LOS ANGELES — When Charlie Annenberg adopted an abandoned golden retriever named Lucky, a new breed of philanthropy was born.
Lucky was 4 in 2001 when he teamed up with Annenberg, scion to a wealthy family known for giving money away.
The 46-year-old Annenberg incorporated Lucky into all his projects. They were on the road more than they were home as they traveled around making documentaries about people who were making a difference.
Lucky became Annenberg’s sidekick and soul mate and would eventually inspire donations to dog-focused causes from as much as $8 million the philanthropist controls annually.
Whether it was a chef at The White House or coal miners 100 feet underground in West Virginia, Lucky made documentary interviews easy because he made everyone so comfortable. In each small town and big city, the man and dog would make unannounced stops at a retirement home, where Lucky would steal the show.
The workload for both grew with explore.org. Using state-of-the-art cameras, Annenberg brought wildlife (bears and bees and beluga whales) to stunning life for millions of web watchers. He and Lucky traveled to every installation in North America and everywhere they went, Annenberg filmed Lucky interacting with people and places.
In 2010, Annenberg decided to use his Lucky photos and films for a travel journal on Facebook, telling the story of their trips.
Annenberg called the journal Dog Bless You, he said, because several years earlier Lucky had befriended a homeless man in San Francisco. They shared time and a sandwich with the man. As they were leaving, the man said: “Dog bless you.”
The Facebook page was all about Lucky, but it captured the fervor for pets that was growing around the country. “Today we have an audience of 505,000 fans,” said Courtney Johnson, explore.org’s community relations manager.
When an earthquake and tsunami struck Japan in 2011, killing more than 18,000 people, Annenberg used Dog Bless You to send six search dogs.
Then war veterans started returning home in large numbers, with wounds including brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Passion for the cause on Dog Bless You soared. Dogs cost between $2,000 and $50,000 each, depending on how much training they need, Johnson said.
As Lucky aged and slowed down, the format of Dog Bless You changed, becoming a tribute to every dog. And Lucky had to retire from traveling.
Annenberg misses Lucky at work.
“He was my partner on all these trips,” he said. “It’s not the same. He would open the door and make me look good. People always stopped and petted him. Everyone wanted to keep Lucky, especially the coal miners. Isn’t it interesting that every day was a new day for Lucky? And he just wanted to be petted? It’s been a great ride.”