In the early hours of April 1 (Easter morning), my husband Zach and I were on our way home from visiting a friend when I spotted an animal walking near the side of the road. I initially thought it was a cat — there are lots of feral kitties here in Orlando — but as we got closer I realized it was actually a small dog.

It was still dark outside, and we were crossing a busy intersection. I couldn’t bear to think about what could happen to the pup if she darted into the street. “That’s … a dog,” I said to Zach, who was driving, as we passed.

He asked, “Do we need to turn around?” but he’d heard the concern in my voice and had already slowed down and put on his turn signal before I could respond. He’s an animal lover, too.

We made a U-turn. I hopped out and jogged along the sidewalk where the dog had been, worried she may have already trotted off. I called for her and, to my surprise, she appeared from behind a bush and came running right toward me — tail wagging and all! She lay on the ground at my feet and rolled on her back. I knelt and patted her belly, then scooped her up.

Back in the car, I held her in my lap and conducted a brief inspection: She appeared to be a shih tzu mix of some sort, with long fur that was matted and filled with prickly burs. She also had a collar, but no ID tags.

At home, we set out small bowls with food and water. We supervised closely while she and our two (larger) dogs sniffed and circled and introduced themselves, and were pleased when all three gave us approving looks as if to say, “Okay, we’re good now. This is fine.”

Right away, I posted a description of the pup on Nextdoor (a social media site for neighbors), in Orlando pet Facebook groups, and in the local “Lost and Found” and “Pets” sections of Craigslist. I searched a variety of other sites, too, with the hope of finding a “lost dog” post that matched our new guest. Nothing.

On Monday I took the pup (whom we’d nicknamed “Hoffa”) to our veterinary clinic, where a vet tech scanned her for a microchip. She did have a chip; however, the registered phone number led us to a dead end. According to the vet tech, the person who answered said they “didn’t have a dog.”

This was discouraging and seemed a little suspicious, but the tech suggested one more option: file a 311 report. In Orlando, residents can dial 311 to report non-emergency issues such as lost and found pets. If Hoffa did have a guardian and they called the police or the county animal shelter, we’d be contacted. (We could have taken her to the shelter, but it made sense — and was convenient — for us to foster.) So I filed the report and waited.

Over the next few days, Hoffa allowed me to trim the mats out of her fur and give her a bath. Sometimes she played in the fenced backyard with our other dogs, but most often she stayed by my or Zach’s side. At night, she slept on a blanket next to our bed. Unfortunately, we realized she wasn’t completely housebroken and that she didn’t get along with cats (we also have a kitty), so we did our best to work with her during potty time and kept an eye on her whenever our cat was nearby. Overall, she was well-mannered and sweet.

Lost Shih Tzu After Bath
“Hoffa” looked and smelled fresh after her haircut and bath!

At the end of the week, I contacted a local rescue group specializing in small dogs (Florida Little Dog Rescue) and asked if they had room for one more. They did! The following Monday, I drove Hoffa to meet her new foster mom, who asked me to fill out some simple paperwork and informed me that Hoffa’s first vet appointment had already been scheduled. She also told me that Hoffa would stay with her until at least the end of the month — 30 days from the date I found her — to make sure we’d exhausted all attempts to locate a loving family that may be looking for her.

Hoffa is still with Florida Little Dog Rescue, and she’ll likely be up for adoption within a week or so. (They tell us she’s doing well, and that her new name is “Pearl.”) We’ll provide another update here on the MUTTS blog when she’s ready to find a new home.

Ali Datko is the digital content manager at MUTTS. She lives in Orlando, Florida with her husband, two rescue dogs named Jager and Holly, and a mischievous cat named Ava. 

Comments (15)

I am very interested in adopting Pearl, formerly Hoffa.

Would you let me know when she becomes available? I live in Ocala, not very far from you, and would love an opportunity to meet and play with her before giving you a definite “YES!”

Thank you for all you do – it is so appreciated.

Susie von Ammon

Thank you for going the extra mile for Hoffa! You & your family are the best!

Nancy Walsh

First of all THANK YOU for stopping and get Pearl to a safe place! Getting her to rescue and then to foster is the best thing. Rescue dogs are not damaged goods, they have a lot of love to give and need the time and space to let them blossom. Fosters are the best. We adopted 2 bonded girls and have never looked back. I’m sorry you were unable to keep her but that happens sometimes. You had to go what was best for your family. I hope that Pearl goes to a wonderful family. She is one cute girl. I also love her name. If I did love closer and didn’t already have 3 dogs, I’d be there in a hot second! Keeping Pearl in my prayers.

Adrienne Friederich

Reminds me of the time my family in Orlando was adopted by a Shi Tzu that wandered into our garage after a hurricane. She lived with us for many years. She was a great dog.


I didn’t even know team mutts existed?! There are numerous times I’ve had too much trouble with this site, just given up. Even to purchase items.

iris davenport