A Dog’s Tale

By CJ, Anne H. and McKena W.

This is a true story. Names and locations have been changed to protect the privacy of Larry’s family.

Anne H.

He was the runt of the litter and the last one born. It was a beautiful day; the sun was sending golden shafts of light into the room as one after another of the pups was whelped. He was a beautiful black-tri with deep copper and snowy white markings.

He was a mournful little mite – usually off by himself sleeping or watching his boisterous brothers and sisters as they tumbled around, fighting, growling and squealing. Occasionally he would sound a lonesome little howl from a solitary perch. That’s how he got his official name, Singing in the Rain or Dewey for short.

Dewey remained a solitary soul, though he followed me everywhere. If visitors came, he’d hang back or hide, watching his roly-poly siblings at a distance as they jumped and kissed and snuggled the visiting admirers.

One by one the pups went off to their new homes. One evening, when Dewey was a little over nine weeks old, a man came to the house to buy the remaining blue merle pup. I liked Larry immediately. He was a sincere, sweet younger man who promised to give the puppy a good home.

As Larry talked, Dewey came out from behind my feet, looked up at Larry and proceeded to curl up on his feet. “It looks like that pup has chosen you,” I exclaimed. “He never goes to anyone.”

Larry picked up Dewey and looked into the little puppy’s eyes as he cradled him in his big hand. “Yes, I believe you are right. He picked me, and so I pick him.”

Dewey, a.k.a. Smiley

Dewey, a.k.a. Smiley

After a few months, I stopped hearing from Larry. I often wondered what happened to that dear man and his special pup, who Larry had decided to call Smiley. I imagined the best for them, wondering if Larry had married his sweetheart – if she, Larry and Smiley were having great adventures.

CJ – Smiley Gets a New Friend

My laundry is finished. The trudge up to my RV is interrupted by a man trying to back a travel trailer into a campsite. Beside him sits an attentive dog. After the man decides his trailer is properly nestled between the tree and the picnic table, he shuts off the engine. I walk to his open truck window.

“You know if you taught that dog how to drive, you could get out and direct while the dog backed up.”

“His legs are too short,” replied the young man. Quick, I thought.

The dog stood in the young man’s lap and insisted on an ear scratch.

For early morning exercise, I routinely walked the perimeter of the lake. One morning, on my walk back up the hill to my RV, I noticed the dog watching me. I knocked on the trailer door. With his eyes squinting in the sunlight, the man stepped out.

“Hi, I’m CJ. I walk every morning. If you want, I can walk your dog for you.”

“Sure, thanks. I’m Larry; he’s Smiley. He reminds me to smile every day.” He yawned as he stepped back into the RV and closed the door.

For several weeks, I walked Smiley every morning. After returning a tired Smiley home each morning, Larry and I would sit at his picnic table and talk. He told me snippets of his life, and I shared portions of mine.

We became friends, ate sushi and enjoyed hiking and camping together. He told me of the hollowness and darkness that consumed him. I revealed to him my wish to melt into the carpet. I recognized his depression because it was also my depression. My repeated sentence to him was, “You speak my language – the language of depression.” I had struggled with depression my entire life, but had no voice to express it. He provided me with the words.

While walking a local trail one day, Smiley took off down toward the lake. The three of us clambered over boulders and waded across a creek. After a particularly difficult climb up a bus-sized rock, we rested. We were in awe at the greatness of God’s beautiful handiwork. We shared our religious upbringing with each other. “There is a Higher Power, and it is here. Just look around,” I said.

Larry looked at me bleakly. “I’ve lost my spirituality. My soul is darkness. God isn’t there.”

I told him about the loaded Smith and Wesson .357 next to my bed and about drinking until my darkness overwhelmed me – then that gun called to me. Larry described his walk on a certain high bridge in eastern Arizona to see the rocks below. Those rocks called to him.

Larry decided to call today’s adventure “The Three Hour Tour.”

CJ and Smiley Join Up

In mid-May 2009, we have lunch with Larry’s parents. Larry’s demeanor is subdued. His parents have come to take him and Smiley back to El Paso, Texas. He is going into a drug addiction facility.

My best friends are leaving me.

As they pack his trailer the next morning, Smiley and I sit on the rocks above the campground and talk.

Larry had given me the courage to face my depression. I endured the melancholy monster by drinking. Drinking led me to my gun and thoughts of death. Smiley reminds me to smile every day. I really want to smile.

Larry’s gone. I don’t hear from him. Then on June 17, Smiley’s first birthday, my phone rings. It’s Larry. “Do you want Smiley? He’s your dog anyway.”

“Yes, yes!” I can’t breathe; I’m so happy.

I find Smiley at a rest stop, safe in the trailer with air conditioning running, with food and water set out. Larry doesn’t want to see his boy leave with me, so he has left the parking area. I take Smiley and his toys to my car. I find Larry’s Bible in with Smiley’s paperwork.

Smiley. My boy. We talk all the way home. He wants to drive. I tell him his legs are too short.

The paperwork reveals Smiley’s birth information. I call the number and ask for the kennel owner. She provides directions to her home. Smiley and I race out.

The breeder, Anne H., breaks out the photo albums of Smiley’s relatives. I tell her how I acquired Smiley. She remembers Larry and comments on how struck she was by him. She tells me about their meeting the year before.

“Dewey (her name for Smiley) curled up on his feet and fell asleep,” she says. “He never did that. I told Larry, ‘that dog has chosen you’.”

August 2009 – CJ Finds a New Way

I attend my first Twelve Step meeting. Every morning at 6 a.m., I hear my story again and again. I highlight my Big Book.

September 2009, Smiley’s dad arrives at my RV door on a new motorcycle. Smiley’s reunion with Larry included three bags of chips and potato salad. We share our experiences of the past months.

I’m sober. Larry, well . . . he left treatment after a week. He’s been sleeping under bridges with homeless people and visiting shelters for food. I ask if he’d like to go to a meeting. He declines, but asks me to help him get into a treatment center. I don’t know where to begin.

He stays at four different facilities over the next few weeks. Otherwise, he sleeps on my couch and watches Smiley while I work. We continue our ongoing conversation about depression, which now includes addiction. During the last week of October 2009, his parents arrive to again enroll him in a rehab.

I need a mentor, a sponsor to guide me in my sobriety. After my heart-to-heart talks with Larry, every other conversation about my inner “me” falls short. I am reluctant to find a sponsor. By that time, I’m attending a Saturday morning women’s group. I comment on a woman’s ruby slipper earrings. She said her ruby slippers fulfill her wishes. The woman next to her speaks up, “I live on Yellow Brick Road. Do I get wishes granted, too?”

I turn to the second lady and say, “My dog’s breeder lives on Yellow Brick Road.” The lady asks me what kind of dog. I tell her, “He’s an Australian Shepherd.”

“That’s me! I thought you looked familiar,” Anne H. says in amazement. “You’re Dewey’s, I mean Smiley’s new mom!”

I ask, “Do you sponsor people?”

“Yes, I do,” Anne H. replies.

McKena W.

Working in the field of recovery can be difficult, even challenging. I always hope that somehow I will be able to reach my clients and that they will all stay clean and sober. Of course, this isn’t always the case.

My first impression of Larry was he didn’t belong in treatment; he lacked the reserve most clients have in their first few days. As I passed him in the hallway coming onto my shift, Larry looked down at me, smiled broadly and said, “Hi!”

In the weeks that followed, Larry and I talked a lot. He was a joy to be around – beautiful inside and out. He was intellectual, funny, humble, gentle and caring – though one needed only to look into Larry’s eyes to see that a deep sadness dwelled within.

He spoke openly about his depression, though he never appeared depressed. He willingly and happily participated in every activity and was always there to lift up anyone who was struggling.

I remember thinking how much this man had to offer the world. I prayed for Larry when he graduated from rehab. I was confident he would succeed.

For months after Larry left the treatment center, I would often see him on Saturday afternoons in the park where we took the clients to play volleyball. Larry would run up to me smiling and give me a big hug – sometimes lifting me off the ground. That would make my day.

In 2012, I changed careers and no longer spent Saturdays at the park. Now and then I heard of Larry’s ups and downs in recovery. At one point, someone told me he had moved to Phoenix and was doing well. I cherished the memory of the man I was so privileged to have known during such a vulnerable time in his life.

CJ and Smiley’s Big Adventures

I sought out and received counseling and medication for my depression. Smiley and I saw Larry again through the winter of 2009/2010. He was clean and sober. I was clean and sober. Smiley, Diesel (Larry’s new Australian Shepherd) and the two of us camped, hiked and ate sushi. He told me about his interest in becoming a physical therapy assistant.

We emailed and texted during his school days in New Mexico. I was so proud of him. I was so thankful to him for being the catalyst that saved my life.

November 2010, I loaded my RV and headed to Baja, Mexico. Smiley learned to bark in Spanish and to herd seagulls along the beaches. I fished and swam with him in the Sea of Cortex. I sent pictures of Smiley to Larry and Anne, my sponsor, anytime I could. Eventually, my travels took me to Florida where I spent some time visiting my family.

Christmas 2013, I sent a picture of Smiley in his Santa suit to Anne and Larry. I included a note that mentioned I was in southwest Florida.

A week later, Anne emailed me and said she was in Florida, too. She wanted to know where I was.

“I’m in Naples, about two hours south,” I shot back.

On January 5, 2014, we met at the dog beach in St. Petersburg, Florida. We talked about our lives as we watched Smiley play.

Anne asked, “How is Smiley’s dad?” I told her he had gotten sober, and he had a new life as a physical therapy assistant. I also mentioned that I had not heard from him this past Christmas. We both expressed hope that he was doing well.

“I’ll ask my friend McKena if she’s heard any news of him. She used to work at the rehab he went to,” Anne said. “I’d love to know how he’s doing. Though I only met him once, he had a strangely strong impact on my life.”

CJ – One Dog, Four Lives

Smiley brought three people together, but in a deeper way, Larry linked all four of us, Anne, McKena, Smiley and me, together. He was the catalyst that helped me deal with my depression and put me on a path to sobriety. Anne helped bring Smiley into this world, sold Smiley to Larry and helped me navigate sobriety. Anne’s friend, McKena, helped Larry get sober. There are no coincidences.

On January 9, 2014, Anne forwarded an email to me from McKena with a link to a newspaper story about Larry’s death.

I cannot breathe. He is gone. He profoundly touched my life.

I break the news to Smiley. He is sad, too.

Blue skies.

Larry

I’m Larry. Smiley was my dog.

I learned about God as a kid. I struggled with His love versus His wrath. I sought answers in alcohol and drugs. As time went by, I slid further into confusion, despair and depression. My parents helped me try many solutions for my “bad behavior.” As a youngster, I was placed in a facility where employees were later convicted of child abuse and neglect. “Where is my loving God?”

Did God make me perfectly broken? I served in the Navy and came home to start my life as a responsible adult. I educated myself. I became a commercial real estate loan writer at a major bank in Phoenix. My life hummed along.

I married and started a family. But finding God’s purpose for me still haunted my soul. My depression deepened into blackness. By day I smiled and shook hands; by night I melted into the Phoenix methamphetamine culture. I lost my banking job, my wife and my family as I struggled to find my spirituality and forgiveness from a wrathful God.

My parents provided financial support for several stays in Arizona addiction treatment facilities – in and out, over and over again.

“God made me perfectly broken. How can I live with that?” I threatened and attempted suicide many times.

Sometime during this awful time, my dog Smiley, confidant and adventure partner came into my life. He never judged me or demanded that I “will away” my depression.

2014-4-Johnson-A_Dogs_Tale

I started a blog, Smileyisadog Blog, where I told of my exploits with Smiley, my questions to God and my attempts to release myself from my internal darkness. Many people befriended Smiley and me. We camped and hiked all over national forests.

My friend CJ and I followed Smiley on many hiking adventures. On a hike I called “The Three Hour Tour,” Smiley, my brave boy, trusted me to push and pull him over rocks he couldn’t jump. My depression and addiction became so bad I knew I was no longer able to care for Smiley, so I called CJ and gave him to her. He was her dog, anyway. She took care of him when I was neglecting him as I drank and drugged.

In November 2009, I made another pass at recovery in the Arizona town I loved. God is there. And I found Him.

This time in recovery, I discovered a passion for physical therapy and its benefits. I attended a school near Albuquerque and became a physical therapy assistant. It was gratifying to see people improve their health with my support. God was using me to help others. I loved them, and they loved me back. I was finally at peace.

I filled my life with camping, hiking, running and riding my bike with my two new Aussies, Diesel and Zoey – yet that old darkness in the depths of my soul still called to me. The darkness whispered that God had made me perfectly broken and I was not forgiven for letting Him down.

My depression intensified, and once again I returned to the familiar relief of drugging and drinking. I don’t remember now much time had passed before that terrible day in the winter of 2013.

I had been drinking heavily since four that afternoon. My mind was filled with despair and terrible depression. I didn’t go to work. First, I went on a verbal rampage, hurting people who were closest to me, people I loved. They didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to do. I was inconsolable, irreparable. I began stabbing myself in the chest.

“I’m ready to die. I want to be shot,” I told my son-in-law. He called the police.

“He’s asking to be shot,” my son-in-law told the operator. “He will follow through with the suicide. He keeps stabbing himself; he’s cutting himself to pieces!”

When they came, I did what people call suicide by cop. Holding two knives, I charged the responding officer and was shot. And with that act, I broke so many hearts. I left behind my family, children, grandchildren and friends whom I loved very much.

My depression and addiction ended my beautiful life. I died at the hospital.

I am with God now.

Blue skies.

Larry’s Friends

After several articles reported the event, notes poured in to the local paper.

“He touched the hearts and lives of all of us and the clients he worked with,” his boss wrote. “He’s helped so many people, both physically and emotionally. It’s a big shock.”

“Larry had a heart of gold and lit up a room when he walked in with his tremendous smile. He made everyone feel important,” wrote a family friend.

“. . . he served in the Gulf War and received [many medals] . . . What a terrible loss,” wrote another.

“RIP, Larry. I know you have gone to a better place . . . while you were here you contributed so very much . . . I will miss your beautiful smile and your kindness,” wrote a patient.

A co-worker wrote, “Larry was a wonderful man, so caring and compassionate. I will always remember his smile, humor and great conversations!
He touched so many people and brightened their day. Larry was also a very talented PTA, so compassionate about his work. We will miss you so much, Larry. You will never be forgotten and always loved! RIP, my friend!”

“The angels are better off with a soul like his around.”

Smiley’s Tale

I’m a happy travelin’ dog. Whether it’s Baja, Arizona, Oregon or Florida I find rabbits, squirrels or seagulls to herd. Once I even got to herd some wild cattle down a beach in Mexico!

This year my mom took us all the way to Alaska; she got a job as a campground host on Kodiak Island. The smells are wild up here!

I like to bark at other dogs, and I protect my mom from every danger. She says I’m very smart. She’s teaching me how to drive! I steer, and she pushes the gas pedal because my legs are too short.

She told me about my buddy, Larry. She was sad, so I kissed her and told her it was okay. We’ll see him again and play with Diesel and Zoey, too. Even when I lose my bones and I am sad, I always find them just where they were the last time I was chewing on them.

I love you, CJ. I love you, Larry, Diesel and Zoey! I love you, my first mom!

Life is good.

Blue skies.

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