A chance encounter on an Upper West Side sidewalk reunited this canine family. 

By Zach Cunning
March 25, 2021
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Jason Hellerstein and his new dog, Marvin, were on their way back from the groomer several weeks ago when they turned a corner on New York City's Upper West Side and bumped into Tara Derington and Leo, her own recently adopted dog.

Leo stopped "and just kind of goes crazy. He had not done that to a dog before," Derington says in an interview with Daily Paws.

She had a hunch. She knew Leo's father lived nearby—she'd even been trying to spot him on their walks—so she started asking about Marvin, who Hellerstein and his girlfriend, Mattie Kahn, had adopted from a Texas shelter. (Kahn told Hellerstein's side of the story to Daily Paws.)

Hellerstein told Derington that Marvin was a rescue, and that was enough evidence.

"I really just went out on a limb and I said, 'Did you rescue him from Dr. Dolittle's Rescue Ranch in Texas?'" she says. "This guy looked like I had just told him that he had a child.

"I told him, 'This is Leo's dad.'"

This is how that chance meeting opened the door to an incredible family reunion story spanning nearly 2,000 miles: from a Texas border town to the Big Apple.

three dogs held by owners
Credit: Courtesy of Tara Derington

3 Tickets To NYC

In New York City, "rescuing a dog has become like a competitive sport," Kahn says. She and Hellerstein had been searching for a dog for months when they came across Marvin's profile on Petfinder. "We just thought he looked so sweet," she says.

At that time, Marvin was at Dr. Dolittle's Rescue Ranch in McAllen, Texas. The organization's owner, Tammy Vergel de Dios, told Daily Paws "people in the Northeast really do cherish their animals."

Her rescue regularly sends dogs to New York and New Jersey for adoption. The transport service she uses can cover the nearly 2,000 miles between Texas and New York in about 30 hours.

Why such a long journey? While demand's been so high in the Northeast that the shelters are essentially empty, there's no shortage of dogs in Texas who need homes, Vergel de Dios says.

Marvin's adoption moved quickly. Just a few weeks after Kahn and Hellerstein applied, Marvin was on the way and their new family was born. They had no idea his original family was on the way, too.

At the same time Kahn and Hellerstein were looking at Marvin, so was Derington. She applied for him and a second dog. "I thought, if I don't get one, I might get the other," she says.

And she did; Leo arrived on the same transport as Marvin. But Derington still had no idea they were related.

Vergel de Dios was filling out final health paperwork for Marvin and Leo when she had a bit of a shock. "I'm like 'Oh my God. These guys are within several blocks of each other,'" she says.

Fluffy small dog wears red coat on snowy sidewalk
Murray
| Credit: Courtesy of Anne Sachs

When Derington called the shelter to get Leo's rabies tags, shelter staff mentioned that Leo's dad was nearby and Leo's brother, Murray, needed a home. Derington reached out to her friend and coworker, Anne Sachs, who was looking for a furry friend.

"She sent me his picture. And I was like, 'Oh my God. He's the cutest,'" Sachs says.

Sachs started working on adopting Murray, and Derington began keeping a lookout for Marvin. Then, one a quick walk between meetings, she and Leo bumped into Hellerstein and Marvin.

The Reunion

After realizing their dogs were family, and how close they all lived to each other, the humans started setting up a reunion.

"I was really excited to see Marvin because I wondered where Murray got his good looks from," Sachs says.

On March 14 she got to find out; Marvin, Murray, and Leo were joyously reunited! Inside Edition captured the smile-inducing video of the father-sons playtime—stick included.

"They all have the same tail and mannerisms and definitely, definitely recognize each other," Derington says.

"I think, probably, people already felt that you never know what you're going to find on a New York City street corner and that remains true; you might find your dog's not-so-long-lost relatives," Kahn says.