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A lost dog is finally home for Christmas: Coincidence, luck or something more?

Willis, a rare clumber spaniel, strayed from his home in the Virginia Tidewater just before Christmas last year, somehow got to Southern Maryland, wound up facing death in an animal shelter, and, with an assist from a Pennsylvania woman, finally got home.

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 24, 2010; 6:21 PM

Willis, the long-lost Clumber spaniel, was in just about the worst pickle a dog could be in: Lost, hundreds of miles from home, he had been put on the equivalent of death row at the Tri County Animal Shelter in Hughesville, Md.

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Picked up by animal control officers in Charles County on Nov. 20, he was taken to the shelter, where unclaimed strays are euthanized. Shelter workers scanned Willis for an identification chip, but the one that had been implanted beneath his skin was not detected. So, a photograph of the haggard 7-year-old was put on the facility's "at-risk" list, which means a lethal injection could be imminent.

What happened next to Willis might strike some as just a series of improbable coincidences, or merely another example of the power of the Internet. Karen Martin thinks it was much more.

"The perfect timing, having so many people in the right place at the right time, people willing to go all out to help a stranger and her dog, is beyond comprehension," Martin told me. "It's nothing short of a miracle, as far as I'm concerned."

Willis was her dog. Four days before Christmas last year, the pooch went missing from her back yard in Portsmouth, Va., turning her holiday into a nightmare. She spent nearly a year intensely searching - posting "lost dog" fliers throughout the neighborhood, visiting shelters, contacting animal rescue organizations. She had all but given up hope of seeing him again.

Willis, meanwhile, had gotten himself to the Washington area. No one knows how or when he arrived. But once he was picked up and taken to the shelter, he quickly made a friend. Amy Howard, the animal rescue coordinator at Tri County, had placed Willis on the at-risk list - not to hasten his destruction but in hopes that someone might see his photo and be willing to adopt him and provide him with what she called a "forever home."

Otherwise, she might end up being the one called on to administer the lethal injection.

"There are certain animals that I grow fond of that, sadly, I can't take home," Howard said.

The shelter's at-risk list includes a photograph of each dog in danger of being euthanized and as much background information as the shelter staff can muster. The list is e-mailed to animal rescue groups and other dog lovers.

Terry Walker, an office manager for a veterinary hospital in Calvert County, was on her computer at home when the list arrived. She said one dog in particular stood out - a sad- looking canine that only someone with an extensive knowledge of dogs would recognize as being of the rare Clumber spaniel breed.

Walker just happened to be one who knew.

"Where most people like to read novels, I read books about dogs," she said. "You just don't see Clumber spaniels in animal shelters."


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