SAN ANTONIO — Nine-year-old Chloe Wise was on her way to bed one evening in September when she stopped to give Izzy, her family's basset beagle mix, a kiss.
Without warning, Izzy grabbed Chloe by the nose and shook her head. Chloe screamed.
Her mom, Cindie Wise, came running and saw her daughter's nose hanging by a thread.
Chloe would end up with 690 stitches on her face and reason enough to fear dogs for the rest of her life.
Then, in January, something fortuitous occurred.
Chloe's mother had begun homeschooling her daughter, who had been a fourth-grader at Eastside Elementary School in Hernando County at the time of the attack.
Toni Watkins, the founder and director of Sacred Heart Early Childhood Center in the community of St. Joe, where Cindie Wise teaches preschoolers, suggested that Wise begin bringing Chloe with her to Sacred Heart, where the staff has helped tend to the girl during her recovery.
It was a decision that worked out well — and resulted in a chance meeting that has done wonders for Chloe.
Down the road from Sacred Heart, at the Traveler's Rest RV Park, Carolyn Place had arrived from Clarkston, Mich., to spend the winter. In Michigan, Place, a former reading specialist, had helped her yellow Labrador, Star, gain status as a Tail Wagging Tutor at the local library.
The program encourages kids to read by having them read to dogs. After arriving in Florida, Place was itching to get some wintertime practice for Star.
Driving through St. Joe and seeing Sacred Heart, Place wondered if that would be a good spot for Star. She stopped in, and Watkins quickly realized she had the perfect match.
Both Chloe's mother and Place say the relationship that has developed between the girl and her canine reading companion has been remarkable.
"It's a godsend that Carolyn and Star showed up," Cindie Wise said. "Chloe's interested in learning new things and is doing better with some of the old things like multiplication tables. She's bonded with Star, and that's made everything better."
Said Place: "This was a God-directed thing, no doubt," adding that she felt a connection immediately after hearing Chloe's story from Watkins.
Wise had tried to stay calm after the September attack, and she knew Chloe would need stitches. When they arrived at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, Dr. Mila Mician spent four hours rebuilding Chloe's broken and chewed up nose and repaired puncture wounds near her lip and eye.
Despite the severe injuries, Wise said, in the emergency room Chloe urged those around her to not be mad at Izzy .
Chloe had grown up with Izzy. He was suffering from arthritis, and Chloe and her mother believe that contributed to the attack because Izzy had always been an agreeable and loving family pet.
"I think when I held his head to kiss him, he felt some really bad arthritis pain and he thought I caused it," said Chloe, who wants to be a veterinarian.
David Wise, Chloe's dad, took Izzy to the pound. Izzy was observed for several days before the family decided that he should be put to sleep.
After several days in the hospital, Chloe was back home in eastern Hernando County, and Cindie began homeschooling her.
Then came the suggestion that her mother bring her along to Sacred Heart — and, several weeks later, the meeting in January with Place and Star.
Tail Wagging Tutors is a Therapy Dogs International program. It gives children a listener who doesn't mind if they make mistakes or stumble over words as they read out loud. Dog and child together make reading a fun experience, encouraging the child to read more.
Place was not new to Therapy Dogs. She'd had a black Lab, Major, for 13 years who accompanied her as she visited her mom, who suffered from dementia, three to five times a week.
At first, Chloe didn't know what she was getting into with Star.
"I'd never heard of a Therapy Dog," said Chloe, who snuggles up next to Star as she reads aloud, making it difficult to tell which one enjoys the time more.
Cindie Wise doesn't want Chloe, who has now recovered from most of her facial injuries, to have an unreal fear of dogs, and that no longer seems to be a worry.
Chloe's Christmas request was for a puppy. And that wish was granted when a miniature schnauzer, Schultz, joined the family.
Place, her husband and Star will return to Michigan soon for the summer, but she's sure Chloe and Star will find their way back together next fall.
For Chloe, she said the experience has been "a bittersweet memory — sweet that Star has helped me, but sad that Izzy had to be put to sleep."