VICKSBURG, Mich. — A stray dog and her seven puppies were rescued by a bachelor party in September and are settling into life with their new families.
Brimmie saw snow for this first time this month, giddily rolling around in it and diving in drifts.
Her sister, Daisy, picks up her water bowl, dumps the liquid, then carries the empty container around.
And Annie, their mother, runs in big circles as fast as she can for fun at her new home in rural southwest Michigan. She and her seven pups were rescued by a group of guys on a bachelor party trip to Tennessee in September.
“Our beer fund turned into a puppy food fund,” said Mitchel Craddock, 23, the bachelor behind the party.
The men brought the animals home to Vicksburg, a small community about 15 miles south of Kalamazoo, Mich. They brushed off their actions as simply doing the right thing, but the story of the partygoers turned do-gooders went viral and their warm deeds won over hearts across the country and beyond.
Three months after the flea-ridden pups moved from a hole in the woods to Michigan, they are thriving. All live within miles of each other and reunite frequently.
“Everybody asks, ‘Well what made you decide to bring the dogs home?’ ” Craddock said. “There was no decision. We found the puppies and the mom … we knew that no matter what we did, we could give them a better home than what they currently had.”
Craddock went on a four-wheeling trip near Oneida, Tenn., with six friends and his dad two weeks before his Oct. 8 wedding. They stayed in a cabin and opened the front door to ventilate the place when one of the men burned bacon that he was cooking.
Soon, Annie — named by the men after Little Orphan Annie — appeared at the front door.
“She was very dirty and dehydrated and hungry,” Craddock said.
The well-mannered, but timid dog got food and water from the guys, who figured she would be on her way soon. They went riding and visited town, but Annie never left. Sometimes she’d be lying at the front door when they returned. Other times, the dog was hanging out under a truck.
“She was really protective of one spot off in the woods,” Craddock explained. “Anytime a four wheeler or anything would go by, she would take off across this little field barking and going crazy.”
The guys could tell she recently had pups, but they weren’t around, and the malnourished dog had stopped producing milk. They had been giving her food scraps, but once they realized she wasn’t leaving, presumably because she had nowhere better to be, they went to the store and bought her dog food.
Then a few days into the trip, they got a tip: A kid staying at a place near them mentioned he thought he heard whimpering out in the wooded area where Annie had been so protective.
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That information, combined with curiosity, led some to investigate, while others stayed back with Annie. In the woods, they discovered a den the mother re-purposed as a shelter for her pups and her litter.
Three pups were out of the hole when Annie and the other men joined at the spot. They put a pup in front of her, and she nuzzled the face, checked out the back and legs and then the expression on Annie’s face turned to relief.
Craddock said her look seemed to say: “I trust you … thanks for helping me.”
The guys used Annie to help coax some of the other dogs out of the hole. They collected six, thinking they had them all, and returned to the cabin with the pups estimated at 6-7 weeks old.
But they returned to the hole and discovered the seventh pup, who was shy. Other than being dirty and covered in fleas, they were all healthy.
“We were very proud of Annie for what she had done for those pups,” Craddock said. “She literally gave them everything that she had.”
Near the spot, they found pizza boxes and shreds from dog food bags. The men quickly upgraded the dogs’ room and board.
They bought puppy food, flea and tick shampoo and two crates –one for Annie and one for the seven pups – and gave them a bath.
“We didn’t even realize what we were doing when we did it because it was just, that’s what you do,” said Brent Witters, who planned the bachelor party. “You see a group of puppies and you rescue them.”
Witters said he wanted the trip to be memorable for Craddock, his best friend. But he was shocked by the response that followed the rescue.
Their acts turned the men from Vicksburg — a town of about 3,000 people — into Internet superstars and landed them in newspaper articles and on radio and TV segments, including Good Morning America.
“How many bachelor parties end up like this?” said Witters, 24.
It didn’t take long for the pups to find new homes. They ended up with the guys on the trip and relatives.
Craddock’s grandparents Joe and Betty Gruber took Annie, who they call a "super mom" and one of her pups, Bear. The puppy has gained about 20 pounds since he was found.
“If (Annie) gets a treat and Bear doesn’t get one, too, she’ll take the treat in the living room and lay it down on the floor for him to have it first,” Betty Gruber said.
A Facebook page called Tennessee Mutt Puppies was created to update people on the dogs — believed to be a breed known as Mountain Cur by their new owners — and a calendar of the animals is in the works.
Trevor Jennings, 23, the administrator of the Facebook page, also went on the trip and came back with Gunner, a snow-loving, tennis-ball destroyer.
Although he doesn’t consider what happened as much of a story, Jennings said: “It’s just kind of a reminder for people to do the right thing.”
The dogs’ names and new owners:
Brimmie: Adopted by Mitchel Craddock, 23, and his wife Kristen Craddock, 24, of Vicksburg. Brimmie is named after the ATV park, Brimstone, where the men went for his bachelor party two weeks before his wedding Oct. 8.
Bear and Annie: Adopted by Joe and Betty Gruber, grandparents of Craddock. Bear got her name because she looked like a little bear and Annie was named after Little Orphan Annie.
Knox: Adopted by Jake Rowe, 26 of Vicksburg, who was on the trip. The bachelor party was close to Knoxville so that’s how Knox got his name.
Gunner: Adopted by trip participant Trevor Jennings, 23, in reference to hunting.
Daisy: Adopted by David Perkins, 24, of Vicksburg, who was on the trip, and named after the flower of a similar color and the fluffy fur around her head.
Rosie: Adopted by Alex Manchester. He went on the trip, but wasn’t available for the group photo. The dog was in a thorny brier patch.
Finn: Adopted by Manchester’s aunt and uncle, in reference to fishing.