Service dog finally reuniting with owner after COVID-19 restrictions keep them 4,000 miles apart

Local News

CROSSVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Hawaii has some of the toughest COVID-19 restrictions in the country.

When Mary Mondello left Crossville five months ago and moved across the globe to the island state she never imagined it would take so long to get her service dog to her.

Finally, service dog Pebbles has a ticket to fly. She’s going to take a long trip soon and finally be reunited with Mondello. On Thursday, the 6-year-old toy poodle will travel more than 4,000 miles from Tennessee to Hawaii.

“Actually I was going to keep her for a little while then give her to my brother who had just lost his dog,” Mondello said. “But when I realized she was helping me with my hearing, I kept her.”

Mary is the widow of engine designer and drag racing legend Joe Mondello who moved from California to Crossville to set up a new shop a few years before he died in 2011.

We talked with Mary at her new home in Hawaii. She’s hearing impaired and relies on Pebbles to be her hearing guide.

“I do depend on her, it’s amazing,” Mary said. “I didn’t think I would. I’ve missed several people at the door because I just don’t hear it even with my hearing aids in, I don’t hear it.”

Mary wanted Pebbles to accompany her in August when she moved to Hawaii, but due to the virus, the state would not grant permission.

Finally, rules were relaxed in November and animals could fly to Hawaii again. But Pebbles would have to have to a person accompany her; she couldn’t go alone.

That’s when Mary’s longtime friend Kelly Shepherd stepped in.

“Oh, my goodness yes, why wouldn’t you?” Shepherd said. “Why wouldn’t a person volunteer to go to Hawaii to deliver a dog?

“The Mondellos’ have been friends for a long time. I felt it was something important to do because Pebbles is a big service to Mary.”

Kelly said he does not fault the state of Hawaii for its COVID-19 precautions for either humans or animals. He and Pebbles will leave Thursday on Alaska Airlines from Nashville and fly to Seattle, where there will be a 12-hour layover, and they’ll arrive Friday in Maui.

Mary Mondello said she will finally feel “complete” having her service dog back.

“She does definitely take away my, my anxiety over my hearing,” she said

Shepherd plans on staying in Hawaii for about five days before returning to East Tennessee.

“Friends are meant to help one another when needed,” he said.

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