Act of kindness reunites veteran with her furry friend

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comMarch 25, 2013 

It takes a lot to make a specialist in the Army National Guard cry.

After all, 22-year-old Calli Hoffmann spent a year fighting on the front lines in Afghanistan.

But on Sunday, the Chowchilla resident wept tears of joy after being reunited with her best friend, Lucy — a 3-pound teacup Chihuahua.

Returning home from Afghanistan in January wasn't easy for Hoffmann, who felt a sense of loneliness.

"I came home and I just felt like I needed a friend — someone to come home to," said Hoffmann, who spent four years in the service.

"She felt like she missed everything," her mother, Linell Hoffmann, 51, said. "The hard part is when you're there you feel isolated, then when you come you still feel isolated. Her unit was her family, and she felt lost without them."

Calli Hoffmann filled the void by finding herself a furry companion — and it was love at first sight.

"They were inseparable. She took Lucy everywhere," Linell Hoffmann said. "She loved Lucy like her own kid, and this dog would follow her anywhere."

Then on Wednesday, the energetic pup suddenly stopped eating and playing.

She began throwing up, and the family feared the worst. Despite getting her first vaccination, Lucy had contracted parvo — a highly-contagious virus that's deadly if untreated.

"Her stomach was uncomfortable and she wasn't eating," said Mandy Predmore, a veterinarian at Merced Animal Medical Center, who treated Lucy. "You could tell she was a sweet puppy and was trying to wag her tail."

The cost of treatment — two-day hospitalization with fluids and medication — would cost $1,000 to $1,500 per day. And even with treatment, there was no guarantee that Lucy would live.

"If I had the money, it wouldn't be a problem because you do what you can when you love somebody," Calli Hoffmann said. "But when I couldn't afford to keep her, I had to ask about my other options."

It was too much for a soldier just returning from overseas, her mother said.

"She couldn't bring herself to see Lucy die after everything she's been through in Afghanistan," Linell Hoffmann said. "So the vet said, 'If you sign Lucy over to us, we'll do our best to save her life and place her in a good home.' "

Calli Hoffmann made the gut-wrenching decision to do what was in Lucy's best interest and released her best friend.

"It was devastating," her mother said. "She held her for an hour and a half, and cried. Even the vet cried, and she signed her over."

But Predmore said the treatment plan worked and Lucy was back to her old playful self by Saturday.

Once Lucy was fully recovered, the Animal Medical Center made the decision to give the young soldier the ultimate gift — her best friend.

Veterinarian Leah Hill, the center's owner, said the decision to help a soldier was an easy and rewarding one.

"When I'd heard that she was a servicewoman fighting in the war, I felt that if anybody deserved a special gift like that, she would," Hill said. "She's fighting for our freedom."

The cost of Lucy's care came from a memorial pet care fund, she said. Although it didn't cover the entire treatment, it helped offset some of the costs.

"It wasn't about the money at all; it was such a heart-warming story," Hill said. "It touched my heart. We wanted to make sure we could do whatever to help her."

The Chowchilla veteran was with her fellow soldiers at a Yellow Ribbon Ceremony in Fresno on Sunday when she got the news that Lucy would be returned to her.

"I started crying, and being in uniform, you try not to cry," she said. "You want to be strong. Everyone noticed, but when I told them, everyone started clapping."

Calli Hoffmann thanked the 24-hour animal hospital for being "kind and selfless," and her mother said the act changed her outlook.

"It restored my faith in humanity," Linell Hoffmann said. "There are people who appreciate our soldiers and what they go through, and I'm thankful for those people.

"This Army mom will never forget what they did for her soldier," she said.

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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