A former shelter dog has been nominated for a special award after helping children and people affected by the Newtown school shooting.
About 15 months ago, a 3-month-old dog was merely a number in a high-kill shelter in Tennessee.
Christina Marie Colla was on Facebook when she saw the pup and decided she was going to get this dog out of harm's way.
"I saw her and something called to me," Colla said. "And you need to do something about this dog."
Colla drove to Tennessee to get her new pet, which she would name Copper. The trip was 12 hours down and 18 hours back.
Over the next several months, Colla said she would treat her emotional and physical wounds, while fostering Copper, until she could find her a permanent home here in Connecticut.
"I had no intention of keeping her," she said. "I was just going to keep her and make her healthy and then find a home for her."
That was until one night last summer, when thunderstorms rolled in. While serving in the United States Navy, Colla was deployed overseas and she was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder. And she said that Copper knew it too.
"I was laying in bed, it was like 3 o'clock in the morning, and I woke up to her whimpering and she had laid her entire body across my torso and put her paw in my hand," Colla said. "I couldn't figure out what was going on. And then I heard the thunder in the distance and I said wow, 'How did she know?' Because thunder is one of my triggers for the PTSD, it's one of those things that I hear and I don't do well with it."
Copper became Colla's service dog.
"She tried to protect me from it," Colla said about the thunder.
On Dec. 14, Colla said she received a phone call at her home in New Milford, which is close to Newtown, where 20 children and six adults were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School that day.
"I got a phone call from a parent that I knew who said, 'Hey can you, this is what's going on, do you think maybe you could bring Copper down,'" Colla said. "And I said, 'I think that'll work.'"
If Copper could help her, she could certainly help the kids in Newtown. And so Copper went from service dog to therapy dog.
"We loaded up in the car and we headed to Newtown and she went to work," Colla said. "She had to change caps. She was no longer a service dog, she was therapy dog. It was amazing the work that she was doing and in the way that she was going about it. It's almost as if she had a this sixth sense as to what she needed to do and how she needed to it."
Colla said she felt that Copper saw the children in Newtown as "her kids."
"Every time she walked into the building, you could see and an entire change in her demeanor," she said. "Her tail would start going even faster. Her tail would stand straight up. She walked prouder and you would hear all the kids saying, 'Copper's here. Copper's here.'"
It's been 18 months since Copper got her get out of shelter pass, and for all she's done, the dog was nominated for a hero dog award given out by the American Humane Association.
Copper is up for the emerging hero's category, and Eyewitness News knows she's got what it takes.
"For her sake and for Newtown's sake, we would love to bring this back for Newtown and for Connecticut," Colla said.
Colla said she continues to bring shelter dogs into her home in New Milford, fosters them and finds them great homes.
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