SAANICH -- “Come on, kitten!” Debbie says, as she opens a cage to cradle a cat. “Come on!”

Her long list of responsibilities at the CRD Animal Shelter includes cuddling kittens.

“I’m a lover of all animals,” Debbie smiles. “And a pooper-scooper when I’m the kennel assistant.”

When she’s not cleaning up after them, she’s sorting through donations for them.

“There’s sometimes donations we can’t use,” Debbie says, before showing me a Burberry plaid animal jacket that she felt could be particularly useful.

“In event that we get a little dog over Christmas,” she explains, before revealing that’s exactly what happened. “In she comes!”

A disheveled little dog was discovered wandering around with a leash, but without an owner at the other end.

“We were kind of concerned,” Debbie’s boss, Don, says. “We thought that somebody was walking it and they had a heart attack or an accident or got hit by a car or something.”

While Don set out to solve the mystery, Debbie put that Burberry jacket on the dog. She brought her home over the holidays, because she needed a lot of extra care, and named the pup after a beloved aunt.

“[She] had disheveled hair and a few things wrong with her, but she was the happiest, sweetest lady,” Debbie says of her aunt. Then she noticed the dog was happy and sweet too. “So, ‘Maria,’ came to mind.”

Maria and Debbie seemed inseparable, until Don finally got a call from a friend of the dog’s owner.

“The friend said she’s in Hong Kong,” Don recalls. “And because of COVID-19, (she) can’t come back into the country.”

When they finally contacted the owner, they were told it was the dog-sitter who’d let Maria loose.

The owner paid for Maria’s initial vet bills. But when she was told there’d be at least $3,000 more coming – and that Debbie was doing such a good job of fostering Maria – she did what she thought was best for the dog.

“She decided to surrender the dog to us and put it up for adoption,” Don says.

They also asked the owner what Maria’s actual name was. She said Burberry.

Debbie was shocked. What are the odds, she wondered, that the jacket she’d felt compelled to keep for a dog she hadn’t yet met, would end up having the same name.

“Somehow she came looking for us, or I was waiting for her to meet me,” Debbie smiles. “It was more than a coincidence.”

So, despite the looming vet bills, and despite the dog’s special needs, Debbie adopted Burberry.

“She’s found her home,” Debbie smiles.