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Joplin man finds healing after rescuing dog

April 19, 2019

JOPLIN, Mo. (AP) — Within a span of five years, Joplin native David DuRall II lost two of his closest friends.

The first was Nicky, his 11-year-old black Lab, who vanished without a trace on May 22 when the tornado demolished his house.

“I couldn’t find her,” said DuRall, who rode out the storm inside Unity of Joplin. “I’ve always told myself she ran off or someone saved her instead of thinking the worse.”

The second loss was his father, who died from cancer after a bitter struggle. His death occurred on DuRall’s birthday, less than two hours after he’d turned 37 in late December 2016.

“My dad and I were extremely close,” he said with a shake of his head.

He admitted he was still “in a really dark place” six months later. That’s around the time his phone dinged. A friend of his, KSN-TV news anchor Jessica Schaer, had shared with him a picture of a dog from the Joplin Humane Society. He was a white-furred, 2-year-old pit bull named, appropriately enough, Casper, the Joplin Globe reported.

“I looked down and I saw this sad, little, white face looking up at me,” DuRall said. “It was automatic. I fell in love with him — right there.

“You know those Sarah McLachlan commercials? I can’t watch them. I couldn’t do anything about the dogs in those commercials. But I could do something about Casper.”

He quickly replied to Schaer’s post: “I’m going tomorrow.”

Around that time, Casper had become Joplin Humane Society volunteer Kelly Johnson’s favorite shelter resident. Johnson is one of the shelter’s most celebrated volunteers. Her passion centers primarily around taking stressed-out or longtime-resident shelter dogs for outdoor runs, allowing them time away from their kennels.

She’d taken note of Casper because, of all things, his tail. Casper has what’s called “happy tail,” meaning it wouldn’t stop wagging.

Over the 120-plus days Casper was at the shelter, Johnson and her husband, Mark, would take the pit bull on daily walkabouts. In fact, because of her interaction with Casper, she has since joined the crusade to rid Missouri of breed-specific laws.

“He was just a happy, amazing dog. I couldn’t understand why nobody wanted to adopt him,” she said.

When DuRall entered the shelter first thing that morning, staff members asked if he was interested in seeing a dog or cat. Neither, he said.

″‘I’m here for Casper,’ I told them,” he said. “They were thrilled.”

Casper was leery of DuRall initially. In fact, he had to pick Casper up and deposit him inside the car in order to drive him home. Forty-eight hours later, Casper had become DuRall’s constant shadow. The two were inseparable.

This summer will mark their two-year anniversary as a “couple,” DuRall joked.

“He really is my best friend,” said DuRall, who calls Casper either “Bubbie” or “Cas Cas.” ″I always say, ‘I don’t know who rescued who.’ Really, we rescued each other. I really do believe that. He’s helped me many a night after my dad passed. He’s always been there to cuddle up with and to be at my side. Unless I’m in church or a meeting, he goes everywhere with me.”

And that includes the basketball court at Cunningham Park. It’s where DuRall holds court on summer nights when United in the Community, a popular basketball ministry DuRall created four years ago — is in session. The court was also dedicated by the city of Joplin in memory of DuRall’s father — a plaque sits atop the court’s northern face with his name on it. It was also in this park, a year ago this summer, where Kelly and Mark Johnson were reunited with Casper, a heartwarming moment caught on camera. In the video, after Casper sniffed Kelly Johnson’s hands, he suddenly got happy tail, jumping up to lick her face.

“It was just amazing,” she said of that moment. “I thought: ‘Will Casper even remember me?’ And he did. He did. It was just so sweet. All that time in the shelter, he never gave up that joy.”

DuRall added: “I know it’s cliché to say man’s best friend, but it really is. He’s my best friend.”

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Information from: The Joplin (Mo.) Globe, http://www.joplinglobe.com