OWATONNA — Sometimes all you need is a second chance and someone who cares.
Willis got all of that, and then some more.
Willis, an adult Australian cattle dog rescued from being euthanized in Georgia, came to Owatonna on Saturday to move into his new foster home.
He was found wandering the streets in Rome Ga., where he was taken in by Floyd County Animal Control (FCAC) on Aug. 28 with no name, just an I.D. number of 1960. Due to the amount of animals they take in, FCAC was only able to hold Willis for a week before he was set to be put down.
“Down there, when they’re in animal control, they just have a really limited amount of time before they are put down,” said Jenny Pavlovic, a Minnesota author who helped organize Willis’ trip to Minnesota.
“He had until Sept. 4. What they told me was he was a stray and a bunch of dogs attacked him and a lady intervened.”
The encounter with the other dogs left Willis with injuries on his face and around his eyes. Pavlovic said the dog was lucky not to have lost an eye in the fight.
The woman who saved Willis tried to hold onto him until an owner could be found, but eventually she sent him to animal control. Once at animal control, Willis’ luck seemed to have run out — almost.
He was originally set to be put down on Sept. 3, but due to the Labor Day holiday, he was given an extra day. That day made all the difference.
“I found out about it the day before through Facebook, when someone posted that he had 90 minutes left,” Pavlovic said. “With 90 minutes, there’s no time to do anything. There are people down there who do rescue work and can help get him out of the place and then you coordinate (how to find a home).”
“I was like ‘I don’t know how I can do anything in 90 minutes.’ It turned out because of Labor Day he actually had an extra day because they were closed. So he had 24 hours and 90 minutes.”
With the extra day, the power of social media took over. A man from Atlanta volunteered $350 to pay for Willis’ vet care and other people made submissions to help pay for his boarding at the vet. All of this was done through a Facebook thread.
The cattle dog’s luck continued at the vet, where he tested negative for heart worm and made a recovery from his facial injuries sustained during fights with other dogs.
A foster home was found in Owatonna for Willis, where he will stay until he becomes acclimated and is able to be placed in a permanent home. But before Willis got to Owatonna, he had to do some traveling.
Pavlovic reached out to Pilots-N-Paws, an organization that connects those seeking to give animals a good home with pilots who are willing to fly the animals to their intended destination, which could potentially be anywhere in the country. Most of the flying is done on a volunteer basis and the pilots pay for their own expenses.
Before he left Georgia however, Willis was given his name. Pavlovic said she had been calling him Aslan, after the character from the “Chronicles of Narnia” book series. However, a woman in Georgia felt that Aslan was not a good name and elected to name him Willis.
“Ever since then it’s been ‘where there’s a Willis, there’s a way,’” Pavlovic said.
Two pilots from Tennessee, one an instructor and the other his student, flew Willis from Georgia to Indiana. Pavlovic said she wanted Willis to travel alone rather than en masse with many other dogs that could potentially make him sick.
On Saturday, Willis left Indiana on his second plane ride. This time, his destination was Owatonna, where he would meet up with Pavlovic and the person who would foster him, Candace Smith. Smith runs Critter Comforts in Owatonna and has 35 years of experience handling dogs.
“It is really one of the best things I do. I think about this poor dog,” Smith said. “He was a street dog and now he’s ridden on two planes and he’s medically taken care of. He has food, water, playmates and he’s met people and dogs.”
“What I’m really excited about is that my pack can teach him all the things he needs to know about how to be a good dog, and then I’ll teach him how to be a good dog with people.”
Willis wouldn’t have made it the more than 1,000 miles to Minnesota without the help of the pilots. Cary Mariash took Willis on the last leg of his journey through strong winds. Mariash has flown more than 25 trips for Pilots-N-Paws over the last two years.
“It’s fun. It gives me a chance to go up in the plane and do something worthwhile,” Mariash said. “I can even tell the dogs appreciate it. I’ve not had any problems with the dogs, they love to go up.”
Willis met Smith and Pavlovic on the runway at Owatonna’s Degner Regional Airport at around 3:30 p.m. on Saturday. After some initial excitement to be out of the plane, he wandered from person to person letting them pet him while all the paperwork was handled. In the end, Pavlovic knows that Willis’ happy ending is rare, but still special.
“This whole thing has been like magic. There’s all these little things along the way that kind of fell into place,” Pavlovic said. “All these people somehow came together over this dog. A lot of dogs don’t make it out of there and we’re all aware of that.”
“It gives me goosebumps actually.”
Reach reporter Al Strain at 444-2376 or follow him on Twitter.com@OPPalstrain