Mon 7 Nov, 2011 12:13 pm
By Joline Gutierrez Krueger
Nov 7, 2011
She was his dog, a bony little beagle that showed up one day in search of food, a home, a boy.
She found all that.
He called her Sam. She called him hers, growing healthy and happy under his care, walking with him tethered by a leash and boundless devotion, snuggling next to him in bed at night.
His family moved from Oklahoma to Rio Rancho a couple of years ago, and Sam came, too.
She was a lucky dog. He was a lucky boy.
Until things got complicated.
Late on the night of Oct. 15, Kathy and Brian Matise of Denver were driving back to her father’s house in Rio Rancho after a day of visiting old friends when Kathy saw a flash of fur on Unser NW.
“Didn’t you see her?” Kathy shouted. “You almost hit that dog. Turn around! Turn around!”
Brian wondered whether his wife had actually seen a coyote coming from the nearby mesa.
He turned around anyway.
And there was Sam, though the Matises didn’t know her name yet. She had a red collar, but no tag.
Sam jumped right into their car and onto Kathy’s lap.
The Matises figured she was a lost dog. But Sam wasn’t lost. The Matises didn’t know that yet, either.
The couple tried that night and the next day to find Sam’s home but came up empty.
“So we had to take her with us back to Denver,” Kathy said.
They named her Zoey just to call her something.
Back in Denver, Brian placed ads on lost-and-found websites, though truth be told they had already fallen in love with her.
“She was just a very loving dog,” Kathy said. “But we knew somebody must be crying over her.”
They never planned to have a dog. They were professionals in the law field, busy, active, set in their ways.
“We were perfectly happy with our three cats,” Brian said.
But there was something about this dog. Having Zoey around changed them.
“She made me realize how selfish we are,” Kathy said. “We have no kids. The cats are, well, cats. She made me care about someone. She made me a better person.”
It took just hours for someone to respond to the Web ads.
“Thank you! We were so worried if Sam was OK,” Braedon Green, 16, wrote from Rio Rancho. “We have been out of town and realized the moment we got back that she was gone. We would really like to pick her up as soon as possible.”
After a few more email exchanges, the Matises agreed to take Zoey back to Rio Rancho the next weekend so she could be Sam again.
It was, they knew, the right thing to do.
They drove eight hours straight to the Greens’ house and met Braedon, his younger brother, his parents and a second dog named — of all things — Zoey. The family was friendly, grateful, happy to have Sam back, happy to meet the Matises.
“They were such a sweet family. We felt an immediate attachment to them,” Kathy said. “But you could tell something wasn’t right. They had such pressure on their faces.”
And then it came out. Braedon’s father, Zack, was sick, diagnosed in late June with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, which destroys the nerve cells that control muscle movement.
It is, almost always, fatal, taking its victim piece by piece.
Already, Zack was having trouble speaking. Zoey — his Zoey — was his therapy dog.
The cost of Zack’s medical care, including the holistic treatments he was trying, were stretching their budget, said his wife, Karen. Their house was for sale because they needed something more affordable and with no stairs in preparation for the time Zack could no longer walk on his own.
They weren’t sure where they would end up. But they would manage.
“We were so impressed with their strength, with Braedon,” Kathy said. “He was so brave.”
But Kathy was having trouble keeping her own brave face. Tears were filling her eyes.
“If you ever need something, if you ever need someone to take care of your dog, you let us know,” she told Braedon.
She and Brian wished them well, said their goodbyes and left. They were pulling out of the driveway when Kathy saw Braedon coming toward them with that familiar flash of fur.
“You seem like good people,” he told them, tears in his eyes. “We think it may be better for you to take Sam. We have so much going on.”
It was the selfless act of a boy who loved his dog enough to let her go to a couple who had learned they no longer wanted to be selfish.
“It was tough, that first night,” his mother told me last week. “But he knew it was the right thing to do, considering everything. I told him I was proud of him.”
The Matises have, too.
“Braedon has touched my heart,” Kathy said. “He gave us such a gift. We hope by his knowing that his dog is well cared-for that he will see that as our gift to him. He will always be welcome to see her.”
That’s how Sam became Zoey again. She is a lucky dog. They are lucky people.
She found them all. The best parts of them.