November 27th, 2023
By Savannah Verdon, Development and Engagement Coordinator II
If little Winnie was destined for anything, it was to become the light of Kerri’s life. She shone so bright that she was even in training to be certified as a therapy dog, so she could put a smile on the faces of patients at the local children’s hospital.
“Having severe illness can be isolating and hard to cope with. Through the pandemic, I was especially lonely and cut off. I’ve lost a lot about my past life because of my illness. When I lost my service dog Sarge in 2016, I thought I would get another dog fairly quickly. But I was too sick to care for another pet. An experimental surgery saved my life in 2020, thankfully. I have worked hard with new doctors and in rehab to turn around my health, stop using a wheelchair, and get more active every day. Last year I finally felt confident I could physically take on the responsibilities of a dog. I walked into the shelter for a local rescue and Winnie was the first dog I saw. I didn’t necessarily intend to bring home a 12-week-old puppy, but it was decided the moment our eyes met.”
For all the joy that therapy dogs had brought Kerri when she was hospitalized, she could think of nothing more fulfilling for her and Winnie to pay it forward together.
“Since then Winnie has challenged me and made me a better person, building my mental and physical strength and stamina. She makes me laugh so hard that I have tears running down my face. She gives me a reason to keep working on my strength. She gives me so much motivation to get out of the house and into nature. She constantly connects me with neighbors and people we encounter in the parks, increasing my social opportunities. Sometimes when my pain or fatigue is bad, she is the only reason I get out of bed and feel ready to face my day.”
As a social worker herself, Kerri knew where to look for the resources to meet her and Winnie’s needs, especially as her medical expenses and the cost of living continued to rise. Despite no longer working due to her illness, she stayed connected to the community and always stretched her disability benefits as far as they could go before seeking help – and always finding ways to give back. Getting pet insurance for Winnie’s care was supposed to help make her income go further, but they weren’t covered when Winnie was struck with allergies and Kerri was left with bills that pushed the limits of her budget. Still, she managed. Getting past that was difficult enough, and then she noticed a small lump on the top of Winnie’s sweet head.
Their veterinarian initially suspected the lump was a cyst that would eventually drain and disappear on its own. Three weeks passed without any changes to the lump, and then suddenly it began to grow and bleed. They saw a different veterinarian this time, who was deeply concerned that the lump could be a tumor. A cell aspiration could not conclude if it was benign or malignant. To Kerri, it certainly appeared to be malignant, making it all the more urgent that it was removed before the cancer spread and Winnie needed more invasive treatment. Removing the tumor and providing aftercare would be covered by their insurance and Kerri could afford the co-pays, but only once they had met their deductible. She was a few hundred dollars short.
Kerri did everything she could think of to raise the money. First, she called fourteen other affordable veterinary clinics to see if they could perform Winnie’s surgery, but many were either unable to or the wait would be so long that any potential cancer would have already spread to Winnie’s lymph nodes. She worked out a payment plan with her veterinarian and then put all of her energy into managing a fundraiser, finding organizations like RedRover to help, and picking up odd jobs from friends and family. She was fully prepared to skip several of her appointments and prescriptions if she had to, but her efforts were beginning to pay off – people who loved her and Winnie had chipped in, and her application to the RedRover Relief Urgent Care grant program had been approved.
Winnie physically recovered from the successful tumor removal surgery beautifully, as Kerri knew her healthy girl would. But she had grown anxious in the process and couldn’t stand to be without her mama, even stressing herself out to the point of developing infections in both ears. It wasn’t the completely smooth recovery Kerri had hoped for but she knew that, with time and love, Winnie would be back on the path to becoming a therapy dog for children. Like everything they had been through, it would only bring them closer together.
We are beyond grateful for the Happy Tails our FurEver Friends made possible in 2023. Your recurring support of RedRover makes a lifesaving difference for families like Kerri and Winnie, and we can’t wait to share more heartwarming stories like theirs in 2024!