CHESHIRE — 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 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.
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,” Lonardelli said. “It has meant so much to me working with these animals.”
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.
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.
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 runs through Dec. 20 at 1 p.m.