Every so often, Bill and Mickie Britton get a card in the mail with a little pocket change taped to the back. The cards are from a blind girl trying to say thanks for a miracle.
The Brittons say their lives - and back yard - are full of such wonders.The only problem is cleaning up after them.
They run the Companion Golden Retriever Rescue Program out of their West Jordan home. The non-profit business, which operates on a shoestring and a lot of good will, has one goal: finding homes for abandoned dogs.
Sure, the name implies the canines have to be the caramel-colored, good-natured retrievers, and likenesses of the popular breed adorn everything from their mailbox to coffee cups. But the only genuine requirement is that the animals have four legs and a wagging tail.
And, really, those are optional.
To Britton, any dog is better than no dog at all - and most are preferable to people.
"Dogs are very big medicine," said the 64-year-old retired government worker and disabled veteran, a dog at either hand. "The therapy of having a dog in your life is just out of this world."
He's found homes for sick dogs, blind dogs and old dogs - 1,800 in all since the rescue program was begun by his wife and a friend six years ago. He can prove it, too - a half dozen photo albums stuffed with Polaroids of his canine charges crowd a corner of the mantel.
A medical-bill collection manager during the day, Mickie spends her nights on the phone arranging for dogs or making pickups. Friends consider her the backbone of the organization, while Bill is seen as a sort of idea-a-minute huckster with a knack for getting things done.
Witness the 2,000 tennis balls (something for the retrievers to, well, retrieve) donated by Pepsi-Cola, or the hundreds of old Primary Children's hospital blankets that line the four kennels in his basement.
Bill long ago gave up trying to grow a lawn. His back yard is covered with hay - donated, of course - to make the daily cleanup a little easier. Dog runs in the back yard were donated. Ditto the truck in the driveway.
The $2,500 needed to register as a nonprofit corporation? Given by a local gynecologist and golden retriever owner. And Bill skirted ordinances that require a kennel license by finagling a noncompliance permit.
Every day, Britton said, the mail brings a letter "from one of my dogs" and a check or two. Dog food is bought below wholesale, and vets give them discount rates.
Britton is a walking conundrum with a gruff, south Texas drawl. A combat soldier in World War II and Korea, he's seen people do horrible things to one another. So he's placed his faith in canines.
"There's people I'd like to kill cuz of their cruelty to animals. But a dog loves you whether you've got money in the bank or not," he says, his eyes misting and voice cracking.
"If you had no home and had to sleep in the gully, that dog would lie down beside you and be just as happy."
Britton's got no shortage of stories of man's inhumanity to beast. Yet he's got dozens of tales with happy endings, like the little blind girl, which he jots down as children's stories.
"I'm about 50 ahead of the publisher," he says wryly.
And not all of the stories can be found on paper - one greets visitors with a ferocious bark. Savannah is Britton's monstrous German shepherd and constant companion.
He got the dog from the animal shelter after her owner had passed away. The dog had spent several days in the house with her dead master and had "willed herself to die."
Britton nursed Savannah back to health, and now she is a trained service dog, often seen sitting beside Britton at the poker tables in Wendover.
Britton is a certified animal behaviorist and has placed a number of service dogs with disabled veterans and other handicapped individuals. One is Remington, a companion retriever to 32-year-old Barbara DeMent of Kearns.
DeMent was barely able to get around the house following radical surgery five years ago. Often alone, she lost her will to live.
Her family, in desperation, got her Remington - an abandoned dog trained by Britton - who helps her negotiate stairs and answers the phone and door.
"I don't know what I'd do without him," she said. "If I need help getting up and down the stairs, I can call him over, and he'll let me hold onto his collar and pull me up."
Britton says he's placed some 30 trained companions with the dis-abled.
Any visit with Britton is interrupted by phone calls. Some from people looking for dogs, others from area animal shelters. Virtually every shelter in Utah - and dozens in surrounding states - know who to call when they've got a stray golden.
All of the animal shelters list him as a last resort before euthanasia.
"Whenever we get a retriever in, it'll turn out that some time or another it was his," said Sandy animal control officer Scott Harrison. "He can come in and look at a dog and tell us who he adopted it out to."
Britton's the first to admit he can't save all the dogs, but his philosophy is simple: The ones he does save make a difference in people's lives.
And, perhaps as important to him, it makes a difference to the dog.
Take Mocha, a golden retriever born without eyes in an illegal breeding mill in Ogden. Britton refused to allow the animal to be put down. Instead, he found Owen Wait, a retired schoolteacher in Cedar City.
"Sometimes I think this dog is the greatest thing that ever happened to me," says the 70-year-old Wait. He owns three retrievers, but Mocha is special.
"She's not as secure as other dogs - not always running around chasing rabbits," he says. "She's content to sit at my feet and let us love her and love her."
Sometimes, Wait will sit with Mocha and describe the world she can't see. He has a T-shirt that reads, "Seeing Eye Human."
Not just anyone can walk up and take one of Britton's furry charges. While he doesn't sell them, he does require a new owner to pay for shots and spaying and neutering to help offset often horrendous veterinary bills.
He won't let a dog go if it hasn't been fixed; there are enough dogs without homes, he said. New owners also must have a fenced yard and promise to let the dog sleep in the house.
"It's tougher to adopt a kid than one of my dogs," he said.
Even then, Britton often solicits a promise that if, for any reason, an owner doesn't want the dog, it will be returned to him. Giving them up is hard enough.
"Sometimes, I just cry when I see them looking up at me, wondering why I'm sending them away," he says, his voice cracking. "It's like they're saying, `I was happy here? What did I do?' "