Brainerd's very good boy: Community mourns loss of Boston, the DMV dog

The golden retriever, who died as a result of cancer Friday, July 19, relished in his duties as official Brainerd License Office greeter.

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Boston the DMV dog poses for a photo in 2011 in the Brainerd License Office. Submitted photo

Right or wrong, errands to the DMV aren’t what most people think of as “fun.”

Boston the golden retriever and his canine proteges at the Brainerd License Office, however, changed that perception for many area residents. Over the past 13 years, the puppy patriarch -- the first of the “DMV dogs,” as they’re widely known -- greeted customers and patiently waited for treats with his signature calming presence.

“We even have people that come in just so they can see the dogs,” said Traci Vosen, who along with husband Donny manages the license office. Boston greeted his last customer Friday, July 19, before the Vosens said their final goodbyes to a dog they described as stoic, protective, incredibly smart and funny: in a word, perfect.

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Traci (left) and Donny Vosen kiss their golden retriever Boston in October 2018. Submitted photo


Sitting in their office Wednesday, Boston’s parents remembered their sweet boy who succumbed to cancer, the spot once home to his bed vacant.

“You come in here and it’s just -- it’s empty,” Traci said. “He was not just my rock, but I think he was everybody’s rock. Even though he wasn’t real active the last year, his presence was just so comforting. Having that gone … ”

“It’s empty,” Donny finished.

“You almost thought of him as being immortal,” Traci added.

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Boston as a puppy with kitten Tahoe in 2006. Submitted photo

Born to a large litter 13 years ago, Boston came to the Vosens as a favor on their part.

“We did not even pick him out,” Donny said. “Friends of our manager had a litter and the litter was so big, they could not find owners enough for them.”


The couple originally planned to keep Boston as an outside dog, but within a day of his arrival they reversed course.

Photo Gallery: Boston the DMV dog
“My god, (he was) the absolute most perfect animal you could have,” Donny said.
“I said, ‘He’s not spending a day outside, he’s going to be my little baby,’” Traci said.

So was the beginning of a lasting partnership, one that wound its way through obedience and rally training and competitions, grouse hunting trips, therapy certification and of course, Boston’s appointment as the official mascot of the Brainerd License Office and arguably a local celebrity.

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Boston models for local company Ultra Paws in 2015. Submitted photo

The Vosens know the DMV can be a stressful place for those on both sides of the counter. But Boston and the pooches that followed in his footsteps -- Briley the Gordon setter; Shotley the Irish setter; and the newest and only remaining dog, Sully the Tibetan terrier -- have a way of shifting the mood, the couple said.

“We have a lot of customers that come in with a chip on their shoulder,” Traci said.

“They hate giving their money to the government, rightfully so,” said Donny.


“And they come in and they’re rawr, rawr, rawr, rawr, rawr. And then it’s, ‘Hey, you’ve got a dog, you’ve got a golden retriever,” Traci said. “And suddenly they’re just talking about their dog. … They forget that they’re ornery, and they do their business and they leave in a happy mood. ‘C’mon, Boston, gonna pat you goodbye.’”

“This is a stressful place, especially since the great MNLARS (Minnesota Licensing and Registration System) kicked in,” Donny said. “And this is the great equalizer. … If dogs were a sitcom, Boston would’ve been the Fonz.”

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Donny Vosen and Boston relax in the yard in a photo taken in 2015. Submitted photo

A posting announcing Boston’s death on the license office’s Facebook page garnered a number of responses and condolences from community members.

“So sad, he was a great (greeter),” one person posted. “I'll miss that beautiful shining coat of his and him. RIP Boston. Enjoy romping in doggy heaven with all the dogs and cats.”

“Beautifully written tribute to a fun, sweet dog!!!” another wrote. “I liked how he would nudge gently to get a treat. Made me chuckle out loud a number of times!”

It’s not only the customers who benefit from the caring and comical canines. The women who staff the license office find solace in the head pats and doggy kisses. This includes Kelley Norwood of Baxter, who’s worked at the license office for nearly 18 years. Norwood knew Boston his whole life.


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Kelley Norwood poses with Boston in this undated photo. Submitted photo

“I did not like dogs. I’m not a dog lover, but I loved Boston,” Norwood said. “He was just a perfect dog. I’ve known him his whole life. He’s always been here with me. We shared many meals together, many snacks together. … I wasn’t supposed to feed him but I was always in the backroom and we snacked together a lot.

“He was just my buddy, and I’m just heartbroken that he’s gone. He was just a wonderful sweet, perfect dog. Only dog I’ve ever really bonded with. I’m going to miss him a lot.”

Sully must carry that torch now. Traci and Donny said they’re glad the year-and-a-half old puppy had the chance to spend time with Boston, and some of his admirable habits wore off on the young pooch, such as his politeness while begging. While the Vosens said they don’t plan to add another golden retriever to the family -- it just wouldn’t be fair to a puppy that could never quite live up to Boston, Traci said -- a new, as yet unnamed English setter will join the family Labor Day weekend.

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Traci Vosen and Boston in 2015. Submitted photo

It’s clear, however, Boston will not be forgotten, no matter how many dogs come after him.


“He was friendly to all, enjoyed chewing on a bone, watermelon, naps & a good butt scratch. Like all golden retrievers, he had an endless desire to please,” the Vosens posted on Facebook.

“Boston has now crossed that rainbow bridge to meet up with Briley & Shotley who preceded him in passing. He is survived by his other brother, Sully, who will carry on as the official DMV greeter. Memorials for Boston will (be) held in the hearts of the many who knew & loved him, especially the staff at Brainerd License Office who will miss him so much.”

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Boston the DMV dog in 2014. Submitted photo

Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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