Mending a Broken Heart

By: Sandi Krecioch


I had been depressed for some time. A part of my heart had died. My doctor had prescribed anti-depressants for my funk, as I called it, but they didn’t work. The pain and loss was still there. That was six years ago when part of my life died along with a sweet furbaby named Valytyne. This little sweetie came into my life while I lived in Florida and left me shortly after moving to Asheville. The pain hasn’t entirely gone away and remains buried deep down, with occasional bouts of tears —yes, I’m crying now while writing this—but I know I’ll get through it because I’ve been rescued by another sweet furbaby.


I sat at my computer, looking through the thousands upon thousands of unwanted furchildren. I was so lost without my Valytyne, especially since I’d lost my beautiful kitty, Snowflake, just less than a year before that. Now I was without a pet for the first time in my life and living in a new region, totally alone. Well, I shouldn’t say totally alone, I had my loving husband, but that was different. I was still devoid of my four-legged soul mates.


Suddenly I came across this glorious site of rescues. As I scrolled down the page of so many different furchildren, my eye stopped on this little black and white Shih Tzu. Valytyne had been a Shih Tzu. I kept thinking about what people in the healthcare profession advise when you lose a pet. Don’t get another right away and when you do eventually get one, don’t get the same breed or sex. But, I kept looking at this little darling. Yes, he was the same breed, BUT, he was male, not female. As I read his story, my heart broke. “Tofi is an absolutely gorgeous 12-month old Shih Tzu, very friendly, except around children. He gets scared and nervous as he was abused by children in his previous home. The original owners called the shelter threatening to shoot him because he was nervous around their three-year old child. Seems they had a house full of kids and the three-year old pulled on him and was always hanging on him. NO WONDER HE WAS UNHAPPY THERE! Thankfully, the shelter talked the owners into bringing him to the shelter where they transferred him to us.”


As I finished reading Tofi’s bio, I couldn’t help myself. I had this gut feeling that this little darling could help to mend my broken heart. But, did I dare take that next step? Was it too soon? Was I jumping the gun, so to speak? I’d never found my pets via the internet before and this was a new venture. Most of my pets had arrived in my life as a child through my parents by going to the animal shelter or someone giving the pet as a gift. Valytyne was the exception and we rescued her from a family who didn’t want her anymore. She was to be my mother’s pet after she had lost her previous dog. After only two weeks, Valytyne became a part of our family along with Snowflake, as my mother had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. Valytyne ultimately became a registered therapy dog, visiting her in the nursing home every day until my mother passed away in 2004.


I hesitated for a few minutes before I wrote the contact person of the rescue site, “Is Tofi still available? How long has he been in foster care?” Then I hit the SEND button and waited. A little over an hour went by when I heard the beep of my computer announcing an INCOMING email. With anticipation, I sat down at my computer and noticed a reply about Tofi. After I underwent an exhaustive background check, ten days later I was driving out to Knoxville with my husband and a friend to pick up my new furchild.


My heart was beating so rapidly when we arrived at the Petsmart parking lot where I was to meet the lady bringing Tofi. What would he be like? Would he be afraid of me? Then I saw two people, a man and a woman, get out of a car, reach in, and gingerly lift up into their arms a little white and black dog. Not waiting for them to come to me, I quickly walked up to them introducing myself. Tofi’s tail was wagging so hard and fast I thought it would break off. Taking him into my arms, I started to cry as I nuzzled my face close to his body. He was shaking a bit but not too badly. A few minutes later, we all piled into the car, with me in the back with Tofi for the two-hour ride home. Tofi didn’t seem to want any part of sitting in the special doggie car seat I had for him and elected to sit gently on my lap as I cuddled him.


It’s been five years since Tofi mended my heart. Each day he delights and surprises me. It’s almost as if a little of Valytyne is in him as he also brings joy to others by having followed in Valtyne’s pawprints by becoming a registered therapy dog. And guess what? He LOVES children! I was a bit apprehensive during his testing and training sessions around children, but he seemed to relish being around them. It was actually hard to get him back in the car. But, it doesn’t matter the age of the individual, he just loves people and seems to think that everyone he sees is there to visit him. During a recent visitation, a gentleman said that his day was now complete after seeing Tofi and gave him a big hug. Again, it was hard leaving for home.


The immediate sight of his collar and leash sends Tofi into a wild dance seemingly saying to me, “Please, please, please, let’s go for a ride and visit.” It doesn’t matter what time of day or where we’re going, car rides are such a thrill—even to the veterinarian his eagerness is not lost. His love of squeaky toys is immense, but don’t try to take one of them away from him because you’ll never get it. Chasing a soccer ball, bigger than he, around the backyard and actually picking it up, is one of his biggest outdoor past times.


Thunderstorms are not his friend. Once that first crack sounds, he’s off to the basement, hiding in my husband’s office under the desk. No “doggie cookies” of any kind get him out—not until the storm has passed. Oh, and “puppy massages” are an enormous pleasure for him and me, too. Looking at me with those pleading eyes, they seem to say, “Mommy, please rub my belly and back.” Once, upon stopping, he gently tapped my hand with his paw as if begging me to continue. I started rubbing on him again as he rolled over and closed his eyes.


Door bell? Who needs a door bell? Barking announces the arrival of the UPS, FedEx, or mail delivery. Even a stray car can’t escape the eagle eye of Tofi. Yes, I feel very secure in my habitat with him around. If he’s in the backyard, all I need to do is announce, “Daddy’s home!” and he’s in the house like a flash waiting at the garage door for daddy’s entry. My husband and I play tennis and when we return, Tofi dives into our tennis bags searching for that small yellow orb. It’s surprising how he fits his whole body into one of those bags, popping up like a prairie dog, yellow ball in his mouth then running wildly from room to room.


All of this excitement has increased two-fold over the last couple of years when we rescued another little Shih Tzu named Bogie. About the same age as Tofi, they are as different as night and day. While Tofi is the gentle, cuddly one, Bogie’s friendly, loves playing fetch, but then wants his space. Definitely NOT cuddle material (except when the thunderstorms arrive and he’s shaking like a leaf and wanting to be held.) Then he’s off to the safe place of the basement joining Tofi. One other furry child has joined our humble abode in the last few years. A beautiful apricot tabby cat I’ve named Merlin showed up at our door. Just like Merlin the Magician, he seems to pop up at the blink of an eye and vanish as fast. We’re very blessed that these creatures all get along with one another.


Valytyne will always remain a part of me and be in my heart and soul forever as one never forgets that one very special creature. But, thankfully, Tofi mends my heart each and every day and when the 24th of March rolls around, I celebrate his arrival into my home—his birthday. I really don’t know when he was actually born, but that day will always be the date Tofi began to mend my broken heart.


Sandi Krecioch sings with Womansong of Asheville, volunteers with Paws on a Mission, attends wine tastings, plays tennis, and freelances in copyediting and design. Her passion is to provide unconditional love through pet therapy. Born in Los Angeles, she lived the crazy life and times as an analyst/negotiator for the City of L.A. After an 11-year detour in Florida as a literacy consultant, she’s thrilled to have settled in Asheville with her husband, two dogs, and a cat. She can be reached at To rescue your furever soul mate, please visit

Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
Written by Sandi Tomlin-Sutker