Soft cries came from the back seat about halfway through Allison and Kristofer Kuykendall’s road trip home to Oak Hill, Va., in Fairfax County.

Allison Kuykendall heard her 2-year-old daughter’s voice asking: “Ruff Ruff? Ruff Ruff?”

She suddenly realized her toddler’s favorite stuffed dog, Ruff Ruff, had been left behind at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel where the family had stayed while attending a kids soccer tournament in Richmond with their four daughters in March.

What happened next delighted about 80,000 strangers who were grateful to find something to smile about after Kuykendall posted about it on Facebook.

“With everything coronavirus 24/7, I thought people might enjoy hearing about the adventures of Ruff Ruff,” she said.

Kuykendall, 39, said she felt terrible about forgetting her daughter’s fuzzy comfort companion and wondered whether it might be too late to get the cuddly dog back.

As soon as the family unloaded the car that night, she called the hotel and was told to check in with the desk clerk the next morning. Everyone was relieved to learn that Ruff Ruff was in the lost-and-found and would be mailed to them in a day or two.

That's when the fun began.

Three days later, when a box arrived at the Kuykendall home addressed to Juniper, the toddler and her older sisters gathered to help open it. Inside, nestled next to Ruff Ruff, they found a tin of chocolate chip cookies, a note and five enlarged photos showing how Juniper’s stuffed dog had spent his solo vacation at the Doubletree.

“Dear Juniper,” the note read, “thanks for letting us borrow Ruff Ruff for a day! He was such a big help around the hotel. Don’t worry, he didn’t work too hard and we gave him plenty of playtime! He’s missed you so much! Thanks again, and hope you and Ruff Ruff visit us again soon! Love, Doubletree Team.”

The hilarious photos, taken by front-desk clerk Jesse Aguila, show Juniper’s pal hanging out at the hotel swimming pool, talking on the phone, using a computer and sleeping in the middle of a king-size bed.

“Juniper couldn’t stop laughing as she looked at the pictures,” said Kuykendall, who runs a photography business. “The love and care they put into doing this is incredible. A lot of times, when kids lose their toys or stuffed animals at a hotel, they might never see them again.”

On March 13, the day after Kuykendall learned that her family would be spending all of their time at home to help reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus in their community, she decided to write a post about the hotel’s kind deed on Facebook and included photos she had snapped of Juniper after she was reunited with her dog.

"I wanted to do something to cheer people up, and it seems to have worked," she said. "People started sharing it almost immediately."

Her daughter has taken Ruff Ruff with her everywhere since she took her first steps, she said. The floppy dog was a gift from a friend when Juniper spent 10 weeks in a newborn intensive care unit after she was born 10 weeks early.

"Although she has lots of stuffed animals, Ruff Ruff quickly became her favorite," said Kuykendall. "She named him on her own when she was trying to figure out what dogs were all about. It was an adjustment for her to spend those few days without him."

Sending Ruff Ruff on a mini vacation was the joint idea of Aguila, hotel manager Kevin Schmidt and Beth Ann Boone, the hotel’s sales and marketing director. Boone and all but three hotel employees are now on furlough after a sharp drop in business over coronavirus fears.

"One of the friends I was working with came in one day and said, ‘Look what we found in one of the rooms,’ " Boone, 56, recalled. “I said, 'Oh, my gosh, look at that cute dog! We should take pictures of him all over the hotel and send them to the child.”

She and her two co-workers then thought up different "dog day" scenarios to photograph.

“It was such a lot of fun for us to do this,” said Schmidt, 29, who hopes to document the adventures of other lost stuffed bears, cats, dogs and dolls at the hotel in the future. "It’s nice to think that we helped make a little girl smile.”

Read more:

Have a story for Inspired Life? Here’s how to submit.