By ETHAN HARTLEY -- Tara Cirella, along with her friend Christine Ellingwood, didn't intend to get a brother and sister puppy when they walked into the Animal Protection League. Until they did.
Tara Cirella, mother of Warwick teenager and Toll Gate High School soccer player Gianna Cirella, who passed away after a battle with sepsis on Nov. 1, has enlisted help to spread her new foundation’s message of trying to prevent more deaths from the unforgiving infection. She’s about a foot tall, has fuzzy brown fur, a purple-spotted collar, deep aqua-green eyes and squeaks a lot.
Yes, the new mascot for the Gianna Cirella Memorial Foundation, is a tiny Labrador/Australian shepherd puppy mix named, naturally, Gianna.
“I didn't set out to adopt a dog,” Tara said of the journey that brought her and her friend, Christine Ellingwood, to the East Greenwich Animal Protection League in Warwick about two weeks ago to visit with the foster pup, who was named Gianna after Tara’s other friend, Pauline, got to name her following a $50 donation to the shelter.
“I set up a time just to meet her, and then we came home with two puppies,” Tara said, laughing with Christine who, at the time, was holding both Gianna and her brother, a black lab puppy named Cooper. “It wasn't really a question. We kind of looked at each other and knew it was a done deal and it had to happen.”
Now the two best friends share a bond that has been strengthened even beyond the link that was forged under the sorrowful month that Tara, family and friends prayed for a better ending to Gianna’s story than eventually concluded.
They’re sister puppy moms now – and that’s for life.
Gianna and Cooper’s bond, also, is undeniable. Gianna managed to scoot her way onto Ellingwood’s lap and the two kissed noses and even appeared to hug for a bit. Ellingwood said that the puppies get together for play dates almost every day.
“It works to our advantage because they tire each other out,” she said. “And because they're such cute puppies the kids don't mind taking care of them and babysitting.”
And while no dog – no matter how cute – can ever replace the loss of a daughter, Tara said that puppy Gianna does help through some of the sadder moments.
“I was having a tough night last night and I just cuddled up and she crawls right under the blankets with me and snuggles in,” she said. “Like you said, there's no replacing, but it gives me something to snuggle in with and cry it out with a little bit.”
Now, in plans to spread more awareness about infectious blood disorders, such as sepsis, both puppies will likely have a role to play as they grow up and hopefully generate more public interest and awareness into a campaign that will try to salvage some positivity out of an ultimately heart-wrenching outcome.
“It's all you can do. You can't just leave it the way it is,” Tara said. “The only thing that we can do is try to make it stop happening. It's such an unknown. When we were in the hospital we were reading articles about how they didn't know how to stop it or how to fix it. We were fighting for Gianna's life and we were reading stuff like that.”
“We just want to keep saying it and letting people know and keep finding ways to make it better,” she continued. “We may never have enough money to actually make the pharmaceutical companies be able to solve it, but at least we can make people yell and scream and go to the hospital and say check me for this – whatever you can do; whatever helps.”