Thursday, June 6, 2024
Duane and Athena
Captain Duane Heil and athena on board grateful, olbia, Sardinia, Italy
“I woke up and she was gone.”
Duane Heil, aboard Grateful, Olbia, Sardinia
Our next in his series, FINDING GRATEFUL, contributing editor/writer/world traveler/adventurer, Duane Heil, finds himself looking for Athena which only weeks before, he had adopted from a local shelter. As quickly as Athena had become part of the Grateful family, she was gone. More than 50,000 social media followers went looking. This is the story of Finding Athena.
Duane Heil for The National Business Post
December 16, 2021
Log Entry 4
Usually, I’m spending my time sailing, and writing my column, FINDING GRATEFUL, but suddenly, I found myself Finding Athena instead!
It’s not every day you lose a dog, but Friday the 13th (of August), was that day.
I woke up to silence, not the usual clanking of Athena’s dog tag, the one I had custom made at the tent side street-vendor lady, the one who giggled when Athena curiously nosed into her letter cutting machine while my phone number – the Spanish one – was being engraved into a metal plate – black – the type one might find on used for a soldier’s ‘dog tag’. I wanted it strong, and beautiful, just like Athena. I had paired it with a red harness, similar to the bright head-sail that everyone recognizes on Grateful.
It took a few minutes for the reality to sink in.
I had only adopted Athena a month ago, but we had bonded immediately. She went everywhere. Dinners, beaches, dingy rides, even crossed a following sea from Sardenga to Roma – a night sail with 40 knot winds and she was smart enough to stay safe inside all night. It was just the two of us as we flew across the Mediterranean, topping out at 14 knots. I was in my usual place, during such passages, asleep on the saloon couch.
At various times during the passage, in the moonless black of night, two-meter swells engulfed the entire boat. With the autopilot holding well, the impacts made a noise reminding me of the pile-drivers used when they built the new bay bridge, back in the day, in Oakland. (Noises like that in a boat, far away from land, never go unnoticed. You never get ‘used’ to it.) Athena would jump from her otherwise sleepy slumber on every impact, looking at me as if to ask if all was ok.
“Yes baby, go back to sleep. I’m going to finish the Netflix series.”
In Roma, we took the bus, train, metro and cruised the city. It was a first for both of us. We even made the Vatican, then dinner in Trestavere. Made more friends. Then, five days later, we made another passage, this time with the south winds and a gennaker run for 12 hours.
My son Slater was on board. The three of us had a blast. For days after, we took turns taking Athena to the beach on the SUP (stand up paddle board). A natural, she would leap from the boat to the board and always nailed the landing.
But there was silence. I jumped on the bike and cruised Olbia, to all the places we’d been. Nothing.
Slater and Athena
Slater and Athena on the SUP in Italy, August 2021

We had been side tied to Molo Brin for days as I wasinstalling a new water maker. She was always within scratching distance if she could be. (At night she turns into the ultimate guard dog, warning passers by to keep their distance with the slightest growl.) Protective. And last night, with more than a dozen partiers walking along the walk, Athena woke me to let me know. I calmed her down, and she went back to sleep. We both did.
But this morning, this Friday, the 13th, no Athena. Maybe she had been curious, I know she LOVES soccer balls. Goes CRAZY for people playing games. Maybe she just got curious.
But a stray, with that bright red harness, and that huge tag, I kept expecting a call.
So all I could think was the worst.
I was emotional, and made a very quick, irrational post on my Instagram and Facebook accounts. I used the word “stolen.” Maybe that was wrong, probably was wrong. But at the moment, I barely thought about the wording. I just wanted to let the community know she was out there.
Then the story and the search went viral.
Going viral… Two posts, at this moment, now up to 600 shares and 50,000 looks. Wow, wow, wow. This broke records, and my heart. People I didn’t even know who follow me, reached out with sympathy.
One guy, a local, Paolo, started texting me with random sightings. This is a small town, and despite the tourists, the locals see all.
He started getting messages thru the late night hours, that she had been spotted but no one could catch her. She wouldn’t be caught.
Paolo was especially aware, because we had first met at his day job, in the industrial district, a few weeks ago, as I had come in to find parts for my boat. As always, Athena came with, and he noticed the strong bond between us. So he began to follow my Instagram, Grateful Travel.
But the idea that Athena was not approachable was so foreign to me. When I first met her a month ago in the shelter, she was way in the back row, in the newer kennels. She had a super thick coat. And living on a boat, I was hoping for a dog with less hair, but I reasoned I would just spend time brushing. Why not, I have the time.
But soon after she came to live with me, I began to brush off that first thick coat of hair – the type that leaves a hand covered in short blond hairs from a simple pat – which she gets LOTS of – I started to notice that she was getting a tighter and shinier coat. As a side note, I took her to all the beach parties and she would get loved on, to the point where now she barely sheds at all. I don’t even have to brush her now. This is the thing about love, when we get an abundance, it cures almost all our other ills.
Still, my phone never rang. Another day, and night, the silence was deafening.
Then, at 6:30 the next morning, I got a WhatsApp video of Athena being picked up by another local, Giada. Olbia, Sardenga, it turns out, has one of best run dog shelters in the world… The shelter is headed up by the wise, happy, always smiling, Cosetta Prontu. 700 dogs and 300 cats, live in a sheltered space just below the approach end of the Olbia Airport. (If you’re sitting on the left side of the plane, next time you fly in, just about the time your phone finally lights up before touchdown, glance outside and down. They are all there, animals in shelter, waiting for love and support from a potential new owner, wanting to become part of your family.)
A few calls later, and another volunteer, Sergio, asked if I needed a ride to the shelter. Sergio proceeded to tell me his story on the ride over.
Forty years an oil broker, retired. As life went on, he became more and more in tuned with the natural world, and especially animals, to the point where he no longer wanted to kill any animal to eat. Along his new journey, he began to volunteer at the Olbia Shelter. And more than anything, what he began to notice, was this unending happiness and glow he felt around Cosetta. (Having met her for the initial checkout of Athena, I can totally attest to this.) She’s sort of a small town Mother Teresa for animals.
So Sergio started spending more and more time at the shelter, to the point where he has now personally built a few of the bigger kennels, almost single handedly. And he says that it continues to make him the happiest he’s ever been in his life. But he also told me that despite the fact that this shelter gives so many public service benefits, it is only partially funded by the City of Olbia, and that there is so much more they could do if only they had additional funding. With an annual budget of $600,000, could you imagine if this shelter didn’t exist at all? It would be animal mayhem on the streets of Olbia.
At last look, the social posts have reached about 50,000 views from sympathizers. I started thinking. Clearly there is a community, both local and around the world, that cares. The love that I was shown was simply overwhelming. But the story of Finding Athena is just one of many. The mass of animals and the relatively small number of volunteers that take care of them globally are in dyer need of YOUR help.
Cosetta in Olbia, Sardinia
Doggie Dream Team: Cosetta and Sergio

Here’s a link where you can make a donation to Lida Olbia. Simply indicate in the description, the donation amount and how you heard about them. Lida Olbia Animal Shelter.
I offered a reward for the safe return of Athena. So I just wired 1000 Euro to the shelter. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! And, please continue to share this story, till it really goes viral and hits 500,000, or 5,000,000. It’ll make you feel really good and it will allow this kennel to continue its mission and much needed work.
A final note, as some of you may know, I dropped out of regular society about 3 years ago, flew to Turkey and bought this beautiful boat, a Beneteau Sense 50 to sail the world. Since then I have sailed about 18,000 miles. Along the way I have stopped at so many shelters, from Greece to the Canaries, looking for and trying to find my match. I finally got lucky. No, I got Athena. But, there are thousands of dogs that need you.
My advice, adopt an animal in need and you will see what I have come to experience. Grateful for knowing Athena and so glad that she has returned back home to me.
I remain,
Finding Grateful…
Captain Duane
Copyright © 2021. The National Business Post. All rights reserved.
Duane Heil is owner and Captain of Grateful, a 50′ Beneteau Sense that is currently sailing around the world. A successful builder/developer from San Luis Obispo, Duane has built more than 80 custom homes throughout the Bay area and Southern California and owns several building system patents. In 2018, Duane began a journey to find Grateful. He continues to explore and write as he makes his way back to this side of the pond. If you would like to connect with Duane, you can reach him here:
Instagram @grateful_travel