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Community Rallies to Help Little Dog 'Nola'

Jan 07, 2020 04:16PM ● By Jeanne Fratello

Nola at Christmas; photo via Grettel Fournell

When a Manhattan Beach man passed away recently, those who knew him knew that his beloved little dog would need special care. And now in just three weeks, the Maltese named Nola has landed in a new home with an outpouring of support.

Kevin was a longtime Manhattan Beach resident who had fallen on hard times and lived as a homeless person, albeit one who was well known to members of the community. Kevin and his dog named Nola frequented the Coffee Bean at the Manhattan Village Mall and enjoyed socializing with their many friends (both human and canine) from around town.

When friends received the news that Kevin had tragically passed away, they mourned him as an intelligent, funny, and gentle person. (A memorial gathering was held outside the Coffee Bean.) At the same time, they knew that 12-year-old Nola would need special care and a loving and attentive new home.

"In these crazy times, when politics seem to be so divisive, this little dog reminded us of what is important," said Jennifer Salem, one of the community members who stepped in to foster and find a permanent home for Nola. "Kevin was a man, a smart man, a man who was not abusing drugs or alcohol but chose, for whatever reasons, to live on the streets.  But he was still a human being that many people in our community got to know."

Salem continued: "But even those who did not get to know Kevin recognized his absolute adoration and love for his beloved dog, Nola.  And when Kevin died, our community stepped forward in recognition of Kevin's love for his dog; they stepped forward acknowledging that Nola needed help."

Kevin's Untimely Passing

After being found in need of urgent medical attention, Kevin was brought to the hospital, where he passed away on December 17.

In his pocket, police found the name and number of Grettel Fournell, a former neighbor of Kevin's before he became homeless. Fournell had assisted Kevin - and had dog-sat for Nola - at various times. She also received his mail at her house, so the two were in touch frequently.

Fournell called the police to find out where Nola was, only to learn that the dog was being held at the station. "She’s an old dog, she needs to be held, 24-7," said Fournell. "I thought, 'This is going to be really rough.'"

The police tracked down a long-distance relative, who gave the OK to release the dog to Fournell. "When I picked her up, she was shaking like a leaf," said Fournell. Nola was also underweight, with matted fur and severe dental issues.  Fournell knew that Nola would need both immediate medical attention, and someone who could care for her full-time.

Taking Nola In

Fournell had a new puppy in the house that she knew wouldn't get along with Nola, so she posted on social media asking for assistance. Fournell's friend Jennifer Salem stepped up to help, along with her sister-in-law Ashley Salem. They made an arrangement where Ashley would foster Nola, and when Ashley was at work, Jennifer would watch Nola.

It soon became clear that Nola would need lots of special attention. Ashley stayed up with Nola the whole first night, as the little dog was crying for Kevin.

Then there were the medical issues. Fournell first brought Nola to Bay Animal Hospital, where after a thorough physical and bloodwork, staff members determined that Nola had a severe oral infection and would need surgery. She also had tightly matted fur and was underweight at only 6.6 pounds. 

Since Bay Animal Hospital was booked at the time, they brought Nola to Manhattan Beach Animal Hospital, where Jennifer Salem had a connection. 

"Kathy, the manager of Manhattan Beach Animal Hospital, got her coffee most mornings at Coffee Bean and had spoken to Kevin and Nola for years," said Salem. "They quickly offered to continue her care at a discount and do the dental surgery ASAP."

Contributions Pour In

As news of Kevin and Nola spread throughout town, those who heard the story wanted to help. So another community member, Julie Caravaggio, started a GoFundMe to help with medical expenses.

Although the GoFundMe was started with a goal of raising $2,500, it quickly reached over $3,000, with more than 75 people contributing.

Additionally, people brought checks to Fournell, brought donations to the animal hospital, and made contributions at a memorial for Kevin.

All told, Fournell estimates that more than $4,000 came in on behalf of Nola. Manhattan Beach Animal Hospital will hold the money in an account for Nola's current and future veterinary expenses. 

"I was stunned with the GoFundMe," said Fournell, who added that when she first picked up Nola, she just assumed she would pay for the costs. "But people just came out to help. People wanted to give her cozies and knit sweaters. It just kept growing and growing."

A New Home for Nola

At the same time, it was clear that Nola would need a permanent home. That's where Maxine and Murray Leral came in. 

The Lerals knew Kevin from the Coffee Bean, where they would visit Kevin and Nola with their own little dog Annie. Their dog Annie sadly passed away over Thanksgiving. When they learned of Nola's situation, they reached out to offer a home for her.

So Jennifer and Ashley went to visit the Lerals with Nola, and, "the whole time they were together, there was no whimpering, no shaking - it was like she was at home," said Fournell. "Nola walked over to Annie’s bed and fell asleep. Murray put her in his lap, and she was still calm. Jen said, 'I think this couple might be the one.'"

Maxine Leral said that it seemed to be the right fit from the start. "She got so excited when she saw my husband," she said. We just wanted her because we knew her and she knew us."

Leral added that Nola seems to be adjusting well, despite her medical challenges. "She's still recovering from her surgery, so it’s important that we give her all the care she needs."

Salem said that it was a case of "serendipity" in finding a home for Nola at the Lerals.
"It is comforting knowing that Kevin is now watching over their precious Annie while they watch over Kevin’s beloved Nola."

Remembering Kevin

Fournell and her family at various times had given Kevin a place to stay and given him financial assistance. Yet she said that she still gets many questions about why Kevin didn't get more help during his lifetime.

"He did not want help. He did not want services," she said. "He had a cell phone and a laptop. He was eating. He was getting mail. But he chose to be on the street."

Fournell added: "You can’t say a bad thing about him - he was a really great guy - super nice, super smart."

When his memorial service was held at the Coffee Bean, Salem noted, "There were at least 50 people there and many had incredible stories to tell about Kevin and his compassion and  intellect."

It was perhaps of this ongoing respect and appreciation for Kevin that so many people wanted to do right by him in whatever way they could.

Salem noted that many people had offered to help and contributed in many different ways. "This was a community effort," she said. "The fact that the three of us were involved [in saving Nola] was just timing -- if it hadn't been us, it would have been someone else who stepped up."

Fournell and Jennifer and Ashley Salem have agreed to serve as "backup" care and dog-sitters for Nola whenever the Lerals need a hand.

To contribute to Nola's care, visit the GoFundMe page. Contributions are also being accepted at the Manhattan Beach Animal Hospital (2705 N. Sepulveda Blvd. in Manhattan Beach) in care of Nola.

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