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Shelter Dog Offers Grieving Family 'Pet Therapy'

Friends believe adopted shelter dog was sent by late husband to comfort and guard over family.

Tragedy struck the household of Flossmoor resident Vicki Burke in late October when her 40-year-old husband, Steve, died unexpectedly.

The sudden passing left her and her two sons, Andrew, 9, and Ryan, 5, with broken hearts and a big, empty space where their husband and father used to be.

“After Steve died, I thought about getting a dog. A dog was never an option when Steve was here—he was horribly allergic. I looked at the listings (online) and nothing really called to me."

That’s largely because all of Burke’s former pets came to her serendipitously she says, citing an experience in her youth when a stranger thrust a puppy into her hands, got into her car and sped off. Because of this, Burke resolved that fate would bring her a dog if it were meant to be.

“I knew I couldn’t just go find a dog,” Burke said. “I knew a dog would have to find me, somehow.” 

Facing their first Christmas without Steve, Burke had all but given up hope when her octogenarian father, Homewood resident Russ Bensley, offered a suggestion.

“My dad said, ‘Well, every now and then they do a thing on the Patch about a dog who needs a home,’” Burke said.

Two days later, Patch posted . Amarillo was recently left tied to the fence of the South Suburban Humane Society. 

“I thought, no. Bad idea. Crazy,” Burke said.

A few days later, they adopted Amarillo—but not without renaming him, “Scoop.” Burke says the name is a nod to Patch for helping her find him.

'A Sign from Steve'

A peculiar thing happened as Scoop was getting acquainted with his new home. Burke said she and the boys outfitted Scoop with plenty of new toys from the store, but he didn’t seem to care for any of them. Instead, Scoop took interest in an old tennis ball he found behind Steve Burke’s old desk.

“We don’t know why there was an old, beat-up tennis ball in the house because we never had a dog. And he finds it under Steve’s desk,” Burke said. “There are people who believe—and I’m not saying they’re wrong and I’m not saying they’re right—that Steve sent this dog to us. There’s one person who believes this is Steve.”

While she may not be convinced that their new pet is channeling the spirit of her former husband, Burke isn’t discounting the coincidence.

“There’s a ‘meant to be’ factor, for sure, that I can’t argue with,” she said. “I feel like I’ve had this black cloud over me. I feel like bad things keep happening. I feel like I need to do something to change our fortune. I wonder if maybe we need this dog as he needs us.”

Scoop can’t make up for the loss of Steve, but he’s helping the Burkes get through it the best way he knows how.

“He’s just love,” Burke said. "Ninety pounds of pure, unadulterated love.”

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Betty tsamis December 12, 2012 at 02:19 PM
Cannot imagine the magnitude of the family's loss. Having had dogs throughout my life, however, I know Scoop will bring comfort, laughter, and unconditional love to Vicki and her sons. Go Scoop Burke!
Hernendo RevolveR December 12, 2012 at 07:53 PM
God bless the Burke family.
Laurie Lat December 14, 2012 at 03:10 PM
bless them for adopting this dog. i wish everyone would consider a shelter dog. they do have a way of mending a broker heart and helping one heal. they also lower blood pressure and give u a reason for getting up in the morning. love this story. thanks.
kim freer December 14, 2012 at 03:40 PM
Pets love unconditionally...just like dads..Merry Christmas to you!
Cheryl December 14, 2012 at 05:52 PM
A loss, a gain, what a great Christmas story for everyone involved.

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