Dogged determination

SOUTH BEND, IN -- Through no fault of her own, Ebony was a drunk.

She weaved and wobbled. And when she would go through withdrawal, she shook and shuddered.

She also yipped and yelped.

Ebony is a dog, man's best friend—even though her master wasn't reciprocating in the proper fashion.

''Anytime he drank, he would give her some of the alcohol, too,'' says Nancy Curtis, the director of rehab services at the Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center in South Bend. ''He apparently needed a drinking partner.''

Ebony fit the bill and finished the bottles.

Several years ago, the man entered the Salvation Army's program, and Ebony came with him.

''She was in bad shape,'' says Terry Nealey, the in-house night supervisor at the center. ''She would go through seizures just like the men. We would have to sit up with her, keep her as comfortable as possible and hope she would make it.''

Ebony, a little black mutt with a pretty white face, bravely battled through her addiction. She and her master eventually left, only to return to the program at a later date, both addicted to alcohol again.

''When her owner got ready to leave the second time, our captain (then David Hudgens) wouldn't let him take Ebony,'' Nealey says.

That was about six years ago. Ebony has been at the center ever since—usually clean and always sober.

''She has become our mascot,'' says Jason Mauger, the center's in-house day supervisor. ''And to be honest, she is one of the best things around here for the beneficiaries. She can soften the hearts of even the hardest of men.''

The rehabilitation center is adjacent to the Salvation Army's Thrift Store on South Main Street and houses up to 50 men at a time. Its program lasts six months.

Some of them leave with a second chance at life, and some of them quickly fall back to their demons. They all have their different stories, but just about every one of them is touched by Ebony's wagging tail.

''I think it means even more to them when they find out that Ebony has suffered just like they have,'' says Mauger, a beneficiary of the program who turned his life around.

In fact, Ebony, now 13 years old and droopy-eyed, has her own certificate from the Salvation Army with a paw print and her mug shot stamped on it. Part of the text reads that she ''has earned this Certificate of Honorable Mention for giving us an example of lasting sobriety and showing us that freedom from addiction is possible.''

It's enough to make people smile—for all the right reasons.

''The heart and the mind of a dog show no prejudices, and that's nice to have around here,'' says Mauger. ''I really think that Ebony helps bring out the best in everybody.''

Well, almost everybody. ''One of the former beneficiaries—for whatever reason—kicked her a while back and hurt her,'' Mauger says. ''It happened about 6:30 in the morning, it was reported about 6:40, and that guy was on the street at 6:45.''

Give Ebony a boot and you get one in return.

''She is like our princess,'' Curtis says.

''She usually sleeps up in my room and helps me open up the place at 6 in the morning,'' Mauger says. ''And for a good part of the day, she is down by the front desk as a watchdog.''

Of course, she wouldn't hurt a flea.

''Ebony has food and water on every floor,'' Curtis says. ''And when her arthritis isn't acting up, she will be all around. Sometimes, she will walk through the lecture room and curl up under the chair of one of the beneficiaries. She has the run of the place.''

Except for the chapel. ''Ebony isn't allowed in there, so during the services, she sits in the office and whines,'' Mauger says.

She likes her company—as long as they don't drink.

Eating is a different matter. ''Captain (Troy) Barker has had to make announcements in chapel for the beneficiaries not to feed Ebony,'' Mauger says. ''She will eat just about anything.''

And lick about anyone, too.

''Ebony really is an inspiration,'' Mauger adds.

A scruffy mutt. A neat little package of hope and healing.