By Mandy Catoe
It was a celebration of second chances Saturday for rescued poodle-terrier Scout and his new owner, as more than 70 animal lovers gathered at the Springs House to watch Lancaster’s episode of the CBS series “Lucky Dog.”
Scout and his owner, Susanne Kempf, were the watch party’s honorees, but there was also a surprise guest. Brandon McMillan, host of the Emmy-winning program, made an unannounced trip to Lancaster and disguised himself in a dog-mascot suit.
“I have a question everybody,” McMillan said, taking off the mascot head and drawing delighted gasps from the crowd. “How does anyone stay in this suit for longer than an hour?”
Kempf, marketing director at Nutramax Laboratories, the TV series’ sponsor, thanked her employer and McMillan for helping fill a void in her life.
“Moments like this make life worthwhile. I am thankful and grateful everyday,” she said. “I am grateful to know Brandon McMillan and ‘Lucky Dog’ and grateful that my Nutramax family gave me this opportunity.”
Each week on the show, McMillan rescues a shelter dog and places it in a loving home. He trains the rescue specifically for an individual or family who has suffered the loss of a loved one or is undergoing some difficulty. The show ends with McMillan presenting the dog to its new owner.
This show was special because Scout was not the only one who had been given a second-chance. He found his forever home with Kempf, a cancer survivor.
Kempf’s 13-year-old dog, Bentley, recently died and the second of her two kids had just left home, leaving her and husband Bob with an empty nest.
“This was a shot of good medicine,” Kempf said as she held Scout in her arms Saturday morning just before the episode aired. As if on cue, Scout licked her smiling face as she said, “This has been better than I imagined. It’s like a new baby in the house.”
Bob, 54, and Susanne, 56, have been married 26 years. They raised two kids, Lauren, 23, and Will, 19.
Last fall McMillan visited the Nutramax veterinary sciences headquarters in Lancaster and toured the facility after the company began sponsoring “Lucky Dog,” an Emmy-winning Saturday morning series now in its fifth season. After a few conversations with her and her family, he told them he thought Scout would be a perfect fit.
Kempf was deeply saddened by Bentley’s death from cancer, and the void was intensified by the quiet house that was once filled with her teenagers and their friends.
Bentley had been her companion through her battle with cancer and she returned the favor and nursed him through his battle with the disease.
“He was my purpose, and he kept me going. And now I have a new purpose again,” she said as she squeezed little Scout.
Kempf recalled the time in her life when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her son was in kindergarten.
“My hope and prayer was to live to see him grow up, and I was blessed that I did,” she said. “When he moved out, I felt lost, and now I have a purpose again.”
Her husband’s job involves frequent travel, and he was finding it harder and harder to leave Susanne at home alone.
“I hated to leave town, and now when I have to go out of town, she has somebody with her,” Bob said. “I don’t feel so bad traveling now, and it’s fun to get back home to see Scout.”
The viewing party
The Springs House began to fill up early with attendees. Nutramax owner and founder Dr. Bob Henderson said he was pleased Lancaster was enjoying the national exposure.
“It’s good for all of us. It gives us hometown pride and builds us up,” he said.
Among the guests streaming in were Sheriff Barry Faile, Police Chief Scott Grant, Rep. Ralph Norman, county council members Larry Honeycutt, Brian Carnes and Billy Mosteller.
Alan Williams and Carissa Valenti from the county animal shelter mingled and enjoyed recognition for their hard work at the outdated and undersized facility.
One table in the Springs House featured catered hors d’oeuvres for the humans and another table was spread with Cosequin, Nutramax’s flagship joint supplement for pets. Guests left with a bag full of treats and toys for their pets at home.
Every adult at the party vied for Scout’s attention. Men and women in business attire squatted down to tickle the puppy behind his ears and rubbed their noses in his muzzle.
Kristin Blanchard, Nutramax’s vice president of external corporate affairs, said the event was not only a celebration of the partnership between Nutramax and “Lucky Dog,” but also their collaboration with animal rescue groups.
She presented a $1,000 check to both Lancaster Area Shelter Supporters (LASS) and Lancaster’s Society for the Prevention and Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). She also acknowledged the dedication and hard work of Williams and Valenti for their spearheading the rescue of homeless pets under their care at the shelter.
LASS President Arlene McCarthy and members Myrna Seropian and Pook Bellini accepted the check from Nutramax. SPCA President Diana Knight and board member Mikala Steele received the donation for their rescue group.
For more information or to help, check the Facebook pages and websites: Lancaster Animal Shelter Supporters of Sun City and Lancaster SPCA – Lancaster, SC; www.lancasterspca.net.
Blanchard also gave a personal donation of $250 to each of the rescue groups.
County Administrator Steve Willis, whose own dogs are rescues from the county shelter, said, “This is fantastic. Nutramax has always been a great corporate partner, and they go above and beyond by holding events such as this.
“And Alan and Carissa do such a great job working with our rescue groups to find forever homes for the homeless pets.”
After the show aired, McMillan walked outside with Scout and sat on the porch in a rocking chair, holding his four-legged friend in his arms.
He said he has taped nearly 100 episodes of the program over the past five years. Leaving the dogs after spending so much intensive time training them – sometimes months – is often difficult, he said, but he has moved on after each one.
Saturday’s event was the first time he has ever appeared at a viewing party for the show, he said.
Asked why he came to this one, he responded: “Because this is Scout.”