SMALL TOWNS: Dog helps boy overcome grief

Sandy is a rescue dog in more ways than one.
Updated: Aug. 25, 2022 at 6:10 PM CDT
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MANITOWOC COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) - While they are known as man’s best friend, the relationship between a dog and a child is often magical.

Over the course of this summer, a little dog from Manitowoc County had a big job helping a boy she’d never met overcome grief.

This week in Small Towns, we travel to Cooperstown for the touching story of Ethan and Sandy.

As a rescue dog from Kentucky, Sandy, a four-year-old Beagle mix, knows all about tough times. For six weeks this summer, she did all she could to help Ethan Schwartz overcome his pain.

Last spring, Ethan started showing in the Brown County Tailwaggers 4-H Dog Club Project with his dog Ellie. The program is about obedience and agility.

“It was just like magic, they just had so much fun,” says Kelly Schwartz, Ethan’s mom.

“Her colors, her playfulness, energy, she was just so fluffy,” says Ethan of Ellie.

“She was our girl,” adds Kelly.

That tragically ended on the night of May 26, when Kelly and Ethan returned to their De Pere home on fire.

“I just remember coming home and seeing mom open the front door and then smoke coming out,” recalls Ethan.

“And I just remember screaming for the dogs,” says Kelly.

A 911 dispatcher told Kelly to get away from the home until fire crews arrived.

First on the scene, a police officer, who went inside to search for the dogs.

“I was worried as soon as the cop came and started yelling their names and then she didn’t come out,” says Ethan.

Moments later, Ethan and Kelly would learn Ellie, along with two other pets, died in the fire from the carbon monoxide.

“I collapsed, I mean I just couldn’t even handle it, and Ethan just went into shock, I’ve never seen him, the entire night he was like on autopilot, I don’t even think he was human that night,” recalls Kelly.

A few weeks later, knowing how devastated Ethan was over the loss of Ellie, Kelly reached out to Angela Duckart, who runs the 4-H Dog Project, and asked her if she knew anyone who would let Ethan use their dog to continue in the classes.

Her Cooperstown neighbor, Mary Mancoske, said yes without any hesitation.

“Oh I thought it was great, I thought it was just great being an animal lover and knowing what he must have gone through, and Sandy was kind of sassy, so she needed it,” says Mary.

The following week, Mary took Sandy to the Brown County Fairgrounds, where she and Ethan met for the first time.

The connection was instant.

“She just like melted into his arms, he just enveloped her with this amazing hug because he was sitting on the ground and it was just so heartwarming to see that he was still willing to be present and love another dog, I think that was really big,” explains Kelly.

“Nothing that I expected, like totally the opposite, she was just an amazing dog,” says Ethan.

Over the next several weeks, Sandy and Ethan made their own magic in the show ring.

“It was great because I used to show myself, I did agility and obedience and everything years ago and so to see the kids all doing it with the dogs, I mean kids and dogs are just great together,” says Mary

On graduation day a few weeks ago, Ethan and Sandy received their honors, second place in obedience, third in agility, and the winners of the annual Kit Harris-Mader Memorial Award.

“It meant that we went through a lot but we pulled through, and I’m really proud of Sandy,” says Ethan with a smile.

And he’s very grateful for her owner’s kindness.

“Thank you, for letting me use Sandy and just being there every Wednesday,” says Ethan of Mary.

“They gave Ethan so much, I just can’t even put it into words,” adds Kelly.

Stopping by to see Sandy and Mary is a joy for Ethan and Kelly.

But when they go home, there’s a void.

“Every day he has been begging me for, like let’s get a dog, let’s get a dog and I’m like, just wait, just wait,” says Kelly.

To Ethan’s surprise, that wait is almost over.

“So this is going to be ours,” says Kelly showing Ethan a photo of a puppy.

“When are we getting her?” asks Ethan.

“So it’s a him, and we’re going to get him in about a month,” says Kelly.

“He’s so tiny,” says Ethan with a big grin.

Even though he’ll have a new dog for obedience and agility next year, Ethan plans to visit his pal Sandy from time to time and check on the progress Mary is making with Miss Sandy.

Ethan Schwartz lost his pets in a house fire. Sandy would help him overcome that grief.