Struggling Maui family saved with love from little brown dog

Josephine Tempongko’s story wins $10,000 grant for Maui Humane Society through Petco Foundation’s Holiday Wishes campaign

Alex (from left), Wally, Dottie and Josephine Tempongko at home, healthy and happy after complications during Wally’s delivery forced Josephine and the baby to endure lengthy medical treatments. -- Photo courtesy Josephine Tempongko

Amplified by social media and a culture ravenous for feel-good stories, tales of dogs’ heroic acts and enduring loyalty saturate our collective consciousness: a video gone viral of a black Lab rescuing a drowning fawn from certain icy death; cadaver dogs risking their canine lives to find the human remains of individuals they’ve never known; and most recently, the soul-stirring image of Sully, George H. W. Bush’s service dog, waiting patiently in front of the 41st president’s casket for the final journey home.

But often, the positive impact animals have on us as we navigate our daily lives is so subtle that it goes unnoticed.

Until it isn’t.

For Josephine Tempongko, the healing power of one animal’s unconditional love and devotion came into play when she needed it most — battling serious medical complications after the delivery of her son, while newborn Wally was fighting for his life in a hospital off island.

Even though Tempongko loves animals, works with animals and absolutely adores her own animals, she says she didn’t fully grasp the intense therapeutic effect they can have until she experienced it first hand.

Jospehine Tempongko and Dottie relax at Petco in Kahului during a shopping spree funded by Petco Foundation. -- Photo courtesy Petco Foundation

“It all happened very quickly,” Tempongko remembers. “Wally was airlifted the same day he was born. My husband went with the baby, so I really didn’t have my family with me. I was really struggling.”

Tempongko’s husband, Alex, called their neighbor who was watching the couple’s adopted brown poi dog, Dottie, and asked that the pup make a visit to mom. It had been four days since Tempongko’s son was taken away by helicopter.

“I was pretty destroyed,” Tempongko admits, her eyes welling up with tears as she chokes back the memory.

But when Tempongko spied Dottie from her wheelchair that day, the little dog’s entire body wiggled from sheer happiness at seeing her beloved human, she says it was the best feeling in the world.

“I was at my lowest and really missing my baby and family. When I saw Dottie, I was like, ‘My dog! I feel complete.’ Or at least more complete than I was feeling before.”

Josephine’s husband, Alex, and Dottie (from left), Josephine and Wally, MHS CEO Jerleen Bryant and Petco Store Manager Bridgette McCay, pose at the Dec. 5 $10,000 check presentation to Maui Humane Society. -- Photo courtesy Petco Foundation

That seemingly inconsequential visit to the hospital grounds gave Tempongko strength, resilience and that all-encompassing sense of hope born of pure love, which fortified her for the long days and weeks that still lay ahead.

As she recovered, Tempongko decided to enter Petco Foundation’s Holiday Wishes contest offering grants to animal welfare organizations that embody compassionate care as viewed through the lens of the adopters, she decided to share her story.

Not only might it help Maui Humane Society, from where Dottie was adopted, but it would also provide much-needed catharsis as she processed all that had happened.

To Tempongko’s surprise, her story was selected from more than 3,000 submissions nationwide — and the only one from Hawaii out of 51 winners receiving a total of $755,000 in grants.

“I wanted to express how much joy Dottie gives me, and hoped it might somehow provide for the other shelter animals at MHS,” she says.

Josephine Tempongko visits with Dottie during her hospital stay. -- Photo courtesy Josephine Tempongko

And it will.

“Everything we receive from these large foundations is really meaningful,” acknowledges MHS CEO Jerleen Bryant. “Adoption fees don’t cover everything we do or want to do for animals, so an unrestricted gift like this means we get to use the money where we need it most.”

And that could change daily, weekly or monthly, Bryant stresses.

“In the last few weeks, we’ve had just a rash of animals that have come in injured; this grant allows us to help them.”

And the grant’s legs just got longer.

The public has until Dec. 19 to make even more holiday wishes come true by voting for their favorite story, gifting the top five organizations a chance to receive additional grants between $5,000 to $25,000.

Competing against Mainland organizations with large numbers of supporters is like a chihuahua running with the big dogs.

Bryant knows it’s an uphill battle, but she and the MHS staff never give up.

“Acquiring additional monies through Petco Foundation’s People’s Choice campaign would be a blessing. It would make a big difference for these animals,” Bryant encourages. “So vote, please vote!”

Christmas miracles do happen — sometimes they just need a little push.


CHECK OUT Josephine Tempongko’s winning story at

VOTE for Tempongko’s story in Petco Foundation People’s Choice awards at, and help Maui Humane Society receive additional funds to provide the best possible care for Maui’s animals.