Promises to Horton

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.

6 comments on Promises to Horton

  1. Aiko and Poul says:

    With tears in our eyes both Poul and I are saddened with this news. He was such a wonderful companion. I am so great full to have known this dog. I always asked that I could pet him when he was in his working harness and Michelle would just say “ok”.
    Rest In Peace Horton and Michelle soon your sadness will pass and all the wonderful memories will make you smile.

  2. Bonnie says:

    Michelle, Was just thinking of you this morning…I’m so sorry for your loss😘☹️

  3. Chuck & Kim Scott says:

    We just saw Horton and Michelle on Thursday when we dropped Tex off. For Kim and I, every time we pass through the gate at Horton’s Place we will remember him greeting us with his toy in mouth. We were happy to see him playing with Tex. There is something about a dog that is just not fathomable until you have had one as a companion. They never judge, they are always loyal, their love is unconditional, and because of this they are always with you even if just in sprit and memories – the ultimate companion. Horton will always be remembered and his spirit will live on in all that new him. Michelle Horton will always be with you and thank you so much for sharing him with all of us.

  4. Judy Salas says:

    I am so sorry to hear of your sadness…..I have faith he will be waiting for you at the rainbow bridge along with my beloved KIKO-SAN…Little by Little there WILL be better days ahead…love to you…Judy Salas

  5. Debye O'Rorke says:

    The day I met you, Michelle, was the day I met Horton. You have both touched my life in ways you will never understand. Michelle, you are a strong, amazing woman, and I know this will be difficult, but I also know that with your strength and your support system, you will survive. I wish for you wonderful memories of Horton, and know that we are all here for you for whatever help and support you need. Rest in peace, dear Horton.

  6. Jamie says:

    I’ll never forget Horton, and will always see him in my mind as your steady companion standing by your side Michelle. No words can adequately tell you how much my heart grieves for your loss. Horton will always be watching over you. Hugs and lots of love for you my friend.

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