Ava's Story

Ava’s Story

A dog is reunited with her family after her owner is killed in accident.


At Charleston Animal Society we never know from day to day what animals will come through our doors.
Will the next animal be a cruelty case? Will owners need help? We never know.

The first week of September is one we will never forget. In the span of three days, three critically injured animals came into our shelter, requiring tremendous effort and skilled veterinary care to save their lives.

One of those cases was Ava, a beautiful chocolate lab blend. Ava and her dad Kris were traveling by bike and trailer from upstate New York to Florida. Kris and Ava were inseparable — they ate, slept, and traveled together, rain or shine on each of their adventures. They were the best of friends.

Ava had her own little trailer with a shaded pad for her to ride on, as Kris pedaled. Along with Ava, he also carried about 200- pounds of camping gear that included Ava’s food.

In the days after losing Kris, Charleston Animal Society staff could sense Ava was grieving. (Photo: Jeanne Taylor)

Along his route, Kris told a reporter in the Outer Banks, “I’m just doing it because I love it. I love biking and I wanted to do something again before she (Ava) got too old and couldn’t do it. It just puts a smile on my face every day and makes other people smile and I’m loving it.”

Tragedy Strikes

Halfway through their east coast trip, just outside of Charleston, tragedy struck. Kris was pedaling along Highway-17 south, pulling Ava behind. Suddenly, they were struck from behind by a car.

Kris was pronounced dead at the scene and Ava was critically injured. Ava was transported to Charleston Animal Society and our veterinary team administered emergency care.

Her jaw was broken, she had lacerations all over her body and her brain was swelling from trauma. Our veterinarians weren’t sure she would make it.

Ava jumped into Kris’s mothers arms at the reunion. Jenda and Jessica weren’t the only ones who couldn’t hold back the tears. (Photo: Jeanne Taylor)
Ava keeping a close eye on the pilots who flew her home to New York from Charleston. (Photo: Scott Guy)
Jessica, Ava and Jenda were flown home to Upstate New York by local volunteer pilot Lee Richards. (Photo: Scott Guy)
Kris Cotton and Ava rode thousands of miles together on this and bike and trailer that Kris designed. (Photo: Provided)

Ava was transported for emergency care at Veterinary Specialty Care and stayed there for two nights. When she was brought back to us, I took her home each night with me to make sure she was comfortable. I could see her depression. I could feel her sadness over missing Kris.

But day by day, she got stronger. And little did she know, we were working very hard to give Ava something we knew would cheer her up – her family.

The Reunion

This part of our story is one that will make everyone who lives in Charleston so proud. Everyone who heard of Ava’s story – came together to brighten not only her life, but the lives of Kris’s mother, sister and all who loved him.

Soon after the accident, we’d located Kris and Ava’s family in New York. Kris’s Mom, Jenda, and Sister Jessica were devastated by his loss, but hearing of Ava’s survival gave them something to hold onto in this awful tragedy.

10 days after the accident, they rented a car for the 17-hour drive from Upstate New York to come get Kris’s ashes and to reunite with Ava, who was very close to her “granny.”

During Ava’s recovery, I tried to facetime with Jenda every night, because hearing her granny’s voice perked Ava up like nothing else.

As we organized the reunion at our shelter, we heard from first responders who had been at the accident site. We heard from Charleston Moves, a local bicycle safety advocacy club. All of them wanted to be there to show Jenda and Jessica love and support from the Holy City.

At the reunion, there wasn’t a dry eye. Ava wagged and jumped when she saw her family — so much so, that she wiggled out of her bandages! This one moment made everything we do in animal rescue worth it. It’s why we are here.

A Final Chapter

Then stepped in local business owner and pilot, Lee Richards of Alerion Enterprises. He heard about Ava and offered to fly Jenda, Jessica and Ava back to New York in his private jet! I was lucky to fly home with them and say one last goodbye, 20,000-feet in the sky. One last adventure – and Lee made sure he secured Kris’s ashes with a seatbelt nearby Ava.

Today, Ava is recovering with her granny and she’s happy to be home among the falling leaves and early morning frost of the Adirondacks. “I can’t believe how wonderful Charleston is,” Jenda told us, over and over.

Ava’s rescue and journey home could not have happened without you! And as we always say – YOU are Charleston Animal Society.