With a full-time job outside the home and four children going in different directions, Connie Field didn't have enough eyes to keep watch over the new litter of Havanese pups in her Westchase home.
A live puppy cam might do the trick, she thought. She'd hook up a camera, stream it live online and peek in from remote locations whenever she could.
The camera would serve a dual purpose: The puppies' future owners - Field calls them "hu-moms" and "hu-dads" - could log on, too, and keep tabs on their little darlings in the weeks before the puppies were weaned.
What Field didn't count on was the Internet dog community's extreme interest in the live stream.
Since its Nov. 14 launch date, Field's Havanese puppy cam has generated more than 262,000 views.
"It was almost a little scary," she confides. "I mean, all these strangers coming into my home, even if it's just on a computer?"
As with most decisions in her life, the love of all things dogs ruled, and she decided the puppycam could stay.
She knew her hunch was right after reading some of the comments posted by viewers, who stumbled upon the site and wrote about the joy they got watching the playful pups tumble and rumble in their enclosed pen off the family's kitchen.
"It's such a wide range: people without jobs who need a reason to smile, kids in cancer wards, families considering bringing a new puppy into their home," she says. "So I know this is more than entertainment. It's making a difference in people's lives."
Of course, none of this is new to Field, 46, whose beloved dog Lotus just won best in show at the Havanese Club of America Specialty dog show in New York City. She is a firm believer in the power of a pooch, from healing a broken heart to completing a family unit.
As the site's popularity grew, so did the number of questions posted by online visitors: "Hey, what is the best vitamin supplement for my puppy?" and "What kind of food are you feeding your dog?" and "How do I get my Brutus to stop barking at strangers?"
Because she breeds and shows Havanese, and produces podcasts for the American Kennel Club's Canine Health Foundation, Field started answering the questions. If she's stumped, she finds an expert. Discussions run most weekdays starting at 8 p.m. from her Web site, www.havaneseharbor.com.
"Connie is awesome," says Alexis Shuder, who works for the city of St. Petersburg. The two women had professional ties a few years back in the commercial printing business, and recently reconnected when Shuder decided to add a Havanese to her family, which includes her 12-year-old son Josh and Sadie, her Rhodesian Ridgeback-Lab mix.
She says the experience of buying her dog Romeo from Field was "eye-opening and enlightening."
"You don't just get a dog from her and move on. You develop a relationship that keeps on going," Shuder says. "There are breeders, and then are responsible breeders like Connie. I know this is a journey, and I'm learning a lot on the way."
And having fun, too. Last week, Field invited all her adoptive parents to come to her house for a Sunday afternoon "puppy party." Dogs romped, people mingled, and all bonded through the Havanese connection.
Field's entry into the professional dog world wasn't planned. Like a lot of dog owners, her puppy love goes back to her childhood. She grew up on a dairy farm in Tarpon Springs and has fond memories of the mixed-breed shepherds that romped with her on the property.
Then came college (she has a business degree from the University of South Florida), marriage and children. A family isn't complete without a dog, she says, so first there was a bull mastiff, next a boxer. Then one day she turned on "The View," and there was Barbara Walters holding a Havanese. For Field, it was love at first sight.
"I was ready for something small and cuddly with a big-dog personality. Nothing frou-frou," she says. "The Havanese are smart, they don't shed and they are sociable as all get out. I was hooked."
One turned into two, and two into four, and now Field is an occasional breeder. She has seven Havanese at home, and two of her prize-winning pooches live with their trainers and work the show circuit. Lotus (AKC registered as Harbor's It Had To Be Me) is the nation's No. 1 Havanese; cousin Pink (AKC registered as Ch. Harbor's Pretty Is As Pretty Does) held that title last year.
Her friends marvel at Field's energy. When she's not immersed in caring for her dogs, Field and her husband, Gene, run AnimeNation from a nearby warehouse, where they license, distribute and retail Japanese animation. They also oversee a bustling household that includes two boys, ages 16 an 13, and twin 9-year-old daughters.
All things being equal, Gene added a Brittany spaniel - his childhood favorite - to the pack a few years ago.
Field can't imagine a life without dogs. She's not alone: More than one-third of America's households include at least one canine. Whether it's a high-priced breed or a rescue mutt, she thinks there's no finer family member. We inherit our human relatives, she points out, but we can choose the dogs we bring into our lives.
"They love you unconditionally, and they don't talk back," Field says. "And you can legally put them in a crate when they act up."
FIELD'S FAVE DOG SITES
Secrets To Marital Bliss, Learned From My Dogs
1. Kisses should always be wet and sloppy.
2. Husbands should limit vocabulary to "Woof!"
3. Being ignored is not an option. Scream, whine, bark and paw until your husband pays attention.
4. Obedience is a good thing.
5. Good grooming is an asset.
6. If you stare at your husband long enough, eventually you'll get your way.
7. With unconditional love, you can hope for at least a 10- to 15-year life expectancy.