Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Life in Real Time; Therapy for the Heart: Man Finds New Friend Therapists Taught Frank Dunahoe How to Walk and Talk Again, but Kurt Taught Him How to Smile

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Life in Real Time; Therapy for the Heart: Man Finds New Friend Therapists Taught Frank Dunahoe How to Walk and Talk Again, but Kurt Taught Him How to Smile

Article excerpt

Byline: BRIDGET MURPHY

Later on, Frank Dunahoe would say it was kismet.

Something unseen that brought the two of them together.

But watching the 77-year-old Jacksonville man and the 7-pound Chihuahua at a city animal shelter, it was hard to say who seemed happier to be going home with the other.

Someone found the black-and-white stray on James Street. For two weeks, the docile pup with satellite-dish ears waited in a cage at Animal Care & Protective Services in Riverside. Family after family passed him by.

Then came Dunahoe, a widower who survived a near-fatal crash a few days before Thanksgiving.

A pickup hit him while he was taking a stroll near his home. The retired airline reservations supervisor suffered a broken neck, arm and shoulder. After coming out of a coma, he had to learn how to swallow, stand, walk and talk again.

In June, Dunahoe returned to his Old Hickory Road home after months of hospitalization and rehab. In August, doctors removed the feeding tube from his stomach. But there was something else broken that medicine couldn't fix. Dunahoe's beloved mini-schnauzer Liesl died while he was fighting for his life.

After he came home, his cat Ewing would come and go as she pleased. Dunahoe's lap stayed empty night after night when he sank into his favorite leather chair to watch TV.

Liesl had been Dunahoe's lifeline since his wife, Susan, died of ovarian cancer four years ago. But then he'd lost Liesl, too, without even a goodbye.

On Aug. 29, Dunahoe's daughter Jessica James lifted a birthday toast to her father.

"Cheers to you," she said. "And I hope this year's better than the last."

Three days later, a neighbor thought she'd give Dunahoe a nudge in the direction of better. On Wednesday, Sylvia Wilkinson stopped by Dunahoe's on her way to take her dog Fyn to the shelter for a microchip I.D.

"I said 'Put your shoes on and let's go.'"

Less than an hour later, adoption paperwork was in the works.

"I was taking my nap," Dunahoe said. "Look what happens."

What happened was a lonely man with a shaky gait and achy heart made his way down the rows of canine pens. He knew he wanted a little dog, one he could walk without worrying. …

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