In most neighborhoods, a Shar-Pei is not a common sight, and a Shar-Pei on three legs is even rarer. Perhaps that’s why Tim Kocher’s dog, Lenny, attracts so much attention on the streets outside Chicago, Illinois, and in the hashtags of Instagram.
Tim started posting cute pictures of Lenny and his Shar-Pei siblings online about a year ago, and says if someone had predicted this 20 years ago he would have laughed out loud. His younger self just wouldn’t have understood the bond he now has with Lenny.
“After my mom died, Lenny was there for me, and he helped take care of me. He helped cheer me up when I lost my job. He was there for me just like I’ve been there for him.”
Lenny came into Tim’s life in 2009 after he and his wife Teresa Recchia lost Pooh, the Shar Pei who transformed the couple from ambivalent about animals to full-blown dog people. Pooh originally belonged to a neighbor of theirs who died suddenly, and when no one else wanted to take her, Tim and Teresa did.
“She had another eight years with us so she made it to 16, which is pretty good,” Tim recalls.
After Pooh passed, the couple decided to adopt again, and reached out to a now defunct Shar Pei rescue in Illinois. The rescue brought several dogs over to their place one at a time, and Lenny — who had been surrendered by his previous owners just days earlier — immediately made himself at home.
“We couldn’t even look at Pooh’s favorite spot on the couch without losing it, and suddenly we had Lenny coming in, full of life and so beautiful and so classy — he just gave us so much.”
Lenny’s original people relinquished him at 4 years old after his destructive separation anxiety became too much for them to handle. Tim believes Lenny’s first family loved him tremendously, but just didn’t know how to help him. Luckily, Tim and Teresa had something Lenny’s first folks didn’t: a copy of The Dog Listener, by Jan Fennell.
“By using the techniques in that book, we had him settled down in a week,” Tim recalls.
Tim says part of him wishes he could just go back in time and hand that book to Lenny’s original owners, but he’s also grateful the sweet dog ended up in his household.
“To be able to give him peace, and the pleasure of just sleeping through the day if he wants to and not feeling like we’re always on the verge of leaving him — giving him some calm in his life — it was immensely rewarding.”
Eventually Tim and Teresa adopted another Shar Pei, a former stray named Gretel. Lenny may have had the book learning, but Gretel had the street smarts.
“She was always very keen to stay close to us, or at least to Lenny. Lenny — being spoiled all his life — has no grasp that the world might be dangerous,” Tim says, recalling the horrible day when Lenny somehow slipped out the gate.
Tim and Teresa were frantically scouring the neighborhood when Tim heard the sickening sound of screeching brakes and ran toward the noise.
“I saw him running down the street bleeding, so I grabbed him and we took him to the vet,” he recalls. “The mailman had seen it happen, and evidently it was a hit and run.”
Lenny’s knee was badly damaged, and an amputation was necessary. At first, his people had a hard time conceiving what their majestic dog would be like on three legs, but according to Tim, post-surgery Lenny surprised everyone by being his same old self (just a little slower).
Years after Lenny lost his leg, the family suffered another loss when cancer took Gretel in 2016. Several months later, the family opened their hearts again, adopting a Shar Pei–English Bulldog mix puppy named Hazel. Tim says the pup has reinvigorated 11-year-old Lenny, who’s embraced his nurturing side.
Instagram friends around the world have watched the dogs’ relationship blossom, and Tim is happy he can share just a fraction of the joy Lenny has brought to his family.
“I want to show people that this magnificent dog who is the envy of everyone who meets him is a rescue — somebody had to give him up, and there are a lot of them like him out there.”