Rafe Halpern had enough on his plate, quite literally, running his new Seaside Café at the Southernmost House and running after his 3-year-old son, River.
A new puppy wasn’t exactly part of his plan.
But then he met Maureen Cattieu, a café customer and new teacher at Gerald Adams Elementary School, who had just spent eight years teaching English in Cartagena, Colombia. While there, Cattieu, who’s originally from Buffalo, New York, helped launch a nonprofit animal rescue organization that finds American homes for abused and abandoned dogs and cats from Cartagena’s worst neighborhoods.
To date, Cartagena Paws has flown more than 200 cats and dogs to the States to meet their adoptive families.
Sweet “Sol,” (Spanish for sun) was one of those lucky pups.
A photo on Cattieu’s phone showed Halpern a “skin-and-bones” puppy with eyes that begged for an easier future than the one that awaited her in Colombia.
“Come on,” Halpern said. “How do you say no to that, especially when River had been asking for a dog?”
In August, father and son went to Key West International Airport to greet an arriving flight and meet the newest member of their family.
“I’ll admit, I wasn’t particularly in favor of the idea of these guys getting a new puppy,” Rafe’s father, Michael Halpern, acknowledged last week. “But thank God, neither of my sons have ever spent much time listening to me, because this is my grand-dog and I couldn’t adore her more than I already do.”
Sol’s story could end happily enough right there, with the puppy winning over the Halperns’ hearts and finding the family she deserved.
But wait, there’s more.
Rafe Halpern didn’t know he was adopting a Super Bowl celebrity — well, sort of.
As it turned out, Animal Planet had chosen to highlight Cartagena Paws during the upcoming and always adorable Puppy Bowl the network airs on the afternoon of Super Bowl Sunday.
Sol met the age and vaccination requirements and was selected to represent Cartagena Paws in this year’s Puppy Bowl.
She was “drafted” for the starting lineup of Team Fluff, which faces Team Ruff in each Puppy Bowl, Cattieu said.
“So when Rafe agreed to adopt Sol, I also had to let him know that he’d be taking her to New York City for the filming,” she said.
The unflappable Rafe Halpern took it all in stride and made it happen, proudly showing photos of Sol in USA Today and “People” magazine.
She’s come pretty far from the streets of Colombia.
The Southernmost House and Seaside Café will host a fundraiser for Cartagena Paws and a Puppy Bowl viewing party starting at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 2. The Puppy Bowl starts at 3 p.m. and airs on Animal Planet.
“Obviously we’ll be finished before the Super Bowl starts, but this will give people a chance to come meet Sol and support a great organization,” Michael Halpern said as Sol and River delicately shared a French fry, “Lady and the Tramp”-style — in a photo opp that’s sure to make the post-game highlights.