From stray to superhero: A look at Alexandria-based Turfmutt

Lucky the dog’s educational program has informed millions about environmental awareness.

Lucky as Turfmutt / Photo courtesy of OPEI

“I thought he was a black dog,” Kris Kiser, president and CEO of Alexandria’s Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI), said about the first time he met his dog, Lucky. “He had been on the street for a bit. He was pretty banged up. He was grimy.”

Lucky, appropriately named, ran in front of Kiser’s car on an Indiana interstate, prompting Kiser to bring the pup back home with him to Alexandria. Kiser had no idea that his new pet would one day become Turfmutt, a national mascot for environmental awareness.

Lucky and Kris Kiser // Photo courtesy of OPEI

“No one wants to listen to an adult. No one wants to listen to me … How do you teach kids?” asks Kiser. “We came up with a superhero idea … [and] one of the people at the meeting said, ‘Gosh, your dog is so cute. Will he wear a cape?’ and we tied a tablecloth to him, walked him out and shot a bunch of pictures of him wearing a table cloth, and Turfmutt was born.”

Created by OPEI’s Education Foundation, which advocates for smart environmental practices, Turfmutt is a superhero dog that stars in free e-books, online games and lesson plans developed by Scholastic. The educational program initially launched in 2009 at a few hundred schools in Sacramento, and after a positive response, was promoted by Discovery Channel. Scholastic’s support came soon after, all this leading to TurfMutt reaching more than 68 million children, educators and families.

But Lucky’s long list of accomplishments doesn’t end there, as he also made appearances in the last three seasons of CBS’ Lucky Dog, which encourages viewers to rescue and adopt stray canines. Kiser appeared alongside Lucky on the show, meeting with pet owners and sharing information on how to make sure that their yard is perfect for a pet.

Kiser says there are many initiatives that dog owners can take to improve their furry friend’s experience, such as incorporating certain plants—especially flowering ones that support pollinators, and ones that are known to thrive in your area’s given climate—into the landscape, as well as adding turf grass.

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