Tuesday, January 19, 2016

All Dogs Go To Heaven

Dean Koontz is my favorite writer.

That is my stock answer if you were to ask me.   I have never read one of his novels.

When I was engaged to be married  to my wife, she lived in a home out in the middle of nowhere. You had to drive alongside a large piece of farm land to get there.  She had two dogs, Darius and O'Riley.

Darius was actually a female, despite the male sounding name.  O'Riley was the male, but Darius was the tough one.  A half pit mix that got the pugilist build of that breed while also making the argument that dogs are not born dangerous, just made that way.  She was a loving and sweet dog.

O'Riley was all heart.  A wiry haired mix, He was the size of a black lab but with a beard that made him distinguished.  Both were rescues.

On January 3rd, 2009 myself and Christy Ann (then my fiance) were out with friends in Salisbury, MD.  We attempted to go bowling but could not get a lane, so we journeyed on back home.

I did not live with Christy Ann, so we parted ways at my house.  A few minutes later I got a frantic call from her.  Her house was on fire.

Darius would make it out after taking in a lot of smoke.  O'Riley would not.  Though the firefighters would find him and attempt CPR, it was too late.

A week or so later, Darius would pass as well.

Many friends know this story or were there with us.  Robert and Jen let us stay at their house in the immediate aftermath.  Friends from our bible study group at church stepped up with support.

I should back up.  You know those people that treat their pets like they are family?  Like their own children?  They are annoying aren't they?  We are those people.  I have decided to no longer be apologetic about it.

Right before we got married in April, my mother would give us our wedding gift.  We would go with her and my sister and all pick out golden retriever puppies.  Both Christy Ann and I agreed rather quickly on the one we liked the most.  We hoped my sister or mother would not notice we got the best one.  My sister got a sweet light furred girl she named Grace.  My mother got an attached to her and handsome boy she named Wally.  We got our girl, that we successfully had not let out of our sight.  We named her Rory.

Rory was the sweetest, most caring and loving and special dog we could have ever hoped for.  I know you think you had that same dog, but you are mistaken.

There were not many days where Rory was not the happiest creature around.  If you came by our house, whether it be to visit us, or to do some yard work or plumbing, Rory knew the real reason you were there was to see her.  She would wiggle her butt with such fury, her tail could take out anything in the area.

She had many stuffed animals that she loved, and there is a chance if you came to visit she got one out to bring to you as a greeting.  Like people might bring wine to a party, she thought you should have a giant stuffed pig.  It was only polite.

With my family in Virginia before we moved to NC, my young nephew Nathan had a stuffed Saint Bernard.  Rory immediately assumed it was a gift to her and would grab it and snuggle.  As we were in our car about to leave on our move away, Nathan said Rory could have his stuffed dog.  Rory accepted with a giant wiggle.  It would be her favorite toy.  We referred to it as "Baron," after my mother and father's Saint Bernard they had when first married.

After some time of living the life of luxury only a completely spoiled dog can have.  (Sleeping in our bed, getting every waking bit of our attention) Christy Ann felt compelled to get a rescue dog.  A greyhound.

Most all of the dogs I have ever had have been a rescue of some variety.  But I picked up Everett, a little hesitant of how our girl would react to another member of the family.

People do not seem to realize that if you own a greyhound, it is almost for sure a rescue dog.  Puppies are nearly impossible to get.  They are a breed that is bred solely to run in races and if they are not good enough at this, they are put down.  This happens by the thousands.  A lucky few get adopted by greyhound rescue groups.  And then hopefully, get adopted out of there.

The rescue groups do good work of course.  But they have limited space.  Greyhounds are used to being in their crates for hours and hours on end.  Even at these rescue centers.  Only getting out a few times a day to eat and go to the bathroom.

When we brought Everett home, he had never been up stairs before, had never seen or walked on hardwood floors.  Just getting him in my car was a chore as he was not sure how to jump in.  I picked him up like a lamb for quite some time before he got used to it.

Rory greeted Everett like a happy sister meeting her brother for the first time.  She would often put her mouth around his nose as a way to play and greet him, while shaking her butt back and forth as if she was auditioning for a Sir Mix a Lot video.  Everett would seem slightly annoyed by her enthusiasm.  But would tolerate it.  Over time I think he got closer to Rory.  Once they were separated for a length of time and when they got back together, he greeted Rory like a long lost friend.  And long before greeting us.  Slightly offended at first, I was touched how far Everett's feelings for Rory had come.

I would talk like Rory for her.  (I mentioned we are those people)  She would speak in a Southern Belle slipping into an English Lady type accent.  Everett's voice was a little...simpler.  But however they communicated for real, I believe they became very good friends.

Rory was maybe the smartest dog I ever had.  We did that "intelligence test" one afternoon where you put a towel over your dogs head.  If they shake it off within so many seconds they are smart as a "border collie."  So many more seconds later, smart as a ..."whatever."  Rory shook the towel off her head immediately.  Everett would still have that towel on his head today if we did not eventually take it off.

Rory would surprise us with the things she would notice.  I could point and she would more times than not, actually look in the direction I was telling her to look.  Think about it.  That is not an easy concept to grasp.  The first time I remember doing this, I was driving down a country back road with her in the front seat.  I pulled the car over, as very close to us in a field, stood ten deer.  I said, "look Rory," and pointed.  She followed the direction of my finger and got the most excited expression (she had an expression.  I was there) on her face.  She just stared enthralled with the creatures in front of her.  I am convinced that this is why she knew to follow where I was pointing if I ever did it again.  There was the off chance she just might see something as exciting.  Not sure if squirrels or birds or rabbits or friends coming to the door ever quite matched those deer.  But Rory loved every living thing.

The happiest I have ever seen an animal was one day when Rory was outside in our backyard and saw a squirrel.  Squirrels were always a source of happiness, but of course most of them are too fast for Rory to catch.  She would run, they would jump on top of the fence or up a tree and that would be that.  But one day Rory saw a squirrel that did not pass the physical fitness test.  And the question to, "what would she ever do if she caught one," was answered.

The squirrel was too fat to climb the fence properly, and Rory caught right up to the out of shape and probably terrified little animal.  Rory could have easily grabbed the squirrel right up.  Instead, as the scared little creature missed its escape leap time and again, Rory jumped in complete 360 degree spins of pure ejubilation.  I mean complete 360 degree spins in the air before touching back down.  I had no idea she was capable of such agility.

Stuffed animals she would sneak out were often strewn across our yard.  One being a squirrel.  We laughed that in Rory's mind, her stuffed squirrel had suddenly sprung to life right before her eyes.  Elation is not quite the word that captures this moment.  Every animal, human or other, should experience such a moment of complete happiness.

Christy Ann one day decided we needed fish.  I have just about no opinion on fish as pets, but Christy Ann bought a large fish tank and filled it up after a trip to Petsmart.

Having no room in our home for this fish tank, I informed my wife the only place it would fit was our bathroom.  Our bathroom is one of the bigger rooms in our home.  So, odd as it may sound, it was the only option.  The bathroom is right off of our bedroom.  Rory would most nights sleep at the foot of our bed.  And some nights, she would wake up maybe unable to sleep, thinking of stuffed animals coming to life or something, and I would wake up to find her quietly staring at the fish.  At times, it felt like the fish were more Rory's than anyone else.  We witnessed her barking at them one day, while wagging that tail and then going into a play bow, as if to say, "come on guys!  Let's run around!"                

Rory's best friends were Bruiser, my sister-in-law Leigh's and her husband Mark's boxer, (who we called her boyfriend), and her brother Wally.  Wally lived with my mother six hours away so we would only see them once or twice a year.  Every trip home after a year away, as soon as we would get to the stop light by El Maguey Mexican Restaurant, Rory would pop her head up out of a dead sleep.  She knew exactly where she was.

She would pant and wag her tail in excitement to see her brother.  Then when we got to my parents driveway, her excitement level went up even more until we just had to open the door to the car as soon as we stopped.  She would barrel inside my parents house, nearly knocking over people and valuables on her way until she reached Wally and they would play and wrestle.

My sister's dog Grace would join in these visits and seeing three golden dogs playing together is something Michelangelo should have painted.  Pure joy.

Grace would pass away at a young age and I know Nathan took it very hard.  He would always give Rory a lot of attention when we were all together.

On January 9th, Christy Ann and I had to go away for the afternoon, but we noticed Rory did not seem herself.  Just not as bubbly happy as usual.  I always remarked how she always acted the same. She never lost that puppy like enthusiasm, even now at age 7.  But that day she seemed like she ate something that disagreed with her maybe.  So we called our friend Kathryn and asked her to stop by and check on the dogs while we were gone.  Kathryn is also one of Rory's friends.

Kathryn confirmed she did not seem her peppy usual self.  A bit worried, the next day she seemed slightly better,  Then two or three days later she seemed to be over whatever it had been.  She even played fetch with me outside briefly,  Fetch was not something Rory generally did.  We forgot to explain to her she was a retriever early on.  So when we would throw something she generally seemed to wonder why you would keep doing this more than twice.

Then Friday night, Rory did not want to eat her food.  Anyone that knows the breed knows how weird that is.  For any dog, but maybe especially a Golden.


 I called the vet and they were closing.  I said can I bring her in when they opened Saturday morning and they said they were full.  I pleaded and they let me take her in first thing.

They told us Rory had cancer of the spleen.  They would do surgery Monday.  A stressful weekend of worrying about every sound and movement she made, we got her into the vet first thing Monday. The veterinarian operated on her sometime around 11:30am.    It appeared the cancer spread to her liver.  If she made it through the night, we were told, that would be a good sign and then we could figure out chemo.  By 3:30pm we could see her.  She was sleeping, all medicated while getting a blood transfusion.

We both spoke to her and pet her and told her we loved her.  I don't know if she knew we were there or not.  I'd like to think so.  She opened her eyes and looked at Christy Ann at one point.  I thought maybe she opened her eyes slightly for me, but it might have been in my mind.  I told her I loved her and kissed her and to be strong.

We both prayed over her and asked for more time.  But if it was not God's will for more, that above all she have no pain.

At 10:30pm that night, (January 18th) Dr. Crawford called us to say he went by to check on Rory.  She had passed away in her sleep.  She was curled up with her favorite stuffed animal, Baron.

After the fire on January 3rd 2009, I read a book by Dean Koontz.  It had been passed along to me from my mother.  It was not a novel but a piece of non-fiction.  The book was about his golden retriever.  The first dog he ever owned, and not until later in life. After finishing it, Christy Ann read it as well.  We discussed it and then I did something I have never done to an author or anyone famous ever. I wrote Koontz a letter.

I still have a copy of it somewhere but the gist was that we appreciated his book.  I mentioned the fire and Christy Ann losing her dogs and that his book was a sort of comfort for us.

Then I forgot to mail it.

A couple months later, Christy Ann handed me a letter.  It was addressed from the office of Dean Koontz.  She had found my letter and mailed it without telling me.

The letter from Koontz was a kind of form letter.  It was probably typed by his assistant and essentially said, "Dean Koontz gets thousands of fan letters and he can not possibly respond to them all.  But we thank you for your letter very much."  I was appreciative for the response.

Then the same day a package arrived.  This time a book.  With the same return address.  I opened it and inside was a hand written note from Dean Koontz.  It began, "Thank you Matt for your wonderful letter."  Inside was his latest book, again about his dog.  (I think he was now one of "those people" too)

Inside the book he wrote "In memory of Darius and O'Riley.  All Dogs Go To Heaven."  -Dean Koontz

The fire that would take these two sweet animals was January 3rd, 2009.  A day I never thought I could view in a good way.  After getting Rory, we would find that she was born on January 3rd, 2009.

When loved ones were leaving us, Rory was coming along that very day to come and help heal us.

Our last night together.  Sleeping on the floor with her.  

Creatures like her are a reason I believe in a Creator.  Yes, we are those kind of people.  I know we did not deserve her, but I am so thankful for her.  I hope she knows how much

We did not get enough time with her.  If she had lived to 16 or 20, it would not have been either.  But I thank God for the time we had with her.  I truly believe she was sent to us from Heaven.  And now she has returned.  And we will see her again.  Wagging her tail and shaking her butt to greet us.

Rory is survived by two parents that could not love her more, her brothers Wally and Everett, a bunny named Mr. Darcy, her fish, her sometimes care takers Jermaine, Kathryn, Jim and Trish.  Every piece of clothing or furniture she ever got near that forever have "Rory fur." Her human grandparents, Bruiser, Leigh, Mark, friends Laura and Jason and others too numerous to mention.

If she met you, she saw only the very best version of you.

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