Billie-Sue Mitchell often takes her 6-month-old emu, Dennis, on walks through Garden of the Gods. Dennis has brought some joy to Mitchell’s life after she suffered the loss of her brother in an accident in September. (Video by Skyler Ballard)

What people saw on the afternoon of Oct. 18 at Garden of the Gods was a woman walking a big bird on a leash.

Social media went wild over Billie-Sue Mitchell and Dennis the emu.

“It was the first time in a while I thought I would try to take a picture of myself,” said Mitchell, 55. “I put up my camera, and there were so many people behind me. And it just lifted my spirits.”

The curious crowd knew nothing about the events of Sept. 13.

That evening, Mitchell got a call. It was about her brother in California. The brother who always shared her love of animals, who always called to ask about her family. He’d soon move his own to Colorado, to be together again.

He was riding his motorcycle, Mitchell was told on the phone.

Her knees buckled. “No! No! No!” she cried.

Joshua Bellows, husband and father of two, was dead at 43.

For weeks, Mitchell couldn’t bring herself to leave her home on the acre of land south of Colorado Springs. In the backyard birdhouse lived the baby fuzzball-turned-5-foot, long-legged, beady-eyed child. Emus, Mitchell read, made good pets if properly raised. And good guards for her ducks. She contacted a breeder.

Turned out, Dennis became her guard.

In her grief, he’d make her laugh. He’d keep her busy. She’d feel his warmth when hugging him to attach his harness. They’d walk around the block.

Slowly, she thought of returning to their favorite place, that sanctuary of red rocks.

“I thought for the rest of my life I’d be in this blackness,” Mitchell said. “To take him out and see people smiling ... it made me feel alive again.”

She was happy as ever to tell admirers about Dennis.

About how he loves her dog, Blue. How he loves to dance. How he loves to ride in the truck.

“He loves chasing motorcycles,” she said.

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