After joining the girls’ track and field team at Cheshire High School, Cali Lonardelli developed a love for doing pole vault until a pair of injuries changed her life.
Two years ago, Lonardelli fell on the track and landed on her head. She was diagnosed with a concussion. A year later, she was accidentally hit in the head by a lacrosse ball during practice and suffered a second concussion.
“We (my teammates and I) were on a side field when I got hit the second time,” reflected Lonardelli, a 2019 CHS graduate. “Soon after, I had to go to Yale (New Haven Hospital).”
As a result of her injuries, Lonardelli dealt with headaches and was unable to walk without help for months. Along with undergoing various forms of therapy at Gaylord Hospital, she had to give up track and field and gymnastics and receive school tutoring at home as a high-school senior.
“It was weird, because both (injuries) happened in May,” reflected Lonardelli, who had to sit out her senior season as a CHS girls’ outdoor track and field tri-captain earlier this year. “It was great to watch the girls have success, but it was tough not being out there with them.”
While dealing with adversity, the injuries led to her discovering a new passion: taking care of dogs. Volunteering with Companion Pet Rescue in Southbury, Lonardelli and her family have helped to foster eight puppies this year.
“It is really heart-warming because a lot of them are sick and just need some love,” said Lonardelli, who started working with dogs on the suggestion of Dr. Stephanie Arlis Mayor. “We take care of the puppies and then let a family adopt them.”
Her family provides for all breeds of dogs. Due to the lingering effects of her concussion, Lonardelli only works with puppies.
“My family tried the traditional therapies. It was all helping, but I still wanted to have a life outside the training,” reflected Lonardelli. “It has meant so much to me working with these animals. All of the dogs are absolutely amazing. It is sad that they need to be adopted.”
While she has given away the majority of the dogs in her care, Lonardelli formed a close relationship with her seventh foster puppy, a black Border Collie-Lab mix named Shadow, and decided to adopt him as a pet.
Since getting the dog over the summer, she has used walks in her neighborhood and playing fetch as therapeutic options in recovering from her injuries. Comparing the traits of her puppy to the character of Mozzie from the TV show “White Collar,” Lonardelli decided to rename the dog Mozi, changing the spelling to make it similar to Cali.
“At the beginning, he was super-sick and we had to nebulize him. We had to feed him with a syringe initially, but he started to get better quickly,” explained Lonardelli.
Not only has Mozi warmed Lonardelli’s heart, but his story has also been recognized nation-wide through the Petco Foundation Holiday Wishes Grant Campaign. Since 2012, Petco has donated $4.2 million in grants to people and organizations who share their animal welfare stories.
“Companion Pet Rescue put up something on Facebook, that you could submit an essay to Petco on how a dog saved your life,” recalled Lonardelli.
Due to headaches, Lonardelli had a hard time writing her piece, but she pushed through to summarize her injuries and how Mozi has motivated her to continue with treatment.
To her surprise, Lonardelli was notified that her submission had been selected as one of 49 honorable mention honorees. Two entries came from Companion Pet Rescue, and the organization will be receiving $1,000 grants for the both of them.
“It was so exciting to be recognized,” said Lonardelli. “The puppies really need the help. We (foster families) provide care for every dog who comes through, so it can get expensive.”
Along with the initial grant, Companion Pet Rescue is now in the running to receive an additional $25,000 as the public’s favorite Petco Holiday Wishes story. To vote for Lonardelli, go to www.petcofoundation.org/holiday-wishes, search for Cali, and then submit an email address at her tab. Voting started last Friday and runs through Dec. 20 at 1 p.m. eastern time.
“The public can vote for their favorite stories and the top five vote-getters will receive money,” Lonardelli said.
As a believer that animal adoption is an important issue in the U.S., Lonardelli enjoys being able to work with Companion Pet Rescue.
“It is a great organization that takes care of so many dogs every year,” stated Lonardelli. “It is such a tight community that just wants to help the puppies. Seeing dogs go home to families is really cool.”
Besides Mozi, her family spends about two weeks with each foster dog.
“We feed them, give them a place to crash, get medication from the vet, and start to train them like they were one of our own,” Lonardelli explained.
To recover from her concussions, Lonardelli decided to put off going to college for a year and instead stay at home with her family. While missing being around her college friends around this fall, she has enjoyed having Mozi at her side for activities like hiking, visiting sunflower mazes and beaches, and baking.
“He gets so excited when he sees you that he wiggles and looks at you with his puppy eyes,” stated Lonardelli.
Reflecting on her personal experience and the plight of her dogs, Lonardelli has decided to commit to studying physical therapy in college. And, Lonardelli adds, as Mozi gets older, her family will continue to work with puppies.