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This article was published 25/11/2014 (2395 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Grab a box of tissues, kids, because this one will tug on your heartstrings.
It's the true story of how two lonely senior citizens rescued each other and now spend their golden years together in a Winnipeg retirement community.
This unexpected love affair began last August when a persistent friend dragged elderly widow Kathleen (Kay) Brown to an adoption fair hosted by Before the Bridge Senior K9 Rescue, a non-profit organization dedicated to finding homes for elderly dogs that have been surrendered, neglected or abandoned.
A spry 96, Kay had grown up with family dogs but felt pet ownership was a thing of the distant past now that she lives alone in a seniors complex on Wilkes Avenue near Waverley Street. She has outlived her husband, James, and her son, Michael. Her daughter, Elizabeth, lives in Boston.
But her world changed forever at the adoption fair when she locked eyes with Nigel, a nine-year-old Chihuahua cross who had been found horribly abused and abandoned wandering the streets of Kansas City, Mo.
For this pair of seniors, it was love at first sight.
"I put my hand out to pick him up and he came up to kiss me and that settled that," Kay says when a Free Press columnist and photographer drops by her small suite for a visit. "I didn't think it would ever happen again and it's been wonderful. The only thing I worry about is what's going to happen in the winter. Four feet of snow would bury him."
Before being adopted on Aug. 9, life had been cruel to this sweet-tempered dog.
"He was a dump dog," says Judy Smith, a semi-retired Stony Mountain dog groomer who launched her Before the Bridge rescue in August 2012. "He was found as a stray in Missouri and taken to a kill shelter. He had chemical burns over 75 per cent of his body. I don't know how he got the burns. Maybe somebody threw something on him.
"But somebody hurt him and he's very timid. He had burns on his head and ears and his front legs and his whole back end. His coat may never grow back entirely. They were pretty deep burns. He was in pretty rough shape."
Nigel's luck began to turn when a U.S. dog rescuer plucked him from death row, then contacted Smith to see if her unique rescue group could possibly find the abused, elderly dog a home.
"He was very, very, very thin," Smith recalls. "He was emaciated. You could see his backbone. He probably came in at about eight pounds, but he's put on a ton of weight."
The dog rescuer becomes a little misty-eyed when she recalls the summer day Kay and Nigel found each other. "It's an awesome story," she gushes. "She said to me the other day, 'I love Nigel and he loves me,' and it made me cry. This has made a woman so happy and a dog that needs a home so happy. It's a win-win situation. He was the perfect dog for her.
"They bonded from the minute they met. He spent most of the afternoon lying on her lap. He never left her side. Everyone said, 'Nigel's found his home.'"
For the last four months, Kay and Nigel have been inseparable companions. During an afternoon chat in her sun-dappled suite, Kay plops her new companion in the middle of a comfy chair, then strokes and scratches the snoozing dog non-stop as she perches on one of the chair's wooden arms.
"Do you think he's too fat?" she asks Smith, a look of great concern clouding her eyes.
The dog rescuer laughs. "No!" she replies reassuringly. "Just relax."
Settled in amid a lifetime of knick-knacks, Kay said her world is definitely better with Nigel in it.
"It's lovely," she says, laughing. "He makes me get out and exercise and we play a lot. When he doesn't want to play, he asks to come up on my lap and he'll stay there as long as I'm there. If I don't pick him up, he'll jump up.
"He does sleep quite a lot. That's his age. People call him a puppy around here because he's so little, but I say, 'No, he's a senior, just like you.'"
She's comforted to know that if anything happened to her, Before the Bridge would take Nigel back into care and find him another home. The rescue also cares for pets if their owners have emergencies, such as surgical procedures.
Despite his rough start in life, Nigel is coming out of his shell. "He's coming out slowly," Kay confirms. "He panics. If I drop a spoon or make a noise, he's right across the room."
After a brief pause, the diminutive senior declared: "He rescued me! I get out a lot more now. I don't take him for long walks. At the moment, it's just around the grounds. He's frightened by traffic."
The tiny but plucky senior's new roommate had to pass a two-week trial before the seniors facility agreed to make their living arrangement permanent. Now Nigel is the hit of the block.
"If I'm in the lobby on the way out, people appear from all corners to say hello. They love him because he's quiet and doesn't hurt anyone," Kay boasts.
For her part, Smith says she didn't hesitate to unite an older dog and a 96-year-old woman. Pets may not be suitable for every senior, but they have immeasurable benefits for anyone still blessed with good health.
"That's why I opened my rescue -- for seniors to rescue seniors," she says emphatically. "I think it's a wonderful concept. I think it's beneficial for their health, their well-being, and their loneliness.
"They have a reason to get up in the morning. They have someone to love. A dog loves you unconditionally. They don't care if you have bad hair, bad breath and a bad attitude. Kay gets quite teary when she says, 'We love each other.' It's probably the coolest thing I've ever seen."
Kay and Nigel wouldn't disagree.
Doug has held almost every job at the newspaper — reporter, city editor, night editor, tour guide, hand model — and his colleagues are confident he’ll eventually find something he is good at.