The famous "Hugging Dogs," Kala and Keira, are rolling around on the patio of their new home. It's a cloudy weekday morning and the dogs, who gained international fame when a photo of them hugging went viral, have just discovered how to use the swinging pet door at their forever home.
"They play non-stop. They are into everything," said Wendy, 55, who adopted the dogs last week with her roommate Pam. "We are just trying to keep them out of trouble."
Kala, an 11-month old hound mix, and Keira, a 15-month old boxer mix, made headlines in July. The dogs were in danger of being euthanized and their photo along with the story told from their point of view went viral on the Facebook page for Atlanta-based Angels Among Us Pet Rescue.
The six-year-old non-profit organization gained recognition in the Southeast by letting dogs tell their own stories, said spokeswoman, Anne Clarke. "We try to be the dog's voice," she said. They grew from 50 followers on Facebook to more than 800,000, in part fueled by the recent publicity.
Run by donations, the organization, takes in some of the neediest dogs (and cats) be they pregnant, sick or old. The dogs are placed in foster homes and provided medical care for their problems, at a cost of about $200,000 per month. All the foster homes are inspected as are the homes of potential adoptive families. Volunteers track medical appointments, oversee adoptions and solicit donations in social media to help care for the dogs, said Clarke.
Within hours of posting Kala and Keira's photo, a volunteer offered to foster the dogs. From there, things exploded. Media coverage catapulted the dogs to international fame -- they were featured in People Magazine, World News Tonight with David Muir and a newspaper in Tel Aviv.
The Angels Among Us website crashed as people scrambled to fill out applications or just get a look at the dogs. Still, despite all the hoopla, only a few applicants were qualified.
"Everyone saw the story, but we only had a few applications on the dogs," Clarke said. It is not easy to place two dogs that are over 30 pounds, but the organization was adamant about keeping them together.
Pam was in the hair salon two weeks ago when she spotted the dogs in People Magazine. The dog lover had cried when she saw Kala and Keira's story months before and was surprised to see they still hadn't been adopted since being rescued in July. She tore out the page and took it home to show Wendy. “I said, Oh my goodness! I can't believe those dogs haven’t been adopted," Wendy said. They called the rescue to see what was going on.
The longtime roomies had once owned four dogs between the two of them but last month, within a span of six days, they lost their last two dogs, Scooby and River. "We weren’t even coming home half the time, we were so devastated," said Wendy.
Scooby was a rescue and River had been adopted, so Wendy and Pam weren't strangers to the process. They were hesitant having just lost their beloved dogs, but when Angels Among Us called them back, things began to fall into place. Their application was expedited and the foster parent for Kala and Keira brought the dogs out to the house to see the environment where the dogs would live. "It was love at first sight," said Wendy. On October 25, the officially adopted the two dogs.
After only a week, it seems as if the energetic dogs have been there forever and they've kept their new owners busy. "I am feeling my age a little bit. It's like a 55-year-old woman with a one-year-old kid," Wendy said.
Kala and Keira are great dogs, she said. They are well-trained, a joy to watch and keep their owners laughing. "If I had a camera on them, they could have their own TV show," said Wendy watching the dogs roll around outside and play tug-of-war with a chew toy. In the coming weeks, she and Pam will work on getting them socialized with other dogs by taking trips to Piedmont Park and walking the trails near their home.
With two young dogs, they've also had to adjust their schedules to come straight home from work to let them out, Wendy said. And with these particular dogs, they've had to adjust to all the media attention.
"These dogs are celebrities. I didn’t know what we were getting into. I wanted everyone to know the dogs ended up in a happy forever home, but I had no idea it would turn into all of this," said Wendy. They recently hosted another photo shoot with People Magazine and will soon appear on HLN.
Even though their lives have been turned upside down, Wendy said she is happy the two dogs have a happy ending, since so many other animals do not.
"Kala still hugs Keira," said Wendy. "And now sometimes Keira will hug Kala back."