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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  • Aiko and Poul

    April 16, 2018 at 1:57 am

    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.

  • Bonnie

    April 16, 2018 at 3:26 am

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

  • Chuck & Kim Scott

    April 16, 2018 at 5:41 am

    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.

  • Judy Salas

    April 16, 2018 at 5:56 am

    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

  • Debye O’Rorke

    April 16, 2018 at 4:05 pm

    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.

  • Jamie

    April 18, 2018 at 2:29 am

    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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