Nacho is an 18-month-old golden retriever from Idaho. But it didn’t take long to discover paradise.
Just after his cross-country road trip on Sunday, Nacho discovered what life is like in the Florida Keys. He walked onto the back dock of his new family’s home in Sugarloaf Key, surveyed the scene — and took a confident plunge into the saltwater.
He started taking a lap but returned to his owners, Jen Golbeck and Ingo Burghardt. They lured him back to land by offering a ball.
“On his own without coaxing,” said Golbeck, 45. “It shows he’s just a confident dog. He wasn’t worried we were going to let something happen. He’d been here for two hours at that time.”
Nacho is curious, well-behaved, playful, goofy — and into his toys, his owners report.
“Definitely ball-obsessed,” Golbeck said. “He tried to put his nose through the closet door.”
When Nacho arrived in the Keys, it took about five minutes to get him out of the car. But once he exited, he was trotting around the yard like he owned it.
Nacho is the newest, and youngest, member of the couple’s pack, called the Golden Ratio. Nacho joins Venkman, 7, Hopper, 8, Guacamole, 5, Remoulade, 6, and Chief Brody, 12.
Golbeck can tell the goldens apart, but Burghardt admitted he sometimes has to check.
The dogs are happy now, but some of them have sad histories.
Remoulade came with a scar around his neck from being chained up for six years. He is also missing fur and never visited to a vet. On Sunday, he was bopping around his home with the pack, showing off a beautiful coat.
Another dog years back hid in a guest bedroom for a month after arrival. Hopper has one leg from having had cancer. (She was named before losing the limb.)
“You see them transform after a couple months from sometimes these really terrified, anxious, sick dogs into happy Keys dogs playing in the water,” Golbeck said.
Golbeck understands that many people can’t afford to care for their pets and is grateful they can step in for so many dogs. They’ve had a dog who required about $30,000 a year in surgery. That was Voodoo, 5, who had epilepsy and died a few weeks ago. He had seizures in clusters and required trips to Miami for treatment and would stay in intensive care.
“We’re very fortunate right now that we can afford to take care of these dogs,” she said. “For the vast majority of my life, I was just barely getting by on every check. I understand being broke.”
These dogs have much more than a bowl of kibble: They have their own calendar, a line of merchandise, and a Wiki page. They even have a podcast. Golbeck and Burghardt host the Golden Ratio, a witty review of Keys stories and dogs.
Golbeck, a computer scientist who teaches at the University of Maryland, is working on a book, “The Purest Bond,” about the science of the people who bond with their dogs.
The couple started the Golden Ratio Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of golden retrievers and their friends. They have a devoted social media following of more than 800,000, including about 153,000 on Twitter.
Twitter helped save Nacho and find him a permanent home in the Keys, where he could join other special needs dogs and some seniors.
People on the social platform took up a “Save Nacho” movement that had followers cheering on the dog and his volunteer friends as they hit the highways. Nacho was trending by Sunday night, after news of his arrival and video of his impromptu swim were posted.
In Idaho, Nacho had been given up by his owners, who couldn’t afford the vet bills linked to the dog’s severe allergies, treated in part by prescribed food and shots. He also may have a knee injury that could require surgery.
Nacho was first taken in by the Herd House, an animal sanctuary, rescue and hospice in Southeast Idaho. The nonprofit began searching for his permanent home. Once word got out on Twitter that the young golden needed a new family, all tweets led to Goldbeck and Burghardt, who were ready to add him to the pack.
On Twitter, the couple recruited volunteers, who chauffeured Nacho in shifts about 2,739 miles from Pocatello, Idaho, to Sugarloaf Key. Other people gave Nacho places to stay along his journey.
An online network of dog fans stepped up to help.
People who lived in Denver drove to Salt Lake City to pick up Nacho, stayed overnight, and then drove back to Denver, Golbeck said.
So far, none of Nacho’s drivers or hosts have asked or accepted compensation. Everyone got an email from the couple offering to pay expenses.
“We offered to pay gas money,” Golbeck said. “No one has sent me an email.”
Since 2016, between their dogs and fosters, the couple have had about 30 dogs through their home. There’s been a grievance as well.
“There have been times when we’ve lost two within a week or two of each other,” Golbeck said. “It just breaks part of you.”
“Even though we see these dogs at the end of their lives, it’s rewarding,” she said. “We make it peaceful, joyful and as gentle as possible. It’s kind of an honor to do that.”
She just can’t turn away when she sees a dog who needs a loving home.
“I can’t say no; it’s really hard,” Golbeck said, taking stock of the cost, emotional toll and energy to care for a pack of goldens. “It’s a very joyful place to be.”