THE ORIGINAL ZUKO THE DOG. Zuko was a very smart, interesting, curiously funny dog, who had always been a pistol. Even as an older dog, he still maintained his core personality and had definite ideas of how he’d like to spend his day.
When he was a puppy, he spent a lot of time on his two hind legs. He was so wiry and exuberant, he’d hop out the door yelping when he knew he was going for a walk, he’d come up from behind and push you to try to get your attention, and if he ever lost site of you, he’d stand up on his hind legs and manage to balance himself to look in car windows to find you. Mom Donna Novak and Dad Michael P. Naughton felt blessed to have found such a wonderful pup that wanted to be with them all the time, and since he was such a character, they too were a perfect fit for him because they were patient with him and allowed him to express himself.
ZUKO AND THE POUND PUPS. Zuko was adopted from the Bundy Animal Shelter which was located on the corner of Missouri & Bundy in West Los Angeles and has since closed. Although the building still remains, the shelter was relocated to Pico Boulevard in 2007. Mom Donna & Dad Michael were in search of a puppy and had visited a Santa Monica shelter on Friday. The Bundy pound was suggested, but since it was near the closing of business hours for the day, they would have to wait until Saturday. Good thing for Zuko. He had been brought in that Saturday, August 22, 1998. The Shelter put a sign on his cage that said German Shepherd X – 8 weeks old.
RED ALERT AND AN INSTANT CANINE/HUMAN BOND. We’ve heard it said that sometimes you don’t pick the dog, the dog picks you. The affection was mutual through the bars in the cage, and it’s something you just know. He greeted his new parents-to-be as if to be saying, “Please take me out of here. I want to go home with you.” Unfortunately, local laws stated that a dog must be detained in a shelter for three days so if the dog was lost, it would give its family the opportunity to find it. Since Zuko was brought in that day, he was not allowed to interact outside his cage with any potential adopters. The worker did enter his cage where he was sheltered with two other puppies, and she held him up in the air to determine his gender. Donna was especially pleased to discover he was a male dog. She grew up with male dogs and found them to be very protective. The pup was so affectionate and continued to lick their fingers through the bars of the cage. One of the other puppies tried to bite him. “The white puppy just bit our puppy,” Donna said. She somehow knew he was going to be theirs.
Zuko could not be adopted until Wednesday, August 26th. Donna went back on Tuesday to visit him. Again, he immediately left his caged shelter mates to run forward and lick her fingers through the bars. While she was there a mother and her teenage son took great interest in him too. Donna felt sick to her stomach. She hung around until they left and proceeded to ask the shelter worker what happens if two people are interested in the same dog? “If two people show up at the same time for the puppy, the puppy would be bidded on and the highest bidder would get him,” Donna was told.
HOLLYWOOD, SCRIPTS, HOMES & ANTIQUES— BUT A DOG? WHAT? A BIDDING WAR? Donna inquired if there was any way to let people know that there was already someone who was going to adopt that puppy. The only way, she was told, was to post a ‘red alert’ on his cage, but it would not prohibit someone else from trying to adopt him too.
OH NO, ARE WE HEADED FOR THE AUCTION BLOCK? Donna was dismayed about knowing what to do. She and Michael were not in the position for an expensive financial bidding war, and it’s human nature that sometimes if a person expresses they want something, then it becomes more attractive for other people to have to. Despite this, Donna decided to have them post the red alert on his cage.
JOHN TRAVOLTA & GREASE IS THE WORD. It was a nervous night before the adoption. Michael and Donna decided to watch “Grease,” and Donna drank a beer, which she never drinks. She was so attached to the little puppy, she could not bear the thought of not being able to adopt him the following day, so much so that she could hardly focus on the movie.
She woke up early and sat on the steps of the animal shelter until the doors were open. She was the first one there and went inside and immediately signed the papers and paid for the little guy. The puppy was officially hers and Michael’s.
Donna couldn’t take the puppy home yet because it was law that he must be neutered before he could be released to the adopted family. The facility arranged for him to be transported to a vet who would perform the surgery.
A NEAR MISS. After a mix up at the vet and Donna’s & Michael’s puppy almost given to someone else because of a name tag error on the cages, Donna went down to pick him up. There he was, still sleepy from the anesthetic, with huge flakes like snow on his back. “What is that on his back?” she asked. “Dandruff,” they said. “He was given a flea bath and is malnourished. Once you start feeding him properly it will go away and his fur will be shiny again.” She also noticed his right front little paw was shaking a bit, as it had when he was in the cage at the shelter. Donna wondered what had happened to him and how such a little sweetheart could’ve ended up at the pound.
The puppy slept all the way to his new home. Donna cradled him in one arm as she unlocked the apartment door with her other hand. She opened the door and put him on the floor, and before she knew it, that sleeping puppy was like a wind-up toy that charged across the room and knocked over the kitchen garbage can. Donna said, “No puppy,” and he started ripping open a large bag of puppy food that sat there on the floor waiting for him. The poor guy was famished, and it had been obvious that he had been eating out of garbage cans on the street. She fed him and made a phone call to Michael to let him know they were home.
THAT NIGHT WAS FILLED WITH CRYING AND YELPING, as sleeping on a homemade ‘bed’ next to his parent’s bed wasn’t close enough to them for the puppy.
ZUKO WAS NAMED AFTER DANNY ZUKO, JOHN TRAVOLTA’S CHARACTER IN GREASE. It was about a week before Zuko was named. Michael suggested the name, and although it was completely unusual for a dog name at that time, it just seemed to fit the puppy who had this cool way about him.
Zuko was given the birthday of June 22, 1998, because Michael and Donna first saw him on August 22, 1998, and the shelter estimated him to be two months old.
HOUDINI OR ZUKO THE ESCAPE ARTIST? Zuko was housebroken after only one accident. He was a breeze to train. He just instantly knew. This was an early testament to his intelligence. He was so smart, he soon began his tenure as an escape artist. He was curious and wanted to explore the new neighborhood, and he got out of the yard. A neighbor apprehended him and called the number on his tags and cheered his upset family. The puppy didn’t understand that the vet told Michael and Donna that because he didn’t have all of his shots yet, he could not be walked outside in areas where other dogs walked for at least two months.
Another time, when he was less than a year old, the car door was opened with a leash in hand, but without realizing that Zuko had detached the leash from his collar. He ran in the middle of the street and cowered as dad tried to hold up traffic and mom screamed when two cars passed on both sides of him. He fortunately was unscathed and okay.
MENU FOODS RECALL OF 2007 & A PIT BULL ATTACK. THERE IS NO SEPARATING THEM NOW. To this day their little guy always wants to be with them and has been a character since he has been a pup. Zuko has climbed into dirty clothes baskets to sleep, laid in an open suitcase full of dirty clothes after a trip, and climbed on a huge mound of fresh laundry at a facility where he was boarded. He was so full of energy and vigor, he used to spin in circles in the car, barking at passing cars. While on a leash he had tried to chase cars, and he had to be double leashed because he was so smart he could figure out how to slip out of any lock or leash. He was a Menu Foods tainted dog food victim in 2007 and was hospitalized with a cone on his head, and the techs couldn’t figure out how he kept pulling out his IV until they secretly watched him one day. When he thought no one was looking, he would step on his cone, rotate it, stick his muzzle through and yank out the IV. He was always very protective of his parents, and illustrated good instincts when he kept his chin down during a pit bull attack, and Michael had to wrestle him loose. The vet said that had the pit bull clamped onto him under his neck instead of on top his neck, he would’ve been dead. Bad owner? Yes. Bad dog? Maybe. We have heard stories of pit bulls that have been very good pets.
ZUKO HAD NINE LIVES. Yes, Zuko was a pistol. His parents had patience with him and nurtured him to express himself. He brought them so much joy. The senior Zuko settled down, but only a bit. He still had such a lust for life.
YOU STICK BY THOSE YOU LOVE. In 2012 at age 14, Zuko started showing the initial intermittent signs of canine degenerative myelopathy (DM). Zuko was a well exercised dog and his parents did everything possible to slow the progression. In 2014 he required a rear end harness to help support his back end, and Donna started hand feeding him because he did not trust himself not to fall when he ate, so he wouldn’t eat. By February, 2015 he lost the ability to get up off the floor on his own. Michael and Donna bought him a canine wheelchair from Walkin’ Wheels. He needed the front end quad support because his front legs were too weak to support his weight. When he was put in his cart his little face lit up. He could walk and run again. He enjoyed it for a while, but then the DM moved forward into his front legs and it could only be used as a method of helping him to stand. His parents frequently would pick him up and hold him or carry him around. He liked the close bond, proximity and security that gave him since he could no longer move around on his own.
“DON’T CRY BECAUSE IT’S OVER. SMILE BECAUSE IT HAPPENED.” — DR. SEUSS. On September 25, 2016, Zuko broke his parents’ hearts when he left them. They had spent a nice weekend with him, and took him to a vet on Sunday afternoon. Zuko had only eaten half his food that day and was having trouble drinking. Zuko passed away suddenly at home Sunday evening with both his parents by his side.
Michael and Donna said: ZUKO WILL ALWAYS BE A PART OF OUR LIVES. We are truly blessed that this wonderful being had been a part of our lives for over 18 years. The human-canine bond was so profound. It was always just the three of us. We are heartbroken beyond words, but Zuko has inspired us in so many ways that he will forever be with us. Helping Zuko through his struggle was a gift, not a burden. He always wanted to be with us, always wanted to please us. He is one of the best friends we’ll ever have. His spirit is now free.
Zuko was laid to rest at the Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park in Calabasas, California on September 27, 2016.
©1998-2018 Original Zuko the Dog