Given her experiences so far, it’s only fitting that Sugar, a nearly 7-year-old Shepherd mix rescue dog, ended up in a TV show on the Hallmark Channel, known for its inspirational programming.
Sugar’s ultimately heartwarming story began under life-threatening circumstances. In August 2017, she and her three puppies were left at a high-kill shelter in Riverside, California. With time running out, they were rescued thanks to a Facebook post about them that tagged The Furgotten, a Los Angeles nonprofit that took them in.
However, after the puppies were adopted (two at three months old, the other at four months), Sugar wasn’t as lucky to find a forever home. A family took her in, but upon realizing their daughter was allergic to dogs, they returned Sugar to her original foster home, where she remained for a year.
The tide began to turn when Furgotten founder Maria Faillace reached out to veteran dog fosters Kimberly Goodman and Chris Emerson about taking in Sugar. After a month or so, they decided to keep her.
The decisive moment for Goodman and Emerson came on a Saturday afternoon when a family was scheduled to drop by and meet Sugar.
“It was then when Chris and I looked at each other and started asking the questions: ‘Well, what if they like her? Will they be good enough for Sugar?’” recalled Goodman. “I had a sick feeling in my stomach at the thought of her leaving us, and Chris, being a cat guy, was caught off-guard with this feeling of love for a dog. Needless to say, we had a very big realization that she was already home with us and she was our girl. We canceled the appointment.”
Paying the ‘belly rub toll’
A big part of Sugar’s personality soon became something they couldn’t — and wouldn’t — ignore.
“We started to notice that anytime we would walk by Sugar, she would do the half roll with both front paws up like a bunny to invite us in to rub her belly,” Goodman said. “When we would start to rub her belly, she would go into a full-on roll onto her back to give us her full belly. And when we would try to leave, she would do the break-dance move of wiggling side to side to say — with tongue hanging out — ‘Hey, I’m not done.’”
From that point on, every time Goodman or Emerson would go from room to room or leave the house, the “belly rub toll” needed to be paid. The same applied when it was time to put on her leash for a walk.
By chance, Goodman happened to come across the Hallmark Channel’s “American Rescue Dog Show,” a competition that had among its categories Best in Belly Rubs. She and Emerson submitted a few videos and photos of Sugar, who was accepted as a contestant for the three-day January event in Santa Monica, California, that aired in mid-February.
“Throughout the entire process, she was super calm and just went with the flow,” said Goodman. “For me, it was emotional, exciting and nerve-wracking. I was caught off-guard on how emotional it was.”
Goodman says seeing all of the dogs in the competition and the people working with them was overwhelming.
“Once in the ring, I was just praying that Sugar would give us her belly in public and have fun with it,” Goodman added. “She is not a ‘trained’ dog or treat-motivated, so I had to rely on our relationship and trust for her to roll over.”
Sugar did roll over, and not only did she win the Best in Belly Rubs honor, she also took home the overall Best in Rescue crown, with the two victories resulting in a $35,000 donation to The Furgotten.
“Sugar’s win has really motivated us in a way we never expected,” Goodman said. “Chris and I are so energized to share her story and let potential fosters and adopters see just how incredible a rescue dog can be. Sugar is now embarking (pun intended) on her yearlong Best in Rescue reign with a mission to be the inspirational example of a ‘foster win.’ We have plans to visit and highlight different local rescue organizations; she’ll meet the humans, pose for photos, proudly show off her ‘Best in Belly Rub’ technique and ribbon, and do whatever else might inspire that adoptable canine — or future foster — who might be losing hope.”
To learn more about Sugar, visit her website.
At top: Kimberly Goodman, Sugar and Chris Emerson (Photo by Kim Nunnele / Alexx Henry Studios)