As Mackenzie Makatche and her mom conspired to bring more Newfoundland dogs into their family — as if her dad hadn't noticed the seven beautiful, bear-like slobber factories taking over his house — Makatche's mom shared her wish for their dogs.
"She really wanted to start a therapy organization to visit people in the hospital," Makatche, 28, said. "Little did she know that she was going to be one of those people."
Makatche's mom, Diedre, was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer in the fall of 2016. And so, the first patient the family's dogs comforted was the woman who wanted them to comfort others.
Meanwhile, the Instagram account Makatche created to document life with her "Newf Crew" in Glen Mills, Pa. — an account followed by more than 37,000 people — quickly became an outlet to share the struggles of her mother's battle and ask for prayers.
"I was like, here's this audience, I might as well see if anybody's willing to send some prayers up for her. ... It meant a lot to my mom that people cared," Makatche said.
On April 10, 2018, Makatche's mom told her, " 'Kenz, I'm ready.' " She held her mother's hand as she took her last breath.
"If it weren't for the dogs, there would be so many days that I would've stayed in bed after my mom died," Makatche said. "They gave me so many smiles when I needed to smile."
Today, Makatche is pursuing her mom's dream of creating a nonprofit Newfoundland therapy group. The Newf Crew is now up to nine good boys and girls — Guinness, Murphy, Storm, Skyy, Aisling, Oliver, Belle, Duncan, and Coeli — and three puppy floofs, which will soon go off to their own forever homes. Three of the adult dogs have completed therapy training and two more are in the process, with four more to go.
Makatache breeds the dogs and tries to be transparent about her process on Instagram because she feels breeders have gotten a bad name.
"It allows people to see that there's nothing shady about this," she said.
Makatche has some pretty strict rules for prospective pet parents. Chief among them is that they must survive a visit with her Newfoundland slobber-and-fluff tornado.
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"I won't promise a puppy to anyone who hasn't met me and all of the dogs," she said.
Out of more than 25 puppies she's bred, Makatche has kept in touch with all but one of their families.
"I send them all Christmas cards every year," she said.
Makatche also likes to celebrate holidays — from Valentine's Day to Thanksgiving — by dressing up her Newf Crew and posing them for photos. She starts teaching them to sit together and stay as puppies so they get good at the process until one of them moves (we're looking at you, Duncan).
"My mom really liked the holiday pictures so I've been putting more effort into them since she passed away," Makatche said. "They're probably embarrassed by me, but they do it just to humor me."
The most complicated shot she's attempted was getting them all dressed up as ghosts for Halloween.
"If you look closely a lot of their sheets have paw prints or the holes are ripped," she said. "I think Oliver's whole face is sticking out of one hole, but it turned out really cute."
Makatche said the questions she gets most about her dogs include: Are they bears? (No.) How much dog food do they eat? (Two bags a week.) How big is your house? (Nice with a large yard but not enormous.) How much do they weigh? (Between 100 and 145 pounds.) Are you crazy? ("Definitely yes. I don't think otherwise you can have nine dogs," she said.)
One dog — Guinness, the matriarch — sleeps in bed with Makatche every night, and she rotates one other dog (OK, sometimes two) in bed each night, too. Makatche insists on being an equal opportunity cuddler.
And from Slovakia to Newfoundland, people online are following her epic dog-mom journey.
"I think it's really cool that people are so interested in me and the dogs," she said. "Mostly the dogs. I'm just the sideshow that hauls them around."