KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A dog from Mascot is on the road to recovery after a kind stranger helped pay for the cost of surgery to fix a rare defect in her heart. Now, her owner just wants to find the man, a Vietnam Veteran and former police officer, to tell him thank you.

Chanel is an 8-year-old West Highland Terrier mix. She and her brother, Coco, have lived with their owner, Jamie Cooper, for eight years. Cooper describes Chanel as a little introverted, but very energetic.

“She is just not a tired dog. She’s always got more energy than anyone in the house.” Cooper said.

Coco and Chanel have traveled with Cooper all over the country from where they were born in Hollywood all the way to New York, where they were once stranded, separated from Cooper for 26 hours after the trains were shut down because of a blizzard.

Up until a few years ago, Chanel seemed perfectly healthy and didn’t show any signs of a heart condition. Cooper said that three years ago, she was diagnosed with a heart murmur in Los Angeles, California. After moving to East Tennessee in 2020, Cooper explained that Chanel has seen a few different vets. They’ve stuck with the vets at The Crossings in Mascot because of their excellent care and history with his family.

Three months ago, Chanel had her last check-up, and Cooper said everything sounded fine. Little did he know that on Christmas, everything would change.

Cooper said he made Christmas a very big deal for the dogs this year. After they opened their presents, put on their pajamas and took some pictures, he still made sure there was plenty to do. He explained that Chanel is all about her toys and he even tore up wrapping paper for her to play in. Unfortunately, that was the first time Chanel would show signs that something wasn’t right.

“Somewhere towards the end of the day, a lot of the mess was still in there and about that time, I’m standing here and Chanel comes through and right there in that doorway – I’ve never seen anything like it – My mom was sitting here and I was saying something to her. She came running through the doorway, I looked down at her and she went right over like a turtle on its back. I’ve never seen anything like it.” Cooper said.

Cooper explained that Chanel was whining and couldn’t get air into her body. Once he was able to get her back up, he called her vet, but she seemed like she was back to normal. This happened again two more times over the next few weeks, but the last time, Cooper gave her a treat after he got home from work and she fell over when she walked away.

“That’s when I rushed her to UT Medical, and um, lo and behold, they told me she was in full heart failure, just about,” Cooper said.

After a few days, the staff at UT were able to get Chanel stable and complete some testing that revealed the issue was a PDA, Cooper said. Chanel was able to go back home with some medication on Wednesday.

Cornell explains that the condition, also called Patent Ductus Arteroisus, is caused by incomplete changes in a dog or cat’s heart circulation when they are born. According to Cornell, the ductus areteriosus is a blood vessel that ensures blood doesn’t go to the lungs unnecessarily when the fetus is developing, but during the first few hours after birth, the vessel should naturally close off. When the blood vessel doesn’t close off, it can result in serious, life-threatening changes in how the heart pumps blood through the body.

With Chanel at home for two days, Cooper began working to gather enough money for the roughly $5,000 needed for her surgery on Friday. On his one day off work, he drove down to Alabama to pick up $700 worth of coins from someone who had heart problems and wanted to donate to help Chanel.

Friday morning around 5:30, Chanel had another episode, and Cooper rushed her to UT as quickly as he could. For Chanel’s surgery to begin, he needed to pay $2,000 upfront, but he only had $935.

“I go up to the counter, and funny enough, the lady’s name was Jamie that I dealt with in payments and administration there. And I explained to her, I said ‘Ma’am, I’ve already spent almost $3,000. I don’t know where I found it, but I done it in three days to save my little dog. Now we’re almost at the home stretch.” Cooper said. “I said ‘I don’t have the $2,000.’ I said, ‘but I have gone to the ends of the earth after everything else I found and I… I think I have almost $1,000.”

Cooper recalled how Jamie spoke with him in a very calm, soothing manner as she made a phone call and asked him some more questions. He said she had him take a seat while she worked to see what she could do.

As Cooper waited, an older man came and sat beside him with his own dog. Cooper said the man had a 13-year-old Shitzu. The two of them talked about what was going on with their dogs and also shared about themselves. According to Cooper, the man he spent just 10 minutes talking to shared that he was a Vietnam Veteran, a former police officer, and he had survived polio, which he got as a child while living in a one-room house with 15 relatives.

While they were still talking, Jamie called Cooper back up to the desk and told him they were able to start the surgery with just $850 down. Cooper said after he collected himself, he went back over to tell the man thank you for consoling him and taking his mind off the situation.

“I remember, he held my hand really firm. It was very firm. He didn’t let go of my hand, he continued to hold my hand. So now me and this man are holding hands looking at each other, eye-to-eye like this, and I’ve got tears down my face, obviously, and he said… I went over and said ‘Oh my goodness, they’re going to do my baby’s surgery!’ Cooper said. “And I was telling him kind of a quick version. I was just overjoyed and all that stuff. And when he was holding my hand, he looked at me and said ‘I don’t know why you were worried.’ He said ‘I was gonna take care of your bill.”

In shock, Cooper said “What?”

“He said ‘I was just going to walk over there and tell that lil girl to put it on my tab.’ and I thought I was crying before… I mean just rolling, rolling down my face, and I’m still holding this man’s hand, and I said ‘Why would you do that for me?” Cooper said. “And he said ‘Why wouldn’t I do that?’ He said ‘ I can do it. I have it to do.”

Leaving, Cooper was amazed and grateful for the man’s kindness to consider paying so that Chanel could have the surgery, but he was not expecting the update he received when someone called from UT Veterinary Medical Center called.

“I brought her home Saturday and I must have been here about 30 minutes at the time and uh… my phone rang, and it was University of Tennessee,” Cooper said. “I answered the phone and I thought she was just checking on Chanel, and of course she did, but then she let me know that the man, which his name was John, that I had met in the lobby for 10 minutes that day, in my day of despair, had paid my entire balance of my bill for my dog’s heart surgery.”

Cooper describes John as a godsend and an angel. He said that for what Chanel went through and for the cost, stress, and emotional toll of the situation, for John to be willing to help a dog that he didn’t know – it’s something you don’t hear about every day.

Now, Chanel is feeling much better and Cooper wants to find John to tell him thank you. While he would have found a way to pay for Chanel’s surgery, he says John’s kindness taught him to keep his faith and to give back however he could.

“You never know where that answer is going to come from. You know, again, I could have paid the bill in time – I had already gone that far.” Cooper said. “I think more than anything is this is such a unique individual and such a unique and over-the-top gesture.”