Dogs, it is said, are man's best friend. But Dustin Parr prefers another word for a pet that was been found unharmed days after somehow surviving a horrific accident that killed the woman he planned to marry next fall.
"He's my miracle dog," the 24-year-old Auburn resident said as his eight-month-old pug Max nuzzled in his lap — a precious, living link to fiancee Alyssa Bizefski, whose life was suddenly ended after just 22 years Nov. 9 when a pickup truck crossed the median on an icy Interstate 69 and hit her car head-on as the couple was speaking on the phone discussing wedding photos that will never be taken.
It's a miracle that evokes memories good and bad, but the pain is made bearable by the presence of an animal Parr wasn't sure he would even see again but has seldom left his side since being found near the crash site the day after the nation paused to give thanks for its blessings. Thanks to social media and the vigilance and kindness of family, friends and total strangers, Max's unlikely presence gives Parr reason to be thankful too even in the face of a tragedy few of us could imagine.
It's fitting the couple met on Facebook, because Parr and Max — short for Maximus — might not have been reunited without it. Following the crash, which also killed Bizefski's dog, Max escaped from his cage in the backseat and went missing. Parr was in Texas on business at the time, but friends and others mounted a campaign on Facebook to find him. Search parties were organized, and eventually, Max was spotted near the crash site. When Parr hurredly returned, he scoured the crash scene day and night and even placed some of Bizefski's belongings near the highway, hoping the scent would attract Max's attention.
It finally did, and someone who had seen the search for Max on Facebook spotted the dog and returned him to Parr, who had begun to fear he might never come home. Except for a few briars sticking to his fur, a trip to the vet confirmed Max had survived his ordeal in good shape and had even gained a pound.
A miracle, indeed.
That doesn't erase the past, of course, and as we talked it was obvious his feelings did not die with his fiancee. Her pictures are everywhere, and he was wearing her Army National Guard jacket with "Bizefski" stitched across the front. But Max seldom left his lap, giving life to his memories of a vibrant 22-year-old who was also a nursing student at IPFW and employee at Menard's in Fort Wayne.
The two had been dating for two years and were to be married Oct. 17, and the memory of how the phone just "went blank" as they were making future plans is still hard to bear.
"Somtimes it feels like you're drowning. You can't breathe, and you remember everything you did together. It comes in waves, and then you're better for a while," Parr said. "We did everything together, and it's lonely inside when you want somebody to talk to. But Max is always by my side and I feel like Alyssa's inside him. It was hard without him," said Parr, who works for SOS Service Inc. in Angola. "I lost everything, but having him around helps. He's like my other half."
Others are grieving too, of course. Bizefski's parents lost their only child, and Parr said he remains close to the couple that would have been his in-laws. He knows Alyssa will be on all of their minds this Christmas, making a holiday that should be filled with joy "rough."
But prodigal pup Max will be there by his side, a lost-then-found gift of life and a reminder of what could have been and, in a small but precious way, still is.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 461-8355.