You could spot one of Joe’s dogs a mile away — whistle and they raced to his side waiting for more direction. It all started with a doctor’s prescription to walk off some fat and lower his blood pressure. Joe drafted a neighbor’s dog and walked up a wooded path that led to an eight-year passion.
He never volunteered for the job of puppy raiser for LOVE HEELS Canine Partners; he was drafted. Some of us at Kearny Mesa Dog Park watched as Joe and Kona circled the park, an invisible leash tethering man and Lab. Joe and Kona, best buddies.
And I was looking for puppy raisers, experienced dog handlers who could help me prepare canines to partner with people with special needs.
I asked. He said no. I had a plan. He never had a chance. Nine puppies later, Joe has traveled to Rainbow Ridge to romp with some very patient dogs who have been waiting for him to cross over.
Otis and Breosa, two of his earlier puppies, died of cancer at ages two and three. Our hearts were broken but he held their heads and helped them cross over. He promised he would come get them some day. Same promise to Kona, the big white Labrador who brought him to LOVE HEELS. What a happy reunion they must of had as they headed off to heaven.
But, back to the beginning . . . My plan to enlist Joe’s help was simple, a sweet-faced nine-week old Lab and me with one shoe lace untied. I asked him to hold the puppy (once he noticed my untied shoe). Shadow looked into his eyes and convinced him to take her home. I remember his laugh when he proclaimed that this was the dirtiest trick he had ever seen. The next day he climbed the hill with Kona and a little black bundle struggling to keep up with the pack.
Shadow, he named her, in honor of his first puppy. Kona and Joe trained her well, she was partnered with a wonderful therapist who helps abused kids become whole again. Never again was he without a well-trained dog and an insolent puppy.
Otis and Breosa followed, and Rascal. Samantha Jane, another black Lab works with an occupational therapist encouraging children with physical challenges to run, throw, twirl and reach for the stars. She does a mean army crawl, too.
Rascal tends to three children with various needs. Breosa had her own little man before she died of cancer; Zander now has Dancer. Then there’s Oliver, the most beautiful white golden retriever who has a family meeting his every need. At nine months we knew he wasn’t a working dog. He was a master at working people so we released him. He’s still the most beautiful beast and takes your breath away. Joe said he never had a favorite but he lied. It was always Oliver.
Loki was his athlete; Otis was his big baby boy. The day we decided to put Otis down, Joe cried so hard he couldn’t catch his breath. He made me promise I would never tell anyone. I never did. Not till now.
Joe died yesterday, holding on until he made sure that Recon was with his forever family. Joe picked a Marine hero, Jed. He met Jed and his wife, Anna, and declared that this was his boy’s mom and dad. The best part was that Recon will be a big brother in a couple of weeks. Joe always said Recon needed kids to love. He’s getting a baby sister, Alona.
Jetta will be finished by me and I can only hope that I can make Joe proud.
You are loved, my friend, and the best of you will remain with us. Promise.
–Your friend, Patricia