Frankie's Happy Ending

April 28, 2006

By Kyra Kirkwood


At times I adore being a journalist. Sure, the profession as a whole takes its lumps, but sometimes, there's nothing that beats the power of the pen. When you feel strongly about an issue, you write about it, and then you see the ripple effect occur—it's incredible, and humbling.


It tears me up when I hear the plight of animals in shelters across the country. I want to help, but know I can only make a small dent, if that. I turn to what I have to give—my writing—and hope it helps somehow. Many feel they can't make a difference in this huge pet-overpopulation epidemic, so why even try? But that's the wrong way of looking at it. If you do something, and one dog is saved, you've made a difference. Sure, you may have helped one, but to that one, you saved the world.


Just take a look at Ryoko Matsui, a third-grade teacher at Weemes Elementary School and volunteer at the Pasadena Humane Society and SPCA. She and her students fell in love with Frankie, the senior Shepherd mix, saving him from certain euthanasia and putting him in foster care while he awaited his forever home. She networked his tale everywhere, trying to get Frankie a second chance. We profiled their story a few weeks ago, hoping and praying his story would touch someone.


And it did. One morning in Pasadena, Lucy Guernsey and Wayne Halleen began their day by reading the Star-News. There, on the front cover, was Frankie, whose story resonated by this couple married just a year in December. They'd recently lost Guernsey's beloved Dalmatian Maggie, and although they weren't actively looking for a new family member, Frankie seemed to be looking for them.


"It was knowing that a teacher and a class of kids cared enough about this hard-to-place dog and went out of their way," said Guernsey. "It [inspired] us to go out of our way, tooÉRyoko is a very special person. And her class—my gosh! They went so out of their way for a creature, and it's like, why shouldn't we?"


About a month after adopting Frankie, it seemed as if he always lived with Lucy and Wayne. Lounging on the grass, eyes half-open in the warm spring afternoon, Frankie seemed to be over any initial reservations he might have had in the beginning.


"I truly believe Frankie couldn't have found a better home," said Matsui. "Without sounding too corny, people like Lucy and Wayne give me hope and motivate me to keep going."


After reading the article, Halleen called the paper and was referred to Animal Kind Rescue, who put him in touch with Matsui. She called Halleen and Guernsey the next morning, and the ball began rolling. Frankie met the couple, but he seemed tired and cautious. This was discouraging; maybe Frankie wasn't meant to be theirs after all, they feared. But Matsui talked them into a home visit, which became a weekend slumber party, which stretched into a weekly vacation. Things weren't picture perfect all the time, but the good outweighed the bad, and by mid-week, the bad (accidents, adjusting to schedules) evaporated. Just like any adoption, it's a process, but one that is doable.


"We fell in love with him right away," said Guernsey. "We thought he deserved more of an opportunity to see if we could live together. We were feeling really good about him, and he seemed to be feeling really good about usÉHe's a survivor."


Being an older dog didn't deter this couple one bit. In fact, it was part of Frankie's appeal.


"Wayne and I could relate to that because we're geezers ourselves," joked Guernsey, voicing her joy at not having to face those infamous puppy issues again. "We're an older couple—why not have an older dog?"


The couple enjoys a full house, and a full life. Frankie had to adjust to people traipsing in and out of his turf, and he passed with flying colors.


"He's a gentleman," says Guernsey. "He's bright and curious and creative. He's lived a lot of life and he's definitely got his own personality."


Frankie chases his tail, adores tennis balls, stalks squirrels and has a new leash on life. He loves being in the house, just hanging out. And despite being a bit stand-offish at first, Frankie is now Halleen's shadow, rarely more than a few inches from his side.


"He's one of those ultimate companion dogs that brings such joy and pleasure," Guernsey said proudly. "We have this darling dog we would have never known about, and we wouldn't have found him on our own. He looks so familiar, as if I've been seeing him around for years."


Guernsey and Halleen are so thankful for their new family member, they want to express their gratitude to the group who made it possible—Ryoko Matsui and her third graders. They're hoping to schedule a field trip to the class, showing the kids Frankie's new life. Guernsey and Halleen want them to know that there are happy endings in the world, and that if you put your mind and heart behind something you believe in, great things can happen.


Because this class couldn't stand the thought of a senior dog being put to sleep before the holidays, they gave up their Christmas presents (worth $300) from Matsui. And Matsui gave up her afternoons and evenings to help foster and love Frankie, all the while trying to get him into a forever home. And finally, months and months later, all their work paid off. They saved the world, in the eyes of one dog and one family.


Who said miracles don't exist? Certainly not Matsui, her students, Guernsey or Halleen. And most certainly not Frankie.








Feeling inspired to do your part? Check out "The Pet Place" 2006 Spring Telethon on Saturday, May 20th from 7 to 10 PM on KDOC-TV, Channel 56. The 3-hour live telecast will be hosted by Fred Bergendorff, who created the animal rescue program 16 years ago. Co-hosts include many top radio personalities, like Daisy Torme, Shotgun Tom Kelly, Joni Caryl, and many more. Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers and David Shark Fralick of "The Young & The Restless" are also scheduled to appear. Funds raised will allow "The Pet Place" to stay on the air to continue to save animals' lives. Over 20 animals from area shelters in need of a homes are featured on the show each week and 90 percent have found homes.