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Dog dumped for being 'too old' makes triumphant return to Dog Bowl this weekend

Karlie, now nearly 18 and adopted into a loving home, will be one of the first inductees into the Dog Bowl Hall of Fame.
Courtesy of Steve and Rhonda Hoeckley
/ Source: TODAY

If a 17-year-old dog named Karlie gets flagged for excessive celebration during this weekend’s Dog Bowl 3, she’ll have a terrific excuse.

When the fluffy bichon frise was 15 years old, her owners dumped her in a Florida shelter for being “too old." She was overlooked by potential adopters for the same reason. After a month, Karlie started shutting down from stress.

That’s when Laurie Johnson, director of the nonprofit Florida Little Dog Rescue Group, volunteered to personally foster Karlie in her family’s home.

“We didn’t know how long she would have, but we were committed to making sure that she had a great rest of her life, however long it was,” Johnson told TODAY.

Lindsay Johnson carries Karlie out of the shelter.
Laurie Johnson's daughter, Lindsay, carries Karlie out of the shelter to head to her new foster home. Karlie enjoyed 16 months with the Johnson family before being adopted into her forever home.Courtesy of Steve and Rhonda Hoeckley

Initially, Johnson thought Karlie would be a “fospice” case — when a foster family essentially provides hospice care for a pet with little time left. But Karlie flourished with the family, which includes Johnson, her husband, three kids, three dogs and a few hedgehogs.

“Karlie had been grieving her old life, but once she settled into foster care with us and had a bed, and food that she liked, and treats, and belly rubs, and cuddles and snuggles and a yard to play in, and other dogs to be friends with, she just perked right back up,” she said. “She started to come back to life in terms of her personality really coming through and shining.”

Karlie embraced life with her foster family, and her upbeat personality began to shine through.Courtesy of Steve and Rhonda Hoeckley

Though Karlie was available for adoption, people still considered her too old to adopt. She stayed with the Johnsons for 16 months. Then she had the chance to compete in Animal Planet’s Dog Bowl, which highlights adoptable senior dogs from shelters and rescue organizations; TODAY ran an article about Karlie’s journey to the big game.

“About 20 minutes into the Dog Bowl airing, we started getting lots of interest in Karlie,” she said. “People were looking her up online and found the TODAY article.”

During Dog Bowl 2, Florida Little Dog Rescue Group received about 50 offers from across the country to adopt Karlie.

“People didn’t realize people would give up senior dogs to shelters,” she said. “Karlie was able to open their eyes so they could consider adopting a senior dog from a shelter.”

When Florida residents Rhonda and Steve Hoeckley reached out to Johnson about adopting Karlie, she knew the dog had “hit the jackpot.” The couple, both 61, and their twin daughters have adopted numerous dogs from Florida Little Dog Rescue Group and dote on their pets.

The Hoeckley family wears party hats with Karlie and other pet dogs.
Karlie is now a beloved member of the Hoeckley family.Courtesy of Steve and Rhonda Hoeckley

“We saw the article about Karlie and just couldn’t believe they would give her away after having her 15 years,” Rhonda Hoeckley told TODAY. “It just stuck with me.”

After watching Karlie compete in Dog Bowl 2, they drove their recreational vehicle to meet Karlie. She instantly got along with the family — both people and pets.

“It’s impossible not to fall in love with this dog,” Hoeckley said. “She is just really special.”

The Hoeckleys threw a “Welcome to the Family” party for Karlie, replete with a cheeseburger cake she shared with four of her new canine pals.

A stacked cheeseburger cake
The cheeseburger cake at Karlie's "Welcome to the Family" party was a big hit with every canine partygoer, including Karlie.Courtesy of Steve and Rhonda Hoeckley

Now Karlie loves racing up and down stairs, dancing on her back legs, playing with their schnauzer, Ziggy, and rolling onto her back and flapping her front paws to beg for belly rubs. As she nears her 18th birthday, she’s in good health and not on any medications. She’s been a tremendous comfort to the Hoeckleys during family crises.

“She’s not too old for anything,” Steve Hoeckley told TODAY. “I hope people really look at adopting senior dogs.”

Karlie returns to Dog Bowl 3 this Saturday, Feb. 2, when she’ll be one of the first inductees into the Dog Bowl Hall of Fame, according to Jill Rappaport, award-winning animal advocate and creator, consulting producer and host of “Puppy Bowl Presents: The Dog Bowl.”

“Karlie truly is the poster pooch for what this show exemplifies,” Rappaport told TODAY. “She really is such an inspiration. It’s just the greatest feeling in the world knowing that in the twilight of her life, she was given a second chance at life.”

Karlie wears her Dog Bowl III bandana.
Karlie will be inducted into the Dog Bowl Hall of Fame during the 2020 Puppy Bowl Presents: The Dog Bowl, which airs Saturday, February 1 at 8 p.m. Eastern/Pacific.Courtesy of Steve and Rhonda Hoeckley

Rappaport — who has six rescue dogs, ages 3 to 18, including four “super seniors” — said there are many benefits to sharing your home with senior pets.

“I call them ‘Jill’s Chill Pills,’” she said with a laugh. “They’re just very mellow. They would rather sleep on the couch than eat the couch. They’re just so easy to be with. … I just find older animals to be a joy and a gift. That’s why I wanted to do this show.”

Jill Rappaport cuddles her six rescued dogs.
Jill Rappaport created Puppy Bowl Presents: The Dog Bowl to highlight the joy of senior dog adoptions. Her six rescue dogs, including five seniors, fit her lifestyle perfectly, she told TODAY.Kristin Gray

Rappaport is thrilled that every single dog who competed with Karlie in Dog Bowl 2 was adopted, and she has high hopes for Dog Bowl 3, which will feature 65 dogs from 32 shelters across 11 states on Team Goldies and Team Oldies. Competitors include Lulu, a deaf Australian shepherd mixed-breed dog who understands sign language; Tia, a Labrador retriever with three legs; and Mack, a cocker spaniel who is blind.

Lulu, an Aussie shepherd mix, poses in a Dog Bowl III portrait.
Lulu, a hearing-impaired Australian shepherd mix, is one of 65 shelter dogs competing in Dog Bowl III.Keith Barraclough / Animal Planet

“These dogs have overcome incredible odds. There are so many wonderful stories,” she said. “It’ll warm your heart. It’s an hour of love, and it’ll make you cry happy tears.”

Puppy Bowl Presents: The Dog Bowl airs Saturday, Feb. 1 at 8 p.m. Eastern time on Animal Planet.

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