From Skeptic to Paw-ty Planner: A Transformation of Love for a Man Celebrating His Rescue Dogs’ Birthdays

“[F]or the love they give us, celebrating them is the least we can do.”

No matter how many times his wife, Leah, tried to convince him it was a good idea, James Coburn was dead set on not getting a dog.

“Both of us had dogs growing up — it was never about not loving dogs,” Coburn told The Dodo. “We just live a very active lifestyle, and my thought was that adopting a dog would keep us at home, hold us back and prevent us from doing what we loved … I thought I wasn’t capable of giving them a fulfilling life.”

But then Coburn saw Poundcake, an 8-month-old deaf puppy, on an adoption site, and everything changed.

“I knew how badly [Leah] wanted a dog, but to be honest, I still had no formal plans to adopt,” Coburn added.

Out of curiosity, he did a quick search of rescue dogs in their area one day in 2021, and that’s when Poundcake’s picture popped up. “I hated the idea that he didn’t have a home, and something about him just compelled me to apply,” Coburn said, “and I did that night without telling Leah while I was doing it.”

Poundcake originally came from Texas, but the Coburns adopted him from a rescue in Rhode Island in 2021.

“We knew very little about his history [in Texas], but knew he had been born deaf and ended up (thankfully) being taken in by the rescue,” Coburn said. “When I first stumbled upon his listing, his picture stopped me immediately, and the description talked about how affectionate he was, claiming ‘belly rubs were his love language.’”

Coburn said that the fact that Poundcake is deaf wasn’t at all a deterrent for him submitting the adoption application.

“We knew that deaf and differently abled dogs, as well as senior dogs, often can’t find homes and are put down as a result,” Coburn said. “We hadn’t decided to adopt a differently abled dog … until the night we found Poundcake. But when I read his description and saw him, I couldn’t stomach the thought of him not having a home, not being able to hear, not ever understanding where he was or knowing where he would have to go next, and it just bothered me tremendously.”

“I submitted the application immediately, and was terrified because we didn’t have experience with deaf dogs, but something felt right,” he added.

Once Poundcake came home, it was instant love. Having a dog in the house felt so good that, earlier this year, the Coburns adopted a second deaf dog named Milkshake.

“As we understand it, she started in the prison system working with either inmates or parolees … but I’m told she did not do well in that environment,” Coburn said.

After bouncing around in the rescue system for a while, Milkshake ended up at a foster home for three years before the Coburns brought her home. And so far, life with the Coburns and her new brother, Poundcake, has been really sweet for her.

“They’re pretty different dogs,” Coburn said, adding that Poundcake thinks he’s royalty, and Milkshake is still a bit anxious about her new environment. “[But] the two of them gel very well together,” Coburn said. “They LOVE having each other around.”

“The only times there is friction is when Milkshake wants to keep playing forever, and Poundcake wants to sleep,” he said. “But otherwise, they do just about everything together.”

Because Poundcake is so social with both people and other dogs, the hope is that he’ll teach Milkshake the ropes of being a calm and relaxed pup.

Coburn said that Poundcake and Milkshake profoundly changed his views about being a dog parent. His fears about him and Leah not being able to live their active lifestyle or provide a fulfilling life for the dogs were immediately squashed when the Coburns took Poundcake on his first adventure.

“We take [Poundcake and Milkshake] everywhere now,” Coburn said. “They keep us extremely active — whether it’s making sure we take that walk, or swim in the ocean, or get out on the paddle boards, they always motivate us to get out.”

To thank the pups for changing their lives, the Coburns love to go all out for Poundcake’s and Milkshake’s birthdays. They buy presents, they dress the dogs in party outfits and the pups even get their own special dessert (complete with candles).

“We believe in celebrating dog birthdays, but for the right reasons,” Coburn said. “Sure, the outfits look cute, and it’s fun to give them gifts and a little ice cream treat, but celebrating a rescue’s birthday is more about making them the focus of your attention for a day, doing the things THEY love.”

“On their birthday, I think it’s important to give them the attention,” Coburn said. “Their lives matter, their interests matter and celebrating birthdays just helps get folks into that mindset of prioritizing the animal instead of themselves.”

“These dogs go through so much,” Coburn wrote in a June 2023 Instagram caption. “And for the love they give us, celebrating them is the least we can do.”

Of course, birthdays aren’t the only days when Poundcake and Milkshake are spoiled. Coburn said that he could write a novel on all the ways he and Leah spoil their dogs.

“But again, I think they deserve to be spoiled,” he said. “Aside from the usuals, like sleeping in the king-size bed with us, or getting their own chairs at the dinner table, we definitely do everything we can to spoil them.”

The couple is so attentive to their pups that they often help Poundcake get to sleep by either holding him or providing him with some sort of physical touch to reassure him that they’re by his side (and will be forever)

Coburn said that Poundcake and Milkshake are his and Leah’s soulmates, and all that matters is their comfort.

“It no longer matters to me what others think of these things because I can see how happy and content these animals are,” Coburn said. “I know they feel safe, and that’s everything.”