Profiles

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Q&A with Tegan and “Larry With the Pink Collar”

UWSP Alumna, Marine veteran, Wisconsin Department of Transportation Communications Manager—and now, dog owner.

Ashlee Weidman | April 11, 2020 | Profiles

A year ago, Tegan Griffith ’18 didn’t know her life was going to change drastically. April 9, 2019 started off as a normal morning. Driving to work, Griffith saw something moving in off the side of the road, and immediately stopped to see what it was. Turns out, it was a puppy, which she later named Larry. “I thought Larry was a girl because he was so young so you couldn’t tell,” says Griffith. That explains why, for the first days following his rescue, Larry sported a pink collar.

The rest, as they say, is history. The self-proclaimed “cat person” had found a fuzzy, forever canine friend. Word of this unexpected encounter went viral on Twitter, and Larry became something of a minor celebrity. We recently spoke with Griffith about her experience, and what it’s like living with Larry today. In honor of Larry’s “gotcha” day anniversary, as well as National Pet Day (April 11), we present a Q&A interview with Griffith.

Q: For those who may not know the story, tell us what happened on the day you found Larry.

At the time I had a 45-minute commute and there were two different ways I could take – I could take the rural way or a different paved road. That day I decided to take the scenic route. I’m driving on my way to work and I see this thing moving in the ditch. I slammed on my brakes and stopped in the middle of the road, thinking, “What if this is a baby bear or what if it’s a raccoon?” I got out of the car and there was this little puppy the size of a normal-sized cat. I’m looking around, thinking I’m going to see someone, but it’s the middle of nowhere, so there’s no one around. I start talking to the puppy, trying to get it to come to me, but it started running away down the road. I had a major adulting win that day because I had packed my own lunch and I had food with me. I had some cheese snacks, and that’s how I got him. As soon as he started eating the snacks, I grabbed him and put him in the car.

I finished driving to work, and I stuffed him into my vest and went in. I told my supervisor, “Something happened today and I don’t really know what I’m doing because I’m a cat lady and there’s a puppy. I don’t know what to do with dogs!” I packed my stuff and left work, and on my way back home, I called the [Forest County] humane society. And they told me that I had found the fourth one. His [three] sisters had been found the day before, and Larry spent the night outside in the snow by himself. We eventually went to the humane society and Larry got to reunite with his sisters.

That’s kind of in a nutshell how this happened, I wasn’t expecting to find something. He totally came out of nowhere and surprised the living daylights out of this cat person. I’m a believer of things happening for a reason, so I couldn’t handle the thought of this puppy being found by me and then abandoned by me, so I adopted him. Later that night, I tweeted the whole story.

Q: Once you posted your story on Twitter, it went viral online and got picked up by the national media. What has it been like navigating the surge of attention?

It’s been a little overwhelming! I did a bunch of interviews in my car, and it was one thing after another and I couldn’t keep up. There were celebrities that were picking up on this story – George Takei, Bored Panda, the Dodo. The Dogs of Twitter picked it up. And then I started getting media requests which I had to plan around my work schedule. People were invested in the story and they needed to follow it through. … So that’s what I did. I made him an Instagram account because people wanted to see more. Now it’s kind of plateaued, but people are still very invested in Larry’s life. There’s a lady in Australia, who I interact with because of Larry’s story. There’s people that say “hi” from Scotland – it really went global. Today the initial story on Twitter has 10,109,328 impressions and 2,207,000 engagements. After something gains that much attention, you realize that you’ve become somewhat of a public figure.

Q: What were/are people saying or posting in response to the story of how you and Larry found each other? Are there one or two responses that stand out in your mind?

There’s generally two categories of people where I see a trend. There’s the first group of folks who share their stories about once owning a dog and not able to bring themselves to adopt another one after its passing. They say this story about me being a cat lady reluctant to owning a dog inspired them to go to the shelter and become a foster, or adopt another dog. So there’s that group of people who have found some hope. And then the other group of folks who I hear from quite a bit, people who open up about having a bad day or going through a rough time in their life, like battling anxiety or depression. They come to Twitter to look at pictures of dogs, and they say my story brings them a lot of joy. There are also parents who read the story to their kids, which is probably my all-time favorite. There was someone in New York City, at the beginning of all of this, who said, “Today is my daughter’s birthday and she’s not having a good day but she loves Larry. Would you be able to send a picture?” I got out my crayons and got her first name, and I drew a picture and hung it on Larry and sent them a picture. So I get people who reach out all the time and tell me that I impacted their day.

Q: Early on, you urged your Twitter followers to donate to the Forest County Humane Society. What has sharing your story meant to the shelter, in terms of monetary donations and, possibly, adoptions?

We actually crashed their donation system! In the beginning, they didn’t even know who I was and they didn’t really comprehend what was going on – why their donation system crashed on them. So they reached out to me, and I had to tell them about my story on Twitter. We raised over $20,000 the last time I checked, and it was by people from all over the world that donated. Also, all of his sisters got adopted immediately. …. A couple of months ago, the shelter posted on their Facebook page that for the first time in a long time, they had an empty shelter, which, for being in a rural area, that’s a huge deal. People also found the humane society’s wish list on Amazon and started fulfilling their list. They sent me a picture one day of all the packages stacked in front of their door!

Q: How is life with Larry now? What is he like and how is he doing?

Like I’ve said before, I’m a cat-person. Cats mind their p’s and q’s, they like you if you feed them, give them water and a blanket and they’re fine. Whereas Larry is, “Mom, what are you doing? Are you at work? Look at the squirrel across the street.” So it’s been going from an independent to somebody that relies on you. Larry has to go out three or four times a day, he has to go for a walk and get exercise. So having a dog depend on me has been different than what I’m used to.

Larry has a lot of energy. He’s go, go, go all day long and crashes at night when it’s time for bed. He’s like a little baby. He’ll sleep through the whole night for the most part. But during the day, now that I’ve been working at home for the last month, he’s very invested in what I’m doing, and he hangs out with me. I give him a good life because I know he didn’t have a good start. … He’s very active, and he can get a little naughty – he likes socks and digging in laundry and he likes to dig holes. He’s got a lot of puppy energy still!                      

Q: How did you two celebrate the one-year anniversary of Larry’s “gotcha” day on April 9?

Normally Larry wakes me up first, but this time I woke him up first. We went to Starbucks to get a coffee and a “pup cup” [whipped cream in a sample cup]. We went for a walk and sat outside for a bit. On my lunchtime, I took him through the McDonald’s drive-thru and he got little pieces of chicken nuggets. I also gave him a special toy – there’s a toy that he only gets every now and then that you put treats in and it makes noise. In general, he got a lot more one-on-one time with me – more mom time. The icing on the cake was Larry’s sister’s owner reaching out saying that they live in town and would love to set up a play date in the future.

Q: What would you like the main takeaways to be from this experience, for yourself and your followers?

That you can go into something blindly, not knowing what on earth you were doing, but if you ask the right people for help and you go forward and do what you feel is right in your heart, then things will work out for you. The larger picture is that there were a lot people involved with this, in [Larry’s] welfare and raising money or the humane society, and there’s still people who are invested in him; it takes a community. I think that the general takeaway is that an act of kindness can make a profound impact on people that you’ve never met and it can be a lasting one – like the person from Australia or the person from Scotland. There’s people who love Larry and are invested in his life, and I’ve never met these people before but we make them smile, and that’s something good.

You can see Larry’s full story as it originally appeared on Twitter here.

 

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