Today is National Puppy Day, so we thought it would be a great opportunity to re-publish one of our all-time favorite puppy stories, from Buzz co-publisher Liz Fuller. This very literal shaggy dog tale began in 2009, was originally written and published on April 13, 2020 (about a month into the COVID-19 pandemic), and continues today. Be sure to check the note below the main story for a brief update.
It all started on the morning of Sunday, March 29, 2009, when I left the house to go to a yard sale. As I was walking across the street to my car, I noticed a small black dog – dirty, skinny except for a distended belly, and obviously wet from that morning’s rain – nosing around the fence by the dumpsters of the restaurant across the street from our house. Realizing she was very likely a stray in need of help, I debated trying to approach her. But since our corner property was a magnet for strays of all kinds (the final rescue tally from the 19 years I lived there was four dogs, six cats and one wandering Alzheimer’s patient), and my husband was already not too thrilled about the five cats currently in residence, I mustered all the will I could, got in my car, and drove off, telling myself that if the dog was still there when I got back, I’d try to do something. (Knowing full well that would never happen.)
I returned about 90 minutes later, expecting that the universe would have let me off the hook, just this once. But, to my huge surprise, the dog was still there. So I had no choice but to keep my half of the bargain.
I went inside, got a piece of turkey lunchmeat, and tried to approach the dog. As I got closer, however, she got spooked, dashed across the street, and cowered under a car at the car wash directly behind our house. She kept watching me, though, so I just kept talking to her and creeping, inch by inch, ever closer. Then, after what was probably close to 10 minutes, she started to inch toward me and the meat, and got close enough to pick up a piece of the turkey. And when she finished that one, it was easier to give her another, and another, as she ventured further and further out into the open. Finally, we got close enough to each other that I was able to pick her up (praying she wasn’t mean or scared enough to bite me), and I quickly brought her into our back yard, just a few feet away, and closed the gate. As predicted, my husband was not thrilled…but after just a few moments he said, “She looks like a “Henrietta.”” And of course, once he’d named her, our fates were sealed. (It wasn’t until about five years later that he realized “Henrietta” was the name of his ex-girlfriend’s little black dog. Oh, well.) But that’s really just the beginning of the story.
First of all, at that time, we had a five-year-old who was deathly afraid of dogs. And within a few minutes of bringing the dog into the yard, my cell phone rang. It was my 5-year-old, calling from inside the house, saying, “I can’t come outside. There’s a dog in the yard.” But eventually, curiosity won…and to our collective relief, the dog didn’t bark or jump, and just approached the scared 5-year-old as cautiously and gently as the child approached her. And by evening, the not-so-scared small person was asking to sleep with the dog.
So one hurdle down.
But then there was the matter of her distended belly, which was looking less and less like malnutrition or disease to me, and more and more like a pregnancy. So the next morning, I took her to the vet and confirmed two things: no, she didn’t have a chip that might tell us where she came from and who she belonged to…and yes, she was indeed, as the vet said, “knocked up.”
I asked around, and learned that, at the time, if you took a pregnant dog to a city shelter, it would either be euthanized or the puppies would be aborted. (Happily, this has changed since then – LA Animal Services’ Shelter at Home program, instituted in the fall of 2019, now allows people to foster pregnant dogs at home after finding them, as long as they’re willing to keep fostering until after the puppies are born and and weaned.) Not wanting either of those things to happen to what we knew by then was a very sweet dog, we plastered the neighborhood with “Found Dog” posters, posted ads on CraigsList and everywhere else we could think of, and crossed our fingers that her people would contact us. But although several neighbors told us they, too, had seen the dog wandering around for several days (and even tried unsuccessfully to catch her), we never found her owners.
Fast forward two weeks. My family had been planning a spring break trip to Seattle, to visit relatives, but because we suddenly had a brand new dog who who could give birth at any moment (not exactly something you can hand off to your usual pet sitter), I wound up skipping the trip while my husband and kid took off for a week. And sure enough, at about 10 p.m. on April 10, Henrietta started acting very strange, asking over and over to go outside, but not getting any relief from repeatedly trying to relieve herself. And she couldn’t settle down inside the house, either.
Realizing what was probably happening (and lamenting that it had to be, of course, late at night when I was super tired, all alone, and couldn’t call anyone to come and help), I put her in a bathroom with a bunch of towels to lie on, and sat with her as things began to progress. And over the next three hours or so, with only a little bit of help from me (she seemed to know much more about what was happening than I did), she gave birth to the puppies, each of which I carefully placed into a box where she could lick and tend to it before the next one came along. In the end, we had six beautiful babies, three black like mom, three brown; three male and three female; one much bigger than the others, one much smaller, and the other four of about equal size. And all of them (as confirmed the next day by the vet) were very healthy.
This was all very exciting, but although everyone continued to do well, with lots of enthusiastic visits from friends over the next few weeks, it quickly became clear that going from five cats and no dogs to five cats and seven dogs, in less than two weeks, was pretty overwhelming…especially as the puppies (very) quickly grew and got mobile and super boisterous, as spunky puppies tend to do.
Thankfully, though, Henrietta’s good instincts kicked in once again, and at about the one-month mark, she made it very clear that she was pretty much done with being a 24/7 doormat and milk machine for six rapidly growing little beasts. So I stepped in again, helping to wean the babies. (And if you’ve never watched six squirming puppies discover what soupy soft food is, all at the same time, I highly recommend the experience – it’s chaotic, hilarious, and very, very, very, messy.)
But soon they were eating without mom’s assistance, and by the time they were 8 weeks old, as much as I loved each and every one of them, their bathroom apartment was clearly growing much too small, and we knew it was time to start looking for new homes.
To find homes for puppies, at that time, most people just put text-only ads in publications like CraigsList, or the LA Times (when it still had a viable Classifieds section). I wanted to do something a bit more visual, though, because we had what were probably the cutest puppies ever (not that I was biased or anything), and I wanted people to be able to see them in all their glory. So I made a web page with individual photos and descriptions of each of their very clear personalities (hey, online personals worked for my husband and me…but that’s a story for another time), and I started sharing the page with friends, neighbors, and on Facebook, where the puppies were already gaining lots of fans.
To my surprise, it not only worked, but they went rather viral. And not just locally. Someone somewhere had apparently shared the page with a student or staff member at (near as I could figure) Cal State San Bernardino, and I started getting dozens of inquiries from that area, too.
Soon, we had lots of people scheduling visits, with some great candidates showing serious interest…and it didn’t take long before we started saying our goodbyes.
The biggest puppy, whom I initially named Big Boy because he so clearly outweighed everyone else (I also later also started calling him Bob, just because), was one of the first claimed, by an old friend from grad school, and his fiancée. Michael had grown up with purebred Labradors (“I knew more about their family history than my own”), though he said at the time that although he definitely wanted a dog at some point, he was not quite ready to adopt yet…and whenever he was ready, he didn’t want a dog of unknown origin. But his then-fiancée, Randi, was immediately smitten when she saw the puppies’ photos. She got Michael to come and meet them, and while Randi was drawn to both Big Boy and Susie (who seemed drawn to Randi, too), Michael immediately fell hard for Big Boy, who looked exactly like a yellow Lab puppy , despite the fact that mom is a small black mutt (mostly Schnauzer and cocker spaniel – a.k.a. “Schnocker” – as we later found out through a DNA test). And he decided that since Henrietta was clearly a wonderful dog, it was probably OK not knowing who (or what) the father was. So Big Boy/Bob became Bernie, and off he went.
Next, our ad brought an inquiry from Greg, whom we hadn’t known before, but who came to visit and was also immediately drawn to Susie (and she sought him out, too). After a couple of visits, the mutual infatuation remained, and Susie wound up going home with Greg and his then-girlfriend, Samantha. And because they already had a relative named Susie, Susie became Roxy.
Peanut/Lucky and Little Girl/Cashew/Sally
Fairly early in this process, one of my neighbors, Ann, and her kids came to look at the puppies. But although Ann thought the babies were adorable (especially little Peanut, the runt of the litter who even then weighed about two pounds less than Big Boy and sported much shorter legs than any of the other siblings), she insisted they (and especially her husband, Jeff) just weren’t really dog people…so they passed on adopting. A few days later, though, a nice older couple we hadn’t met before came to visit and very enthusiastically asked for both Peanut and his sister, Little Girl (the smallest of the three females). So those two went off, and Little Girl was quickly re-named Cashew, to make a much cuter match with her brother’s name.
Stripe/Richard/Sir Richard and Paws/Gia
That left only two, and to my surprise, the next person to show serious interest, Kanita, was also interested in adopting a pair, and wanted both of them. One was the super boisterous pup I had first called “Stripe” because of the big white stripe along his black chest (I also called him Richard), and the other was “Paws,” who had beautiful white boots on her two front feet. Kanita returned with a cute wicker basket to bring them home, and it was great to know that the pair would be kept together. And they, too, got new names: Richard became the much more regal Sir Richard…and Paws became Gia. So that left us with an empty nest…but not for long.
About a week later, Peanut and Cashew’s new dad called to let us know that his wife turned out to be allergic to the dogs, and they wouldn’t be able to keep them. Before letting any of the puppies go, I had made the new owners promise me two things: 1. that they would spay/neuter their puppy as soon as it was old enough, and 2. that if they were ever unable to keep the dog for any reason, they would contact me, so I could be sure it wouldn’t end up in a shelter or on the street. So while I was sad the adoption hadn’t worked out, I was also very happy that the new owner had followed through on his promise to call me if there were problems. Peanut and Cashew came back, and we re-started the search for their fur-ever homes.
And it didn’t take long. My neighbor, Ann (with the not-a-dog-person husband), had shared the puppies’ information with her friends Jessica and Mike. And they quickly snapped up Cashew (whom they re-named Sally) as a present for their daughter’s 10th birthday. So that left only Peanut. And he and Henrietta had such a great time together after they were reunited that I actually started thinking about keeping him – two dogs were MUCH more manageable than seven!
Finally, though, a young woman contacted me, very eager to adopt Peanut. She came over several times, but each time I just didn’t feel it was a good match…mostly because she was single, lived in a tiny apartment, and worked nights, which meant baby Peanut would be alone in that small space from about 3 p.m. to 3 a.m. every day. When the woman started to get testy with me for hesitating, though, I finally gave in and said she could have him. But over the next couple of days, while I was waiting for the woman to pick up Peanut, Ann called me back to say that maybe, perhaps, they might just be dog people after all. And they had a yard and two kids, who would definitely provide the kind of activity, love and attention an energetic young puppy would need. So I called the other woman back, told her I’d changed my mind, and Ann and her kids carried Peanut (whom they renamed Lucky) down the street and around the corner to his new home.
The Long Tail of the Puppy Story
But while that’s where most puppy stories end, this one was even further charmed. Thanks to Facebook, I stayed in touch with all of the puppies’ new families (both those I’d known before and those I hadn’t), and they generously shared photos and stories as the dogs grew up (which warmed my heart each time I saw a new post). And a year later, on the puppies’ first birthday, all of our families gathered at Mike and Jessica’s house – with all the dogs – for a huge puppy birthday party. The pups all got along great, and it was a real blast watching them play together and comparing notes about their temperaments and development. (Also, by this time, Mike and Randi had married…and Greg and Samantha were expecting their daughter, Charlie, so there were other milestones, too.)
It was so much fun, in fact, that we all promised to do it again. But as with many such promises, although we all stayed in touch on Facebook, it just didn’t ever happen. Until April 12, 2020, almost exactly a month after the big pandemic shutdown.
Just before the puppies’ 11th birthday in 2020, Michael wrote to me saying he had wanted to do another big puppy playdate for the dogs’ 10th birthday in 2019, but various things got in the way, including the fact that both Kanita (Sir Richard and Gia’s mom) and Ann and her family (Lucky’s people) had moved out of the LA area. But Michael said he realized that since we were all stuck at home right then, using tools such as Zoom for socializing anyway, it would be both possible and fun to get everyone together again virtually.
And so we did. On that very strange Easter, five of our six families (unfortunately Kanita was unavailable at the last minute) met online , with our dogs nearby, and spent a wonderful hour and a half catching up, comparing notes and celebrating the animals that brought us together as a unique sort of extended and enduring family 11 years earlier.
First, before anything else, we confirmed that all the dogs were still happy and healthy (even Henrietta, still going strong at what we think was 13), with no major medical issues. We learned that Roxy loved to go to the beach and surf with Greg, while Henrietta and several others hate water. Four of the six puppies had Henrietta’s shaggy coat, and while Sally looks the least like her mom (she’s brown and smooth-coated instead of black and shaggy), she shares many mannerisms with Henrietta…including the fact that neither of them barks much (Jessica said they had Sally for several years before they ever heard her bark at all).
All the dogs share also share their mom’s super sweet and gentle temperament, and all of them are great with kids (Michael and Randi have a daughter now; Greg and Samantha have two). They’re also good with cats, and with their other canine family members (Greg and Samantha have an additional dog now; Kanita does too).
And we also talked about the puppies’ previously unknown father. About a year before the gathering, Michael and Randi had a DNA test done on Bernie. He came out 25% Schnauzer and 25% Cocker Spaniel (both courtesy of Henrietta, as we knew)…and 50%…wait for it…CHIHUAHUA! While that was quite a shock to the parents of 35-pound, shaggy Bernie (who didn’t grow up to look anything like a lab after all), you can definitely see dad’s influence in Bernie’s snaggle-toothed underbite, a trait his sisters Gia and Roxy share. Also, Sally has always resembled a chihuahua more than a wiry terrier mix, so the big reveal wasn’t much of a surprise to her family.
In the end, one of the best stories at the reunion was shared by Ann, who told us just how quickly puppy Lucky had been accepted by her initially reluctant husband, Jeff. Ann said that just a few weeks after brining Lucky home, she walked into their living room and saw Jeff lying on the couch with the puppy sleeping on his chest. Ann said to him, “I thought you weren’t a dog person.” And Jeff replied, “I’m not. I’m this dog’s person.”
For all those currently fostering new pets, or who may have sheltered in place with newly adopted animals during the worst months of the pandemic…we wish you outcomes every bit as happy as ours.
2023 Update: As mentioned above, this story was first published in April, 2020. I’m very sad to report that since then we’ve lost three members of our very special family – Gia passed away in 2021, and both Bernie and Roxy left us in 2022. Happily, though, despite some creeping health issues in their senior years, Sir Richard, Sally, Lucky, and, yes, Henrietta, are still very much with us, at ages 14 (almost) and 16, respectively. And they are all still very much loved by their people.
About Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN but has lived in LA since 1991 - with deep roots in both the Sycamore Square and West Adams Heights-Sugar Hill neighborhoods. She spent 10 years with the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, volunteers at Wilshire Crest Elementary School, and is the co-owner/publisher of the Buzz.
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