Dog Who Survived Against All Odds Spends His Life Helping Others -- and Now He Could Use a Helping Paw for His Web Video Series
Today Dogster brings you the heartwarming rags-to-riches dog story of Tugg, a Bull Terrier who got off to an incredibly horrendous start in life, was rescued and nurtured and loved back from the brink of death by a very caring couple, and who now spends his life helping others, and doing so with a loving smile. His people call it "wuffing it forward," and they do it in abundance.
Tugg is now hoping to star in his own 15-episode web series. If it gets funding, he will portray a superhero (well, he is a superhero, really), with webisodes focusing on important issues like dog rescue, bullying, discrimination, self-esteem, proper pet care, adoption, and shelter conditions.
It's a series designed to reach all audiences, from young children, who are most open to these teachable moments, to adults who are looking for something fun and different.
If you like the idea of this, you can actually be a superhero who helps make this happen. Tugg's people work as animal control officers in Fort Worth, Texas. They're not made of money. The series will cost about $8,000 to make. They want to make this so badly, but they can't bear the financial burden.
So they've created a Kickstarter project in hopes of raising the money to support the project. Anyone can donate. Any amount is greatly appreciated, and all of it will go toward the multiple expenses of making a good web series. (If they don't reach the goal of $8k, the money does not get sent. Let's hope that does not happen!) And there are incentives as well. Check out the Kickstarter page for Tugg's project and sniff around for how you can participate. Right now they're at about $2,700, and they have until Feb. 14 to reach the goal. The clock is ticking.
What follows is a Dogster interview with Blake Ovard, one of Tugg's folks. It runs pretty long for a web Q&A, because you'll really get to know this dog and his people, and everything they have done and continue to do for so many dogs and people.
Maria: Congratulations on being partway toward the goal for your web video series! Tugg is a beautiful dog. But I know he didnt always look this way. Can you tell us a little about his beginnings?
Blake: The sun was setting on a typically hot and muggy evening, just a couple of days after July 4, 2010, in Fort Worth, Texas when the call came in to police dispatch a badly burned puppy was wrapped in a blanket and staked down beside a busy six-lane road. A single word, dog, was scrawled on a small sign attached to the stake that held the blanket and puppy in place.
A police officer was dispatched and the on-call animal control officer was contacted. The police officer arrived first and sat with the poor puppy for almost an hour before the animal control officer could arrive. The police officer said he could not believe what he saw a small, male bull terrier puppy, about 4 months old, which appeared to have been badly burned. The animal control officer drove the puppy to the animal shelter, where he was given food and water and made as comfortable as possible while waiting to see the shelter vet the next morning.
The puppy was evaluated, and to the relief of many, was found to not have been burned. He had an extremely bad case of demodectic mange and a host of other ailments. His eyes were swollen shut from the infections and scabs and open sores that covered his head and upper body.
Oh, thats horrible! Poor puppy! What happened next?
The shelter staff put out calls to local rescue groups and tried to make sure the small Bull Terrier had what he needed. Everyone waited, hoping a rescue would come in and treat this puppy who, even though he couldnt see, would inch his way to the front of the cage whenever he heard human voices close by.
A couple of days went by, and a few of the rescues expressed an interest, but said they were full and couldnt spare the room. Another said the procedures to treat the diseases and ailments would cost too much money. A few days turned into a week, and the shelter staff did the best they could for the pup.
My wife, Kim, and I are both animal control officers. We watched this small, frail puppy and hoped a rescue would come forward to help him but none did. So, we decided that if the weekend came well past the 72 hours hold at the shelter and still no rescue would help, we would take this magical puppy home and care for him ourselves. He was slated for euthanasia on Monday.
During the week, a few of the officers and the vet tech at the shelter had tried to softly wash the areas around the pups eyes so that he could open them. By Sunday, he could open them a tiny amount. In that tiny sliver, we could see the spark within the spark that said this dog wanted to live.
No one came forward by Sunday, so Kim scheduled an appointment at an emergency vet, and took the 4-month-old puppy to see what he needed. We did not expect what the vet told us. After the exam, the vet said she had some bad news she felt this puppy was too far gone and should probably be put down so that he wouldnt suffer any more.
Many people would have listened to her. Thank goodness you didnt.
Yes, Kim called me crying, and said we cant do that. I agreed. We didnt know how we would pay for the medical expenses, but this puppy deserved a chance.
We called and set an appointment for as early as possible the next day at our normal vet. We carried in the weakened pup, and waited with bated breath while our vet did the examination. As he finished the exam our vet smiled, which is his normal demeanor, and told us that he thought the dog had a chance maybe not much of one, but he had one. That was all we needed to hear. He said the fight would not be short, and it would not be easy. It would take a lot of time, medication, love, good nutrition, and money, but it could be done.
There was no question what we would do. This little one showed the will to live and showed that he would fight for it. We would give him a chance. Before we even got home, we knew he would not be like any of our other dogs we also own show Briards, a Sheltie, and a Border Collie or any of our foster dogs. We knew he was coming home to stay. On the way home, we named him Tugg, because he tugged at our heart strings.
The first few days were touch and go. He ate, drank, and went out to do his business. And any time not spent doing that, he slept. Each morning we would wake up and hope he was still alive, and each afternoon when we got home we had the same hope. Every day he got better, and it wasnt long until he was showing his true personality.
And does he have a personality! Everyone loves this miracle dog. How did he come to get a Facebook page? And how many Facebook friends/fans/followers does he have now? How did he get such a following?
Tugg now has around 11,000 fans from around the globe, and that number increases daily as new fans discover the magic of this little bull terrier which is something we never expected.
In addition to bringing Tugg home when we did, I was also in the middle of training two dogs for the Extreme Mutt Makeover an event only 15 dog trainers are invited to participate in each year, and I was the only trainer who had two. The trainer gets eight weeks with a shelter dog in my case, two shelter dogs and at the end of the training time, each dog competes to show what they have learned. The public gets then gets the chance to adopt the dogs. Each of the dogs I was training had their own Facebook pages as part of the program.
Since we were posting daily updates on the makeover dogs, Kim suggested I make a page for Tugg as well. Many of our friends and family asked, almost daily, how Tugg was doing, and a page of his own would tell everyone at once.
Thats when Tugg got his own Facebook page.
There were only a dozen or so of our friends following Tuggs progress on his page the first days. His daily pupdates included a little about how he was doing with his treatments and a little about what he had gotten into that day, if anything. Each day was a new day for Tugg, and he saw the world through his newly opened eyes in a way that was full of wonder and amazement.
Like a child wrapped in a dog suit, he also discovered that while he was getting better in the real world, in Tuggs world, he was also a superhero. Sometimes his adventures even take on a look like being in a comic book.
Within a week, the number of followers had climbed to 100. By two weeks the number had almost doubled, and by a month Tuggs page had almost 1,000 followers from all over the world.
What other places?
From South Africa to Israel, to Thailand to Europe and Australia, his fans log in daily to see how Tugg is doing and see what Tugg is doing. It doesnt matter that they are in other time zones or half a world away.
Tell us more about his page.
Tuggs page is a page of hope and wuff his word for love. People come to get inspired, uplifted, supported, motivated, and accepted for who they truly are. It's a page of positive energy, happiness, empowerment, turning negatives into positives, and focusing on the can-dos in life. There is no obstacle Tugg cant overcome, and he always tries to see the good in every situation. Sometimes you'll be moved to tears, others to laughter. Tugg promotes kindness, charity, philanthropy, responsible pet ownership, wuff, and social responsibility.
Tugg helps others by wuffing it forward while raising funds and awareness for human and animal causes in the community. His accomplishments are numerous, especially considering he has only been able to work toward them for less than two years and most of that time he was in the process of healing himself.
I think we knew right away that Tugg was special. From the time he was in the shelter, he had that special spark. On top of that, we are reminded almost daily what a special dog he is. Because we put Tuggs e-mail address on his Facebook page, we frequently get messages from his friends. Some have become close friends to us as well.
We have had several people e-mail to tell us how Tugg has touched their lives, and how they appreciate his positive outlook. I think people can connect with his other motto of Never give up, you are great just the way you are. And, remember to wuff it forward. We have had more than one person contact us and tell us that Tugg literally saved their lives that they were contemplating suicide, and because of the positive message on Tuggs page every day, they gained the will to keep living.
That is really something. Well thats what superheroes do â€” save lives. Would you tell us about some of the things he does to wuff it forward?
Sure. Tugg just won the 2011 American Kennel Club (AKC) Award for Canine Excellence (ACE) as an Exemplary Companion Dog, for all of the work that he does for others. A brief rundown includes:
Tugg visits schools, not only as a certified therapy dog to help in class, sometimes by reading to the students and others just being a calming factor in class, but to teach children what responsible pet ownership is all about, and to help teach them about social issues like self esteem and antibullying and to stimulate their imagination and sense of wonder.
Tugg created his You are great just the way you are program to help children understand that being different is okay, and that is what makes each and every person special. He has created handouts and worksheets for children to draw on and color and be interactive with to help them remember what they learned in class with Tugg.
Tugg adopted two U.S. soldiers serving overseas, and sends them care packages regularly. In addition, Tugg also launched his Operation Support-a-Soldier. Through the program, Tuggs fans on Facebook can send him the name and mailing address of a soldier, sailor, or airman and Tugg will send that soldier a special Super TOAST, a letter of encouragement thanking that soldier for his or her service and a couple of blank greeting cards with envelopes so the soldiers have something to write home on.
That is wonderful. My book Soldier Dogs is being published in a couple of months and I may have a couple of people who would really appreciate something like this.
Get us the information and well get right on it.
Theres actually much more. Tugg also helps raise awareness and funds for important human and animal efforts, by working with groups like Bark for a Cure and Clean for a Cure to help raise awareness and money for breast cancer research benefitting the Susan G. Komen Foundation. He has helped fire and police organizations and individual stations and officers. He likes visiting fire stations, and has even gotten to go for a ride in a fire truck on the way to a real fire. For 2012, Tugg created an all-firefighter calendar for firefighters to use as a fundraiser for their departments, so they can purchase needed equipment that is not in the city budget.
Tugg organized a pet food drive for a local animal shelter and coordinated the effort with the Brotherhood of the Third Wheel, a local motorcycle organization composed of riders who drive trikes, and brought in more than 2,500 pounds of dry pet food.
Tugg was the special celebrity dog model at the Fashion Group Internationals Four-Legged Fashion: Canine meets Couture event, and modeled an outfit made specially for him by the famous designer Finley. Although the totals are not completely finished, the show raised more than $12,000 for four small rescue groups by auctioning the items worn by the dog models and organizers said this years show will be a record year.
He helps rehabilitate other dogs and cats who are brought to his home as fosters. To date, Tugg has helped more than a dozen dogs and puppies and nine cats and kittens learn to adjust and become suitable pets for adopters.
Tugg was asked to give a special presentation to the mayor and city council of Fort Worth. He was also the guest of the mayor at the mayors state of the city address. Because of Tuggs involvement with the city, more resources from the city budget have been directed to animal control, and grant money from private donors, totaling around $400,000, was given to the city to operate the first-ever public-private partnership between a shelter and Petsmart opening the first 7-day-a-week adoption center staffed by city shelter workers.
Theres lots more, but Id better stop here.
Wow, Tugg is one busy dog. All this must keep you and your wife very busy as well. How do you find time for all this?
Tugg does keep us really busy, but we love doing his activities with him.
Kim and I are both full-time animal control officers. Sometimes one of us will still be working on a case helping animals and the other will have to come home and take care of ours. We do our job because we love animals and we want to help them as much as we can. People ask us if its like on Animal Cops, and the answer to that is yes, only many times its worse.
Im not really sure where we find the time for everything. I guess its because we dont do anything else. Our world revolves around our animals, and if something falls outside of that, it pretty much falls by the wayside.
What inspired you to do a web video series?
We were contacted by a couple of producers in Los Angeles who wanted to talk with us about any plans we might have for Tugg. At the time, we didnt have any plans as far as movies or series or anything like that. Over several phone calls, we understood that they werent asking from a profit standpoint, but were asking because they supported Tuggs message since they had been following him on Facebook.
We talked about what the best way would be. Our producers, Chris Sergi and Kareem Ferguson, said the best way was probably to start with a web series, since a lot of new and innovative material is going that way.
Can you tell us a little more about it?
The series is part live action, and part animation, and follows not only Tugg's daily good deeds, but also his imagined adventures all the while spreading his message of "Never give up, you are great just the way you are. And remember to wuff it forward."
The live action could focus more on the real-world aspects of Tuggs adventures, and the animation could better depict his adventures when he is traveling through time and space in his time machine, or when Tugg dons his red cape and flies of to save the day because he is a superhero. Animation would also be beneficial to showcase some of his other talents, like baking and being an artist.
From dogs in other dimensions to fending off an attacking horde of stick monsters, Tugg has a grand adventure almost every day. He also has quiet moments of reflections with his elderly neighbor and sometimes picks on his BIG little brother, Ajaxx, as only a brother would.
As a dog who is also a superhero, Tugg formed a group consisting of other animal superheroes as well. That group is L.E.A.S.H. (League of Extraordinary Animal Super Heroes), and some webisodes will feature members of L.E.A.S.H. from around the globe, fighting evil and standing for everything that is good.
Therell be a little bit of everything for all ages, and it will always be safe for everyone.
Does this superhero do anything to bring awareness to important issues in the series? Could you give some examples?
Tugg is a superhero in order to bring attention to important issues, and that will remain in every webisode. Tugg was a rescue dog, so that is an issue he deals with quite often. He is also one of the bully breeds. That opens several avenues of issues that need to be discussed, and Tugg tackles those issues head-on. From ant-bullying to discrimination and self esteem, Tugg will bring awareness and teachable moments.
In addition, Tugg will deal with shelter conditions, overcrowding, adoptions, proper pet care, and other issues directly relating to dogs and cats.
I would love to go into more detail, but were finalizing some of those scripts and I dont want to give any spoilers!
So its not all just about time travel; its a series with a cause.
Absolutely. Thats what Tugg is all about helping however he can. While we want the web series to be really entertaining, we think it also MUST have a message. Each episode will have something in there that will help get the message out to always be the best you can be. Sometimes that will be direct, and sometimes it will just be so that the story only works when you are.
But, dont fear, there will be plenty of time travel and other adventures too! Adventure with a cause is always better than a cause with no adventure, or an adventure with no cause.
Thats for sure. Whats the target audience?
Everyone! I know that most TV shows and web series do have a general demographic, but we really believe there will be something there for everyone. If you are old enough, to find the series on the Net, we want you to watch. If you are a parent or a grandparent, we want you to watch and be entertained as well, and know that every episode will be safe for the little ones too.
How can people participate in being part of making the series a reality?
The most important way is to help us make sure we can afford the animators and film crew. Weve got a bunch of people who believe in Tuggs message and many are willing to work for free to help us get it out there, but we still have some things we are going to have to pay for animation being the biggest expense.
To fund the series, we started a Kickstarter project. All of the money donated goes into producing the web series.
Another way someone can help, is if they are in the film business, they are welcome to volunteer and work with us. Well start filming in late February or early March. Just send us an e-mail with what you would like to do, your experience, and when you might be available. You can e-mail Tugg at: firstname.lastname@example.org
What are some of the incentives, besides just helping out?
We have cool little Tugg decal, donated by the extremely cool and awesome people at Dali Decals in Jacksonville, Florida, for people who donate at the $10 level, and go all the way to executive producer level of $5,000. At that level, and there are only two spots at that level available, you get a completely handmade, drawn, and written 96-page book featuring a Tugg adventure. You can see all of the levels on the Kickstarter page.
The beautiful way that Kickstarter works can also work against some projects. With Kickstarter, its an all-or-nothing deal. People pledge the amount they will donate if the project makes the goal. For us, the goal is $8,000 which, like I said, goes for filming and animation. If the goal is made, then the donations go through and the project is funded. All of the money goes through Amazon, so everyone is protected every step of the way. If the goal isnt made, then no money changes hands. Its as simple as that.
I really hope we make our goal so that we can have the cool animation we are planning, but if we dont, we are still going through with the web series our budget will be just that much tighter. Which will probably mean that Ill be skipping a few lunches to get things paid for. It also means that we wont be doing the animation, but will have to opt for low-budget effects. That could be just as interesting, and we plan on making the series just as entertaining, but would really like to have it look the best that it can.
Did you choose the goal of February 14 for a particular reason?
Actually we did. As everyone probably knows, February 14 is Valentines Day, and is one of Tuggs favorite holidays since it is the holiday of wuff! That also gives us time to get everything set to start filming at the end of February or early March.
Does Tugg have any message for Dogsters and their dogs?
I wuff all yall! Remember, never give up no matter what. You are great just the way you are because thats what makes you special! Also, remember to wuff it forward! Just think of what a great place this world would be if we all did just one thing for someone else every day. Thats the kind of world that to me is a Dogster world!