Motherly mutt is cat’s meow: For Wuffy, maternal love crosses species

Published: March 5, 2006 | 3679th good news item since 2003

For almost 11 years now, Wuffy – the dog who thinks she’s a cat – has been running her own cat rescue operation out of the San Fernando Valley.

She’s mothered more than 150 stray and abandoned kittens and cats and found runaways for their owners. Wuf, as her friends call her, has become so popular with animal rescue organizations that she’s got a waiting list of clients.

The Shar-Pei-spaniel mix – abandoned herself by a breeder as a puppy because she wasn’t a purebred – lives over in Studio City with her owner, Gary Rohde.

But to really appreciate the trip Wuf’s been on you have to go back more than 10 years to when Rohde was in escrow on a Valley Village condo and in the market for a pet.

“I wanted an older dog because I didn’t want to go through the paper training and everything you have to do with a puppy, but a friend of mine wanted me to take a look at this puppy she had rescued,” Rohde said.

Big mistake. Any dog lover knows you don’t just take a look at a cute puppy and expect to walk away – alone.

“This little red ball of fur jumps out of a box and licks my face,” Rohde recalls. “That was it.”

The first thing he did was change the puppy’s name from Honey to Wuffy, after a character from the old “Hogan’s Heroes” TV show.

“There was a German general named Count Wufffenhauser or something like that,” he says. “His girlfriend always called him Wuffy, and I’d walk around my house as a 5-year-old calling everyone in my family Wuffy.”

So that’s how Honey became Wuffy, but it wasn’t until four months later that Rohde noticed Wuf might have an identity problem. She seemed to like hanging out with cats a lot better than dogs.

“One day I was visiting a friend and put Wuf in her backyard,” Gary says. “About 45 minutes later, she walked in with what I thought was a rag doll in her mouth. It was a baby kitten.”

Rohde and his friend took the kitten, but Wuf walked into the backyard again, and came back with another kitten. Then, a third.

“We followed her out, and found one more kitten in the ivy. There was no mother around. They had been abandoned.”

Rohde didn’t want to take the kittens to a shelter because he was worried about their health there, so he stopped by a few veterinarian offices and got a rude awakening.

“They told me to take the kittens home and care for them myself until they were eight weeks or so, old enough for adoption,” he said. “What the heck did I know about taking care of a litter of kittens?”

Turns out he had nothing to worry about. Wuf knew plenty.

“Gary called and told me what had happened, so I came over a few days later to help him,” says Kari Winters, a registered nurse and freelance writer who is a longtime friend of Rohde. She wrote a story on Wuffy for Cat Fancy magazine this month.

At night, Rohde put the kittens in a spare bedroom with the door closed, setting his alarm for two-hour feedings. He needn’t have bothered. Wuf became his alarm clock and plenty more.

“She laid outside the door and woke Gary up when the kittens started mewing for food,” Winters says. “She also bathed the kittens with her tongue …

“She watched over them like a mother, and when they were old enough, she taught them to play, eat and bathe themselves.”

That was the beginning of Wuf’s career as the most sought-after cat-rescue dog in the city. She has a long waiting list of abandoned kittens and cats rescued by Southern California Siamese Rescue wanting her services, Winters says.

When Teri Austin, president of the Amanda Foundation – an animal rescue and care organization – heard about this dog in the Valley who thinks she’s a mother cat, Austin began sending over her sick, stray kittens for Wuf to watch over until they’re old enough for adoption.

“We call her Florence Nightingdog,” Austin said Friday, laughing. “Many people think dogs and cats are natural enemies, but they’re not. Often dogs have strong, protective instincts for cats, but I’ve never seen a dog with such a delicate touch. Wuf gives them incredible love and care.

“We’ve seen her go out on her own and find abandoned kittens, immediately feeling this sense of duty to take care of them. It’s like she goes on automatic pilot. Wuffy just knows her job and won’t leave them until they’re better.”

Even when they hiss and turn on her, or try to scratch her eyes out, Wuf just backs away and takes her time.

“She’ll make little attempts to get close and pretty soon no matter how mean or feral the cat is, they all come around,” Austin said. “They come around to Wuf long before they come around to humans.”

Wuf turned 11 on Friday, and for her birthday Rohde took her over to CHIME charter school in Woodland Hills to visit the kids. Wuf likes kids almost as much as cats.

He told the children all about how Wuffy has mothered more than 150 kittens and cats, and how she found his neighbor’s cat that had been missing for 10 days hiding under a car about a mile from home.

The kids couldn’t get enough licks on their faces and pawshakes from Wuf.

“Does she really think she’s a cat?” a little girl asked.

Yeah, Rohde said, smiling – she really thinks she’s a cat.

Dennis McCarthy’s column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday.

Published in Animals
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