(Editor’s Note: This story was originally run in the March 2 issue of The Oakdale Leader; however, due to production issues the article did not run in its entirety. Because of its broad appeal and being a testament to the inherent kindness that surrounds us, the decision was made to feature the full story for all three of our papers, The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News and The Escalon Times.)
By TERESA HAMMOND
209 Living Reporter
One might say 11-year-old Noelani Kuheleloa is no stranger to miracles and angels. As a seven-year cancer survivor, the young Oakdale Sierra View Elementary School fifth grader is familiar with hardship and challenge.
Noelani was first diagnosed with brain cancer at the age of four. A diagnosis no parent ever wants to face, regardless of the child’s age.
“The tumor was found just one week after she turned four years old,” mom Candis Williams said of her daughter’s diagnosis. “I got BooBoo for her as a sort of therapy dog to help her in a really rough time.”
BooBoo, a pint size Chihuahua, was brought home to the 11-year-old when he was a pup. Seven years later, he is a true companion to the child who now lives a cancer free life. Early last week, as the mother-daughter duo prepared for a follow-up visit to Children’s Hospital Madera, things took an unexpected turn.
On Monday, Feb. 22 BooBoo went missing from the family’s Oakdale area home. According to Candis, the dog is true to his breed, high in energy and curious in nature. So BooBoo made the decision to go out for a stroll. A stroll which eventually put him in the path of Wendy Brown and Kim Ribeira as they were out for a morning walk on Tuesday, Feb. 23.
“We had no idea where he was,” Candis said of the missing pet. “He’s done this once before and I didn’t have him chipped. You know life gets busy and we put things off. I meant to have him chipped and didn’t, that was a big lesson for me.”
The two women encountered the dog at Valley View Park in the Burchell Hill neighborhood in Oakdale. They described him as sweet and timid as he approached them, and he was favoring one leg. Kim returned home with the dog, while Wendy posted photos of him to a Lost/Found Pet Facebook Page. The women shared they could tell by his temperament that someone had cared for the dog.
With no word or contact through the Facebook post, Kim made the decision to take him to Family Veterinary Care of Oakdale to be scanned in hopes he had been chipped.
As luck would have it, Kim and BooBoo happened upon the vet office at the same time as an Oakdale Animal Control Officer. Through a quick series of in office formalities, BooBoo was given to Oakdale Animal Control.
With visible injury and quick assessment, Veterinary Technician Dawn Hunt asked Oakdale Animal Control for permission to do more testing.
“He was too nice,” Dawn said of BooBoo. “I knew he belonged to someone. This dog was not going to be put down. That was never even a consideration. When we see an injured rescue we typically always assess and see what we can do to help the animal.”
By late Tuesday evening Candis’ older daughter Serenity Snyder’s fiancé had decided to check Facebook in search of something, anything to help find BooBoo. As result he found the post Wendy had made early that same morning. By Wednesday, Feb. 24 the pieces were beginning to fall into place.
“I was feeling a little gloomy,” Noelani said of missing her dog, “because I didn’t have my dog with me. I was worried and I missed him.”
Wednesday morning Candis reported to the vet’s office and identified the dog. She then learned that hip surgery costing well over $1,000 was scheduled to be performed on Thursday morning.
“I told them I’ll get the money,” Candis, a single mom who juggles nursing school as well as work, shared. “I put $700 down and was just going to get the rest. I didn’t know how. You know, it’s hard. But I was going to make sure to get the money to pay for his surgery.”
Dawn shared that as she spoke to the mother, she noticed a call coming in on her phone from Children’s Hospital Madera. Encouraging the mother to take the call, the vet tech then learned that Candis and her daughter would be traveling to Madera the next day for a follow-up from an irregular scan.
“I knew right then we needed to help this mom,” Dawn said. “She never asked for help. She intended to find a way to pay for this. Here she was handling a follow up for her daughter’s brain tumor and taking care of all of this. So I called Oakdale PD (Police Department) to see what they could do.”
The saying goes, that ‘Angels are among us,’ and in the case of BooBoo the injured therapy dog that continued to hold true as Dawn placed a call to Officer Beth Crowley at Oakdale Animal Shelter.
“Thank God the dog wasn’t put down,” Officer Crowley said of the rescue and its unique turn of events. “After I heard the story I knew we had to pay for that dog.
“We were going to take care of it either way,” she said of the surgery, noting that Dawn had shared a down payment was made by the mother. “I told her to give it back; somehow, some way we are going to pay for this dog.”
Officer Crowley then made a call to Oakdale Shelter Pet Alliance (OSPA) board member Sue Lamont and asked if they could assist OPD with the payment.
“We always go to OSPA,” Officer Crowley stated, “because they have funds for things like this. Sue sent out some texts and made some calls and said they would give $700 to help cover it.”
As Candis sat alongside her daughter in Madera that Thursday, she received a call from Dawn. She learned that BooBoo’s surgery was a success and that her financial burden had been lifted. Thanks to the efforts of OPD, the generous donation of OSPA and Family Veterinary Care of Oakdale, there was no balance to be concerned with.
“If it wasn’t for everyone involved, we wouldn’t have him,” Candis said of getting BooBoo back, safe and sound. “We really are so grateful.
“The police do get a bad rap sometimes,” she continued. “Them lifting that burden was unbelievable. I just didn’t know how I would do it. What a blessing for all the people who were involved. It’s just overwhelming.”
“OPD went above and beyond to make sure it was covered,” Dawn said of OPD’s willingness to help finance the surgery. “I don’t know why they get a bad rap ever. They’re the biggest animal lovers.”
The vet tech also said things just fell into place as if it was meant to be.
“This place is like no place I’ve ever worked,” she continued. “The whole staff is just compassionate and OPD just makes it easy. It’s amazing that they care as much as they do.”
“In my eyes Dawn is the hero in this,” Officer Crowley said of BooBoo’s overall outcome, “because she knew this dog had a home.”
BooBoo is now resting and recovering in his Magnolia area home in Oakdale with Noelani, whose follow-up scan proved to be nothing serious. She continues to live a cancer free life and plans to crate train BooBoo.