by Kelly Rae Smith - Lowcountry Dog Magazine - Summer 2013
The Siegel story is beautiful. It’s full of heartbreak and loss, but hearts are also mended and filled, joy is restored, and souls are rescued all around. As we listen to a violin’s song emanate from a neighboring garden party, Karen and I settle ourselves on the back porch of the Siegels’ downtown home to discuss their furry family—past and present, hurts and all.
At the moment, Karen and Bob Siegel are experiencing a conflict of emotions. You see, Lowcountry Dog had originally planned to speak to them about, and personally meet, Mukai—the Siegels’ beloved black and white Great Dane who joined the family three years ago. The magazine auctioned off this cover story at the annual Furball Gala to benefit Pet Helpers. Karen, not only a long-time supporter of Pet Helpers, but also a now 15-year volunteer for the Charleston animal charity, won last November’s auction. She wanted it to promote rescue and to honor her beautiful Mukai, who had rescued her family upon his arrival several years ago. Unfortunately, Mukai passed away in January of this year.
Mukai had been a saving grace to help them recover from the loss of Stella, their Great Dane for 12 years. But Mukai would eventually get prostate cancer and only live to be seven-years young. Although I had the misfortune of never meeting him, I was certainly introduced to Mukai through story. And I did get to meet Bugsy Siegel. He’s their new 65-pound, four-month-old Great Dane puppy, who is turning out to be another savior.
“Mukai taught me a lot of stuff,” Karen says, “But the first thing he taught me was the only way you’re going to heal a broken heart when you lose an animal, is with another animal.”
Speaking about Mukai isn’t easy. There may be a puppy nearby to distract her by playfully eating every flower in the garden, but it’s still so soon. Karen reflects slowly and in pauses as she longs to perfectly recall their time with him from the very beginning. With emotion in her voice, she starts again.
“We actually found Mukai because he was in Lowcountry Dog,” she says, “and that was the month that they ran the Great Dane rescue page. I didn’t even know we had a Great Dane rescue in South Carolina. But I saw Mukai on there, and I thought he was beautiful.
“I watched him on the Pet Helpers website for a year. And then we lost Stella. A week later I saw he was still on the website, and I thought, we’ve got to go meet him. So I did, and I was absolutely terrified of him. He was the biggest Dane I had ever seen. I thought, that is so not my puppy,” she laughs. “But I went to pet him, and I realized he was terrified. He barked and growled because he was petrified of everyone. And it just broke my heart.”
And that is when the mutual rescue began. Although he was lovingly cared for at Pet Helpers, Mukai needed his own home, where he could be better nurtured, and where he could sooner forget his life before the rescue.
Mukai spent the first year of his life tied up and beaten in his backyard, by a “vet tech” no less. He was bumped out of three different homes before Karen found him. Although she wasn’t sure if they were quite ready so soon after losing Stella, she did know this: Mukai couldn’t wait anymore. And he didn’t have to. Their bond had already begun.
“There was something about us,” she recalls. “We just clicked. When we decided to take him, [the Pet Helpers employee] said, ‘I’m so happy. After watching him with you for about 15 minutes, I thought please, God, let this woman want this dog, because this dog really wants that woman.’”
And from that point forward, he became a special fixture in the Siegel house, although those first few hours were slightly shaky.
“It was frightening taking in a 200-pound dog that had a history of abuse and neglect,” she admits. “When they brought him here, he was pacing from the front to the back door. I was kind of scared to get up, but I just looked at him and said, OK, buddy, we have to make this work.”
Her nervousness would soon subside, as did his. And so she remains a champion for rescues, and this is why. It brought them joy to watch this confident, loving, sweet-spirited dog evolve. from that once-timid creature.
“It was like a miracle,” she remembers. “After about six months, he was just a completely different dog. He would drag all his toys out of the foyer, and there would be 15 toys and bones. I think it was because, being a rescue, you don’t have your own. You drop it, somebody’s gonna take it. He was over 200 pounds playing with toys.”
As he healed before their eyes, the Siegels soon realized Mukai was healing them, too.
“He made us remember the Stella that we had for ten years,” she says, “and not the Stella we had for the last year when she was sick and she couldn’t get around. Once he got comfortable, he would start goofing around, and we thought, doesn’t he remind you of Stella? So he brought back the happy memories of Stella. That’s the first thing he taught me.”
Remembering this lesson, she sought out another Dane when Mukai passed earlier this year. Although she wasn’t keen on a puppy, another gut feeling told her she and Bugsy would need each other, too.
They expect Bugsy to grow to Mukai-like proportions, so reminders are sure to stay with them for the duration of Bugsy’s life. And that’s a great thing. So is the garden destruction, the necessary supervision, the constant mischief. They laugh it all off because, after all, what else would you expect of a Great Dane puppy? “There’s puppies,” Karen says, “and then there’s puppies on steroids.”
Today, she gets satisfaction from watching this swiftly growing Bugsy enjoy a puppyhood, the kind that Mukai was denied.
“I think it was the fact that Mukai was a rescue,” she says, “that you could see in his eyes the gratitude, the love, more so I think than any other dog we’ve had. The most rewarding thing was to see this giant dog who just went from a terrified, and terrifying, 200 pounds of dog to romping around like a 20-pound puppy, which is just the most rewarding thing. We gave him a puppyhood, and he brought Stella’s puppyhood back to us. It was a good deal.”
Fancy a mutual rescue yourself? Contact Pet Helpers to see who needs a nurturing home today: Pet Helpers
1447 Folly Road