LEBANON, Maine — Imagine dropping your ailing dog off at the veterinarian to be put down, only to learn hours later, that your dog is alive and well. That’s what happened to Cheryl Hunter last week.

Hunter, a Lebanon, Maine, resident, walked into the Animal Health Center in Rochester, N.H., on Wednesday to put down her sick dog, Tilly. An hour later, she got a call saying that Tilly, a 7-year-old Japanese Chin, had been saved.

In an unlikely coincidence, an employee with the Cocheco Valley Humane Society arrived at the Animal Health Center minutes after Hunter, and decided to set the dog up for adoption.

“The shelter is able to place a lot of dogs that have health problems,” said Dr. Cindy Hoisington, with The Animal Health Center. “That’s important to know, to spare them from euthanasia.”

Originally rescued from a puppy mill, Tilly was adopted from an animal shelter in 2008 by Hunter. The dog required expensive surgeries for bladder stones. She also had little bladder control, and became skittish around strangers.

But when Hunter first saw Tilly she could only think about how cute the 2-year-old dog was.

“I just took her,” said Hunter. “I didn’t know a whole lot about [the bladder stones] at that point.”

Hunter grew to love Tilly. She kept her as a companion at her job as a nurse at a summer camp. Hunter always allowed the dog to sleep on her bed, despite the fact that Tilly would usually urinate at night. Hunter tried special diets, and frequented vets, but Tilly’s problems would not go away.

After about five years Hunter decided Tilly needed to be put down. She had already financed two surgeries and the dog needed a third. Hunter couldn’t afford Tilly anymore and she thought no one would want such an expensive dog.

“She was a sweet girl, and a friend of everybody and everything,” said Hunter.

Many people, like Hunter, have chosen euthanasia out of desperation, thinking it is the only option for ailing pets like Tilly. According to the Humane Society of the United States, about 2.7 million “healthy” and “adoptable” cats and dogs are put down every year.

Hoisington said she frequently sees people put down their pets because they cannot afford a necessary surgery. She advocates pet health insurance to ensure this does not happen.

On Tuesday night, Hunter gave Tilly a last supper of steak tips and ice cream and on Wednesday morning, she said goodbye to Tilly one last time.

But her phone rang an hour later. Hunter assumed it was the shelter saying Tilly had been killed. It was the shelter, but they told her Tilly have been saved.

“I was like, ‘What? Do they know the problems?’” said Hunter. “I was glad.”

Moments after Hunter dropped Tilly off, an employee with the Cocheco Valley Humane Society arrived at the Animal Health Center to pick up a stray cat, which had been found, given free surgery, and set up for potential adoption.

The employee got the cat, but also saw Tilly. After being informed of Tilly’s bladder stones, and the cost of surgery, the employee said they could find a home for Tilly. The Animal Health Center performed the surgery for free.

Tilly’s bladder stones were removed on Thursday. On Friday, Tilly was brought to the Cocheco Valley Humane Society to be set up for future adoption.

According to Kris Halsey, manager of the Cocheco Valley Humane Society, despite the dog’s health problems, Tilly will likely be adopted soon. “I have no doubt that that dog will go home very quickly,” said Halsey. “Little dogs get adopted really quickly.”

Halsey said that Tilly’s new owners will be thoroughly briefed on the ins and outs of taking care of a special-needs dog.

Hunter said she believes Tilly’s saving is a matter of fate.

“I don’t believe in coincidences,” she said. “There was a reason I was late that morning. There was a reason.”

Distributed by MCT Information Services