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From the moment Lin Randolph brought home 10-week-old Lenny, a black pug puppy, she daydreamed about throwing him a fabulous first birthday party. "It's silly, I know," she says. "Most people just mark their dog's birthday with an extra chew toy."
But Randolph had a lot to celebrate. She'd spent a year and a half lobbying the owner of her New York City apartment building to relax her strict no-pets policy. When at long last the owner relented, Randolph found a responsible breeder to buy from and quickly made room in her 350-square-foot studio for tiny, wide-eyed Lenny.
The puppy almost didn't make it to his first birthday. Five months before the big day, a friend of Randolph's took Lenny for a walk along the Hudson River. When the clasp on the leash became detached from his harness, the dog bolted into fast-moving traffic on the six-lane West Side Highway and was hit by a car. Randolph's friend waved traffic to a stop long enough to scoop up the bleeding puppy and run seven blocks to the animal hospital.
Lenny would live, the veterinarian assured Randolph when she arrived at the hospital. But the leg was so badly broken it needed to be amputated. After the surgery Randolph waited tearfully in the exam room, unsure what to expect. The door opened and suddenly Lenny ran in at full gallop. "It was incredible," says Randolph. "I thought, 'If humans were able to recover this quickly, it would be amazing.'"
With Lenny on the mend, party plans were back on. Randolph, who wanted something positive to come out of the ordeal, got the idea of turning the bash into a fund-raiser for Animal Haven, a local shelter. "Helping other animals just made sense to me."
Lenny's birthday was just four months away, so Randolph, who manages a small candy and gift shop, plunged headfirst into planning the event. With Lenny nestled next to her after work, Randolph churned out more than 700 letters to potential sponsors requesting donations for the goody bags, raffle, and silent auction she planned.
The story of the three-legged pug -- and the quirky originality of an over-the-top animal birthday bash -- intrigued people; donations started rolling in. Soon a local clothing designer agreed to lend a line of pet couture for a doggy fashion show. A canine-friendly art gallery offered a party space, and a pop artist known for animal portraits agreed to paint a picture of Lenny for the event logo. In it the wide-eyed pug gazes wistfully out over a mound of wrapped gifts and a bone-shaped cake.
By the time the doors to Lenny the Pug's 1st Annual Birthday Benefit opened, there was a line all the way down the block outside the gallery near the West Side Highway -- not far from the site of Lenny's accident. More than 200 guests and 100 dogs streamed in to eat, drink, play games, and boogie to live music. The guest of honor was presented with a cake and an enthusiastic round of "Happy Birthday to You."
The event raised more than $3,700 for Animal Haven, and in 2007 the shelter presented Randolph and Lenny with its Florence Brenner Award. "Lin was a trendsetter," says Jennifer Bristol, Animal Haven's director of operations. "She created a really great event that raised a lot of money and awareness for the shelter."
Despite his reputation as a party animal, Lenny seems happiest curled on top of a pillow pile on Randolph's bed. "He's so peaceful and sweet," says Randolph. "I just look at him and think, 'When he was 7 months old he could have been taken from me.'"
As for fund-raising, Randolph sees it as simply a community effort and a testament to the warmth and caring of New Yorkers. "I'd moved here from Michigan and I didn't really have my own friends yet," she recalls. But when Lenny had his accident, a whole community of dog lovers turned out in support. Complete strangers left get-well cards at the animal hospital. "You hear so many negative stereotypes about New York," she says. "To have something so positive and extraordinary happen because of a dog -- I wanted to somehow say thank you."
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, August 2009.