A final howl before departing beyond the horizon

By Jennifer Stoeckl, MAT - Dire Wolf Project CEO, Feb. 22, 2024
Bonnie Lee Rainbowcropped.jpg
Loving memory of Bonnie Lee

Her story weaves across the lives of many.

It all began in the fall of 2012 when Lois announced she had a special puppy for me out of her original lines.

At a time when Lois’s lines were recovering from a tight genetic bottleneck after almost losing the entire breed, Vinny and Dingo carried the diversity the breed needed while also keeping the integrity of the world’s first large breed companion dog temperament.

To this day, the Vinny x Dingo breeding remains a rare gem within the ancestry coursing through our dogs.

If your dog has this breeding in its pedigree, you are lucky, indeed.

In 2012, I was still relatively new to breeding dogs, but because I was just as obsessed with the breed then as I am now, I knew this puppy was going to bring prosperity to my fledgling lines.

The first litter of puppies I ever whelped arrived in early 2006.

Jay and I lived in the high Rocky Mountains of southwest Colorado in a quaint little mountain community, isolated from the rest of the world.

We were both full-time teachers.

Breeding a few litters a year was only a small way to help Lois, not yet a consuming endeavor.

But, still I understood that this fluffy golden-haired puppy was going to improve what little contribution I could provide to Lois’s work.

In those days, I knew a very enthusiastic dog groomer from Denver named Shawna Davies. She was my best friend in the dog world.

When I told her about this special golden female, she jumped at the chance to meet her.

There we were, sitting in a little mountain cabin as the Aspen leaves began to turn bright yellow and orange… Lois, Shawna, myself, and one very special fluffy golden female puppy named:

Bonnie Lee

So many of our hopes and dreams for the breed lay in her bright gold eyes.

As we talked, we came up with a wonderfully exciting plan.

Bonnie Lee would become the FIRST DireWolf Guardian™ trained by the Dire Wolf Project and assigned to a deserving person with a disability.

Under co-ownership, Shawna took Bonnie Lee home with her to Denver. She raised her, assessed her for potential service work, and began her initial training.

As it turned out, Bonnie Lee was a vibrant, loving puppy with a certain willingness to jump up from wherever she was whenever she heard certain sounds.

She was a natural hearing dog!

Bonnie learned that when a certain sound occurred, she was to come to the person, touch the person’s leg with her nose, and then guide the person back to the sound.

She was extremely smart and willing to perform.

At the right moment, Bonnie Lee returned to me for final training and breeding.

I perfected her heeling and public access.

Here is a cute video I put together nine years ago of Bonnie’s heeling.  


Oh, the precious memories!

It turned out that the deaf person assigned to Bonnie Lee wasn’t able to abide by the terms of the contract, so Bonnie found a placement with a woman who certified her as a therapy dog.

Bonnie Lee frequented hospitals, helping ailing individuals find comfort and hope to carry on through their medical conditions.

Although Bonnie never officially performed as a hearing dog, she went on to support so many others in need.

On Valentine’s Day a week ago, this incredible soul breathed her last.

She was twelve years old and in great shape up until this moment.

Here is what Bonnie’s owner posted on the tragic day,

“Our best girl Bonnie Lee, collapsed an hour ago and is unable to stand and has a pronounced head tilt. She is on the way to the ER vet. Please keep her in your prayers, you all know what an angel she is and how much joy and comfort she has brought to us and to those she met as a my co-therapist. Thank you

“Update: Bonnie did not make it. Her spirit will live in our hearts forever, thank you for the lovely words and prayers, I am sure they helped this special girl fly away. Thank you Jennifer Stoeckl for allowing us to be her Guardians, she was one in a million.”

Bonnie Lee’s gift to the world will not be forgotten.

Elatha reminds me so much a Bonnie Lee in personality and coloring that it’s almost uncanny.

So sweet, loving, and gentle, but also inquisitive and intelligent with a willing attitude.

All packaged up in a golden bundle of puppy love.  

I bet Elatha could easily follow in Bonnie Lee’s footsteps and become a great example of the empathy many of our dogs show within this breed.

I hope to hear many wonderful things about Elatha as she grows and touches the many people in her life.

If you have a desire to learn more about if Elatha is the dog for your family, reply to this email and we’ll chat.

Jennifer Stoeckl is the co-founder of the Dire Wolf Project, founder of the DireWolf Guardians American Dirus Dog Training Program, and owner/operator of DireWolf Dogs of Vallecito. She lives in the beautiful inland northwest among the Ponderosa pine forests with her pack of American Dirus dogs.