From East Tennessee to Hawaii: Service dog reunited with its owner

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — After being separated by the COVID-19 pandemic, a disabled former resident of East Tennessee has been reunited with her service dog. Due to the coronavirus, Hawaii has some of the toughest restrictions on all travelers, including animals, from entering the state.

WATE 6 On Your Side’s Don Dare has an update on a toy poodle’s long trip to the Hawaiian Islands from East Tennessee.

Now, “Pebbles” the poodle is at home at last with her owner. Unfortunately, her escort couldn’t stay as they had planned. Some of the strict pandemic guidelines sent him back home.

It wasn’t exactly first class, but at least Pebbles didn’t have to share space with any seatmate on her long flight to Hawaii last week. When the little service dog arrived on Friday, she was privately escorted at the main airport in Maui.  

Realizing she was about to be freed after half a day in the air was an exciting moment. Then after five months of separation, Pebbles was finally reunited with Mary Mondello, who is hearing impaired.

“What do you think? Are you home now? Huh?” Mary Mondello asks Pebbles, who responds with a lick.

For years, home for the 6-year-old toy poodle had been Crossville, Tenn. where we met her last week.

Mrs. Modello’s close family friend Kelly Shepherd was about to accompany Pebbles to Mary’s new home in Hawaii. Because of COVID restrictions, animals can’t fly alone to the Hawaiian Islands.

Mr. Shepherd had been a close friend with the late Joe Mondello, a drag racing legend and engine designer who moved to Tennessee and set up shop before passing away 10 years ago.

“And we’re going to get out of the airport and go home. I honestly didn’t think I’d ever see her again,” Mary Mondello said. “It all worked out at the end even though it was the biggest fiasco that I have ever gone through.”

The snafu centered around her friend Kelly Shepherd who was going to remain in Hawaii for a few days. But the test for COVID-19 he took early last week had expired hours before he and Pebbles traveled more than 4,000 miles from Tennessee to Hawaii.

“He ended up being about 12 hours expired on his COVID test,” Mary Mondello said. “Once he finally arrived here, they turned around and sent him right back home. It’s almost an impossibility as you see with Mr. Shepherd, it’s almost an impossibility to get here in that time frame. I never even got to wave at him. It was, it was horrible… He’s my hero.”

So far, the little service dog is getting comfortable in her new home and Mary says Pebbles has alerted to sounds that Mary’s unable to hear. And living in Hawaii is not too bad.  

“I take her down to the local. We call it the doggie beach, but it is actually a public park,” Mary Mondello said. “So many people in this area have dogs and they go down there and let their dogs run in the grass and then play in the surf. She’s afraid of the ocean.  But we are working on that. Yesterday, I actually got her to play around in the sand a little bit.”

After five months of pandemic red tape, Mary is pleased to have Pebbles with her.

“Oh, It’s just made … me a new person. I don’t have to worry about her anymore, I know she is here to help me out,” Mary Mondello said.

Kelly Shepherd is back at home tonight; his trip to Hawaii started last Thursday morning, he finally arrived home late Saturday exhausted after 24 hours in the air and another 20 hours waiting in airports. However, he said he is pleased that he could help his longtime family friend.

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