Dan Cruser, high school counselor at Crosby-Ironton High School, was cross country skiing alone in the woods near the Crosby mines about a month ago when he heard a strange sound.
He stopped, removed his skis and began walking through the woods toward the noise.
In a small hole in the snow, a hole melted by body heat, was a tiny, black puppy, shivering uncontrollably and quietly whimpering in the crisp winter air. The puppy, estimated to be about 6 weeks old, was cold, weak and couldn't move his hind legs.
What Cruser didn't realize when he rescued the abandoned and crippled pup that bitterly cold winter day was that he began a crusade for a Brainerd fifth-grader.
Abby Larson (second from left) and her classmates in Patty Wallace's fifth-grade class at Lowell Elementary School in Brainerd gave Cruiser some affection when the puppy visited their class March 21. Students are Kerri Flanagan (front row, left), Abby, Donny Riles, Noah Wheeler, Erin Olejnicak (back row, left), Lucy Sweeney, Scott Tetreault, Zach Schneider and Andrew Fischer.
Cruser took the puppy home and called a veterinarian the next day to find out why the puppy couldn't walk.
The veterinarian's receptionist told Cruser that if no one owned the dog, then they couldn't treat him because no one would be legally responsible for the bill. Cruser contacted friend Pam Landers of Nisswa who serves on the board of directors for Heartland Animal Rescue Team to see if there was something the humane society could do for the puppy.
Landers told Cruser she would pay the vet bills, regardless of how high they turned out to be, just to find out what was wrong with the puppy. She took the puppy to a vet who determined the dog had been shot. His tiny body was riddled with pellets. One of the pellets was lodged against his spine, causing the paralysis. The vet believed the dog had been shot, left in the woods to die and had been in the woods for three to four days. He believed the puppy would regain full use of his legs as he grew and was taken care of properly.
The vet bills, including X-rays, totaled $200. As Cruser's co-workers at Crosby-Ironton High School learned about the puppy, they began giving him money to pay for the veterinary bills. In all, they donated $180 of the $200 vet bill that Landers had offered to pay.
"I've been just amazed at the outpouring of concern," said Cruser.
Cruser quickly found a new owner for the puppy soon after he brought the dog to school. Scott Skinner, the school's food service director, brought the puppy a few treats from the school kitchen. The puppy captured his heart and he talked his wife Sue into adopting the dog into their family, which includes their sons Ryan, 9, and Rich, 3. They were planning to get Ryan a puppy this summer, anyhow.
The Skinners named their newest family member Cruiser, after the teacher who found him.
As Cruiser adjusted to his new life, miles away in Brainerd, Lowell Elementary School fifth-grade teacher Patty Wallace gave her students a math assignment. They were each given an imaginary $10,000 and allowed to spend it the way they wanted, but had to document their expenditures. They were allowed to give an amount to charity, as well.
Wallace's fifth-graders had to write a letter to the charity, asking if they were able to give it that amount of money what would the charity do with the donation?
Abby Larson decided to give her imaginary $380 to HART and wrote the humane society a letter. Her letter happened to be answered by Pam Landers, who shared the puppy Cruiser's story.
Landers told Abby she would start an emergency fund with the money to provide medical care for abandoned and injured dogs in cases where the owners are not known. HART has an emergency fund for horses and cats that have been designated as such by donors, but doesn't have one for dogs.
"I thought about it and I realized that this happens a lot," said Abby. "Dogs are living creatures, too. I felt really bad and wanted to donate money to help other dogs like Cruiser."
Abby sent Landers $20 of her own money to start the fund. In turn, Landers and other HART staff members named the new fund the Abby Fund in honor of their first donor.
Abby was thrilled.
"It's very exciting and I'm very happy," said Abby. "I feel wonderful because I knew I did a good thing. I hope it'll help lots of wounded dogs."
She and her classmates now have a donation box in their room to raise more money for the Abby Fund.
Abby and her classmates were given the opportunity to meet Cruiser when he and his new family visited her class March 21. She also met Dan Cruser, the teacher who saved Cruiser, and Landers.
"I almost started crying because I was so happy to see he's so healthy," Abby said of the puppy.
Cruiser, who is now about 16 weeks old, regained use of his hind legs a few weeks after the Skinners took him home. He was terrified of being alone and sleeps each night with Ryan. He's now been to the vet twice and seems to have recovered completely.
"He's been a very good dog," said Scott Skinner. "The first couple of weeks took a lot of care. One day when he raced up the stairs to Ryan, we knew he'd be OK."
Abby's math assignment meets one of the Minnesota graduation standards. But, of course, she learned more than just math after her project was finished.
"It's such a good lesson we can all learn from," said Wallace.
Abby is the daughter of Joy and Andy Larson of Baxter.
To make a donation to the Abby Fund, send the donation to HART, in care of the Abby Fund, PO Box 2612, Baxter, MN 56425 or call the animal shelter at 829-4141.
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