Valentine's Day has come and gone, but I think we're always in the mood for a story of true love.
That's why I'm going to share the tale of how Katie Powell, a heroic 25-year-old paramedic, fell head over heels for Dooley, a dashing young fellow she rescued on a First Nations community near Kenora.
This love story began last November when Katie and her two cats, Austin and Gixxer, moved from their apartment to a house in St. Boniface.
Moving into a house meant the plucky paramedic with the Interlake-Eastern Regional Health Authority finally had enough room to fulfil a lifelong dream -- becoming a foster home for rescue dogs.
That's when she signed up with the volunteer network operated by Manitoba Mutts Dog Rescue, one of many non-profit animal-rescue organizations in the province.
"Within a few days, I had two puppies," recalls Katie, whose Whitemouth-based day job involves rescuing the victims of everything from camping and car accidents to mishaps involving snowmobiles and ATVs.
"I'm more of an emergency temporary home. Within a month, I had nine puppies come through my house. I took in a pregnant German shepherd just for a night until a more permanent placement could be found."
Not long after, while visiting the rescue group's Facebook page, she got wind of Dooley, a two-year-old Rottweiler-cross running wild with a pack of stray dogs near a Kenora-area First Nation.
It was clear Dooley had been badly injured after coming out on the wrong end of clashes with a porcupine and, most likely, a car. "A woman on the reserve called Manitoba Mutts to say the dog likely wouldn't last much longer," Katie recalled. "I couldn't sleep knowing he was out there freezing."
Rescuing has always come naturally to B.C.-born Katie -- "When I was little, I was saving baby birds and I raised five squirrels" -- so she enlisted four volunteers, including two from It's A Dog's Life Rescue in Kenora, and set out on a long drive to save Dooley.
"We brought a big bag of dog food to distract the other members of the pack," she said. "We came around a corner and, about 20 feet back in the treeline, there was a Rottweiler sitting with his ears down and his right front paw held up like it was hurt.
"We tried coaxing him with treats, but he wouldn't budge. We tried calling the name Dooley, which the people on the reserve had given him. Then I knelt down, we made eye contact and he just came running towards me. He sat on my feet and nuzzled right up to me."
After slipping a leash over his neck, the volunteers scooped Dooley up and popped him in a kennel in the back of Katie's car for the long ride back to her home in St. Boniface.
"It took him 10 minutes to come into the house," she said, laughing. "He put the brakes on and didn't want to come in. When we got him in the basement, as soon as I dropped the leash, he went right up on the couch. We couldn't believe it."
Later that night, it was off to the vet, where the extent of his injuries became clear.
A dog forced to fight for survival, Dooley was a mass of infected gashes and wounds. There was also a large abscess on his cheek caused by porcupine quills, his paws were frostbitten, he was riddled with kidney worms and his right hind leg was broken, the ankle joint swollen to three times its normal size.
"I assume he was hit by a car, but who knows for sure," Katie told me. "He's had to fight his entire life. Dogs that are strays never sleep; they're always on guard."
Despite his hard-knock life, Dooley is a charmer. "He's funny, playful, smart and so loving," says Katie, who also serves as the public relations co-ordinator for Winnipeg Lost Dog Alert, a network of volunteers that reunites lost dogs with their owners by organizing searches and posting alerts on its Facebook page.
"Dooley is a good boy. He's just got a good heart. He's loving. He's completely fine with my cats. We all sleep in the same bed now."
The plan was for Katie to give Dooley a foster home, but once she laid eyes on him, she realized she couldn't let him go.
But there's no happy ending yet. So far, Dooley's vet bills have totalled about $4,000, with Katie covering about half through her family and friends and donations to Manitoba Mutts picking up the rest.
But Dooley desperately needs to have his badly mangled hind leg amputated, and the bill for that surgery is expected to hit $2,500. "He's still in pain every day," Katie says. "It'll be nice to get it off to make him feel better."
And this is where you, the generous readers, come in. An overworked paramedic with a huge heart, Katie is doing everything she can to raise the cash, including spreading the word about Dooley through social media and putting donation jars in local businesses.
The reaction so far has been heart-warming. "It's been overwhelming," Katie said, her voice trembling. "A little girl donated $150 of her birthday money.
"I want to raise all the money so Manitoba Mutts can go help more dogs with the donations they raise. I'm doing my best. I'm in love with this dog and I promised I'd do everything possible to not only save his life, but give him a good quality of life."
How to help
About $2,500 is needed to help cover the cost of amputating Dooley's injured hind leg, an operation scheduled for March 15.
You can donate online by going to www.manitobamutts.org, clicking the donation button and clearly stating the donation is for Dooley.
Dooley's owner, Katie Powell, has also left donation jars in businesses around St. Boniface and St. Vital, such as the Pet Valu outlet at 27 Marion St. You can donate in person by visiting Southglen Veterinary Hospital at V-730 St. Anne's Rd.
And you can meet Dooley on Saturday, March 9. at the Winnipeg Lost Dog Alert's first-ever awareness and fundraising event at Sprocketts Doggy Daycare, Unit 7-975 Thomas Ave., from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Info at www.winnipeglostdogalert.com
Along with helping Dooley and rescuing lost dogs, there will be face painting, a silent auction, clowns, a magician, hotdogs, pawdicures and much more.