On July 19, animal rescue volunteer from the “Douglasville Pawlunteers” and Douglasville, Ga., resident Jonnie Craig was in the midst of transporting 14 kill-list dogs from a small Douglas County shelter to Libby’s Legacy, a no-kill dog rescue in Maine, when the unthinkable happened.
Shortly after the crash, the Lebanon Borough Fire Company and the Clinton First Aid and Rescue Squad arrived. Craig was trapped inside her crumpled SUV, wounded. Her passenger, Dom Fanelli, sustained minor injuries. Emergency personnel were able to extract Craig from the vehicle and rush her to the local hospital, where she was treated for a head injury.
Meanwhile, rescue workers were busy pulling the car’s canine passengers — including eight adult dogs and six 8-week-old Beagle puppies — out of the totaled Suburban. By the time the crew emptied the SUV, only 11 of the 14 homeless dogs were accounted for. Three had fled the scene of the accident.
Just before he was transported to the hospital to treat his injuries, Fanelli spotted one of the missing dogs shaking near the wreck — Harley, a small tan Chihuahua. He quickly scooped up the frightened pup, begging emergency workers to continue searching for the remaining two unaccounted-for dogs; one was a tan-and-white Dachshund mix puppy named Honey.
While clean up crews cleared the road of debris, firefighters scanned the area, hoping to spot the missing dogs. With no luck in their search, and the crew just about finished pulling pieces of Craig’s SUV off of the interstate, the group decided to call it a night. But just as they were pulling away from the scene, a firefighter noticed movement in the tall grass beside the road — it was the missing puppy.
Only one dog from the transport — Honey — was still nowhere to be found. But Honey would end up rescuing herself later that day, when she walked into a groomer’s shop in nearby Cokesbury, N.J., apparently still wearing her signature pink bandana.
The rescued dogs — Honey included — were brought to Hunterdon Hills Animal Hospital, where they could be examined and boarded. When he heard the dogs’ story, Hunterdon Hills veterinarian Dr. Charles Westfield gladly offered his clinic’s services free of charge, saying it was the least he could do for the rescues and dogs who’d been through so much.
Rescue staff and volunteers in Georgia and Maine were blown away by the support they and their dogs received from the people of Lebanon.
Miraculously, all the dogs survived what could have been a tragic accident. Harley, the Chihuahua discovered shortly after the crash, sustained the worst injuries — one of his eyes was badly damaged and it had to be surgically removed.
But despite losing his eye, Harley got his happy ending — NJ.com reports Ginny Russo, the receptionist at the emergency veterinary clinic where Harley was tended to immediately following the accident, recently adopted him. Harley joins a family of three Chihuahuas and a rescued Vizsla, and Russo says her new addition is a perfect fit with the rest of her pack.
“He’s very mild mannered,” Russo says of Harley, “and I haven’t heard him bark once. He follows you around.”
“He is very affectionate,” Russo adds, “a true lap dog.”
Many of the other dogs rescued in the crash have found their forever homes, too — some even with the emergency personnel who pulled them from the overturned SUV. The fire chief’s daughter adopted the pup who’d been found in the grass after the wreck, and his niece added chocolate Labrador Retriever Nuka to her family. Two firefighters who responded at the scene of the crash took home dogs as well. The rest were transported to their original destination — Libby’s Legacy — in Buxton, Maine, where most were quickly adopted by loving families. In fact, only three of the dogs are still in need of new homes — yellow Lab Waldo, Chow Chow mix Chap, and Beagle mix Lucky.
But Lebanon’s love for the dogs just keeps on coming; the borough plans to commemorate the day of the car accident — July 20 — by holding an adoption event for homeless pets that day next year. Staff and volunteers from both Libby’s Legacy and the Douglas County Animal Shelter plan to attend.
“The way it unfolded and worked out so miraculously brings to mind the word ‘kismet,’ which means fate, but even better,” Hunterdon Hills Animal Hospital staff member Lauren Case says of the crash and the happy events that followed. “The light and hope the puppies bring to their new owners, people meeting each other, the friends down from Maine who live just two towns over, what are the chances of that? It just shows that there’s something bigger out there than us.”