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A Penni saved

Editor’s note: This is the first in a monthlong series.

The Tonini family has always been made up of fur babies – dogs, cats and horses. There’s even a koi pond.

About 11 years ago, they welcomed another animal into their hearts, unaware how close they would come to losing her and the unconditional love it would take to nurse her back to health.

Holly Tonini, of New Eagle, had always wanted a corgi when she heard about a new litter in Ohio.

“I called my dad on the phone, and I said, ‘Dad, will you drive me to Ohio?’ And he said, ‘What for?’” Holly recalled in a recent interview. “I said, ‘To get a puppy,’ and he hung up the phone. ‘We’re not getting any more animals’ is usually a phrase I hear a lot.”

When Holly arrived in Ohio, there were three puppies left. She picked the runt of the litter with the stubbiest corgi legs and took her home.

“The Clarks’ song, ‘Penny on the Floor,’ came on the radio on the way home,” she said. “I was like, ‘Well, that’s her name now because she’s copper colored and she’s low to the floor.’”

Penni Lou’s eyes lit up when she met Holly’s father, Dan, and so did his, Holly said.

“It was love at first sight between my dad and that dog,” she said.

Penni got along fine with the other animals in the house. She loved to dig in the yard, fetch Frisbees and get treats.

Photo courtesy of Holly Tonini 

Photo courtesy of Holly Tonini

Penni Lou happily retrieves one of her favorite toys, a frisbee, last month.

“It was a pretty normal dog-filled life until Friday, Nov. 30, 2018,” Holly said.

Her mother, Amy, called her and said Penni wasn’t acting right. She wasn’t as mobile. A few years prior, Penni had partially torn an ACL. They went to the veterinarian the next day, a Saturday, to see if that’s what was ailing her. The vet told them she had an 80% tear in the opposite leg.

The treatment plan was “bed rest, no playing, no steps, no jumping,” Holly said.

Within two days Penni lost almost all mobility in her hind end, so Monday they returned to the vet. The vet suggested if Penni didn’t improve by morning, they should take her to the Pittsburgh Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Center in the North Hills. By the time Tuesday morning came, Penni couldn’t stand on her legs.

“She could lift her head, but that was it,” Holly said.

At PVSEC, Penni was put through a number of tests, including spinal X-rays, an MRI, cancer screenings and a test for Lyme disease. The experts narrowed it down to a rare type of paralysis called polyradiculoneuritis, or, more commonly known as coonhound paralysis. Her condition had nothing to do with the torn ACL.

“I’d never heard of it before,” Holly said. “There isn’t a test for it. They had to do every single other test they could to rule out any other cause of the paralysis.”

Penni’s specialist, Dr. Edward MacKillop, an animal neurologist, told them it can be trigged if a dog comes in contact with raccoon saliva. He told Holly that they see an average of only one case a year and that it takes seven to 10 days before it reaches its worst point, she said.

That worst point came in the hospital’s intensive care unit after a week, when they suspected the paralysis had reached Penni’s lungs. The doctors put Penni on an IVIG drip, or intravenous immune globulin.

“It got to the point where we either try this and she gets better, or we try it and it doesn’t work and she dies, or we don’t try it and she probably dies,” Holly said. “It was the only option.”

Tonini said the doctors told her dogs typically recover from the paralysis.

“I think that’s what kept us going,” she said. “How can you give up on something that’s supposed to get better and something that was so full of life?”

At one point, Holly thought Penni would die while on the IVIG.

“She looked so bad,” Holly said. “I stayed there with her for a long time. I was dreading the phone call the next morning. I was expecting the worst news.”

But when the doctor called, Penni had “perked up,” Holly said. She was lifting her head.

Doctors told Holly and her parents that Penni would have a slow recovery, but they taught them how to do physical therapy with Penni – bicycling her legs and doing stretches.

Photo courtesy of Holly Tonini 

Photo courtesy of Holly Tonini

Penni Lou recovers in a homemade doggy wheelchair from her bout with coonhound paralysis.

Their living room turning into a “little doggy ICU,” with house-training pads, Penni’s bed and a fan nearby. Holly and her parents slept on the couch in shifts, because Penni would cry in the night needing to be moved or rolled over.

“It was like having a newborn in the house,” Holly said. “We were exhausted and we worried about her all the time.”

It was also a huge financial burden. With vet visits, a weeklong ICU stay, testing, treatments and medication, the cost of her care reached nearly $10,000, Holly said. She said her family had a “guardian angel” and animal-lover who helped them out financially.

Holly, who was a photographer at the Observer-Reporter, took some vacation time and shifted her work schedule around so Penni would never be left alone.

“Every day she would do something new, like the tail would wiggle or she’d start to push herself forward or try to crawl,” Holly said. “Everything she did we praised and would give her healthy treats – that was her motivation.”

They used a carpeted wooden block that Dan made to prop her up for physical therapy. They also tried putting her in the tub with a doggy life vest to get her legs moving, but Penni’s not a fan of water.

By February, Penni could sit up, but still couldn’t walk. The Toninis made a doggy wheelchair out of PVC pipe, fabric and chair wheels. She started making progress, always moving in the direction of the nearest food or treat.

“Her excitement and her will to get better and to walk again is what kept us going,” Holly said. “She never had that sadness to her. She never gave up.”

Penni started walking again on Feb. 21, 2019. She heard Holly scooping food in the next room and took a few steps in that direction while barking loudly for tasty reinforcements. After that, she steadily regained movement, and was 100% by May.

“You’d never know now that she ever had anything wrong,” Holly said.

Photo courtesy of Holly Tonini 

Photo courtesy of Holly Tonini

Holly Tonini and Penni Lou enjoy the outdoors last year during Penni’s recovery from coonhound paralysis.

Penni may not be aware of just how great a recovery she made, how many sacrifices were made for her, or how deeply she’s loved, but she’s definitely thankful to be her energetic, playful self again, Holly said.

Now, almost a year since Penni took those first steps, Holly reflected on Penni’s namesake. She said she can’t listen to The Clarks’ “Penny on the Floor” anymore without crying:

“There’s a penny on the floor and it stays as a tribute to the ways you filled my soul with courage, hope, and grace.”

Local pastor credits her dad with inventing groundhog cookie cutter

It may not be gospel, but the pastor of Bentleyville United Methodist Church credits her father with coming up with a cookie cutter in the shape of Phil, the most famous groundhog in Pennsylvania.

“He invented the cookie cutter and the recipe” for iced sugar cookie groundhogs, the Rev. Barbara Bailey of Washington said Friday of her father, Joseph Morris.

She pegged the date of the cookie cutter’s introduction as post-war.

Morris was from Punxsutawney, but he went to Pittsburgh during World War II to work as a welder, so he was certainly familiar with metal.

Returning to his hometown in Jefferson County afterward, he went back to baking at the family business, the MacKenzie Restaurant and Bakery on Mahoning Street, where he came up with the shadow-seer-shaped treat in profile, sitting on his haunches.

Does a cookie cutter for the weather-forecasting observance mean six more weeks of calories? Phil’s burrow, it seems, was sitting on a goldmine waiting to be discovered.

If only Morris had patented that cookie cutter, because the 1993 film, “Groundhog Day,” put Punxy on the map.

Bailey said Bill Murray, the star of the rom-com, stopped by the MacKenzie Restaurant and Bakery while preparing for his role.

‘My mother and my aunt ran the restaurant, and he talked with my mom (Helen Morris) and Aunt Ruth” MacKenzie.

Although the scenes passed off as Punxsutawney in the production were actually shot in Illinois, there is a restaurant Bailey recognizes as being based on her family’s establishment, with one glaring difference.

The strict Methodist MacKenzies “would never serve alcohol,” she said.

Bailey, in her teens, worked there, too, and the experience, she said, was enough to tamp down any interest she may have otherwise cultivated in the culinary arts.

But she has friends, Keith and Linda Rieder of Waynesburg – also connected to Punxsutawney- who will be baking and delivering woodchuck cookies crafted according to Joseph Morris’ recipe so those who come to Bentleyville United Methodist, 712 Main St., can celebrate at 10:30 a.m. Sunday in style.

“The people at my church were really taken with this idea, and I thought, since it was on Sunday....”

Children of the congregation have already been outfitted with groundhog T-shirts and, Bailey, mixing religion with her roots, will preach a sermon on the topic, “Home and Where It Really Is.”

That man should not live on marmot munchies alone seems to run in her family. Her son, Brian Bailey, baked Joseph Morris’ groundhog cookies for the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Pasadena, Calif., but he’s now serving a church in Myrtle Beach, S.C., while he studies to be a minister.

Bailey’s brother, Timothy Morris, was a member of the Groundhog Club, and she still has family members in both Punxsutawney and DuBois.

“Since I’m serving a church, I don’t get to go back a lot,” she said.

“I don’t go on Groundhog Day – it’s too crowded.”

Trump acquittal now likely Wednesday; Senate nixes witnesses

WASHINGTON – The Senate narrowly rejected Democratic demands to summon witnesses for President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial late Friday, all but ensuring Trump’s acquittal in just the third trial to threaten a president’s removal in U.S. history. But senators moved to push off final voting on his fate to next Wednesday.

The delay in timing showed the weight of a historic vote bearing down on senators, despite prodding by the president eager to have acquittal behind him in an election year and ahead of his State of the Union speech Tuesday.

Under an agreement to be voted on Friday night, the trial would resume Monday for final arguments, with time Monday and Tuesday for senators to speak. The final voting would be Wednesday, the day after Trump’s speech.

Trump’s acquittal appeared all but set after a hard-fought effort to allow new witness es was defeated 51-49 on a near party-line vote. Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah voted with the Democrats, but that was not enough.

Despite the Democrats singular focus on hearing new testimony, the Republican majority brushed past those demands to make this the first impeachment trial without witnesses. Even new revelations Friday from former national security adviser John Bolton did not sway GOP senators, who said they’d heard enough.

That means the eventual outcome for Trump will be an acquittal “in name only,” said Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., a House prosecutor, during final debate. Some called it a cover-up.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer called Friday night’s results “a tragedy on a very large scale.” Protesters’ chants reverberated against the walls of the Capitol.

But Republicans said Trump’s acquittal is justified and inevitable.

“The sooner the better for the country,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Trump confidant. “Let’s turn the page.”

The next steps come in the heart of presidential campaign season before a divided nation. Democratic caucus voting begins Monday in Iowa, and Trump gives his State of the Union address the next night. Four Democratic candidates have been chafing in the Senate chamber rather than campaigning.

Trump was impeached by the House last month on charges the he abused power and obstructed Congress like no other president has done as he tried to pressure Ukraine to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden, and then blocked the congressional probe of his actions.

The Democrats had badly wanted testimony from Bolton, whose forthcoming book links Trump directly to the charges. But Bolton won’t be summoned, and none of this appeared to affect the trial’s expected outcome. Democrats forced a series of procedural votes late Friday to call Bolton and White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, among others, but they were all being rejected.

In an unpublished manuscript, Bolton writes that the president asked him during an Oval Office meeting in early May to bolster his effort to get Ukraine to investigate Democrats, according to a person who read the passage and told The Associated Press. The person, who was not authorized to disclose contents of the book, spoke only on condition of anonymity.

In the meeting, Bolton said the president asked him to call new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and persuade him to meet with Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who was planning to go to Ukraine to coax the Ukrainians to investigate the president’s political rivals. Bolton writes that he never made the call to Zelenskiy after the meeting, which included acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone.

The revelation adds more detail to allegations of when and how Trump first sought to influence Ukraine to aid investigations of his rivals that are central to the abuse of power charge in the first article of impeachment.

The story was first reported last Friday by The New York Times.

Trump issued a quick denial.

“I never instructed John Bolton to set up a meeting for Rudy Giuliani, one of the greatest corruption fighters in America and by far the greatest mayor in the history of NYC, to meet with President Zelenskiy,” Trump said. “That meeting never happened.”

Key Republican senators said even if Trump committed the offenses as charged by the House, they are not impeachable and the partisan proceedings must end.

“I didn’t need any more evidence because I thought it was proved that the president did what he was charged with doing,” retiring GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, a late holdout, told reporters Friday at the Capitol. “But that didn’t rise to the level of an impeachable offense.”

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said she, too, would oppose more testimony in the charged partisan atmosphere, having “come to the conclusion that there will be no fair trial in the Senate.’’ She said, “The Congress has failed.”

Eager for a conclusion, Trump’s allies nevertheless suggested the shift in timing to extend the proceedings into next week, acknowledging the significance of the moment for senators who want to give final speeches.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made the offer to Schumer, but it was not yet final.

Under the proposal, the Senate would resume Monday for final arguments, with time Monday and Tuesday for senators to speak. The final voting would be Wednesday.

To bring the trial toward a conclusion, Trump’s attorneys argued the House had already heard from 17 witnesses and presented its 28,578-page report to the Senate. They warned against prolonging it even further after House impeached Trump largely along party lines after less than thee months of formal proceedings making it the quickest, most partisan presidential impeachment in U.S. history.

Some senators pointed to the importance of the moment.

“What do you want your place in history to be?” asked one of the House managers, Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., a former Army Ranger.

Trump is almost assured of eventual acquittal with the Senate nowhere near the 67 votes needed for conviction and removal.

To hear more witnesses, it would have taken four Republicans to break with the 53-seat majority and join with all Democrats in demanding more testimony. But that effort fell short.

Chief Justice John Roberts, in the rare role presiding over the impeachment trial, could break a tie, but that seems unlikely. Asked late Friday, he told senators it would be “inappropriate.”

Murkowski noted in announcing her decision that she did not want to drag the chief justice into the partisan fray.

Though protesters stood outside the Capitol, few visitors have been watching from the Senate galleries.

Bolton’s forthcoming book contends he personally heard Trump say he wanted military aid withheld from Ukraine until it agreed to investigate the Bidens. Trump denies saying such a thing.

The White House has blocked its officials from testifying in the proceedings and objected that there are “significant amounts of classified information” in Bolton’s manuscript. Bolton resigned last September – Trump says he was fired – and he and his attorney have insisted the book does not contain any classified information.


Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Andrew Taylor, Matthew Daly, Laurie Kellman, Deb Riechmann and Padmananda Rama contributed to this report.

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Man dies following Donora rollover crash

A Donora man died after his vehicle rolled over Thursday night in Donora.

The vehicle operated by Derrick A. Dow, 41, struck an embankment, causing it to roll over near the intersection of state Route 837 and Donora Road about 8 p.m., according to the Washington County coroner.

He was not wearing a seat belt, the coroner reported.

Dow was pronounced dead at 9:20 p.m.

Donora police were assisted at the scene by Carroll Township police, Donora Volunteer Fire Department and Mon Valley EMS.