The Long Road Home

Klamath, OR

Twenty-eight years is a long time for two sisters to be apart. Different lifestyles and differing opinions kept them at arm’s length, sometimes with no communication at all for years. Now in their mid-50’s, Sonia and Dorinda wanted to come home…to each other.

“We felt we could finally be a family,” Sonia told us. A fiercely independent woman living in South Carolina, Dorinda spent much of her life moving around. And, as a truck driver, she spent a good portion of her life on the road.

Sadly, in spite of the most careful preparation, their reunion would not come to pass. This is Sonia’s story about family love and loss, and the fragility of life itself. Gleaned from her sister’s journal and their conversations, Sonia shared with us how much her sister loved animals. From chickens to dogs, Dorinda had a huge heart.

As Dorinda and Sonia talked about what to do with her pets, it was clear that Whistle and Shadow, her two mixed breeds dogs, would come with her. Sonia was fine with that.

“What about Sparky?” Sonia asked with a grin. She already knew the answer. Sparky was a Bantam rooster. Let’s make that a spoiled rotten Bantam rooster. Dorinda once sent Sonia a video that asked this question. “How do you hypnotize a rooster?” Then she showed Sparky on her lap with Dorinda stroking his comb with a Q-Tip. The rooster went out like a light.

Sparky might have been small, but he definitely ruled the roost even with Dorinda’s dogs. She would often leave the house door open so the dogs could come inside. Sparky didn’t ask if that invitation extended to him too. He knew it did.

As for Whistle and Shadow, they knew better than to contradict Sparky; the feisty rooster would follow the two indoors. So the answer to Sonia’s question was obvious. “He’s coming with me,” Dorinda laughed.

Shadow FosterA highly organized person, it took Dorinda 18 months to get ready for her life-changing move. She also kept a journal, documenting each day of her life. Dorinda took care of overdue medical issues like a hip replacement because she wanted to help Sonia move to a smaller house.

Then there was the matter of renewing and updating all of her heavy equipment certificates, as well as getting her CDL (Commercial Drivers License) re-certified. Dorinda wanted to make sure that once she arrived in Oregon, all she would have to do was transfer her licenses.

Whistle and Shadow were always kept up-to-date on their shots, but in classic Dorinda style, she had them fully vetted and microchipped before leaving. The vet declared that both dogs were healthy and quite fit for their new life.

The chickens were given to a trustworthy friend. But without a flock to boss around, Sparky became very depressed. Dorinda then retrieved one of the hens so that Sparky would have a companion. (As a side note, Sparky was way too small to mount the hen.)

Dorinda also had a concealed hand gun permit. True to her precise nature, she mapped out the trip according to the states that allowed motorists to carry a concealed hand gun. She would travel only in those states because she did not want to break the law.

Finally, Dorinda had a huge yard sale to liquidate her belongings. It was time. It appeared that eighteen months of careful planning paid off. As she packed her suitcase, Whistle kept pulling everything out and bringing it to her. She kissed the little dog and told him that Oregon was going to be a fine place to live; don’t worry so much.

Looking back, you have to wonder if Whistle had a premonition about this trip.

Dorinda hitched her 2006 Buick Rendezvous to the back of the U-Haul, carefully laying down cardboard and straw for Sparky and his lady friend. The two dogs rode in the U-Haul cab with Dorinda. To start, Whistle lay on the passenger floor and Shadow was on the seat.

On Friday, August 7th, Dorinda got into the U-Haul, stepped on the gas and said goodbye to her life in South Carolina, and hello to the long road home to her sister in Oregon. For four days, Dorinda traveled west through Kentucky, Illinois and Missouri. Always attentive and careful, she took time to care for her animals and herself.

Sonia spoke with her on Sunday night and Dorinda was pleased with how the trip was progressing. On Wednesday, she and her animal crew got up as usual, getting an early start. This time it appeared that Whistle sat on the seat of the U-Haul cab and Shadow sat on the floor.

At 9:30 a.m., Dorinda was taking an exit ramp in Carlin, NV. There was a tractor trailer ahead of her, waiting to make a left turn at the stop sign. Dorinda’s U-Haul rammed head long into the back of the trailer, killing her and Whistle instantly. There were no skid marks, no evidence that she ever tried to slow down. The impact was so great that rescuers would later have to pull the semi forward in order to access the U-Haul cab. The coroner later speculated that Dorinda had “some sort of cardiac event.” That big heart of hers apparently gave out.

For about 30 minutes, rescuers thought Shadow was dead, too. Covered in bits of glass mixed with her own and Dorinda’s blood, the dog appeared lifeless. Finally, she came to, frantically barking. Karen, the office manager for the Carlin police department, carefully lifted Shadow and took her to the vet.

Sparky and his companion fared the best. Neither was hurt. As Providence would have it, the owner of the towing company called to the scene, also had chickens. He volunteered to take both birds until the next of kin could be found.

It would take a week to track down Sonia. When she got the call from the coroner, she thought it was a terrible prank. When her mind could finally grasp the truth, her world dissolved into chaos.

Sonia arrived in Carlin, NV about 5 days later. As much as she tried to, she could not prepare herself for this tragedy. A stranger to this small community, Sonia’s grief was mixed with awe. The Carlin, NV police department had posted on their website the need for veterinary donations for the small dog that survived a fatal car wreck.

And the community responded. In just one week, Carlin raised $2200 for Shadow, and she desperately needed that care. Now in a loving foster home, Shadow was not only grief stricken, she was recovering from dual hip relocation and eye surgery.

The little dog had lost the one person who loved her most in the world. She had lost her canine companion, and she had even lost that pesky Bantam rooster. Her world was gone. When Sonia walked through the door, Shadow immediately responded. She knew it wasn’t Dorinda, but it was someone like her.

The two wrapped their hearts and their grief around each other. While Sonia opted to let Sparky and his lady friend remain in the capable and caring hands of the towing owner, “I knew Shadow was coming back with me.”

Sonia expressed her gratitude to the Carlin police department, and to the good people of Carlin. At home, both she and Shadow bonded quickly with Shadow refusing to let Sonia out of her sight.

As for Sonia, in her grief and in her desire to comfort Shadow, she fed her too much and the dog gained considerable weight. Even before Shadow gained the weight, she was slow to move. Sonia thought the dog was old, but then she started to limp. That’s when the vet confirmed that four-year-old Shadow had hip problems.

Like so many of our canine friends, Shadow did not whine or complain about her condition, but she was definitely in pain. She needed a femoral head ostectomy surgery. When the vet told her the cost, Sonia felt completely overwhelmed. She lived on disability. How could she possibly afford the surgery?

In tears, Sonia called a friend, who suggested she go online and look for help. That’s when we received her application. No way were we going to say no. Sonia and Shadow had already been through so much, both deserved some happiness. We gladly pledged a donation toward Shadow’s surgery.

But before Shadow could have her surgery, she needed to lose weight. The vet placed her on a strict diet, which Sonia followed. Shadow wasn’t the only one who needed extra care. Six months of mourning and handling Dorinda’s affairs finally took its toll on Sonia. She came down with pneumonia. Both needed time to mend, and they did.

Now they are both ready for a new chapter. Sonia finally scheduled the surgery for Shadow. Even though Everett’s Veterinary Hospital is one of the higher priced vet clinics in town, they have a stellar reputation for care.

But what really endeared them to Sonia and to us is their willingness to stay within our pledge amount to help Shadow. “I thank God, your organization, and the veterinarian for watching out over our little girl,” a very grateful Sonia told us. “Thank you so much for caring as you do!”

We’re very glad to say that Shadow came through her surgery with flying colors. Both she and Sonia are healing.

The long road home takes many twists and turns, and it often doesn’t look the way you thought it would. Even though Whistle and Dorinda are gone, most certainly they are celebrating the cradle of love that binds them all together.

And so can we.