A disabled woman and a former street dog give each other hope

By People Staff
June 08, 2009 10:24 PM

When a debilitating illness forced Mary White (not4utoc00) of Columbia, S.C. to leave her job as a special ed teacher in 1997, she missed her students–“her kids,” as she calls them–terribly. Almost on a whim she went to Pets Incorporated, a local shelter, to find a companion. There she found what she calls “a match made in heaven,” in the form of Sheba, a timid and neglected chow mix. She and Sheba have helped each other find happiness in the 12 years since, and Sheba has even learned to alert White to oncoming convulsions, a side effect of her illness.

White knew when she went into the shelter that day that she wanted to find a dog that needed her help. “I wasn’t looking for a puppy. I wanted someone that perhaps no one else would give a chance…an older dog,” says White. She was led into a big room with about 50 adult dogs, all showing off to get her attention. “I looked out over the group… and there in the back, sitting quietly, was Sheba. She and I locked gazes, her tail began to wag, but she stayed there in the back, waiting patiently. Without a minute of hesitation, I just said, ‘That one. I want that one,’ ” she says. After a quick walk and some paperwork, Sheba jumped in her car. “We rode home like we’d been together since the day Sheba was born!”

Sheba’s early years had been rocky. Her original family abandoned her when she outgrew the puppy phase, and Sheba was forced to live on the streets for about five years. The kids in the neighborhood threw rocks at her and shot her with a BB gun (she still has a pellet in her hip.) But some neighbors put out food for her, and one even sprung her from the pound and brought her to Pets Incorporated.

White helped Sheba get over her fears, putting her up on the couch or bed when the dog was reluctant to relax. “[It was] almost like she was afraid if she misbehaved I would take her back,” says White.

Part of White’s illness, which she chose not to disclose, is a condition called rigors, an intense shaking and fever. Somehow Sheba is able to sense when an attack is coming on. “Sheba has always known before I even feel any symptoms, when it’s going to happen,” White says. “She gets very restless…and begins laying herself across my body, in an attempt to warm me, and stop the shivering.”

Sheba, now a remarkable 18 years old and 48 lbs., is starting to have her own health problems–she was recently diagnosed with kidney failure. But White wants to make sure the dog who had such a troubled youth is taken care of as she ages: “I have made care arrangements in my will for her, should I go before she does. And if the reverse happens, I have requested to have her ashes be buried with me.”

Meet more PEOPLE PETS members:

Read about Ben, the service dog who’s changed the life of another member

Learn how a horse helps a boy with autism

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