A Service Dog’s Final Request
When I met Michelle Ryan over twelve years ago, I met a kindred soul that was forever giving and generous, sometimes at the cost of her own health. It was soon after that she would start a wonderful journey to restore her soul. She was blessed with a new friend. A beautiful Golden Retriever named Horton. He was learning to be her service dog.
Horton’s duties were to help Michelle take care of herself. At times, Michelle’s illness was so debilitating that at night, he would be the crutch she used to get to the bathroom. We’ve been at Starbucks when a very quiet Horton would jump up and nuzzle her chin. She needed to take her medicine. Horton was a wonderful service dog and like all good dogs he was her best friend.
He was the reason she started Horton’s House – a doggie daycare and vacation kennel. She now hosts dogs on a regular basis. Even when she needed to move twenty miles away from her old place to a new sprawling farm to expand her services, customers followed her. Horton by her side helping evaluate all her new guests.
Just under a week ago, Michelle sent a message saying Horton was dying of cancer. I rushed an hour away to the farm to be by her side. We talked for hours about his life and what she was going to do. She had been told that Horton had maybe two months. She had time to figure it out.
My last moments with Horton were that night. When Michelle was out of the room, Horton came to me. Bringing me one of his favorite toys he looked up and stared at me it as if he was trying to tell me something. Through tears, I promised him I would take care of Michelle when he was gone. Then, a dog that had been trained from puppyhood not to lick, licked the tears from my cheek. He dropped the toy in my lap and went to lay back on his bed. I knew how sick he was and hoped with the new medicine he was going to start the next day, we would once again be a able to play fetch – something that Horton was allowed to do only when I came over. We had time — two months to play fetch.
But veterinary medicine is not exact science and life is not fair.
This morning, as I was finishing my first cup of coffee I received a hurried message of, “I need you to come over! They are going to put him to sleep tonight here at the house.”
I got dressed while looking for my coffee maker and simultaneously calling the grocery store to arrange to pick up food for all those that would arrive throughout the day to help Michelle mourn.
Then, another frantic message arrived telling me that it was over. He was already gone. He had died in Michelle’s arms. I was stunned. I would not get my play time with Horton. As the grief rolled over me, I realized I had to get moving and broke every speed limit on the way.
I had to keep my promise to Horton. I had to go take care of Michelle. Now we sit around discussing how to best honor him. A tree, or bench with his ashes? A small garden? Nothing seems adequate enough to honor a dog that made such a major impact on my friend Michelle’s, life.
Michelle is stronger than she was ten years ago, and Horton’s House will continue. His name forever on the gate and door.