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From 4 January 2004 Issue

An Unlikely Angel
By Crystal Ward Kent

It was just before Christmas. An angry middle-aged man stood at the counter of the animal shelter, gripping the leash of an aging German shepherd. "Why won't you take him?" he shouted. "I need to get him off my hands!"

The adoption counselor tried once more to explain. "At fourteen, Samson is too old to be a good adoption candidate," she said.

"Well, then just take him and put him down," the man yelled. "I want to be rid of him."

"We don't take animals just to put them down," the counselor explained. "May I ask why you no longer wish to keep the dog?"

"I just can't stand the sight of him," the man hissed, "and if you won't put him down, I'll shoot him myself."

Trying not to show her horror, the counselor pointed out that shooting an animal was illegal. She urged the man to consult with his veterinarian for other options.

"I'm not spending any more money on this animal," the man grumbled and, yanking the leash, he stalked out.

Concerned, the counselor wrote down the license plate of the man's truck and offered up a quick prayer for Samson.

A few days later, a German shepherd was found abandoned. He was brought to the shelter, and the staff recognized him as Samson. The town where he had been abandoned was where his owner lived. The man was contacted by the police and, under questioning, admitted that distraught over his recent divorce, he had sought revenge through the shepherd. He hadn't even wanted the dog, but he fought to keep him to spite his wife. Once his wife was gone he couldn't bear to see the animal. The man was charged with abandonment, and Samson came to stay at the shelter.

The wife and the couple's son were located in Pennsylvania. They were horrified to hear what had happened to their dog and agreed immediately to have him come live with them.

There was just one problem: The wife was nearly broke after the divorce and their initial move. She could take no time off from work to drive to New Hampshire and get the dog, and she couldn't afford any other method of getting him to her. She hated to have Samson in the shelter any longer but didn't know what to do. "We'll come up with something," the staff assured her, but in their hearts they didn't know what. They were concerned, as well Samson had lived with his family all his life. Within a few weeks, his whole world had been turned upside down. He was beginning to mope, and the staff could tell by his eyes that if he wasn't back with his family soon, he would give up.

Christmas was only two weeks away when the angel arrived. He came by pickup truck in the form of a man in his mid-thirties. Through a friend of a shelter staffer, he had heard about Samson's plight. He was willing to drive Samson to Pennsylvania, and he would do it before Christmas.

The staff was thrilled with the offer, but cautious. Why would a stranger drive hundreds of miles out of his way to deliver a dog to people he didn't know? They had to make sure he was legitimate and that Samson wouldn't be sold to meat dealers or dumped along the interstate.

The man understood their concerns and, thankfully, checked out to be an upstanding citizen. In the course of the conversation, he explained why he had come forward.

"Last year, I left my dog in my van while I went to do some grocery shopping" he explained. "While I was inside, the van caught fire. I heard people hollering and rushed out to see my van engulfed in flames. My dog meant everything to me, and he was trapped. I tried to get to the van, but people restrained me. Then I heard someone shouting, 'The dog is safe! The dog is safe!' I looked over, and there was this man I'd never seen before, holding my dog. He had risked his own life to get my dog out. I'll forever be in his debt. Just when you don't think there are heroes any more, one comes along.

"I vowed then and there that if I ever had the chance to do someone a good turn when it came to a beloved pet, that I would. When I heard about Samson and his family, I knew this was my chance, so here I am."

The shelter staff was amazed. They all knew about the van rescue story. It had been in all the papers, and the shelter had even given the rescuer a reward, but they had never dreamed that Samson's angel was connected to this earlier good deed.

A few days later, Samson and his angel were on their way. The dog seemed to know he was going home, because his ears perked up and his eyes were brighter than they had been in some time.

Just before Christmas, the mail brought one of the best cards the shelter had ever received. Along with a thank-you note were photos of a deliriously happy Samson romping with his family in the snow and snuggling with them by their Christmas tree. Samson was truly where he belonged, and the staff knew he would live out his days happily there.

They also knew that Samson's journey home was a true Christmas miracle, and that angels - and heroes - may still appear when you need them, even in the most unlikely forms.

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