guy, and they only speak three words at a time, said, “You want to say hello to my dog?” And she said, “Sure.”

And she kind of got off the edge and petted the dog. And he said, “Were you about to take that big step?” And she said, “Yeah, I was.” And he said, “Could we drive you down to the ranger station?” And she agreed. So it’s such a wonderful thing. And the reason we do it, it’s not for the Guinness World Records; it’s so we can turn strays into stars. And in addition to the technical things the dogs do, they give you that unconditional love, which was why I like to call them technology that you can hug. Thank you all so much. We sure appreciate it.

Sheri Soltes
Former trial attorney. Current nonprofit founder helping train service dogs to assist the disabled.