PORT TAMPA — Yolanda Segovia heard a knock on her door one morning, just before 8 a.m.
Her neighbor was on the porch, with a dog and a story.
Stacey Savige had found the little dog in front of an elementary school. He wasn't very big, looked like some sort of terrier. Burrs clung to his belly. His honey fur was caked in mud.
He didn't have a collar. Stacey had taken him to the vet and he didn't have a chip, either.
Now Stacey had to go to work. Could Yolanda keep him?
Yolanda is 47. She's a divorced mom with two boys. In recent years she has survived breast cancer and cervical cancer, lost her dark hair and eyelashes to chemo. A hairdresser, she hasn't worked since 2006.
"You can leave the dog here," Yolanda told Stacey. "But just for today."
They took photos of the dog and made a FOUND flier. Stacey ran off 4,000 color copies. She and Yolanda stuffed mailboxes, put ads on Craigslist.
Yolanda took her boys to the dollar store and bought a collar, leash, ball and brown bed. Her 10-year-old, Azaiah, decided to call the dog RaeLee, pronounced "Riley." He said he had heard it on TV. All afternoon, he walked the dog, threw the ball, laughed while the dog licked his face.
"Don't fall in love with him," Yolanda kept warning.
Her elder son, Christian, 21, watched through the window. Christian has Down syndrome and an array of other ailments. He has had heart surgery, a kidney transplant. He can't speak or bathe himself.
That night, when the boys climbed into their bunk beds, the dog dragged his new bed from Yolanda's living room, down the long hall, into their room.
• • •
Four days later, they still had the dog. He was starting to answer to his new name.
He loved roughhousing with Azaiah, knew to be gentle with Christian. He almost never barked.
On Saturday, Azaiah went to his dad's house. Christian retreated to his room to watch a Barney video. The dog dozed beside him.
Yolanda had just stepped onto her porch to water the plants when the dog flung himself into the screen door, barking madly.
As she opened the door, the dog sprinted across the living room, into the boys' room.
Yolanda screamed. Christian was slumped over, his body writhing in a seizure, blood streaming from his nose and mouth.
The dog ran to the boy, still yelping. But as soon as Yolanda bent to cradle her son, the dog went silent.
"If he hadn't come to get me," Yolanda told Stacey later, "the neurologist said Christian would have choked on his own blood and died."
Since no one had claimed the dog, Yolanda decided to keep him.
• • •
Stacey got a call the next morning. A man named Randy had recognized his lost dog and called the number on the flier.
Stacey sobbed. She had been working so hard to find the dog's owner. Now that he had found her, everything seemed wrong.
She quizzed the man to make sure the dog was really his: Is the dog fixed? What tricks does he do? The man answered things only an owner could. His name is Odie, the man said.
Randy Cliff, 34, is an unemployed plumber who lives six blocks from Yolanda with his wife, their four children and infant granddaughter. He said he had been searching for Odie for more than a week.
Stacey told him, "That dog saved my friend's son."
• • •
When the van pulled up outside Yolanda's house, the dog raced out and jumped into Randy's arms. Randy buried his face in his dog's soft fur.
Azaiah stood on the porch, crying. "We're going to miss you," he called.
As Randy remembers it, he looked at the boy. He saw Christian's frightened face in the window. "Is that your brother?" he asked. Azaiah nodded.
Randy set the dog by Azaiah's feet.
"Maybe Odie was supposed to find you," Randy said. "Maybe you should keep him."