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Warm, gentle pressure on his knee called Garrett Turner out of the blinding fog of despair. He looked down into Mandy's glowing amber eyes, letting her love lead him into the sunshine once more. She always knew when he was starting to sink into depression. Every time it happened, she came to lead him back to solid emotional ground.
"What would I do without you, girl?" He stroked her head with a tender hand before scratching behind her ears the way she liked. "You're my rescuer. I didn't rescue you--you've rescued me." Mandy had been with him almost six months now. He could no longer imagine life without her.
He still didn't know what had led him to the local animal shelter that day early last spring. At the time it had felt like some outside entity simply took charge, dragging him out of his house and the bleak ruins of his life. Lord knew he'd needed that. The minute he entered the long kennel building housing female dogs, Mandy spotted him. Within a few heartbeats, her attention focused his gaze on her.
A ragged, gawky, half-grown pup about six months old, she didn't look promising. In spite of that, they both recognized she was the one he was meant to take. If there was such a thing as love at first sight, it sprang to life in a moment between the broken, lonely man and the homeless, abandoned young dog.
Garrett took her home that day, the first dog he'd owned since childhood. He named her Mandy after a favorite song from his parents' generation. The tawny pup gave him a purpose, a reason to get out of bed every morning, and by gradual steps, a new lease on life.
He'd been just short of twenty when adrunk driver had hit his parents' car head-on, killing them both instantly. A bitter irony, they'd been out to celebrate their twenty-second anniversary that night. Since the twins were only twelve, he gave up college plans midway through to stay home and serve as their surrogate dad. It wasn't always easy, but he really believed the results would make his efforts worthwhile. They were slated to graduate from college with honors. Meanwhile his website design business kept him occupied and supplemented the insurance his parents had left for the family's support.
Then the unthinkable happened. Coming back from a ski trip with friends, an avalanche had swept the twins' SUV off the road. By the time the storm ended, allowing the dirty snow covering the vehicle to melt, it was too late. Jason, Janice and two of their friends were dead. After that, Garrett didn't live. He merely existed until Mandy came into his life.
Now nearing a year old, Mandy had grown into a beautiful dog. Most of her ancestry had to be Golden Retriever. In fact, she could easily pass for a purebred Golden. She was one fine-looking dog, but her fierce, courageous heart and loving loyalty outshone her physical beauty.
"Yep, you were my rescuer, baby girl." Mandy leaned against his leg, her eyes blissfully half-shut as he located and scratched every single itchy spot around her head that she couldn't quite reach.
Rescuer. The word echoed in his mind. Mandy was a very smart dog with strong retrieving instincts and great eagerness to please. Rescue. Search and rescue. What if?
With a sudden burst of energy and enthusiasm, the first real fire-in-the-belly feeling he'd had in months, Garrett crossed the room to his computer. He typed "rescue dogs" into the search box. For the next twenty-four hours he submerged himself in study of the fascinating subject.
He shed tears over the heroic dogs who'd died searching out victims in Oklahoma City and at the Twin Towers. He rejoiced over lost children found and survivors dug from ruins. There was no doubt in his mind. Mandy could learn to do this. Then it would be up to him to learn how to work with her. He discovered there were schools that trained both dogs and handlers. It was past time he began to live again. Together they could form a team that might save others from the kind of last cruel loss he had endured.
Posted September 17, 2011
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