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A horrific accident forced woman to leave her dog with friends

Naomi Spellman and her beloved dog Chili, pictured here at Lake Michigan, are together again after a crash at a Downtown Albuquerque intersection led to their separation. (Courtesy of Naomi Spellman)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A split-second crash in a crosswalk sparked a yearlong odyssey for an Albuquerque woman and her beloved dog.

In March 2018, Naomi Spellman was crossing a Downtown street on her recumbent tricycle. Spellman has a neurologic condition and seizures, so she relies on the tricycle for transportation and independence.

Her companion, 10-year-old Chili – “who looks like a rat terrier crossed with a pug or dachshund” – was trotting beside her on a special harness and leash attached to the trike.

As they entered the crosswalk, they were struck by a car whose driver, Spellman says, ran a stop sign.

“I thought she was looking at me, but she didn’t see me, didn’t stop and didn’t use her signal,” Spellman says. “She turned into me and dragged me. The tricycle was wedged into her left wheel well. It was really scary.”

Chili was on Spellman’s left side and she was struck on her right, so the small pooch was uninjured. Spellman wasn’t as fortunate – she ended up with fractures in her left wrist and right foot.

Over the next few weeks and months, Spellman’s condition worsened. “Because my hands and neck were injured, taking care of a dog or basic tasks became really hard or painful,” she explains. “When the dog was pulling, it just got worse and worse.”

Spellman, 55, initially leaned on neighbors to watch Chili, whom she’d gotten for her son as a pup, while she went to medical appointments, but she eventually lost her apartment and ran out of options. That’s when she found Jon Bourque, owner of Swagger Dog Training, online.

At first, Bourque and his wife, Nicole, watched Chili during the day. As time went on and Spellman’s struggles worsened, the Bourques agreed to keep the dog for longer periods, with Spellman paying for Chili’s food.

“One thing after another unraveled, and I decided I needed to go home and recover,” says Spellman, an artist. She put everything in storage and left to be near her mom and sister in Chicago – and left Chili with the Bourques.

“I told them, ‘If you can place him temporarily or permanently, it would probably be the best thing,’ ” she says. “It wasn’t fair to ask them to keep him.”

As great as Chili was for Spellman, he wasn’t an ideal addition to the Bourques’ pack of family dogs, and those he boards and trains for clients. “(Chili) was reactive to other dogs and couldn’t be with any of ours. So it was a little tough keeping them separate,” Bourque admits.

Still, they “kind of just bit the bullet and kept him.”

“He’s old. I didn’t want to keep moving around a dog like that, and I didn’t want him to end up in a shelter,” he says.

Time went by, Chili didn’t get any younger, but Spellman’s health improved. In April 2019, after more than a year, she was finally back in an apartment that allowed dogs and felt capable of caring for Chili again. Spellman began researching options for getting Chili to Chicago and, once again, the Bourques came through.

“We told her, ‘We’ve got it taken care of.’ ” Nicole Bourque says. “With all she went through, it was probably emotionally very challenging. Getting him back was a huge sign of hope.”

Bourque asked Spellman to cover fuel costs and said he would handle the rest.

Over Memorial Day weekend, he loaded Chili into his truck and made the 1,300-mile trek to Chicago. Along the way, he endured the aftermath of historic storms, flooding and tornadoes that closed and swamped campgrounds in Oklahoma.

That Sunday morning, Spellman was waiting on the sidewalk when Bourque came walking up the street with Chili. “I think he wasn’t expecting to see her, but then when he comprehended it was her, he was thrilled,” Bourque says.

Once more, Chili and Spellman go everywhere together. “He is phenomenal,” Spellman says. “For me, getting him back was a lifesaver. He and I have been through a whole lot together. I’m so grateful to Jon and Nicole. I’m so happy to have my dog back.”

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