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Philly woman killed by train rescuing dog was Islamic art scholar

Wherever Michelle Rein went, Taz, her black Chihuahua, went, too. Taz was trained to nudge her mistress and offer emotional support when bouts of disabling pain washed over her.

Wherever Michelle Rein went, Taz, her black Chihuahua, went, too.

Taz was trained to nudge her mistress and offer emotional support when bouts of disabling pain washed over her.

On Friday, at the Bryn Mawr train station, Rein reacted as one who considers a dog as family. Taz had become agitated and strayed onto the tracks, and Rein stepped off the platform.

Before she could cradle the dog and stand up, the train was on her, a witness said. Rein, 44, of Center City, a student of Islamic art and architecture, died instantly of massive injuries, police said.

Taz was thrown clear of the train and is recovering from a dislocated hip and fractured femur, said a spokesman for the Montgomery County SPCA, where the dog was taken. After treatment, Taz was adopted Sunday by a family member.

"To Michelle, her dog was like her child, and she did what any mother would do," Rein's cousin, Gary Rosen, said in a comment posted on the Save Ardmore Coalition website. "Everyone is just stunned. It is hard to believe."

According to family and friends, Rein suffered from chronic regional pain syndrome, an autoimmune illness that incapacitates its victims.

"It made it very difficult for her to type and carry things," said Holly Pittman, chairman of the University of Pennsylvania's art history department, who was her mentor.

Despite her ailment, Rein did research, lectured, and traveled widely. Her specialties were Islamic art and women's traditions in Morocco, Pittman said.

"She was such a wonderful presence around the department," Pittman said.

Rein's most recent assignment, in the fall of 2008, was that of adjunct professor in the history department at Villanova University. She taught a course called Women in the Middle East, said university spokesman Jonathan Gust.

On Friday, Rein was returning with her dog and laptop from Villanova, where she had gone to do research, said her father, Irwin Rein.

Witnesses disagree on whether the dog was wearing a leash when it bolted onto the tracks. Sarah M. Brennan, a Radnor paralegal who was on the train, said minutes after the accident that she saw the dog in a bystander's arms with a leash and a green vest on.

Another eyewitness recalled seeing the vest but not the leash. SPCA officials said the dog was not wearing even the vest when they saw it Friday night.

Rein was born in Bergen County, N.J, where she attended Wyckoff High School. She graduated from the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1989 with a degree in art history. She earned a master's degree in 1997 in Islamic Indian architecture and epigraphy from the University of Pennsylvania's Department of History.

In 1998, she began work on a doctorate about Islamic art and architecture, and had passed qualifying examinations when "her disease got the best of her," Irwin Rein said.

"The university was very good to her. It kept her in the program anyway," he said.

Rein spoke Arabic and had trained in the Moroccan and Berber dialects, her father said. From 1998 to 1999, she was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to study in Morocco toward her dissertation. In 2002 and 2003, she studied under a Woodrow Wilson fellowship keyed to religion.

She lectured at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, at a Congress of the History of Art in London, and at the State University of New York. Her publications included entries in the Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures.

Irwin Rein said his daughter was active in women's rights in the Arab world. Four years ago, he said, she attended a conference in Iran, but she was detained by Iranian police when she went to the airport to leave.

She spent several days under arrest and was released after the U.S. State Department intervened, he said.

"Go directly to the airport and get out," she was counseled, her father said. She did and arrived home safely.

She is survived by her mother, Marsha; a brother, Jeffrey; and a sister, Stephanie, who adopted Taz.

Her father said his daughter was a devoted fan of the Grateful Dead and traveled all over the country to hear the group perform. He said he expected fans who were her friends to attend her funeral service Tuesday.

The service will be at 11:30 a.m. at Menorah Chapel, 2950 Vaux Hall Rd., Vaux Hall, N.J. Interment will be in Mount Lebanon Cemetery, Iselin, N.J.

Donations may be made to the Ryan Hospital Charitable Care Fund, Ryan is the veterinary hospital in Philadelphia where Taz is receiving additional treatment.