TAHOE, Calif. — It was a long and winding road for Girley, a military service dog who was rescued in the wee hours of the morning on California State Route 4.
“My friend was coming back from a dog show at 4 a.m.,” said Michelle Okashima. “You wouldn’t think this little sweetie would get into a car of big noisy Mastiffs, but she just jumped right in.”
So the saga began last January. Okashima’s friend checked all resources, had the dog scanned for an identifying microchip, but none was found, nor was the owner. She did not want to put the dog in the high-kill shelter near her home in La Grange, Calif. A self-professed animal lover, Okashima brought the dog to Tahoe and found a couple to adopt her. They called her Lucy.
Back at Okashima’s, she threw a little soiree for Mike, her American Staffordshire, and had people donate money rather than bring doggie gifts. She raised $560 to donate to Bad Rap, a pit bull rescue organization, and had a second thought. Why not take that money and make sure Lucy is in good health? Okashima checked with her dog party friends, and they concurred it didn’t matter where the money went, just so long it went to help animals.
“You gotta love my community for that,” said Okashima.
When Lucy was taken to the PetNetwork, they found out she was already spayed, and yes, had a microchip.
“Lucy” was a service dog and belonged to Iraqi War veteran David Refuerzo, who lost Girley when she was ejected from a vehicle during a car accident.
Refuerzo returned to the scene time and again, leaving food, camping out, in hopes of finding Girlie.
Okashima contacted Refuerzo and arranged to meet him at a Quicki Stop near the Sacramento airport. “The unfortunate thing was it was snowing really hard that day,” she said. “I feel bad for Amy (Dillon), who gets pulled in support of my lunacy. But she has a big heart, and puts up with my crazy business.”
The intrepid pair, co-workers at Scraps Dog Bakery in Kings Beach, made it over the stormy Donner Pass to get Girley in her owner’s arms. Refuerzo had her for emotional support: he was ambushed in the war and was in the last stages of liver failure.
He broke into tears upon reuniting, and said, “I thought I was going to have to die alone.”
“I think he may have passed (from liver failure),” said Okashima. “Still to this day those words ring in my head.”