Horton – A Service Dog’s Final Request – My Promise

horton, dogWhen 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 received the blessing of 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 so debilitating at night, Horton became the crutch she needed 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.

My friend’s new life

Horton gave her the strength to 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.  He only would live maybe another 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 my tears, I made a promise to him. I promised Michelle was safe when he was gone. Then, a dog trained from puppyhood not to lick anyone, 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 had hope with the new medicine, that the veterinarian had him starting the next day, we would once again be 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.”

Throwing on clothes, looking for my coffee maker, and simultaneously calling the grocery store to arrange for food for everyone who would arrive throughout the day to help Michelle mourn.

Then, another frantic message arrived telling me that it was over.  Horton had simply slipped away 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.

By Shelly McGowan

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