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One holiday rescue saves 6 lives from death row

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There are a lot of holiday heroes that seem to fly under the radar. You may never hear of them. You may not know them personally, but they’re out there. And sometimes, you find them in the oddest ways.

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Take Colorado’s Dougherty family. The passing of their sweet 15-year old cocker spaniel Molly, a Christmas gift given to them years ago as a puppy, left the family with a huge hole in their hearts. Rescuing another dog, before the holidays, just felt right to them. Searching the internet, they found Sierra, a little girl on death row in Kansas. She would be the one!

As they read Sierra’s story, they noticed the rescuer, Farfel’s Rescue, had another dog named Vinnie coming from Kansas to Colorado on the same transport. The two had been rescued from the shelter together, so the family thought, "How much more trouble would it be to rescue two, instead of one?"

The Kansas shelter arranged Sierra and Vinnie’s transport. Since both dogs arrived matted, filthy and terrified, it was obvious life before they landed on death row had been traumatic, too. Sierra tried to bolt the minute her crate door was opened. It didn’t matter what they looked like or how they acted, though, Darlene and Mike fell in love with them instantly.

The welcome home celebration started off with a bang. Trying to escape, the dogs shredded the expensive nylon crates the Dougherty’s had bought for them. Covered in urine and feces, it was clear the dogs were heading straight for a bath as soon as they got home. The Kansas shelter had listed Vinnie as a male but, it turns out, nothing could be farther from the truth. When bathing the dogs, the Dougherty's discovered that, under all that matted fur, Vinnie was indeed a female.

No problem. They took it in stride and chose new Irish names for both their girls. Vinnie became Riley, meaning valiant, brave and courageous, and Sierra became Keeva, meaning gentle, beautiful and precious.

Then, it was off to the vet for a check-up. That’s when Darlene had to pull up a chair and sit down for the news. Little Keeva, who couldn’t be older than 9 months herself, was pregnant with four puppies who would be making their appearance in only 10-14 days – right before Christmas. Talk about a shock for the Dougherty’s, as well as the rescuers! Nothing like this had ever happened at Farfel’s Rescue before.

For most, this might have been a deal breaker. Farfel’s Rescue immediately offered to take the puppies in, place them and cover all the expenses. But, Darlene and Mike laughed, saying they could handle it, everything would be fine, not to worry. Darlene joked that, being a newly retired principal and empty nester, this might be the grand plan to keep her busy. “Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans,” as the saying goes.

So, this year, Christmas would certainly be bringing unexpected presents – the tiny, squirmy, four-legged kind. The family shifted gears, got lots of advice from their vet and friends, and quickly turned their home into a doggy maternity ward. A grooming appointment was set up, since the girls were still a mess of dread locks, and an appointment to have Riley spayed was arranged. Everyone knew this was priority one, considering what was going on with her pregnant friend Keeva.

Uh, oh! Another shock - now Riley started spotting. What are the odds? It couldn’t be! Luckily, Riley wasn’t pregnant, but she was in heat. Her appointment to be spayed would have to be delayed a few weeks until after her cycle was over. Darlene ran out to get doggie diapers, to add to the insanity in their household.

Again, most would say, that’s it! But, the Dougherty’s still had a sense of humor about the whole thing. “It’s just too ironic to be tragic, so it’s downright funny! Goodness, but life has gotten so much more complex and interesting in our household in only five days!”

The following week, and only three days before Christmas, little Keeva gave the Dougherty’s four new gifts of life for the holidays. Though she was just a puppy herself, having been malnourished and on death row, somehow Keeva managed to deliver her two healthy baby boys and two baby girls without a problem. Darlene joked that she herself didn’t know much about “birthin’ babies.” They were so thankful an experienced friend, Mary Jo, stepped up to help Keeva with the delivery, while the family anxiously gave their little girl all the love and support she needed.

The Dougherty’s positive attitude was infectious. Not even knowing what these pups would grow up to be, they were amazed to see more friends offer to adopt Keeva’s puppies than there were puppies to go around.

For Keeva, Riley, the puppies, and the Dougherty's, all’s well that ends well - though this experience would test the compassion and commitment of almost anyone. The Dougherty’s are one of those rare, unsung hero families the rescue world dreams about. Little Keeva has definitely become Farfel's Rescue's "spay/neuter" ambassador. Rest assured, not one puppy will leave the Dougherty home without being spayed or neutered. That’s, afterall, the moral of this holiday story.

Thankfully, as Keeva, Riley, and the four puppies curl up to sleep for the night, their dreams of a 'Ho Ho Ho' home for the holidays have certainly come true ~ with lots of tidings of comfort and joy!

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