DUNEDIN — The Allison and Del Corpo families have been friends for almost a decade, sharing good times and bad.
Lately it has been mostly bad.
First, Kim and Chip Allison's son, Army Spc. Zack Shannon, a 21-year-old Black Hawk mechanic, was killed March 11 in a helicopter crash near Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Then on April 11 — precisely one month later — Michael and Doreen Del Corpo's 2-year-old granddaughter, Ireland Nugent, was seriously injured when her father accidentally backed over her while riding on a lawn mower. The blades severed both legs at mid calf and injured her hand.
The families, who live across the street from each other in Dunedin's Fairway Estates, say the horror of the tragedies was tempered by the enormous outpouring of love and support from the community — and, the bittersweet tale of a feisty little dog.
Say hello to Dolly, the Del Corpos' 7-year-old English bulldog.
The playful pup used to run across the street and visit Zack. Together they'd roll and tumble in the grass. After the play session, Zack would dutifully bundle Dolly in his arms and make sure she got home safely.
But in 2008, Michael Del Corpo was told by doctors that Dolly was the likely cause of his allergies.
"We found what we thought was a good home for Dolly," Doreen Del Corpo said. "It was a mom and dad and two little children. For the first six months, they gave us periodic updates and told us how well she was doing. Then one day they called to say they were moving."
After that the Del Corpos assumed Dolly was happily living out her dog years doing what she excelled at: basking in the sun, snuggling up to her humans and snoring away.
Then on March 28, the day after Zack Shannon was buried, the Del Corpos got a visit from a shelter representative telling them an English bulldog microchipped to them was found in St. Louis, Mo.
After placing a call to the shelter there, they learned Dolly was found wandering the streets, emaciated.
"They said she was in very bad shape and that she might not make it through the night," Doreen said. "After the shock wore off, I told my husband this must be Zack looking out for Dolly one last time."
When the Allisons learned what had happened to Dolly, they told the Del Corpos they would go to Missouri and bring her home — just as their son had done so many times.
"They'd helped us so much (after Zack's death), we wanted to do something for them," Kim Allison said.
Now Dolly is home again and gaining weight.
As it turns out, Michael wasn't allergic to Dolly after all. A different medical condition was causing his upper respiratory infections.
And as they say, Dolly will never go away again.
Terri Bryce Reeves can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.