Travels with Charly

Wounded Stray Homeward Bound

Philadelphia attorney Leslie Miller greets Charly, adopted from the Fairfield County Adoption Center. Miller flew into the Fairfield County Airport in her private jet Sunday, seen in the background with the plane’s co-pilot, to fetch the Australian Shepherd and take her home.

Philadelphia attorney Leslie Miller greets Charly, adopted from the Fairfield County Adoption Center. Miller flew into the Fairfield County Airport in her private jet Sunday, seen in the background with the plane’s co-pilot, to fetch the Australian Shepherd and take her home.

WINNSBORO – ‘Break a leg’ is a common saying in theater meant to wish a performer good luck. Well, it apparently works for dogs, too. It certainly did for Charly.

The black Australian Shepard puppy, at about 5 months old, was found with a severely injured back left leg last summer and taken to the Fairfield County Animal Shelter. There, with the help of shelter and adoption center staff and volunteers, Charly’s story had a fairy tale ending. She was adopted by a Philadelphia lawyer (really!) who flew in to the Fairfield County Airport Sunday in a private jet and whisked Charly away to her new home on the Main Line in Philadelphia, an area of sprawling country estates, old money and some of the wealthiest communities in the country. But more than that, to a family who loves her to pieces.

The story unfolded last August when Sylvia Parris of Winnsboro spotted the pup hobbling along Highway 321 on three legs, her back left leg held up tight against her body. While she didn’t appear to be in pain, she could not walk on the leg. Parris put the dog in her car and took her to the Fairfield County Animal Shelter which, it turned out, was full at the time. No room for the pup.

“So I took her home with me,” said Janice Emerson, manager of the County Adoption Center across the road from the shelter, “and she stayed with me until November when a kennel at the shelter opened up.”

By December, there had been no improvement in the dog’s condition so Emerson decided to have the leg assessed. After the veterinarian who examined Charly suggested the leg should be amputated, Emerson heeded the advice and took to Facebook to seek donations to cover the expense of the surgery and aftercare. A woman in Charleston saw the post and called a friend in Philadelphia, attorney Leslie Miller, who had recently lost her aged, much loved black Australian Shepard. Miller was interested in the young look-alike and wanted to know more about the injury and if the shelter in Fairfield would consider seeking a second opinion as to whether the dog’s leg could be saved.

“The woman said she would pick up the dog’s expenses, so we got a second opinion and had a second set of x-rays taken under sedation,” Emerson said. This time the findings were good. “We were told the injury was not in the leg but the hip. The ball had been knocked out of the hip socket, had healed incorrectly, but could be repaired through a rather specialized surgery,” Emerson explained.

The dog, who the veterinarian said had probably sustained the injury as a result of being hit by a vehicle, had by then been named Charly. While the veterinarian said Charly might continue to limp after the repair, she would otherwise be able to lead a normal life on four legs.

By late January, Charly had been placed in foster care in Blythewood in the home of Pamela Garnica. But it wasn’t long before Miller contacted Emerson to say she wanted to adopt the dog and would have the surgery performed by a veterinarian affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania. But Miller couldn’t pick Charly up until late March. Another volunteer at the Adoption Center, Robyn Owens, also of Blythewood, acted as liaison between Miller and Garnica to make transition arrangements during the ensuing two months.

“When I first spoke with Leslie (Miller),” Owens recalled, “she said she and her husband, Richard, would be traveling to Florida on vacation in late March and could stop and pick Charly up on their way home to Philadelphia. I explained that Fairfield County would be quite a bit out of their way,” Owens recalled. “But Leslie said, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll be in the jet.’

“I thought, ‘O my goodness!’” Owens said.

Emerson, Owens and Owens’ three daughters arrived early and were waiting eagerly on the tarmac with Charly when the Cessna Citation touched down at the Fairfield County Airport a little after 1 p.m. on Sunday. As the plane taxied in, both Emerson and Owens realized the moment and took turns hugging and kissing Charly good-bye. And Charly responded in kind. She had spent more than half her life with the Fairfield County Adoption Center staff and volunteers. They were her family. While the good-byes were poignant, this is what the two women and others had been working toward for months. As the plane taxied to a stop, they all walked briskly toward it.

First out the door was Leslie Miller, her arms outstretched as she rushed across the tarmac and knelt to hug Charly. Her husband followed. Then true joy erupted as everyone hugged and began introducing themselves. Charly took it all in stride and, after a few seconds of shyness followed by 20 minutes of visiting all around, was ready to board the jet with her new, doting family.

After Miller lifted Charlie into the plane and showed her to her accommodations for the trip – a comfy couch, no kennels here – the two returned to the open door to bid a last farewell to the folks on the ground who had made it all possible and to pose for pictures for the newspaper.

As the plane lifted off into the clear, sunny sky, the women and Owens’ daughters waved until the plane carrying Charly was out of sight. Then they walked back to the terminal, occasionally dabbing their eyes with tissues and turning every few steps to look back at the empty sky, but smiling, clearly happy with their mission accomplished and for Charly’s unbelievably good fortune.

Talk about breaking a leg.


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