As I shared at Mass, a couple of weeks ago I lost, as I would typically refer to him, my “number 1 fluff ball buddy” Kirby. Kirby is a sweet, gentle dog who came into my life just over 7 years ago.
I’d wanted a dog since I was about 4. There was a neighbor who had a friendly German Shepherd called Clyde, whom I’d feed cheese treats to. Outside of Clyde marking his territory one day and me being in the line of fire (a story my mom still gets a laugh out of to this day as my reaction at the time was shock apparently saying “I thought you were my friend” but the friendship was quickly reconciled) I loved Clyde, and have always loved dogs. Finally when I became a pastor and was going to live alone in a rectory, I had the opportunity to get a dog.
After doing some searching I was put in touch with RAGOM, “Retrieve a Golden of Minnesota.” They are great people. They care about the dogs so interview the perspective human friend, tour the home, and make sure the dog will be cared for and be inside the home, which is important for goldens. It wasn’t too long before a “foster mom” (the rescue stays with a person who often has other dogs too so they can be assessed for the right home) got in touch with me and told me to meet Kirby. I drove down to Eden Prairie, and the big guy jumped up on me. My first words were “hey bud, would you like to live with me?” After getting the food dishes, a bed (which he never used), some toys, I waited a few days and Kirby was dropped off at the house.
He promptly found the backyard area, as I bought a fence for the back. He ran around and had fun, and again marked his territory. He’d do that again inside later, but that’s what cleaners are for so no big deal. We quickly settled into a routine, and it took a little while but I could finally give him free reign of the house. I’d let him out each morning, we’d go for a walk, sometimes jogging, and spent countless hours on the couch, where he would also serve many days as my spiritual director and personal therapist. Of course there were meals too where a paw on my lap ensured a little bit of ham or turkey for him. Kirby was of course great with the school kids too. He loved being surrounded by kids, and felt loved and calm, and he had a calming effect on people.
It was in early August that Kirby’s eating habits changed suddenly. He lost interest in his dog food. I got him another, and he lost interest in that too. Taking him to one vet, she felt it was something gastrointestinal, so a third food caused him to get sick, and several meds also did not work. A second vet also had the same opinion. But when he was turning down hamburger meat and potatoes and rice that I was making for him, I knew something was wrong seriously. He also had more and more issues going to the bathroom, and it got to the point where he’d have to go out repeatedly but not be able to go. I took him in again right away when he could not urinate, and an ultrasound revealed likely cancer near the prostate (even though he had been neutered). This was preventing him from passing fluids and solids, and the poor guy was just miserable. After counsel with the vet I was told it might be best to let him peacefully pass on.
As you might expect, I was pretty emotional at that moment and in the days that followed. I returned from the clinic with some vestments and Mass items as I actually had to leave Kirby there while they tested him because of a nursing home Mass I offered that day for my grandma at Saint Therese (she turned 101 that day!). When walking out, several staff sensed something was wrong, and I told them the news. They were very comforting. As were people on my Facebook page. But word also got to the kids at the school, and each grade kindly made me a card that they signed expressing their condolences and how much they too loved Kirby. On top of that there was a card from the staff.
I talked in my first school Mass homily that week about how simple actions can do so much, reading a story about a man who thinks no one cares about him who is changed through a simple note he’s given that says “Somebody Loves You Mr. Hatch.” As I did this, admittedly I also got emotional, as the kind gestures of all those kids combined with the intense emotion at saying goodbye to my best friend got to me. But if Jesus can cry, I think it’s OK if we do too.
I’ll miss Kirby the rest of my life, and odds are down the road there will be another fluffy companion running around the rectory and visiting the school. But the point is that through a simple action, we can do so much. What made Kirby so wonderful were the many simple things every day; the couch time, the walks, the giant head laying on my lap or shoulder. He was just there for me. And in a tough moment, those kids, the great people I work with, and many others were there for me too.
As our lives go by, there are many moments that come up that are simple things we can do to change the lives of others. A kind word here; a phone call; a visit; the gift of our time; or taking the time to write a note or card; or giving someone a hug or just listening to them. Simple gestures that create memories that last a lifetime; simple gestures that make such a difference.
I’ve been blessed with many of those from Kirby, but from so many great people over the course of my life and priesthood. And you add all these things up, and what a difference they make.
Dogs in their special way I think remind us of this importance to just love one another, for they are just happy to see you and be around you. Kirby indeed taught me the importance of the “little things” that make such a difference, as do so many people who fill my life.
So never forget what a big difference a simple gesture can make. People might not remember you for your job, your wealth, or your status – but who cares about that? They will remember though the difference you made in their life by doing something ordinary that in the end was quite extraordinary. So be an entrepreneur and look for new ways each day to bring God’s love to someone who needs it, because you just might change them in ways you couldn’t even imagine.