On behalf of their dog, Allison Johnson and her family would like to thank hundreds of people they likely won't ever meet. Johnson says Oso, their corgi-shepherd mix, wags and barks his thanks, too.
Johnson says that's how many local residents made donations to give Oso - who was born with deformities in both front legs - a chance to run freely and live a normal life.
Johnson, 42, a longtime bookkeeper for Community Food Co-Op, lives in Bellingham with husband Bill Lampman and Johnson's 17-year-old son, Alden Johnsonbuller.
Question: Allison, what kind of surgery did Oso need?
Answer: By the time Oso was about nine months old his front feet showed a serious congenital deformity. They were twisted and bowed outward to the point where he would have become crippled in his leg joints and would probably be in great pain. In fact, he probably would have had to be put down very early.
Q: How did you get help?
A: I ran into Oso's veterinarian, Colleen Coyne of Northshore Veterinary Hospital, at the Food Co-Op and told her about Oso's twisted feet. She asked me to email her photos, and she forwarded the pictures to Mark Davis, who is a board-certified animal surgeon based in Seattle.
We learned the cost of this type of surgery is $2,000 per leg, and we had no idea how we could raise that much money, but we knew we had to try.
Q: How did you start?
A: Our family created signs, with photos of Oso, and placed them at the cashiers' check-outs at both of our Food Co-Op locations, so cashiers could take donations with the cooperation of the Co-Op. I also put information on Facebook. Soon, the management of Labels (women's clothing consignment stores in Bellingham) noticed and said they wanted to help, too.
Q: How long did it take to raise the money?
A: Would you believe it took just under eight weeks? That's why I'm telling you the story - I gratefully want to thank the entire community. Hundreds of people pitched in. The power of pocket change is amazing
Q: How did the surgery go?
A: Dr. Davis performed the surgery on Jan. 25 and it went really well. Oso needs about an eight-week wait for surgery on his other leg, but we now have the money for that. We're really hoping by summer to see Oso run free.
Q: How did you get Oso?
A: My close friend Manuka Wiggin was working in Puerto Rico and found Oso on the side of a road when he was just a newborn, 3-pound pup born about January 2012. It was something of a feral dog situation. Manuka rescued him and named him Oso, because that means "bear" in Spanish. She thought Oso looked like a cute little bear.
When she was on her way to work in Hawaii last spring she passed through Bellingham and asked if I would be willing to take Oso. She remembered that when she had made a previous visit with Oso, I had told her I would love to take her if she ever needed me to. We later came to realize just how severe her birth defect was.
Q: You must be a dog lover.
A: I really am. Five years ago my dog, Cedar, died at age 13. I loved Cedar very much and had her since she was just a pup. Now we hope to love and care for Oso for many years.
Michelle Nolan is a Bellingham freelance writer.