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December 13, 2002

Cemetery worker reunites deaf woman with lost dog

From: Canton Repository, OH - 13 Dec 2002

By JAN H. KENNEDY Repository staff writer

NORTH CANTON — Now that she has her dog back, Julie Harper can sleep without fear again.

Half sleep, that is.

“I was so afraid that if I wake up, it would only be a dream,” she said. “But it wasn’t. He’s home.”

Harper, a deaf woman who said her mixed-breed dog, Chocolate, is her “ears,” was visiting Stark County in November. She stopped in the North Canton Public Library on Nov. 20 to use a computer to check her e-mail.

Not knowing service dogs are permitted in the library, she left the dog in the back cab of her pickup truck. When she came out of the library, the dog was gone, but his collar and chain remained in the truck.

She put out hundreds of fliers in the area, and put a plea on the Internet asking people to look for her pet.

In a Repository story Wednesday, she described how she was living in fear without Chocolate because the dog let her know when people were approaching. Those fears had left her during the five years she had a husband and the two years since he died, thanks to Chocolate.

An employee of Forest Hill Cemetery read the story and called the writer to report a dog matching Chocolate’s description had been hanging around for about a week. Employees put out feed and straw for him, but no one could approach him.

The Stark County dog warden put out a trap Wednesday, but the dog didn’t go in, which didn’t surprise Harper.

“He’s smart,” she said Thursday from her home outside Friendly, W.Va. The interview was conducted by e-mail, since she has no telephone or TTY service.

After an e-mail was sent to her Wednesday, she drove through an ice and snow storm to find her lost pet. The drive took more than four hours, about twice as long as usual.

She arrived at the cemetery after dark. She was told the dog was hiding in a wooded area.

She called his name and shook her keys and he responded.

“He came running so fast he almost ran into the boards that were sitting there,” she said. “Then, he jumped all over me when he realized it was me.

“It was hard to believe it was him,” she said. “I was happy and crying at the same time, as Chocolate was.”

After the rescue, she took the dog to the police station to report him found, then to the library to meet the people who had helped her look for the dog.

Although the storm had come and gone before she started the trip home, it was not uneventful.

“The headlights on my truck were going off and on like Christmas lights, but we made it home at 2 a.m.,” she said. “He was so happy to be in the truck coming home he laid his head on my shoulders all the way.

“He’s so happy to be home he can’t get enough loving,” she said. “Twenty-two days being apart has been hard on him and me.”

Harper says many people don’t believe pets are special, or that they have feelings. She admits she is closer to animals than most people, which people find hard to understand.

“It’s hard to say how (animals) make me feel so safe and feel I can be myself and no one will laugh at me or make fun of the way I talk at times,” she said. “I may be slow, but I’m not dumb, and neither is Chocolate. My animals understand me and are not ashamed of me the way I am.

“Being in a deaf world is no fun; and, yes, I lip-read good, but I try my best not to let others know my feelings because they treat you different when they know,” she said. “Now, I can get the fear I feel inside where it belongs and smile and be happy again.”

Copyright ©2002 The Repository