Everyone who meets Jena McKinstry’s Pomeranian pup, Koda the Fluff, can’t help but grin. The 7-year-old puff ball spends her days zooming around in her miniature red convertible, bringing laughter and joy to seniors, hospital patients, first responders and anyone else who needs an instant pick-me-up.
Koda the Fluff has quickly become an online sensation and one of the special animal heroes to support millions with her nonprofit Smiles Fur Miles. Here, Jena McKinstry and Koda the Fluff’s joyful “tail” of how the little dog is bringing light and hope to people around the world.
How Koda the Fluff’s journey to stardom began
A giggle escaped Jena McKinstry’s lips as she tripped over her new Pomeranian puppy, she affectionately named Koda the Fluff. The then-27-year-old marketing professional had only welcomed the lovable 6-month-old puff ball into her Orlando, Florida, home days earlier, but already they’d become best friends.
“The minute I got home I set her down and she immediately started following me around the house,” Jena tells Woman’s World. “She has never left my side since. She was so easy to train and very attentive to me so I knew she was different than most dogs, but at first, I didn’t really think much of it.”
But Jena began to notice the effect Koda had on people — kids and adults alike flocked to pet the pup, their faces lighting up. “That’s when I had a friend tell me about pet therapy and how it had helped him through an intense series of surgeries,” Jena recalls. “I was so inspired by the impact a dog had on him and his healing that when he offered to get me in touch with a pet therapy program at Orlando Health, I jumped right in.”
Soon Koda the Fluff was registered as a therapy dog and began her rounds at Orlando Health network.
Koda the Fluff gets into the driver’s seat
One afternoon, Jena was shopping in a doll store with Koda in her purse when she spotted a Koda-sized, remote-controlled red convertible car. “I immediately wondered if Koda would sit in it and she did — Koda didn’t think twice as I drove her around the store, and she stayed calmly looking around,” Jena says. “It was so cute, and the staff and I were cracking up.”
Though Jena didn’t end up buying the car at the time, it sparked an idea, and Jena ended up getting a gently used version on Facebook Marketplace. After practicing in Jena’s living room for a few hours just driving around the couch and saying “stay” while reassuring Koda with treats, Koda quickly grew to love being in her car.
“I then started driving her around outside in my driveway and sidewalk,” says Jena. “Cars in the neighborhood started pulling over to video her — that’s when I knew this was something people would love!”
Thrilled, Jena brought the car in with Koda to do her rounds at Orlando Health and explained to the director how it would be so cute, different and impactful if Koda drove in and out of the rooms. “The director loved the idea, but we had to run some tests with Koda in different situations to make sure it would work and be safe,” Jena recalls. “Our first test, we drove Koda into a nurse’s station of about 30 nurses. They absolutely erupted with joy. It was incredible. I was hooked at that moment.”
Jena loved seeing how so many people could forget their stress or worry and be so very happy for even just a few minutes. “From that day on, we haven’t slowed down,” she says.
Koda began making rounds in her jazzy red car at the hospital, wearing her signature sunglasses and sipping on a Puppaccino. Seeing the joy the pup brought the patients, nurses, doctors and visitors, Jena found herself wanting to help even more people.
She started visiting nursing homes, schools and dentist offices, garnering rave reviews. When people started videoing Koda’s visits, Jena got another idea: “What if I made my own videos to share online so millions could be uplifted?”
Jena began making clips with storylines, such as Koda getting an oil change or making a sandwich or delivering hot dogs and goodies to first responders. But Koda also cruised the neighborhood, stopping to visit local businesses. Jena made videos of all her adventures and posted them on Koda’s Instagram and Facebook accounts along with Koda’s new website.
Animal heroes giving back
Jena often featured small businesses in need of a boost on Koda the Fluff’s social media accounts. Grateful, the store owners reciprocated with enthusiastic support, such as a cupcake shop that donated 100 mini cupcakes for Koda to deliver to nurses at a hospital.
Medical professionals and first responders became Koda’s favorite people to visit. “They give so much of themselves,” says Jena. “They more than anyone needed some uplifting.”
Koda’s love is given back to her tenfold. The FBI awarded her the 2023 Director’s Community Leadership Award.
She’s also the poster pup for many police departments. The Clermont Police Department even used Koda in their Drive Safe PSA videos, warning drivers to never speed and always have their driver’s license and registration with them.
Koda the Fluff messages of joy and love
Once the videos started circulating on social media, messages poured in from around the world, sharing how much Koda brightened people’s lives.
Some messages touch Jena’s heart so much that she will make surprise visits so Koda can personally deliver joy. Koda joined a terminally ill little girl for a Princess and the Frog tea party, delivered a little red wagon to a lonely senior gentleman who had a sentimental attachment to Radio Flyer wagons from his boyhood days, threw a birthday party for a 100-year-old woman, bringing her flowers and pizza, and she brings smiles and hope to countless people struggling to overcome life hardships.
Things branched out when Jena was scrolling Instagram last summer and spotted a beautiful portrait of Koda drawn by Lindsey Moreland, a blossoming and passionate artist who has autism. Jena was so moved, she and Koda flew to Minneapolis to meet Lindsey and her family and to ask if she’d illustrate a series of children’s books for Koda.
The adorable book, Koda the Fluff Gets a Driver’s License, was launched in December 2022 and is now available on Koda’s website, Amazon and Barnes & Noble online, with proceeds donated to Lindsey’s projects at Autism LM and to Koda’s nonprofit, Smiles Fur Miles, Inc.
More books are in the works along with a stuffed animal for kids to hug.
For Jena and Koda, they are looking forward to bringing joy to more people. “I have found my purpose. Over the last seven years, Koda the Fluff has positively impacted so many people around the world, and I can’t wait to see where the road leads us from here,” Jena beams. “I hope we inspire people everywhere to help others and love their community and train more animal heroes. I know for sure, though, the biggest life Koda has changed is mine!”
Read on for more inspiring Animal Hero “tails”
Diane Nichols is an award-winning newspaper reporter, a published author and a worldwide magazine journalist with hundreds of stories in print. She has been writing inspirational true stories and celebrity pieces for Woman’s World since 2018 and is the published author of two memoirs: Prison of My Own and God Gave Me You, which is currently under contract with Sony Pictures. She welcomes you to visit her website at DianeNichols.com and follow her on Twitter @DNicholsAuthor.