BUFFALO, N.Y. – July 8, 2016 changed Veronica Hager's life forever.

A drunk driver crashed the car she was in, killing her friend. Hager spent eight weeks in ECMC's intensive care unit.

Her Long Island family was in Pennsylvania at the time.

"It was just six hours of agony,” recalls her mother, Maureen. “Just driving, it was...horrible."

Veronica, who was critical, was in an induced coma for some time.

Mary St. Mary, an Erie County SPCA Paws for Love volunteer and her well-behaved dog, Abner, were Hager’s first visitors after her parents.

“I walked into the room, and her mom and dad were there, and all I could see of the patient were her eyes,” said St. Mary, who has been visiting patients at ECMC and Buffalo General with Abner for three years.

St. Mary and Abner got to know Hager and her parents well before the first time Hager would remember meeting and petting the dog that brought her comfort.

Ultimately, Veronica spent three months in the hospital, and the whole time, Mary and Abner kept coming back.

"People...they come and they visit you for a half hour or an hour, and then they leave,” Hager said. “But you stay there, and you really need those things to look forward to because I'm going to lay in this bed for days on days on days.”

Abner brought happiness and comfort to not only Hager, but her concerned parents as well.

"You had to turn your attention to something else otherwise you don't even know how you're going to make it through the day if you don't look at something, find something positive,” said Maureen Hager.

Because Hager’s parents live far away, it’s been comforting and helpful to everyone that she has a local friend in St. Mary whenever she may need help.

And since that long hospital stay, Veronica has made an incredible recovery. She lives independently in a house she just bought, and most recently, the Paws for Love program inspired her to adopt her own SPCA dog.

"It really took my mind off things like the reality of what I'm going through, and that's kind of what Abner showed me that led me to adopt Althea,” Hager said.

She had to take a year off from school initially, but next weekend, she'll graduate college.

Along with her family, Mary St. Mary and Abner will be there, too.

Abner and the Paws for Love program has touched hundreds of patients' lives, but the bond with Veronica is different.

St. Mary and Abner were with her through the hardest time in her life, and now they'll be there for her always.

"You know, family is family. They'll always be there, and I really feel like Mary and Abner have become my family,” Hager said.