Nova Scotia

Missing dove's visit to terminally ill boy a 'message from God'

Leeland Hill, a 9-year-old boy from Dartmouth, N.S., who was recently diagnosed with a terminal brain condition, had requested people send him letters and pictures of their pets. An owner of a dove planned to mail a photo, but then the dove flew away and ended up at Hill's window.

A dove owner planned to mail some photos of her pet to Leeland Hill, 9, but then the dove flew to his home

Leeland Hill with Valerie Martel and the dove named Serenity. (Valerie Martell/Facebook)

When a little dove named Serenity escaped from her cage last week, she ended up at the window of a nine-year-old terminally ill boy from Dartmouth, N.S., a few days later.

Denise Hill was hesitant to let the bird into the home, but when it became apparent that it was a pet —  the dove let her touch it — she brought Serenity into the home and the bird flew over to her son.

"As soon as Leeland touched her, he looked at me and said, 'Mommy, it's a message from God, I'm going to be OK,'" Denise Hill told CBC's Mainstreet on Wednesday.

But that's only the beginning of the story.

Hill's family had recently put out a request for letters on social media, especially ones about animals and pets with pictures.

Mainstreet host Jeff Douglas speaks with Valerie Martel and Denise Hill of Dartmouth about a story that involves a terminally ill child and a stranger's pet dove. 16:24

The dove's owner, Valerie Martel, had been working on a picture book about her dove, Serenity, to send to Leeland Hill on Tuesday, July 16. On that day, Martel was leaving the house and she tripped. The cage then came undone when it hit the patio door, allowing Serenity to escape.

Martel searched for Serenity for days and eventually placed a lost ad on Kijiji on Friday.

Serenity is a dove from Dartmouth, N.S., who escaped from her cage a week ago and ended up at the home of a terminally ill child.

By Saturday, July 20, Martel said she had given up on finding her dove.

Later that morning, her husband, Michael, received a phone call from a woman who said she found Serenity. Denise Hill had turned to Kijiji to see if anybody was missing a dove.

"I looked at the address that was on the paper that my husband had written and I said, 'I've seen that address somewhere ... that's the same street that little boy lives on.' And in my head, I'm going, 'It can't be,'" Martel said.

Valerie Martel and Serenity during their appearance on CBC's Mainstreet Halifax. (Diane Paquette/CBC)

It turns out Serenity was only one kilometre away from her home.

When Serenity arrived at the Hill's home, Denise Hill had just been on the phone making funeral arrangements because she didn't want to wait until the last minute.

"I just hung up the phone from the funeral home, had everything set, went to talk to my fiancé about it and I looked out the window and I'm like,'Oh my God, there's a dove.'"

Leeland Hill used his Children's Wish Foundation wish to visit his great-grandmother in St. John's and throw her a 90th birthday party. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

As the two women were speaking on the phone and Hill began talking about her son, Hill said Martel "got excited and that's when she told me she was in the middle of putting a book together [for Leeland] when this all happened."

Prior to this, Martel said she only knew about Leeland because he briefly attended the school where she works and had been in a colleague's class, but she never met him.

She also read about his request for letters on social media and read the news story about how he used his Children's Wish Foundation wish to visit his great-grandmother in St. John's and throw her a 90th birthday party.

Meeting Serenity has given Leeland peace, Denise Hill said.

CBC Radio Mainstreet host Jeff Douglas with Valerie Martell and Serenity. (Diane Paquette/CBC)

"He knows that he is dying of cancer, he's well aware of it and to him, this gives him the peace of knowing that he's going to be OK. He's not going to suffer," she said.

Denise Hill said Leeland is not doing well. She said he isn't able to walk at the moment, but his spirits and personality are still upbeat.

Martel has brought Serenity over for a follow-up visit and Denise Hill said that made Leeland very happy.

Angelic dove

Martel said she's glad Serenity led her and her husband to the Hill family.

"They're so courageous and they're such wonderful people. We always knew Serenity was very social, but with the Hill family, she just goes to them like she's always known them. Michael and I are just so amazed by that," Martel said.

Denise Hill said Leeland thinks Serenity is his angel and Martel said she believes what happened wasn't a coincidence.

"There's reasons things happen and if he wants to believe that Serenity is his angel and will give him the peace and that gives him hope to keep going, then so be it — I'm happy with that," Martel said.

With files from CBC's Mainstreet and Jeff Douglas

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