A puppy’s journey part 3: Home

Sonny being held by Lilana and Lilyblue with a sign that says, "I heart my adopted dog"
How signing up to foster a puppy changed his new family’s lives — and Sonny’s too
By Kelli Harmon

This is part 3 of a three-part series about Sonny. Read part 1. Read part 2.

Surely, they couldn’t have a dog. Joshua Ramus was more of a cat person, and Liana Khatri had always liked dogs but felt it wasn’t feasible to add a dog to the household. They both work long hours, and then there’s the reality of having a dog in Manhattan and the potty walks that go with it. But daughter Lilyblue had been making the case for a long time. Could they please, please get a dog?

“Finally I said, why don’t we just foster because it’s a little bit lower stakes,” says Liana. Now, that’s a reasonable mindset to have when considering bringing home a pet, and it’s especially helpful when bargaining with a teenager who wants a dog more than anything. But none of them planned on their speckled little foster pup working his way into their lives so fast or so beautifully. They hadn’t bargained for Sonny.

Fostering a puppy

Shortly after signing up to foster a pet from Best Friends, the family received an email: There was a puppy arriving soon from Alabama who needed a foster home; could they take him? The attached photo showed a little dog named Sonny with a speckled, spotted, and dappled coat.

This was it. The time had come to try out living with a dog in the city — but just temporarily, of course. They responded that yes, they’d take him. “We were just so excited to foster him and see what it was like,” Liana says. The plan was to bring Sonny home for about two weeks. The Best Friends team introduced them to Sonny and sent him home with the supplies he’d need. Sonny, for his part, showed them the way with his impeccable manners and easygoing nature.

[Rexie the ‘T. rex’ pup loves life in his new home]

“He was patient and calm. When it was time for a walk or to go out, he just sat politely while we put his harness on,” Liana says. “He was quiet and never barked and (was) so friendly with people and other dogs.”

Liana did her part, taking Sonny out on his leash with the words “adopt me” printed on it. She dutifully told Sonny’s story to anyone who asked and explained that he was available for adoption from Best Friends.

But at the same time, she and her family were already smitten with Sonny. “Joshua had been the most resistant, but he was the one who fell in love with Sonny the most,” Liana says. They weren’t the only ones.

A home for Sonny?

At the park one day, Sonny kept making a beeline over to a woman who was there with her daughter and her daughter’s dogs. “She was just sitting there minding her own business, and Sonny kept going up to her,” Liana says. Eventually they came over to Liana to ask her about her dog. “I said he’s not really my dog; he’s up for adoption.”

She told them all about Best Friends and gave them the phone number to the New York Best Friends Lifesaving Center. As they kept talking, it turned out that Jill, who was in town visiting from Long Island, had a dog who passed away a couple years ago, and she had resolved never to get another dog.

But Sonny has a way of charming everyone. And he seems to have a special knack for winning over people who do not want a puppy or a dog at all. Maybe Jill hadn’t planned on having a dog again, but this dog? Maybe she’d change her mind for him. Liana and Jill exchanged phone numbers and left the park thinking that going home with Jill could be in Sonny’s future.

Decisions, decisions

Liana knew that Sonny would be heading out for a couple days to play in Puppy Bowl XX, but she didn’t realize that they’d have to make a difficult decision about adopting him — and soon. The original plan had been to take care of their foster puppy for a little bit, and then someone else would adopt him and take him home. “This was all a little wild because just days prior we weren’t even thinking of keeping a dog, and then all of a sudden we’re all in love with him,” Liana says.

But with people beginning to show interest in adopting Sonny, the Best Friends team asked his foster family to decide — did they want to adopt him or let him go? It was clear how the three of them felt about Sonny. He was the perfect first dog for them. But there was one more call to make before saying yes to adopting Sonny. Liana wanted to talk to Jill. She was a little worried Jill might be upset since she’d fallen for Sonny at the park, and it seemed clear that she could give Sonny a wonderful home.

But when Liana called Jill, her reaction to Liana’s confession that they wanted to keep Sonny was the opposite of what Liana feared. “She was so happy for us and said if we ever need her, that we could bring Sonny to her in Long Island and she’ll gladly take him,” Liana says. That gave Liana the confidence to make it official. Sonny was home.

Sonny, mayor of Tribeca

Lilyblue is over the moon that they did get to have a puppy after all. Both Joshua and Liana say that living with Sonny has changed their lives. “Joshua brought him to work with him the other day, and no one could believe that he has this funny little dog,” Liana says. “He is an architect, and he seems like such a serious person. People who know him wouldn’t think he would have a dog like this.” But there you have it. Sonny just has a way about him.

The family is beginning to see how living with a dog opens the world in a new way. “There are millions of people in New York, and no one really goes around greeting each other,” Liana says. Unless you have a dog like Sonny. He follows her to take out the trash and to the laundry room and, of course, to go outside, and everywhere people stop to say hello to the little speckled pup.

[6 pet foster-win stories]

“He’s famous in our neighborhood, a local celebrity,” Liana says. Sonny insists on stopping outside the doorman office until they come out, and he has so many friends in the neighborhood. Liana says, “There’s his friend Rigatoni and his friend Randall, and Randall’s mom is April. His girlfriend’s name is Matilda. His newest friend Stanley is a 4-month-old Chihuahua and beagle mix who was just adopted. All these people live on different blocks, but you end up speaking to these people who are your neighbors.”

And don’t forget about “Auntie Jill,” who is still in touch with Liana and loves getting photos and updates about her friend. She even told her friends and family to vote for him as “Most Pupular” in the Puppy Bowl.

Sonny is also helping spread the word about adopting pets. So many people stop to say hello to him, and they often ask what breed he is. “We’re in Tribeca, and a lot of people have these fancy dogs. They’re shocked to hear that he’s a mutt from the shelter,” Liana says. “I always feel good about that, to represent mutts, and for people to know that you can get a really cute, well-behaved puppy from a shelter and you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars.”

Adopting a pet

In fact, the shelter Sonny came from in Alabama takes in puppies every single week. Across the country, shelters are full of adorable, one-of-a-kind puppies, dogs, cats, and kittens who all need homes. Their lives literally depend on people showing up to foster them, volunteering to help take care of them, driving them where they need to go, and ultimately bringing them home.

In turn, those pets bring so much happiness to their homes. “Living with Sonny has made me slow down a lot,” Liana says. “Before, if I had a bad day at work I would come home and keep thinking about it, or I’d keep grinding out emails.”

But now when she comes home from her job as an executive chef, there’s a dog to walk, and she leaves her phone behind when she takes him out. When they’re out together it doesn’t matter who’s calling or emailing. Sonny causes her to be a little more mindful, a little more calm.

“If I’ve had a bad day now, I come home and I pet Sonny for five minutes and think, ‘What was I even upset about?’” Liana says. “He’s not a therapy dog or anything. That’s just what pets do.”

Is Sonny an extraordinary dog? Yes. And animal shelters across the country are filled with extraordinary souls like him whose lives depend on whether someone brings them home.

Sonny is happy, healthy, and home today not because of one heroic person but because of people all along the way who did their part to help him get there.

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