Woof! It's a family reunion of a rather different breed

By Morgan Mercer Published: March 18, 2013
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— Five brothers and sisters crowd into a quaint yellow house on a chilly February afternoon for the most unorthodox of family reunions. The festivities seem familiar: A banner decorates the doorway, food is laid out on the dining-room table, and parents struggle to take group pictures.

But there are no hugs exchanged, no cheek-pinching from Grandma. Instead, the guests run around in circles, lick each other's faces and get personal with their sniffing snouts. This party has gone to the dogs.

“When you first say, ‘I'm having a (reunion) party for my dog,' people look at you like you're that crazy dog lady. But when you explain it to them, people think it's cool,” said Allison Rase, one of five adopters who helped organize this reunion — a first birthday party for her rescued pit bull mix, Lucy, and four of the dog's siblings.

Pets are often considered a part of the family — but what about their real family? Thanks to social media and dedicated pet-rescue groups, more dog owners are attempting to reconnect their pooches with long-lost litter mates.

While it might sound extreme, adopters say socializing a dog with other four-legged playmates — especially their siblings — can have a positive impact on both animal and owner. For the humans in this equation, the reunions breed trust among protective owners who are concerned about all aspects of their dogs' lives.

Jenn Fadal, a pet wellness expert from Tampa, Fla., said she's seeing an uptick in the number of clients reuniting their furry companions with brothers and sisters. How does this happen? Often a rescue organization will help bridge the gap. About nine out of 10 people who get their dog from Secondhand Hounds want to share their contact information with adopters from the same litter, said Rachel Mairose, founder of the Edina-based rescue group. Mairose said she's happy to play the go-between.

Secondhand Hounds is the reason Lucy's litter was reunited this month. At the party in north Minneapolis, Harlow, one of Lucy's sisters, raced into the house, snuck a piece of bread off the counter, then dashed outside to wrestle with Sonny, another sister.

“I love watching them play because I know the story,” said Suzanne Berg, Sonny's “mom.”

For the owners, the reunion is a true celebration — a happy ending for a litter of puppies that started out in life with many strikes against them.

The pups were almost euthanized at a crowded shelter in Missouri last year after being found, motherless, along a highway. Secondhand Hounds rescued the puppies and placed them in various homes throughout the Twin Cities.

“I'm a momma now,” Berg, 41, said of Sonny.

It's no secret that many dog owners treat their pets like children. Fadal, the wellness expert, said it's only natural for dog parents to seek out friends for their “children.” Especially when those playmates are siblings.

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