Maddie Mystery Tour

April 14, 2021

This is Maddie. All I knew of her was in this Petfinder ad and the information from the woman at the cat rescue (yes, cat) with whom I talked on the phone. I was told the story of a poor lost dog taken in by a crazy lady in a house full of cats that had been raided by the county health inspector for deplorable conditions. The cats had come to the rescue with the added bonus of this adorable dog. She wanted me to know that the dog was skittish and didn’t like men. Would I have men around the household? No. Would I be willing and able to work with the dog to calm its fears? Yes. Did I have the time, space and resources to keep a dog? Yes. Was I willing to drive all the way to Riverside to have a meet & greet with the dog? Yes. So I did.

The woman was Melle Ricks and the dog was Maddie. In anticipation of adopting a dog, hopefully this one, I bought a doggie car seat and installed it on the front passenger side. But this was just a meet & greet to see if we might be right for each other…

After a two hour drive, I arrived to find Maddie as described: adorable and scared. She seemed to really love this foster family. Melle and her sister Monet had me walk with Maddie in a local park, give her treats, play with toys and let her take her time getting to know me. She was shy and reluctant to approach me, but after a few hours she let me pet her a little.

We returned to the family apartment to discuss when I might return to formally adopt Maddie, since the afternoon seemed to go well. As I opened the door to leave, Maddie walked right out, down the stairs and up to the front passenger side door of my car. All the humans were agog. At that moment Melle turned to her siblings and said that Maddie was going home with me now, today. Instantly all her siblings began to cry, saying they didn’t think Maddie would go so soon. I went down to the car and led Maddie back up to the apartment for all to say their goodbyes.

This was two days before Thanksgiving in 2016 and I felt like a complete jerk taking their beloved foster dog away, especially right before the holiday. I bargained, saying I could come back and pick her up after the winter holidays. Melle insisted that Maddie had made her choice and today was the day for her to go home with me. So, this time I took Maddie’s leash and led her back down to my car, leaving the sobbing family behind.

She settled right into the doggie car seat. This was in the car that I had recently flown across the country to retrieve, the car my recently-passed-away mother had left me. I had just driven it along the northern route from Baltimore to Los Angeles. It was a smooth ride, but it guzzled premium-only gas. It had been such a long drive out to Riverside that I needed to stop for fuel midway home. We got off one of the many highways and pulled into a gas station. It was the first moment I had to really just look into Maddie’s eyes. She flashed me this smile. I pulled out my phone and snapped it for posterity.

I had made the initial call to the cat rescue about Maddie before I made that flight back East. No one called me back, so I told myself if the dog was still available when I returned to Los Angeles, I’d adopt her. Melle told me that Maddie had been adopted by a family in San Francisco, but she couldn’t handle the father being in the house, so she was returned to the Ricks. So, in the time it took for me to fly East and drive West, in what was now Mom’s memorial car, Maddie had been in foster care, adopted and come back to foster care. To me it meant that she was always supposed to go home with me.

Since Maddie and the Ricks loved each other so much, and to express my gratitude for their care of Maddie, I made it an annual ritual to drive Maddie back out to see them around Thanksgiving, her adoption holiday. It’s always been a joyful reunion.

Maddie and Her Men

Maddie has come so far behaviorally, since I adopted her. She was quite terrified of men, especially of big (6’6”+) men with facial hair who spoke Spanish. Really specific, I know, and a real impediment to peaceful living in Southern California. That first year with me, if she encountered any man fitting that description she would shake, hide behind me and pee herself from sheer terror. We worked with a great trainer and she gained confidence and grew calmer in general. With confidence came a fighting spirit. The second year with me, if she encountered her burly Hispanic hirsute nemesis she would bark and snarl and lunge and nip at him. We worked with a great trainer some more and she still wants to rip apart any man that fits the bill. Some things are beaten into you and they stick.

I was a bit worried when her first dog walker showed up and it was a tall Black man with a mustache. Luckily, Glenn Bolton of We Love Dogs LA is such an outstanding human being that Maddie loves him to bits. Walking with Glenn each day was the thing that eased her reaction to men and gave her some fun spunk.

Maddie’s Family Tree

Maddie is such an odd looking dog, that I could not resist getting a doggie DNA profile done on her. If I had to lay money on Maddie’s genetic makeup, I would’ve bet on a terrier and dachshund mix. The results were nothing at all like I suspected. Maddie is approximately 1/4 Rottweiler, 1/4 Swiss White Shepherd, 1/4 Standard Poodle and 1/4 Miniature Poodle. Say what? My vet was skeptical enough to draw blood and run the vet version of doggie DNA only to come up with the same results. It made me even more curious what her parents and fellow puppies must’ve looked like.

In September 2019 I listed a lamp for sale on Craigslist. As CL buyers are wont to do, sometimes they show up, sometimes they don’t and sometimes the ones that didn’t show up call and want to show up - again. Well, one no-show showed up when given a second chance. As I walked Fabianne back to my apartment, I warned her that my dog would bark at her when I opened the door, but then I’ll shake her hand in front of the dog, so the dog knows that you are friendly, and then we can go into the apartment for the lamp. I opened the door, Maddie barked, I shook Fabianne’s hand and we went into the apartment, only Fabianne looked like she’d seen a ghost. “I have to show you a picture of my dog,” she said heavily.

She sat down and scrolled through her phone then held up a picture of her dog Buster. My jaw must’ve hit the floor. Buster is Maddie’s twin. I then hastily quizzed her on every single aspect of her dog, how she came to adopt him, where, when and OMG let me see another picture!

In late July of 2016 Fabianne was driving on a busy road and saw a small, scared dog right in the middle of it. So, she stopped her car and protectively scooped him up and took him home. She made “Lost Dog” posters and made posts to online groups with his picture. Eventually a woman called and claimed that dog was her’s but she couldn’t name any unique defining feature. Fabianne was skeptical. Then the woman’s partner, a big man with a mustache and an Hispanic accent showed up and threateningly insisted he get “his” dog back. Fabianne was scared but resisted. The man called the dog “Bandit” and returned on another occasion to demand the dog. Fabianne refused and instead dubbed the dog “Buster” and loved him as her own. She is still scared to this day that the big nasty man will come and steal Buster away from her.

The timing of the second half of 2016 struck me as more than coincidence. Fabianne eventually gave me some cash and I helped her move the lamp into her car with a promise that we would get Buster and Maddie in the same room to see if they knew/remembered each other. I even offered to pay for Buster’s doggie DNA profile, figuring that it’s such a unique combination that if he was a genetic match for Maddie, they were definitely brother and sister.

Fabianne travelled quite a lot, as did I, and there never seemed to be a mutually convenient time to get the dogs together. Fabianne stopped answering my texts and I resigned myself to never knowing for sure if these two visual twins were actually related. Then SARS-CoV-2 overtook the world and no one travelled and no one made doggie playdates with strangers.

Fathers & Mothers, Sisters & Brothers

The pandemic also messed with the timing of Maddie’s annual foster homecoming. It was postponed until this Monday, with vaccinations in our arms. I drove Maddie down to Riverside and she KNEW, as she always does, what this trip meant. She was so excited for 100+ minutes on the road! When we got there, we were greeted by Monet Ricks, her brother Mike and eventually their mother Angela. Maddie was especially bonkers in love with Angela. We hung out inside for a while where Mike spoiled Maddie with pepperoni and carrots, Maddie gave Angela kisses and then laid down on Monet’s lap. We all got caught up on the past year+. I even showed them the picture of Fabianne & Buster and recounted his origin story to them. I asked what they knew of Maddie’s story before she made her way to their family, but the conversation always trailed off into some other subject.

Monet, Angela & I took Maddie outside to the little park area in their apartment complex and sat at the picnic table in the sun. Maddie sniffed the grass and even tried to eat some of it while we talked. Monet & Angela said they decided to “come clean” about Maddie. Huh? Maddie was actually THEIR dog. In fact, they owned both Maddie’s mother Mia and her father Bam. Angela pulled up a picture on her phone of Mia and my heart skipped a beat.


They hadn’t realized Mia wasn’t spayed, so when Bam got her pregnant, it was a surprise for the whole family. Mia gave birth to four puppies: Maddie & MJ (Buster) who were mirror images of each other and looked just like their mother, and Reggie & Brindle who were mirror images of each other and looked just like their straight blonde coated father. Each puppy was given to members of their church. They knew Reggie moved to Washington state with his family. They knew MJ went to a lady from their church. They knew Maddie went to another church member, but heard that person had given Maddie up to a man & woman couple that rumor had it was mistreating her. They wound up essentially stalking the abusive couple, finding out that Maddie was being kept locked up alone in their garage. The Ricks asked to have their dog back. The couple refused. They asked again, never having given up stalking them in an effort to free Maddie. Then one day they approached just the woman alone and begged to take back Maddie. She told them to go to the side of the garage and then unlocked it. They opened the door to find Maddie dirty and terrified, covered in rat bites. They scooped her up and ran her back to their home.

They nursed Maddie back to health, but the abuse was apparent in her every move. She had gone from a carefree happy puppy to a sullen and terrified dog. Concurrently, the Ricks home was dissolving in divorce and economic hardship; they were losing the apartment and all the things in it. Everyone was working overtime and no one was able to care for Maddie all day and night long. They knew the best thing for her would be adoption to a family that had the time and stability to care for her lovingly. So Melle, who fostered cats sometimes, listed Maddie on Petfinder and thought a tragic sob story would help sell her to a prospective owner. At first they thought the San Francisco family would work out, but despaired when Maddie came back to them. While they loved her so much, they knew she needed a new person to care for her. Then I called.

Well… My mind was blown, mostly because THEY were Maddie’s family of origin. They loved her so much that they essentially stole her away from an abusive situation and then trusted me enough to take home their baby. Of course Maddie got so excited for our annual visits! Of course the Ricks got so excited for our annual visits! They belong to each other. How gratifying to know that the Maddie Circle of Love is even larger than I thought!

Monet said when I showed them the picture of Fabianne and Buster that they immediately recognized him as MJ. The emotional flood gates had opened, and the three of us scrolled through our phones to find the cutest pictures of Maddie and her extended family. Angela played me a video of Mia getting a present; she is a curly haired miniature poodle with many of the same markings as Maddie and MJ/Buster. They showed me pictures of Reggie and Brindle and are currently hunting down SD cards in old digital cameras and phones to find pictures of them all as puppies. They didn’t have a picture of Bam, but they googled up a picture that looked just like him, they said; he’s clearly part Swiss White Shepherd. And now all the siblings are texting and emailing church members and neighbors for info on the other puppies from so long ago.

I called Fabianne to tell her all this news and blew her mind, too. We figure that the abusive couple saw the Lost Dog poster picture of Buster and thought it was Maddie - the dog the big mustachioed Latino man thought was stolen from him. That was why he was so angry and demanded Buster be returned to him!

Fabianne said she’s all in for a puppy reunion. Monet, Angela and I have resolved to make it happen. I told them about my camper van and said that this can be my new mission on the road: The Maddie Mystery Tour! I’ll drive Maddie to all her siblings and rejoice in the happy puppy butt sniffing and tail wagging.

Me & Maddie? It was beshert.

***BONUS MATERIAL***