Real Happy Dogs » Documentary Dog Photography by Milla C. Photography

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A woman was out for her morning walk when she heard cries coming from the dilapidated barn.  The grunts and calls of animals frequently filled the morning air as she walked these country roads, and she normally wouldn’t have thought twice, but something about this noise was different.  It wasn’t just the sound of the world waking up… it was the sound of an animal in distress.

The cold fog was hanging low and grass was covered in dew, and as she moved towards the barn, she shivered as she felt the moisture seeping through her shoes.  She was alone and uncertain if she should continue through the yard littered with rusted tools and forgotten junk, but each time she heard the faint cries, she kept moving forward.  As she pulled her sweater tighter and slowly pulled a door open to look inside, she couldn’t believe what she saw.

This was the day Dubby was found.    

These details are largely imagined because we couldn’t speak to the person who found Dubby.  All we know is that a neighbor responded to the cries of a dog who had been left in a cold abandoned barn, and when she entered, she found a senior English bulldog who was crippled and extremely emaciated.  The neighbor took this abandoned dog to a local shelter, and after examining her, it was decided that the most humane decision would be to euthanize.

Thankfully, this day wasn’t the end for Dubby.  It was just the beginning of the rest of her life.



photo by Mighty Mutts


She weighed eighteen pounds when she was found.  To put this number in perspective, eighteen pounds is the normal weight of a Pug, Shihtzu, or Papillon.  A large English Bulldog this weight is considered extremely emaciated, and this senior girl was on the brink of starvation.  She was crippled by a back leg that had been broken in two places, and not only that, she was a senior dog who had little chance of recovery from her extremely damaged state. A @mightymutts volunteer who was is in contact with shelters in the south heard of this bulldog’s condition and immediately came to her rescue, pulling her from the shelter and transporting her to NYC for surgery, treatment, and rest.  

When she arrived in NYC, Dubby underwent surgery and was boarding outside the city at the home of @mightymutts founder.  She was safe and cared for, and she slowly began to put on weight and heal from her injuries.  She needed to be moved to manhattan so she could more easily be transported to adoption events and veterinary appointments, so the plea went out for a foster home for this girl and was met with no response.  Though Dubby had a sweet personality and was loved by everyone who met her, it was hard to place her in a foster home because she had no social skills such as potty training, leash walking, or house manners. As the weeks turned into months and Dubby was not finding a foster home, it began to sink in that though Dubby was now rescued and safe, finding a forever-home for this girl was going to be a very long road. 



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Week after week, Dubby grew stronger and more healthy, and month after month, she drove into the city with her temporary foster dad to meet people looking for a new family member. Dubby greeted everyone with a big bully smile and showered people with snorts, licks, and joy, but one after the next, people met Dubby and then walked away looking for something different. Many couldn’t commit to adopting a senior, and some wanted a dog who was housebroken. Some wanted a dog more energetic, and others wanted a dog of a different size or breed. The reasons varied, but the answer was always the same: “she’s sweet but not right for me.”

Dubby’s case was growing more hopeless as the months passed without interest, and she desperately needed to move to a foster home in the city so she could more easily attend veterinary appointments and adoption events. So, @mightymutts began a social media crusade to help Dubby. Erin from @susiesseniordogs came out to film a special on the senior girl in need of a home, and a volunteer named Michele decided to launch and manage an Instagram account just for Dubby. Everyone was falling in love with the bulldog with the crooked underbite, and as the Instagram community began to spread the word, a woman named Alex who had been watching her progress online decided to make the phone call that would change Dubby’s life forever.




It had been a long day, and Alex was getting ready for bed when she picked up her phone to see if there were any new updates on Dubby’s Instagram account.  She’d been following her progress for some time, and though she hadn’t met her yet, Alex had fallen in love with the crooked underbite and sweet personality that she saw in her photos.  That evening when she opened Instagram, she saw another urgent plea from @mightymutts for a foster home in Manhattan so Dubby could recover from surgery.  Her building allowed dogs, and she didn’t have one of her own… but could she possibly take Dubby in?  She held her phone in her lap and stared into space as she tried to imagine how this might affect her schedule, apartment, and life… sure, it would be challenging and would certainly take some adjustment, but it would allow Dubby a better chance of finding a family.  So, at 10pm on Tuesday evening, Alex picked up her phone and responded to the plea.  The @mightymutts director called her back that very evening, and two days later, after meetings and home checks, Dubby was in her new foster home on the Upper East Side.  As fate would have it, Dubby’s new foster home was just 6 blocks away from Michele, the @mightymutts volunteer who had been managing her Instagram account all along.  

Michele and Alex lived just a few minutes apart and quickly became “Team Dubby”!  Alex kept her most of the time, but Michele would take over when Alex was traveling, and as the months went on, Michele started asking to keep Dubby on weekends and holidays.  As Michele told me this story, she said, “It only took a few months for me to know that I was going to adopt Dubby.”  Surprisingly, it was Dubby’s difficulties that made Michele decide to adopt.  She told me, “Dubby was a special case.  She had broken teeth, no doubt from her abuse and starvation, she didn’t know any basic commands, she couldn’t walk well, she wasn’t housetrained, and she was very dog reactive.  These were all signs that she was never loved or socialized and needed a very patient adopter.  At that time, @mightymutts had so many adoptable dogs who would have been easy, but I decided to take the hard case.   Quite frankly, I was afraid no one would love her like I did, so I decided to make it official and adopt my Dubby.”





One year after Dubby was found in the abandoned barn, she moved to her forever-home with Michele.  Her wonderful foster mom Alex had kept her a few extra months while Michele found an apartment building that would allow a bulldog, and in March 2017, Dubby walked into Michele’s apartment, jumped up on the couch, and settled right in to her new normal.  In one year, Dubby had increased in weight from 18 pounds to 54 pounds and had developed into a happy, friendly dog.   However, Michele was realistic about the fact that she had just adopted a senior dog who still had major obstacles to overcome:  she wasn’t housebroken, didn’t understand basic commands, couldn’t walk far because of residual issues from her broken leg, wasn’t social with other dogs, and generally wasn’t used to living in a home.

Michelle started at square one: sit, stay, down.  She treated her newly-adopted senior dog as a puppy as she repeatedly took her outside and helped her learn when and where to go potty.  She believed in Dubby and gave her the chance to learn… and the girl who had been passed on by so many potential adopters responded to the training with great understanding!  When I came to visit Dubby to photograph this story, she proudly showed me all her tricks and behaved like a dog whose place had always been in a home.  I was so touched by how Michele and Dubby interacted with each other, and I am so thankful to have had the chance to witness the mutual love and respect of a girl and her new (old) dog.





@dubbybulldog’s body still bears the signs of her past abuse and neglect.  Her leg that was broken still bothers her, and she generally moves slowly.  Michele told me, “I am a very active person, so if I could haven chosen my ideal dog, it would have been one who could join me for long walks around the city… but on a good day, Dubby can barely make it around the block.”  This doesn’t get these two women down, though!  When telling me about Dubby’s physical limitations, Michele waved a hand toward the stroller and told me, “It’s OK though!  Her Fur-cedes gets us anywhere we want to go.  Dubby gets to enjoy the city just like any other dog – she just doesn’t have to do all the work!”  Michele and Dubby go on daily slow walks so she can keep those bulldog legs in shape, but on longer evenings and weekends, Michele loads Dubby in the Fur-cedes and they take off on adventures.  They recently walked all the way home from Central Park to Sunnyside!  As you can imagine, Dubby has become well-known around her neighborhood and constantly gets stopped for photos and love.  This old lady bulldog certainly doesn’t mind… after all, she’s in no rush!   

I want to end Dubby’s story by thanking all the people who came together to make her rescue possible.  First of all, @mightymutts are the heroes.  They pulled Dubby from the shelter, brought her to NYC, fostered her outside the city for 5 months, funded her medical expenses, and gained her exposure at adoption events and online.  Without rescues like @mightymutts, Dubby would not be here today.  Secondly, Dubby’s foster mom Alex saved Dubby’s life on the very day that she needed it.  She fostered her for eight months and loved her despite her lack of training or house manners.  And Michele, thank you for giving Dubby a home.  It’s obvious how loved and secure she feels in your home, and that’s the very best gift you could ever give her.  She was always meant to be with you.  


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  • January 30, 2018 - 2:32 pm

    Jesse Cruz - Already loving this story!! Can’t wait to find out how Dubby was saved after that day.ReplyCancel

    • January 31, 2018 - 10:50 pm

      realhappydogs - It’s such a good one… more to come soon!ReplyCancel

  • January 31, 2018 - 3:16 am

    Jenna Young - I’m excited to hear the rest of the story!ReplyCancel

    • January 31, 2018 - 10:49 pm

      realhappydogs - Thanks Jenna!! Love!ReplyCancel

  • January 31, 2018 - 10:43 pm

    Shawna - Love the blog format. Go Dubby!ReplyCancel

    • January 31, 2018 - 10:49 pm

      realhappydogs - Thank you!! So glad you’re enjoying.ReplyCancel

  • February 1, 2018 - 9:40 am

    Sheri Saunders - Come on!! Please tell me Dubby is living the best life right now.
    I can’t wait!!ReplyCancel

    • February 1, 2018 - 7:17 pm

      realhappydogs - Keep reading… I promise. 🙂ReplyCancel

  • February 1, 2018 - 4:45 pm

    Doe George - I love all of the heartbreaking-heartwarming stories❤️There is always, always hopeReplyCancel

    • February 1, 2018 - 7:17 pm

      realhappydogs - I agree! Totally.ReplyCancel

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Story of the week, part 1:  Sarah always knew she wanted to work with dogs, and as an adolescent and young adult, she tried to find her place by volunteering at local shelters and working at a veterinarian office.  She decided not to pursue medicine, but as she walked the halls of her local shelter as a volunteer, she felt alive.  She told me, “Visiting the shelter for the first time was a thrill for me.  I had always heard people say that shelters are sad, but I didn’t see it that way… I saw an opportunity to help each dog have a better day.” Not only could she help dogs by giving them food, attention, and exercise, she also loved the way that she could help people by introducing them to their next family member.
Years later, after graduating college and spending time at the ACC, she also learned about a program that she hadn’t known about: the foster program.  She wasn’t in a place in life where she could adopt, but she agreed to begin giving homeless dogs a comfortable home until they were permanently adopted.  When she brought her first foster dog home, she had no way of knowing that the trajectory of her life was about to change forever.


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Story of the week, part 2:  Meet the dog who started it all:  Mocha.  Sarah’s second foster dog was a ‘death row’ Pit Bull who had been overbred and abused. She was only 25 pounds (half her normal weight) when Sarah took her home, named her, and provided her with love and a stable place to rest while she waited for an adopter.  While Sarah was fostering Mocha, she realized that there weren’t many fostering resources, so in July 2009, Sarah launched a simple website dedicated to providing support for people and exposure for dogs being fostered.  This website would soon grow into @fosterdogs, a robust community and non-profit organization serving NYC and beyond, and it all started with a little homeless Pittie with big brown eyes.
Within a month coming to Sarah’s house, Mocha found her forever-home with a mom (another amazing Sarah!) who loved and worked in chocolate and had always dreamed of starting her own company.  After adopting Mocha, she started @rescuechocolate with the vision of raising awareness for animal rescue and donating 100% of the proceeds to a different rescue group each year.  Mocha’s face is on the front of each chocolate bar, and the chocolate bar names such as Bananas Foster Dogs, Peanut Butter Pit Bull, and Mission Feral Fig each represent different groups of animals in need.  At the end of this story, I am going to hold a giveaway to send some of this delicious chocolate to honor Mocha and other dogs in need.


Story of the week, part 3: “If you want to date me, I have to know that you’re serious about fostering and adopting.” Sarah had met a man named Mike and was beginning to fall in love, but she had to know that he would also embrace her life’s passion of helping dogs in need.  Before they moved in together, Mike fostered a small homeless black puppy named Ozzie.  Sarah told me, “I was sure not to try to convince Mike of anything… I wanted to see that he wanted to do this on his own. You have to really want to adopt.” Mike fell in love with this little soul and Ozzie soon became a permanent member of the family. Soon after, Sarah and Mike decided to get married and join their lives permanently.
During this time, @fosterdogs was continuing to grow, and Sarah met a dog named Shaggy at an adoption event who no one volunteered to foster.  She brought him home thinking it would be short-term, but Ozzie and Shaggy bonded quickly and it was soon evident that Shaggy was never going to leave.  Sarah told me, “Shaggy wasn’t what we expected from a second dog.  We thought our next dog would be small, old, and portable, but Ozzie chose Shaggy, and we knew that he was family.”

Story of the week, part 4: Sometimes our dreams are big, and sometimes our dreams are modest.  We chase some that sprout and grow, and others simply fizzle with time. But sometimes, just sometimes, we have the joy of watching a dream develop into much more than we ever imagined.  Nine years ago, Sarah started @fosterdogs as a small website with one person managing but had dreams of seeing it turn into something that would truly help people and dogs in the city.  Now, it’s a non-profit organization with a 20+ person volunteer staff, a board, grant funding, and an ongoing schedule of adoption events, trainings, and fundraisers year-round.  Hundreds of people and dogs have benefited from the work that Sarah and her team are doing, and in the coming days, I am going to share more specifics about the exciting work that is happening in NYC because of this big-hearted operation. This is the most exciting part for me, and I can’t wait to share and to encourage everyone to chase dreams and see how they might grow.

Story of the week, part 5:  Have you ever considered what happens to terminally ill dogs who are part of the shelter system? In order to help rescue groups move terminally ill dogs from shelters into loving homes to live out their diagnosis, Sarah created the @fosterdogs Fospice (foster+hospice) program.  The fospice program finds foster homes for dogs with less than 6 months to live and provides each dog with beds, food, training, toys, a photo shoot, treats, veterinary care, and end of life care. Foster parents just have to be willing to provide the dog with love and a comfortable space to live out their retirement.
17 year old Taz (pictured above) is currently in fospice care. He has lived longer than expected because of the care of great veterinarians and the love he receives from his foster mom Madhumita. The program is now large enough to have its own coordinator, Melissa (pictured on the right), and in the five years since it started, more than 50 terminal dogs have been spoiled by #fospice foster parents.
Sarah told me, “People might think that the fospice program is sad, but actually, every Fospice caretaker has come back to say they want to do it again.  We want it to be a positive experience for both the caretaker and the dog, and though we all mourn when these dogs pass, we are so happy knowing that they were comfortable and loved for their final days, weeks, or months.” Would you consider caring for a dog with a terminal prognosis? Contact @fosterdogs for more info!

“Fostering dogs is something that many people don’t even know they can do, but it’s simply being willing to bring a dog into your home until he or she finds a permanent adopter.  Fostering does demand some flexibility, but if you know yourself and are working with a rescue group who can pair you with a dog to fit your lifestyle, it can be such a positive experience.  If people could feel the joy of fostering just once, they would probably continue doing it.” – Sarah (@thedogmatchmaker)
@fosterdogs is an inclusive organization that brings together rescue groups from all over NYC and beyond and helps them find foster families for dogs in need.  But, even more importantly, Sarah and her team offer in-person trainings, seminars, adoption events, and social media exposure to ensure that each fostering experience is a positive one.  Additionally, Sarah runs @thedogmatchmaker to help people who want to adopt but feel overwhelmed by the process.  I mean, can this amazing woman possibly do anything MORE?! 💛
Would you be interested in helping by fostering, training, posting about adoptable dogs on social media, donating, attending adoption events, or becoming more involved in the #fospice program?  I am including a link in my profile to sign up for the Foster Roster to learn more about potential foster dogs, and you can always contact Sarah at @fosterdogs or @thedogmatchmaker for more information about becoming involved.

When Sarah heard the news, “You’re pregnant” she really had to process it.  She was running a busy non-profit with multiple off-shoots, was constantly attending trainings and adoption events, was caring for two large dogs, and on top of that was married to a man with his own career and interests.  She told me, “When we found out we were pregnant, one of our first thoughts was how the dogs would react.  My initial excitement quickly turned to nervousness about the boys because they hadn’t spent time with infants and hadn’t lived with a child before.” But, Sarah and Mike’s priority was ensuring that Ozzie and Shaggy would adjust well to this huge change, and they were committed to this no matter what.
Baby Liam joined Sarah’s family last fall, and Sarah and Mike began working to integrate the dogs from day one.  Thankfully, Shaggy and Ozzie’s personalities both allowed for a easy transition, but even still, these new parents were careful to prioritize not only their baby but also their two dog-boys by giving them ample exercise and love and by allowing them access to Liam gradually and carefully to avoid unnecessary stress.  When I came over to photograph their family, I was so touched by how well they made the transition work and how much love their family shares.

Thank you so much for following the story of @fosterdogs this week!  It was a joy for me to share more about this wonderful organization and Sarah (@thedogmatchmaker), the heart behind it all.  In closing, would you consider joining the effort to move dogs out of shelters and into foster homes?  No matter where you live, you can foster dogs from a local shelter or rescue group, and even if you don’t live in NYC, please take advantage of the Foster Dogs Inc. resources and education series.  Additionally, you can tag @fosterdogs in the photos of YOUR foster dogs so they can share/encourage adoption. If you are local, there are many ways you can help Sarah and her team of volunteers: foster, donate, help with #fospice, attend educational classes or adoption events, share on social media, etc.  I have a link in my profile to the “foster roster” to join the fostering team.


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Andrea spends her days surrounded by dogs. As New York City’s leading dog trainer for more than 20 years as well as a prolific author and behavior expert for Animal Planet and other TV shows, Andrea has a big heart and brilliant approach to helping dogs live full and healthy lives in the city. However, there’s so much more to her than this.

When the training dust settles and the day draws to a close, Andrea returns to her home in Chelsea to find her sweet Nora waiting for her with excitement when she opens the front door. Nora has been with Andrea since she adopted her 13 years ago in Paris as a tiny puppy, and these girls have faced life together ever since.

Though Nora is showing signs of aging, she still has that kind soul, sharp mind, and playful spirit that Andrea brought home 13 years ago. More than anything, that’s what I hope these photos capture.

Thank you for welcoming me into your world, Andrea. It was a joy and an honor.

– Milla

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  • May 18, 2015 - 7:13 pm

    Andrea Arden - I can’t thank you enough for so beautifully capturing Nora’s scruffy dog sweetness. I will treasure these photos. You are a really gifted photographer. Oh, and Nora really likes you a lot too!ReplyCancel

Anyone who has walked through the doors of Strand Bookstore more than a few times knows Gizzy, the resident shop dog who is affectionately called the “littlest bookseller” around the store. She brings customers joy with her adorable underbite and sweet personality, and she certainly helps sales by maintaining a “Gizmo’s favorites!” book table.

When Gizzy isn’t wandering the stacks, she keeps the employees of Strand on track by sitting in laps, licking faces, and begging for treats. Gizmo is one special girl, and I was privileged to capture a day in her life.

More of Gizzy’s adventures are captured on her instagram site!

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“A Frenchie should always start the morning with a croissant and french press” says his dad as I walk through the door, “and so should we!” I laughed in agreement and settled in around the bar with Wally, his two dads, and his loving Auntie Deanna. Over coffee and an almond croissant that melted in my mouth, I listened to stories of how Wally came to be part of the family and how much he means to everyone he meets. Wally enjoyed our company for a bit and then settled into a nap on his dad’s legs.

This is how most Saturdays begin in Wally’s home: with breakfast and toys at home, followed by a walk to Madison Square Park dog run with his dads. This frenchie is well-known in the neighborhood and is often stopped to smile for a tourist’s camera or to talk to an old friend.

But, there is more to Wally than just his daily activities. Wally is the member a newly-formed family and recently celebrated the wedding of his two dads. He is very loved and enjoys each day surrounded by people who love him so much. This is a glimpse into Wally’s world.













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