We featured Golden Retriever Mully at one of our foundation’s contests over a year ago. She was one of our winners, but sadly has now left her Mom’s side, losing a battle with Myasthenia Gravis. Her life started out RUFF due to a deformed leg/amputation and ended RUFF, but Elizabeth sure hoped she gave her special Golden girl a happy life in-between.
Dr. Michael Fox runs The Washington Post’s “Animal Doctor” blog, and the following letter today from a reader was a truly inspirational lesson on the amazing bond that exists between man and dog.
Dear Dr. Fox:
Your recent column about how a “dog’s devotion to master can lead to the grave” is similar to what occurred with our golden retriever more than 20 years ago, when my husband died at 46 after a four-year battle with cancer. During my husband’s illness, Friday lay beside his bed, provided support when my husband walked and never left his side. Friday obviously knew that something was wrong. He was devoted to his master.
Before my husband became ill, he was a senior sports-and-news cameraman for a major TV station. Because of the nature of his assignments, my husband’s work hours were unpredictable. Regardless of the hour, Friday always knew when my husband was headed home. He ran to the front door, wagging his tail, and he sat patiently until my husband’s car pulled into the driveway.
After my husband’s death, which took place in a hospital, Friday sat at the front door all day, every day, whining and waiting for my husband to return. He stopped eating and wouldn’t leave the front hallway. He refused to play with our children, whom he loved, because “guard duty” was his only purpose. He left his post only when he needed to be walked. My heart was breaking for this dog.
After one week of watching Friday’s vigil, I decided to help him understand what had happened. Hesitantly, Friday left his post and got into the car with me. His car behavior was unusual: He paced from window to window, looking everywhere for my husband. I drove to the cemetery, and we walked together toward my husband’s grave. As we got closer, Friday pulled away from me and ran directly to the grave. He lay down atop it, closed his eyes and just stayed there, quietly. I didn’t try to talk to Friday or disturb him. He needed to grieve, too. After an hour, Friday got up and walked over to me, using his mouth to hand me his leash. He was ready to go home.
On the way back home, Friday lay quietly in the back seat. After we arrived home, he kept kissing my hands as if to say “thank you,” and he never again sat by the front door waiting for my husband to return home. He now understood. Although obviously sad, his behavior returned to normal around the children and he began eating again. In time, he healed, as did we.
L.B.J., Lake Worth, Fla.
I recently discovered innovator, Patricia Moore’s, Soft-Hearted Products, a wonderful company that provides a way to soften pet loss by offering something that could be held close. Few things linger in our minds like the loss of a companion animal. Now, you can wrap your arms around a Soft-Hearted Pillow and hug the memories.
While this option may not be for everybody, it definitely is is a supple, huggable way to capture the love and tenderness that pet parents feel for their animal companions in a secure, yet soft, embraceable warm alternative.
Each year over 44 million pets are cremated with remains returned to bereaved owners in generic tin containers. “Now with my Soft-Hearted Pillow when someone suffers the loss of their pet, they’ll have the comfort of something soft to hold and keep close-by,” says Pati Moore.
Learn more at http://bit.ly/softenloss.
My third newsletter has lots of fun and serious articles. You do not want to miss it. REALLY.
But, besides a handful of people, no one has bothered to check it out (yes, webstats are great things until you find out no one is paying anything you say any mind). It’s kinda like contests I put together to GIVE STUFF AWAY that no one bothers to enter …. oh my :0)
Maybe for the next issue I need to hide a secret word or image somewhere in the issue and tell folks the first person to find it wins something.
My spirits were buoyed, though, when I received this post from a Golden breeder (with some English Golden Alfie relatives no less).
Dear Rochelle, You could not have described more perfectly your newsletter: “Sometimes laughter, sometimes tears. But always food for the soul.” I laughed at the start, and I cried at the end—and yes, so much food for my soul. Thank you for sharing it! — Sincerely, Felice Haggerty www.gazngoldenretrievers.com
I also read a lovely thank-you by a hurtin’ Kelley Baldwin, just having lost her Golden girl Chaser on June 19th. But, she may not count since she was one of the wonderful authors who contributed articles for the issue.
Through the wonders of social media a few months ago, I met the founder of Land of PureGold Foundation. The foundation promotes the human-canine bond and responsible pet ownership, and also funds cancer research and treatments for working dogs for animal-assistance therapy, search and rescue, etc.
Rochelle first contacted me after reading one of my columns, which featured my Chaser. She wanted to reprint it in Pet Talk, her foundation’s newsletter. Of course, I said YES! Just a few short weeks later, she returned the favor by providing us with a great resource – http://www.tripawds.com/ – after learning about Chaser’s osteosarcoma diagnosis.
As if Rochelle hadn’t helped us enough…she continues to amaze me. In this month’s foundation newsletter, she included a two-page feature on my Chaser. Others will read about her journey and her life. It is ways like this my Chaser will live on. You can read it here (pages 7-8).
I love Kelley’s Life Like Mine blog, as her writing is always so spot on. She needs to be writing for some comedy shows. She really is that good. And, I was thrilled to see at her blog another tribute to Chaser, just stumbled upon by her hubby.
Even after she’s gone, our Chaser continues to surprise us. … It’s the website for the Veterinary Speciality and Emergency Center. We took Chaser there for her eye exams. I guess they decided she was beautiful too.
We always joked she could have been a movie star. However, it was enough she was a star in our hearts.
I’ve been watching the news online to see how things were going with the Stephen Huneck Gallery since Stephen’s tragic departure. I think many have been worried about whether the gallery, dog mountain, and the chapel would survive. And, I know many people just cannot understand how with his international notoriety there has not been an art benefactor to come in and provide aid.
I’ve also been worried about his wife Gwen and his employees, who saw this wonderful man as part of their family. Here is a Jan 14th update that I just discovered from Charlotte Albright on VPR News.
At the time of his death, Huneck was apparently despondent about having to lay off all his employees, and feared losing his land, home, and business in the wake of the economic downturn.His close friend and assistant, Will Eason, says a newsletter had gone out to 4,000 customers asking them to help keep the company afloat, but it brought no financial help.
Now, ironically, the orders are pouring in faster than employees, working now without pay, can fill them.
(Eason) “We’re so overwhelmed with orders right now, I mean that is excellent. If it’s one thing I knew Steve liked, it was to have orders coming in. He liked having his business do well. And if he could call down to the shop, he would ask if everybody’s working. ‘What are ya’ doing? Get to work.'”
(Albright) But Eason and three other employees are working through intense grief.
Eason says his burly, jocular, unorthodox boss automatically made memories for anyone who met him. Which may explain why Dog Mountain’s Facebook page is flooded with condolences from all over the world.
Even Huneck himself was surprised by the popularity of the Chapel, as he told VPR in a 2007 interview.
(Huneck) “And who would have thought that this place would be such a huge national and international draw? I was on the cover of Life Magazine and they said that Dog Mountain, where we are right now, was one of the six places in America that you had to visit before you died.”
(Albright) Now, ironically, it’s a place where people may pay their last respects to him.
But the future of his business and home is still uncertain. Staffers say there’s very little cash left, and they worry about his wife, Gwen, who is still in seclusion.
I am so filled with sadness, but it cannot compare to what Gwen Huneck is experiencing. She is the wife of the incredibly talented and recently deceased artist, Stephen Huneck. I have always felt a bond to this man, even though we have never met. A lover of both Golden Retrievers and Labs, he had been diagnosed with the same disease that took my father’s life in the span of 3 months.
In 1994 Stephen was diagnosed with Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) after falling down a flight of stairs. He actually had to be brought back to life and was in a coma for two months. Doctors were not hopeful, but with the help of his wife, Gwen, Stephen had a full recovery. He had to relearn everything from how to walk to how to sign his name. And, he kept carving away, creating the iconic images, such as the one above, that will be forever linked to him.
I have carried Stephen’s one-of-a-kind line since I created my foundation’s store as he was the first artist to provide me with special pricing given the mission of my foundation. He knew that his angel images were quite popular, and especially so for my organization due to dealing with cancer and bereavement issues.
I remember being so excited about his newest *Golden Retriever* creation that came out last year, entitled “Goldens Rule“. Most of his art is Labrador Retriever themed, but he had been very busy coming out with new breed art.
Recently, Stephen began making changes to his pricing and throwing sale after sale. He even was giving away gifts with every purchase. And, he had put up information at his site about selling his home, the Healing House, at Dog Mountain. Obviously, this horrible economy was effecting him and he was trying everything possible to hang on. I just didn’t know how serious the situation had become …… until I received an email from Gwen Huneck detailing Stephen’s taking of his own life.
When I was in private practice I mainly worked with youngsters experiencing anxiety, depression, and learning based disorders. Only once did I work with a young man who successfully committed suicide, and it was solely to perform a cognitive & personality assessment. I have never forgotten that youngster, who in fact, had a Golden Retriever. It is very hard to know you have done everything possible and yet still be unable to alter such a negative course of events.
It is with great sadness that I share with you the news of the death of my Husband, Stephen Huneck, Thursday January 8th. Tragically Stephen took his own life. Stephen had been despondent for some time now and was being treated for depression.
Like many Americans we had been adversely affected by the economic downturn. Stephen feared losing Dog Mountain and our home.
Then on Tuesday we had to lay off most of our employees. This hurt Stephen deeply. He cared about them and felt responsible for their welfare. I could see how devastated he felt and tried to reassure him that the most important thing to me was that we were together. I told him how much I loved him, that he had accomplished so much in his life he should feel proud not ashamed.
I said how, I was constantly being told by visitors to Dog Mountain how much they loved his artwork. They also told me how meaningful the Dog Chapel was to them and how grateful they are that Stephen had created it.
Stephen and I discussed his feelings of despair and he said he would be seeing his psychiatrist the next day and would talk it over with her. He seemed to be looking forward to his session. He got up early Thursday morning to go see her. Stephen drove to the doctor’s parking lot and while parked in his car, shot himself in the head.
I wished I could of reached him some how. Stephen gave so much love and joy to the world through his warmth and openness as a person and a great artist. I hope he will be remembered as that joyous soul.
On the last page of the “Dog Chapel” book Stephen wrote “you too can build a chapel, in a place that’s always open in your heart”
Please remember Stephen in your hearts. Yours truly, Gwen Huneck
The video below, from 10 months ago, is so tragic when you realize that Stephen is speaking about his wonderful life and all that he feels he has been able to do, even with respect to giving back to charities. He did much to help others in need. It did make me smile at one point, though, when Stephen called himself a hippie. I could see the sweetness and lightheartedness as he smiled at the remembrance of those times.
I received this note from Golden pal Leann in Rhode Island:
Though his art was fun and unique, that place Rochelle, is something you never forget once you have seen it. A doggie heaven on earth with those beautiful green rolling fields for a good ole back roll and scratch, hiking paths for running and 3 ponds for a great dive in and dog paddle along the hiking route. What a guy, he knew what our fur friends would love and created it.
Too much sadness. Even though Stephen was surely suffering and trying to stave off great despondency, he continued to provide love and more via his annual summer dog parties at Dog Mountain. This video is from August 3, 2009.
Please check out my continuing tribute to Stephen, recognizing his making a difference for so many others in need. Just click here to learn more about his Chasing Away K9 Cancer.