By Dustin Fitzharris
In 1967, Vicki Lawrence shot to stardom on The Carol Burnett Show. Forty-five years later, she is still traveling all over the country making audiences laugh with her two-woman show. Who’s the other woman? It’s Mama—the character originally created with the Burnett cast who went on to star in her own successful sitcom, Mama’s Family.
No matter how much Lawrence’s life changed by starring in two hit television shows, one constant that remained was her love of dogs. Ever since she can remember, she’s had dogs in her life. Currently she has two—Lucas, a 6-year-old Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen (PBGV), and Tascha, a 10-year-old Chocolate Labrador Retriever. Other than her husband of 37 years, Al Schultz, whom she met on The Carol Burnett Show, and their two grown children—her dogs are the loves of her life.
Lucas came into the couple’s lives after Watson, their previous PBGV, had to be euthanized at 10 years old. Without Lawrence knowing, Schultz called Watson’s breeder, Helen Ingher, and asked if she knew of any dogs they could adopt. One day, while Lawrence was at her sister’s house, she received a call from Ingher saying she had the perfect dog for them. As Lawrence was trying to process the surprise, Ingher began telling her about Lucas, a PBGV who needed a home. Sadly, his caretaker no longer wanted him because he was not big enough to show.
Lawrence raced home, told her husband Ingher had called, and that there was a dog named Lucas who needed a home. Suddenly Schultz got teary-eyed. Amazingly, he had just finished watching a movie called Lucas. The plot: A boy wanted to be a football player, but was not big enough to make the team. It was just the sign the couple needed. Lucas was on the next non-stop flight from Chicago to Los Angeles.
Ingher warned them about Lucas’ appearance: He was scrawny because he hadn’t been eating, and he looked more like a poodle since his muzzle had to be shaved to get rid of the tangles. But when Schultz saw him in person, he was in disbelief.
“Al said, ‘That’s not him.’ I said, ‘Honey, I’m afraid it is!’” Lawrence recalls while laughing. “He shook the whole way home. I called him Barney Fife!” Lucas came with some issues. The vet knowing he would have to pull some teeth, got inside Lucas’ mouth, and it was pretty bad. Today, Lucas has 22 teeth—half of what he should have. Yet Lawrence says he couldn’t be happier. He eats like a champ and his breath is lovely. And Lawrence, who scored a No. 1 hit with the song “The Night That the Lights went Out in Georgia,” is no longer the only singer in the house. All she has to say is, “Do you want to sing Lukie?” and he lets out a harmonious “Ouuuuuuuuu.”
Lawrence credits her animals for helping her through difficult times. “I always figured you should get the dog of your dreams when you are a 9-year-old boy. I was a 45-year-old woman,” notes Lawrence. She is referring to Hannah, her first Labrador Retriever. After her talk show was abruptly cancelled in 1994, Lawrence was not in a good place emotionally. On Valentine’s Day in 1995, Schultz surprised his wife with a tiny Black Lab puppy.
“I really feel like she saved my life,” Lawrence says.
Hannah was put down in 2008 at 13, and Schultz took it particularly hard. This time it was Lawrence who knew what she had to do. Without telling her husband, she began researching places to adopt another lab. She came across Southern California Labrador Retriever Rescue. The moment she pulled up their website, a picture of Tascha, the “Lab of the Month,” caught her eye.
Lawrence wanted to surprise her husband with Tascha but, like most rescue organizations, all parties in the home must be present and on board before an adoption can take place. Lawrence set up a visit for Tascha. When she told her husband they were getting company, he had his doubts. “He said, ‘You’ve lost your mind!’” says Lawrence. Hoping to seal the deal, she went on to explain how wonderful Tascha sounded and kept showing Schultz her picture and profile.
Still, he wasn’t ready to commit. “He kept saying, ‘We really don’t need another dog.’ Meanwhile, I see how he’s moping around and how much he misses [Hannah]!”
Eventually he caved, and Tascha came for her interview. When she arrived, Schultz greeted her on all fours—and they were fast friends! “I swear to God she did an audition for us,” Lawrence says. “She was like, ‘This is where I want to be.’” And that’s right where she stayed.
Lawrence is an avid advocate of dog rescue. She knows that sometimes you have to be a little more patient, and understand that older animals may come with some baggage. Still, she says it’s all worth it.
“I swear they know they are rescued. They know they are rescued and that you need each other,” Lawrence says. “There’s a line at the end of Pretty Woman after he rescues her, and he says, ‘What happens after I rescue you?’ The Julia Roberts character answers, ‘I rescue you right back.’ That’s how I feel about these dogs. You rescue them, and they just rescue you right back.”