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Lying on the floor of a photo studio, Cynthia Miller is trying to get Lulu's attention. Her colleague holds the 5-1/2-pound Maltese from behind a seamless gray backdrop, his hands clad in black gloves to simulate a skydiving harness. "Lulu!" calls Miller, holding out a tiny piece of chicken. Her photographer snaps shot after shot while a floor fan blows Lulu's floppy ears. After two minutes the dog's miniature goggles come loose and Lulu has had enough. Where's that chicken?
This was not what Miller, 41, a self-described "serious kid," thought she'd be doing with her Harvard BA and her law degree. And by day, Miller is indeed engaged in more buttoned-down activities -- she and husband Dean Rindy run a political media and communications firm, Rindy Miller Media, in Austin, Texas. But on nights and weekends Miller and her creative team have been moonlighting, shooting pictures for "Lulu & Lolly's Road Trip," a zany calendar starring Miller's pet Malteses.
In the calendar the dogs are portrayed as filching their owners' credit cards from the sock drawer and taking off on a year of adventure, checking in each month to chronicle their escapades in charmingly misspelled postcards. After they indulge in sky diving, river rafting, and snowboarding, a Manhattan shopping spree maxes out their credit limit and forces them to return home.
"It was slow going at first," says Miller, whose media projects usually involve wrangling politicians in business suits, not fluffy white creatures sporting life vests or snowboarding gear. "Lulu is so bossy and free-spirited that she played her spastic role easily, and Lolly is really good at giving the kind of look she gives, which is slightly put-off but willing to go along."
The fact that Lolly is willing to go along at all is perhaps the most amazing part of this project. Lolly is the real poster canine for the calendar, which benefits rescue animals. Miller first laid eyes on the dog nine years ago when she dropped by the city-owned animal shelter to make a donation of blankets and dog biscuits. The shelter had just confiscated more than 140 dogs from a woman who had kept them confined to rabbit cages. All were traumatized and many were malnourished, dirty, and sick. Miller immediately signed on to help get the animals cleaned up and adopted.
During that time Miller took special notice of Lolly. "She looked so unhealthy I thought nobody would adopt her," Miller recalls. The 1-year-old dog had experienced so much trauma and neglect that her white fur had turned pale yellow, both ears had severe infections and she was terribly underweight, with "a huge head and a shrunken body."
Lolly appeared to take special notice of Miller, too. "Every time I came in, Lolly would run to the front of her cage, paw at the air, and look at me with these enormous chocolate eyes." But after about a month the young dog seemed to give up. "I came to the shelter and Lolly was lying in her cage. She didn't respond when I crouched down to talk to her and I knew she was beyond depressed. That's when I decided to adopt her." Miller already had a young Maltese, Lulu, and she thought she and Lolly would be good playmates.
But making the adopted dog part of the family was a long, agonizing process. "Lolly was an emotional wreck," Miller says. She yelped when touched, peed when startled, and instead of walking normally she scuttled," Miller says. "For five years she would make a beeline under the bed every night after dinner," Miller says. But with Miller's and Rindy's love and with Lulu as what Miller describes as a "relentlessly cheerful" sidekick, Lolly healed, both physically and emotionally.
After Hurricane Katrina Miller decided she wanted to do something to help abandoned dogs. She allowed her imagination to roam, dreaming up secret lives for her pets. Miller's musings led to the idea for the calendar, done over two years of evenings and weekends. "Lulu & Lolly's Road Trip" debuted at the Texas Book Festival in late 2006 and was so successful that Miller was able to make a four-figure contribution to the shelter where she'd found Lolly. A publisher has purchased the idea for a 2009 calendar, and Miller's now writing a novel starring the dogs. Meanwhile, the Lulu and Lolly Web site (www.luluandlolly.com) entertains visitors with their wacky adventures and sells souvenirs, with proceeds going to animal shelters.
Miller credits her dogs' sunny, mischievous personalities with helping her tap into her "funny, goofy side." She says she also learned more about herself by taking in a rescue dog. "It felt good to know that I had the capacity to be that gentle and patient and kind. I got involved in politics because I believed in the importance of making an impact. But by reaching out and helping an animal like Lolly one-on-one, I learned how powerful that connection is."
Now that Lolly has learned to trust and love, Miller need only stand by the big sofa in the comfortable living room of their Spanish-style home and announce, "It's family night!" That's everybody's cue to gather round to watch television together, a ritual the dogs love almost as much as car trips.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, June 2008.