NEW CASTLE —
Joe Henry had all but given up.
For three days he searched for Kola, the beloved 15-year-old shepherd/labrador retriever mix that he had raised from a puppy.
“I’d sleep for a while,” Henry said, “then I’d wake up thinking, ‘I’m probably not ever going to see my dog again.’
“It was tearing me apart.”
Then, as Joe and his wife, Tommilynn, describe it, the seemingly impossible happened.
The Henrys got a call that a dog matching Kola’s description had been found, nearly frozen to the ground but alive, near Wal-Mart, on an entrance ramp to Route 376 — close to four miles from their Union Township home.
The dog was at the Animal Medical and Surgical Center in New Wilmington, being cared for by veterinarian Dr. Melanie Sumney and her soft-hearted staff.
“I was doing some work for a friend, but I flew up there,” Joe said. “My heart was racing so fast, I kept thinking, ‘please let this be my dog.’
“I walked in and there was Kola. He ran to me wagging his tail like crazy, gave me a big kiss, then buried his head in my arm.
“I’m not a guy to show my emotion,” Joe added, “but everyone in the office was crying. I have admit, I got really emotional, too.”
Kola’s tale of survival started Thursday night. Tommilynn had gone to visit someone in the hospital and when she returned, she put her car in the garage.
Kola stays inside, but has the run of a fenced-in back yard via a doggie door. When Tommilynn went into the house and didn’t see him, she assumed he was in the back yard.
By early the next morning, the couple realized that Kola had not come back in. Joe was frantic.
“I went up and down the road, to each neighbor, to a couple of businesses nearby, asking if anyone had seen him,” Joe said. “I kept walking through the yard, looking for tracks in the snow, through the woods behind our house hoping I could track him. Nothing. There was no sign of him.”
That’s when the Henrys remembered the garage being open for those few seconds as Tommilynn pulled her car in.
“The only way he could slip out would be if the garage door was open,” Joe said. “But I’ve had that dog for 15 years and he’s never even tried to leave our yard. He’s always by my side. No matter where I am, he’s glued to me.
“He has bad hips and takes medication for it and doesn’t see or hear as well as he used to, but for a dog his age, he’s in awfully good shape.”
Tommilynn, who is seven months pregnant with the couple’s second child, was beside herself. Kola came onto the scene around the time she and Joe met, when Joe also had Kola’s mother, Autumn, who died at age 14 1/2 two years ago.
“I felt horrible,” Tommilynn said, “I love Kola, but that dog is Joe’s baby. I just couldn’t believe that all those years with that dog was going to end like this.”
Joe also called the Lawrence County Humane Society, but was told that no dogs matching Kola’s description had been brought in.
Even 21-month-old daughter Ellianna was affected.
“We came home from church on Sunday and she said, “Kola ... where’s Kola,” Tommilynn said. “She was looking for him.
“Joe and I worried, will she remember him when she’s older? We just weren’t ready to let him go and I don’t think she was, either.”
Friday morning, Jill Jones was running errands near Wal-Mart when she saw, as she described to the Henrys, what at first appeared to be a deer covered with snow on an on-ramp to Route 376.
“She said she drove past it and saw it was too small to be a deer,” Joe said. “When she looked closer, she could see it was a dog.”
Jones backed up and pulled her car off the road and approached the animal. He was shivering, but alive. She didn’t know if she could lift him, but she said she wasn’t leaving him there to die. Jones also had no idea if the dog was friendly or, if hurt, might attack her.
“She told us, she said to herself, ‘OK, dog, if you’re going to bite me, go ahead and bite me, because I’m not leaving you here.’ ”
She had to pry the animal from the frozen ground, but the 50-pound dog not only let her pick him up, she told the Henrys, but he also let out a huge sigh of relief when she laid him on the seat of her car.
She immediately called the office of her own veterinarian, Sumney, who told her to bring the dog right in.
“Jill picked up the dog and carried him in, in her arms, and he is not a little dog,” Sumney said. “Another client of ours was coming in at the same time and helped her.”
Staff immediately assessed the dog’s condition.
“He was covered with snow and hungry and he couldn’t stand,” Sumney said. “We warmed him, gave him some food and water and did some bloodwork on him to see if he was in any kind of organ failure, which he wasn’t.
“As soon as I looked at him, I could see he was an older dog, but well-cared for. His nails were clipped and his coat was in good shape. I immediately thought, ‘this is someone’s dog.’ ”
Before long, though, he became everyone’s dog.
“Every time I went back into the exam room to check on him, there were more people in there,” Sumney said. “My entire staff was in there, petting him and telling him he was going to be OK. Clients heard what was going on and came in to see if he was all right. He was really scared, but everyone was trying to comfort him.”
Staff members tried to get the dog to stand, but his legs collapsed underneath him.
“We are not a shelter, we don’t take in animals, but I agreed to keep him overnight,” Sumney said. “My staff posted his picture on Facebook and immediately we started getting responses from all over — from people offering to foster him, to adopt him, to help pay for his care.”
When Sumney and her staff arrived Saturday, the dog had rallied a bit.
“When I walked in, he was wagging his tail,” she said. “He was able to go to the bathroom for the first time since he’d been there and we helped him up and he was able to stand.”
Although numerous offers to foster the dog had come in, Sumney’s staff members agreed to watch him on a rotating basis through the weekend while he continued to recuperate.
“We didn’t know exactly what this sweet boy had been through,” Sumney said. “We were hopeful that his owner would surface, but when a couple of days passed, I became convinced no one would claim him.
“I have never seen a response to anything like this,” she added. “Our phone was ringing off the hook. People were calling me at home. We had over 240 shares on Facebook.”
KOLA GOES HOME
Monday morning, a call came from the humane society saying that a Union Township man was frantically searching for an elderly dog that matched the description of the one in Sumney’s care.
Within minutes, a call connecting Sumney’s office to the Henry family was made and Joe was on his way to pick up what he hoped was his lost dog.
“When the dog saw Joe, it was obvious that was his owner,” Sumney said. “The dog ran to him and they hugged and hugged. Everyone in the office was teary.”
Receptionist Ruth Pugliese was one of those.
“I think the thing that struck me was how many good people there are in the world,” she said. “So many people came together to make sure that this helpless creature was not left out there to die, then helped him get home. I think it made everyone’s day.”
Joe and Tommilynn said they forever will be grateful for the outpouring of goodness, starting with Jones and extending to Sumney’s office staff and the general public.
“I had canceled my Facebook account, but I activated it because everyone was telling how many people were looking for my dog,” Joe said. “I am just overwhelmed at how many people cared.
“You can say that there aren’t many good people out there anymore, but I know better. I got to know a whole lot of them in the past few days.”
NEW CASTLE —
Joe Henry had all but given up.
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