Paco pup returned to owner by ‘angel’

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 18, 2010

NATCHEZ — Natchez to Reading, Pa., is a long way for a chihuahua to travel, but at least Paco Bell made the flight at the feet of an angel.

Nearly a month ago, Paco’s owner, Mike Norris, stumbled into the life and open heart of animal lover Lyn Latimer, who Norris now calls an angel.

The man-and-best-friend duo, who were homeless at the time, met Latimer, a nurse, when Norris was admitted at Natchez Regional Medical Center after suffering a heart attack.

Email newsletter signup

NRMC Pink Ladies bought Norris a bus ticket back home to Pennsylvania after he spent six days at the hospital, but little Paco was stranded in the South.

Latimer let Paco be her guest in the meantime.

“He stayed in my sun room because I didn’t want to get to attached to him,” Latimer said.

But on Wednesday, Norris reunited with his pet just in time for Christmas.

When The Democrat ran a story Dec. 4 about Paco’s predicament, calls flooded Latimer’s phone with people wanting to donate money to fund Paco’s safe return home.

“When I got back to work (the day the story ran), I had like 16 or 17 messages already on my voicemail,” Latimer said.

Everyone wanted to help get Paco home for the holidays, she said.

She said she received enough donations to cover the cost of the final vet visits, the flight and a rental car.

“He flew right at my feet to New York,” Latimer said.

Norris was overjoyed to have his buddy back home.

“He’s a great dog, I’m so happy,” Norris said.

He was also happy to see Latimer and said he could not stop hugging her as they hugged three or four times.

Norris said Paco was still coming off of the “doggie Valium” he took for the flight and was a little “laid back” on Wednesday, but Mr. Bell was back to his old self Thursday morning.

A local camera news crew also showed up at the reunion site at the airport in Allentown, Pa., after Norris’s son, Freddie, told the station about Paco’s story.

Norris said he came to Mississippi after a trip to Baton Rouge. He heard about a job near Natchez, but the job never panned out.

The day before meeting Latimer, he and Paco walked from Woodville to Natchez with Paco keeping warm, but very hungry, in his laptop case.

People who worked at a gas station gave Norris coffee, and both dog and owner received pulled pork sandwiches, and then Norris started to feel ill.

The hospital security guard offered to put Paco in the office because dogs were not allowed in the hospital.

“I told him, ‘Listen if you get a blanket throw it on the floor, he’ll sleep all day,” Norris said.

After all, the 10-year-old dog had been recently attacked by pit bull, lost in the woods for five days and walked from Woodville, Norris said.

In addition, Norris said Paco was abused before he adopted him four-and-a-half years ago.

And since his walk from Woodville, Norris has been surprised by the amount of kindness he has been shown.

He said he liked that every nurse was nice to him and would take time to talk with him.

“And Lyn is an angel. She’s a saint, that lady,” Norris said.

But Latimer said she is just an animal lover who could not help but do all she could for Paco and a fellow animal lover.

“I feel like (helping animals) is my calling, if that’s what you want to call it,” Latimer said.

She said leaving Paco was sad, and she will miss him, but delivering him to Norris was for the best.

“I felt like I could do the right thing. And I helped somebody, and it was great,” Latimer said.

And Norris is enjoying getting back to the old routine with his bud.

One of Norris and Paco’s favorite to do is watch sports together.

“I’ll yell, ‘the game’s on,’’ and he’ll come run and sit in the chair,” Norris said.

And whenever Norris yells or gets up to celebrate or curse his team’s fate — Paco runs around and yelps with him, he said.

“He’s got a lot of character, this dog. It’s been me and him for four years,” Norris said.

Norris, who is now living with his 19-year-old son Freddie, said he is doing well back in Redding. He started a job two weeks ago washing dishes a few times a week, and his coworkers even posted “Paco Bell” instead of “Mike” on the work schedule to salute his local celebrity status.

And he will not soon forget the people who made his reunion with Paco possible or the impression those kind strangers left on him.

“I’m nobody, I’m just a regular guy, and (Latimer) helped me with no ambitions of anything.”

“It’s amazing. I didn’t think there were people out there like that to be honest with you.”

Norris said he also appreciated his dose of genuine southern hospitality from everyone he met.

“The kindness and hospitality I saw from the people in Mississippi . . . I don’t know — it was really nice.”

But most of all, Norris is glad to be able to throw Paco’s Phillies baseball jersey on him and watch some big games on TV in the chair they share.

“I got my dog back, so I’m as happy as can be.”