CLEVELAND - After years of service in the Marines, Samuel Gardner, a Vietnam veteran, needed a life line of his own. It came in an unexpected way with his service dog Natasha. But a move threatened to tear them apart.
"He called me very upset, very stressed and he told me he needed help finding Natasha a home," said Becca Britton, the executive director of the non-profit Friends of the Cleveland Kennel.
Gardner, 63, needs to move to Florida to be closer to family but was heartbroken he would have to leave Natasha behind.
"She picks up things for me, she goes and retrieves my cane or my shoes, my keys," said Gardner.
Britton has nearly 500 clients like Gardner looking for help at the kennel's outreach center, Neighborhood Pets, in Slavic Village. Thanks to donors, they were able to quickly jump into action.
"We had a volunteer that was willing to drive Natasha all the way down to Pensacola, Florida," said Britton. "He's not used to people helping him and not wanting anything in return."
An estimated $1,000 dollars was raised for the cost of a rental car, hotels, and flight back to Cleveland from Florida. While Sam's trip is largely paid for, Britton says the group needs to recoup the funds in order to help the next person in need.
"Our mission is to help low-income pet owners keep their families together," said Britton.
Sam was overwhelmed with joy when he learned the news and is looking forward to seeing Natasha in the sunshine state after his Saturday move.
"I'm so grateful, I'm going to cry and I can't cry on TV," said Gardner.