As a young girl growing up behind the Iron Curtain in Bulgaria, Nadia Ianakieva remembers the day the Communist authorities decided her town of Sophia had too many dogs, including her lovable mutt, Orlin.

"They were going around the houses and giving dogs poison," remembers Ianakieva, who was 7 or 8 years old at the time. "They did it in front of us. My mom was screaming. My grandma was crying. And I was crying."

They force-fed milk to Orlin, hoping to make the dog vomit up the poison, but Ianakieva's pet died, giving her a horrific story about her first dog.

The Hanover Park mom's recent story about her last dog is so inspiring it was included in the new book out this month, "Life Lessons from the Dog: 101 Tales of Family, Friendship & Fun." Published by the people who brought you "Chicken Soup for the Soul," the book chose Ianakieva's story, "Oso Concerned," about how she credits the family dog, Oso, with saving her life.

Sick and medicated, Ianakieva curled up under her comforter with a book and fell asleep. To Ianakieva's annoyance, 15-year-old Oso, hobbled by pain, barked, scratched, licked, jumped over a large painting Ianakieva hoped would block the staircase, and did everything a dog could do to wake her.

"And then it hit me. Oso had been waking me up every time I stopped breathing," Ianakieva concludes. "My Guardian Angel overcame his own arthritic pains -- even jumping over that painting and running up the stairs -- so he could keep me breathing."

In December, Oso was in such pain, Ianakieva had to put him down. "Our whole family, we took him for one last walk," she says, explaining how they used a jacket as a sling to lift the dog's hind legs.

Until Oso, Ianakieva didn't have a good track record with dogs. When she married in 1978, her husband's dogs chewed her wedding shoes, knocked over her father and were too much for her to handle.

Ianakieva had a master's degree in English literature and worked as an air traffic controller in Bulgaria, but she wasn't happy. Crime and vandalism plagued their neighborhood. She went out at night and drank too much.

Then she discovered a clandestine church in the basement of an old movie theater. She stopped drinking and started the first Alcoholics Anonymous group in Bulgaria. Her transformation was so remarkable, Ianakieva wrote a book, "The Red Dress Decision: True Stories of a Life Filled with God's Miracles."

A church friend immigrated to Palatine and persuaded Ianakieva to apply for a green card. "I never thought of coming to America," Ianakieva says. "But I believed in the will of God and that it would be better for my sons to grow up in America and get an education."

After two years of interviews, Ianakieva, her husband, Alexandar Naoumov, and their sons, Hristo (who goes by the nickname E.T.) and Andon (who goes by Andy) were granted green cards in 2000 and moved in with her friend in Palatine.

"It's hard being an immigrant in America," says Ianakieva, whose husband worked a night shift in a factory and also delivered pizzas, while she worked in a school library and waitressed. The family moved to an apartment in Des Plaines before buying their house in Hanover Park in 2002. She remembers the moment when she decided to add a dog to the mix.

"Mom, I need the tiger," her younger son pleaded as he spotted the stuffed animal during a shopping trip. "You're not with me anymore and I need someone to hug."

She spent her last $40 buying that tiger, but she had another plan. "I prayed all the time that God would find the exact dog we needed. A dog we would love and love us back," says Ianakieva, who discovered Oso (Spanish for bear) at an animal shelter in Chicago Ridge. "He was a tiny thing, but with that big fur, he looked like a bear."

Now 64, Ianakieva works as a teacher's assistant at Addison Trail High School, and her husband works in maintenance for a Buffalo Grove homeowners association. Her older son lives in Aurora and works as an architectural draftsman, while her younger son is a Chicago architect.

She gives most of the credit for turning around her life to God, but she won't diminish the value of one good dog.