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Love at first sight with Internet beauty

Pandora: Who wouldn't fall in love?

Five days ago, I’d never heard of the Havanese breed of dogs.

I was reading a profile of writer Adam Gopnik, and it contained a reference to an article about dogs that he had written for the New Yorker. So, of course, I clicked on it.

I read that his 12-year-old daughter had studied breeds, and that she was determined to get a Havanese (from Havana; the breed originated in Spain, then spread to Cuba). Gopnik and his wife didn’t want a dog, but their daughter won, and they, too, were smitten with their energetic, well-behaved Havanese.

So my obsessive self started cruising the internet.

Havanese are small, hypoallergenic, don’t shed, don’t yap(!). They are adorable, with black button eyes. In the bichon frise family, and some say (OK, Wikepedia) that they were crossed with toy poodles. Barbara Walters shows off hers on The View.

I liked the idea of a petite dog I could take places with me. And they were so cute. Little balls of fur.

But my sweet, 18-year-old, 20-pound mutt had just died March 28. I loved her to pieces, and we both had to cope with her often-difficult final two years, when she was totally blind. Her ashes are in a box in my living room. I had no intention of getting a new dog. Seriously. I promise. Not yet.

But my recent weeks at a summer condo in Highlands, N.C., have been less than productive. There have been entire days spent in my nightshirt, surfing the net, watching NCIS reruns on USA network and eating raw cake batter (pound cake; very good!).

I found a Havanese rescue page … with pictures of dogs available for adoption.

More pictures of Pandora arrived Saturday -- cementing the Internet romance. She was No. 214 in the auction, explaining the tag on her collar.

Two dreadful puppy mills had shut down in late June, one in Oklahoma and one in Ohio. The mill owners auctioned off their remaining dogs, mainly to other breeders. But the rescue group, called HALO (Havanese Angel League Organization), went to these auctions, too, and bought 33 dogs in Oklahoma alone. After each auction, HALO volunteers and foster parents choose pup names that begin with a single letter: This time they all began with P.

There were mainly puppies on the website, but I saw the picture of 6-year-old, 9-pound mama Havanese named Pandora and fell in love.

It’s the 21st century, so I posted on Facebook: Should I mail an adoption application to HALO? Fifty friends shouted, “Yes!”

But a couple of knowledgeable friends sent warnings by private emails. Puppy mill dogs can be difficult to raise. Pandora had lived 6 years in a wire cage; she was used solely to birth babies. She had not been cuddled. Such survivors often are terrified of humans, and don’t know how to socialize. It can take forever to get them to trust, and they all need TLC.

Lynda Friedmann, who volunteers several days a week at the Louisiana SPCA, bless her heart, reminded me that there are plenty of dogs in our area who need homes. And I know she’s right. Check out the SPCA page, where the dark eyes of Mallory, a Daschund mix, plead that he’s so ready for a permanent home. And look at the precious Bruno, a chihuahua mix at Southern Animal Foundation.

Still, I kept thinking about Pandora’s adorable face staring out of my computer screen.

So Thursday I filled out HALO’s adoption application (what could I Iose but the $25 fee, right?).

Kathi Quigley, a teacher who’s in charge of it all from her home in Illinois, called almost immediately.

On Friday she called my three references (Lynda, Chris and Laura B, thank you very much), who vouched for me as a responsible pet owner. And by Friday afternoon I had been approved and called Cindy Breeden, a pet groomer in Indiana who has fostered Pandora and her three pups for three weeks.

Cindy said that as Pandora’s pups are getting older, she seems less anxious, and yesterday she played in the grooming shop, running with other animals there. She sleeps through the night, and is doing well with crate training (about which I know nothing). She is shy with humans, but seems content when Cindy sits on the ground and strokes her fur. She is very sweet, said Cindy, who has two dogs of her own, two children and a third due Aug. 19.

Plus her business.

She sent me more pictures, and a video of Mama Pandora frolicking with her three puppies, who jump like jack rabbits. She posted on HALO’s closed Facebook page that Pandora might have a home in New Orleans. Other owners of Havanese posted congratulations, and said they were so happy the adult dogs were getting new homes as fast as the hopping pups.

I feel like I have found a new extended family.

So, I am driving to Atlanta and flying to Indianapolis next week, and flying back a day later. I bought a ticket home for Pandora, too. I can back out if she hisses at me or it doesn’t go well.

My husband, Keith, says that since the Havanese breed is Cuban/Spanish, his dog, Clio, insists that Pandora’s name be changed to Fidel.

We’ll see.

I kind of like the name Pandora, Greek mythology’s first woman on Earth, whose curiosity got the best of her … and, well, we won’t go into the rest of what happened.

My dog-loving friend Chris, who will be visiting when I return to North Carolina with Ms. Pandora, is sure to have advice.

That is, if Pandora makes the trip back with me.

But, with a face like that, how could she not?

This afternoon I bought $230 worth of dog stuff.

Just look again at that face.

A lot of us fall in love via the Internet these days.

And quite often, it works out very well.

Former Times-Picayune travel editor Millie Ball is now a freelance journalist and part-time North Carolina resident. She contributed this article to NolaVie.



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