Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Boy and his dog's lick-it list goes viral

Story touches hearts around the world

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SHILO -- Bingo's bark helped save the life of a young child who depended on him numerous times when he was younger.

Now Bingo's bark is being heard around the world.

That's because an idea 11-year-old Cole Hein came up with to set up a canine version of a bucket list -- called a lick-it list -- has gone viral and been spotlighted by numerous media outlets, websites and empathetic people around the world after being featured in the Free Press two weeks ago.

"I don't know why (this has happened)," an ecstatic Cole said while sitting with his twin brother, Eric, surrounded by a huge pile of packages and envelopes from around the world. "It's probably because this dog saved a life and she is in the Purina Hall of Fame. If that's not it, I don't know."

"It has just been amazing," Cole's mother, Mandi Hein, said. "I never would have thought it would have exploded like this. But it's about a boy, a dog and a wish. I guess I should have known."

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Bingo first romped into Cole's life in 2005, when the boy was two. Cole has an undiagnosed apnea-like disorder that causes him to suddenly stop breathing, day or night, awake or sleeping. It required someone to perform artificial respiration to revive him. He had to be monitored by a caregiver or monitoring instruments 24 hours a day. The condition still affects Cole, but he has learned how to work his way out of it on his own.

National Service Dogs, which normally trains larger dogs to help children with autism, heard about the family's plight and its co-founder trained her own Jack Russell terrier to recognize the child's distinctive gagging noise when he stopped breathing, and then bark to alert his parents or caregivers.

The family has "lost track" how many times Bingo's bark saved Cole's life -- three times during the animal's probation period alone.

But earlier this summer, the family received the devastating news the now 14-year-old Bingo had been diagnosed with canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome and had only weeks to live. The illness is similar to the human version of dementia, and while the dog is on medication for the syndrome, Hein said the dog has "good days and not so good days."

Hein overheard Cole telling Bingo the things he wanted to do for her before the animal died, calling it a lick-it list, and she posted her son's wishes on a Facebook page.

Among the items, Cole wanted to take Bingo on a last public outing to his favourite place, the Rucker's amusement outlet in Brandon, do a photo shoot of the pair, walk her around the block twice, and -- the one that has caught on -- receive doggie treats from around the world.

Nothing really happened for the first two months, but after the Free Press published a story about it, that's when things happened.

The Facebook page went from just having a few relatives and friends on it to more than 12,000 at last count.

The story has been linked to -- or rewritten with acknowledgment to the Free Press -- by an unknown number of media outlets and websites, including People magazine, CNN, NBC, Pet Health Network, Animal Connection, the Cesar Millan Foundation and Pop Culture Fashionistas, where it was named last week's "most inspiring pop culture moment."

Last week, the tale of Bingo and Cole, along with their photograph, was broadcast on the Today Show, with hosts Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb admitting the story was bringing them to tears.

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By last Thursday, the family had already received enough boxes and envelopes to fill two large bags.

But then on Friday, they received a call from the Canada Post outlet at nearby CFB Shilo to come pick up their mail -- and make sure they brought a truck.

The postal employees were right -- the mail filled the back of an SUV. They were from across Canada and the United States, but also Japan, Australia, and the Netherlands.

Many people wrote about the passing of their own pets, sending the treats because, as they say, they know what it is like for Cole.

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 27, 2012 A5

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