Tim Frazier was a total stranger to me when it started. And while I’d never know him well, I would learn where he lived, how he lived, who his best friend was, that he had cancer and not for the first time. I would learn he liked to make the nurses at the hospital laugh if he could. And that he hated to ask for help.
But I would learn first that he had a dog that he loved more than anything in the world. A dog that he would risk his life to keep.
Tim contacted our shelter around Christmas. He shared with the lady that answered the phone that he had cancer, needed chemo and had put it off for a while trying to figure out what to do with his dog while he got treatment. He had neither friends nor family that could take her in …although this is more conjecture than facts gained through any conversation.
That day may have been the first lucky day Tim had experienced in a long time. As that lady that answered the phone was one of our staff, Kristal Rake, who would become a very special friend to him. Kristal was moved by his call for help and knowing that the shelter could not offer him any temporary solution only a permanent one that he would never choose, she came to me out of caring for this stranger.
She knew and shared little more with me than that a man needed chemo but didn’t want to give up the only thing he had in his life of value, his dog Dakota, to save his own life. And before I even thought about it I told her to let him know I’d call him. Honestly at that moment I wasn’t sure what I was going to say to him but I couldn’t imagine how desperate it must feel to let alone have cancer and have to consider giving up your best friend to get chemo but to have all that hanging over you at Christmas. It just seemed like too much. My thought as I drove east to home was at least I could give him the gift of one less thing to worry about for Christmas.
He cried when I told him that I’d help him and thanked me profusely when I went to meet him and his Dakota the first time. Accompanied by Kristal and Jill Parsons, who wanted to help if she could, we all were taken aback by his surroundings. They were stark and wanting but we all were moved by his great appreciation for us and his obvious adoration for his dog. He was right, he had nothing but his dog.
The first week was the worst or so it seemed at the time. I felt awful as I took his dog away from him a few days later. Walking her down the sidewalk and trying to pretend we were just going for a walk. Neither the dog nor Tim seemed hesitant – Tim urging her on from the doorway and Dakota pulling ahead of me seemingly excited by the prospect of a long overdue walk. But I felt horrible as I walked away from his tiny garage apartment with his most valued possession knowing we weren’t going for a walk.
She leapt into my car willingly but as I drove her further and further from her home, her anxiety rose and soon the extensity of her whining rose with it. She would not eat for three days and took up seemingly permanent residence on the couch in my sunroom on the blanket Tim had sent with her. With the exception of an occasional potty break outside, she seldom left that spot until hunger won out on day 4. I lied and told Tim she was doing fine when he called, as he didn’t need the worry. And soon that would be truth.
After that first week, she would make the adjustment to her stays with me and my pack in the flip of a switch and I too, no longer felt the sadness I had the first time I took his dog. She no longer whined on the trip away, she greeted my dogs as old friends and ate heartily at the first meal. When Tim was home again after a week of chemo treatments, Dakota would just as easily return home to her life with him with energetic affection. It felt like I hoped it would…like I was doing something to help. Not hurt him.
Over the course of the next 6 months, Dakota would come to stay with me for a week or so while Tim checked into the hospital and underwent his chemo treatments every two or three weeks. I took a picture of her and framed it so she could at least accompany him to the hospital in spirit and imagined that he shared stories about his dog with the nurses that cared for him. I don’t know if he did, as we never discussed it.
Usually gone a week, he would call me as soon as he arrived home anxious to have her back. Only once did he call and say he was too weak and sick to care for her and could she stay a bit longer. But even then it would be less than 48 hours before he’d be calling again to ask for her to come home. And while she was never any trouble and in fact one of the easiest dogs in the world to care for, I was also anxious for her to return to him. It made me sad to think of him being alone in the tiny apartment without her by his side. On our first meeting he had shared that she twice had saved him. Once waking him when his apartment was wrapped in the smoke of a fire just started. And a second time when someone tried to break in and she scared them away with her bark. So the thought of his need for her protection stretched beyond the companionship that I knew too was essential to his well-being.
My focus was to help him by helping his dog and I swore silently that I would not get involved emotionally with him. I would just take his dog when needed and then take her back to him when he was able. Once he called and asked if I could drive him to a doctor’s appointment when he had no one else to do so. But I felt somehow bound to keep my distance. Not that I feared him but feared getting too involved personally might affect my ability to do what I intended upon doing. And I kidded when asked by a friend about him that for all I knew he might be an ax murderer. It really didn’t matter to me. I was going to help him regardless and I was going to keep my boundaries firm.
Much braver than I, Kristal did not have such boundaries and became a special angel to Tim. She checked in on Tim regularly, arranged to have a better bed delivered to his home (what a Godsend that was), took him food when he asked for something special, and just made sure he knew that someone was there for him. Kristal even once found him lying on the sidewalk outside his home, confused and too weak to get up and find his way back inside. She picked Dakota up and Tim too when Dakota needed to go to the vet and then returned to pick her up more than once. She helped her get to me when I couldn’t get there to pick her up when Tim would need to be at the hospital early in the morning. She called to check on him with a sister that was discovered to exist and became our only source of information when Tim was unable to answer our calls. Kristal was his angel and on more than one occasion he would say to me in amazement and shock that he did not understand why we would help him and didn’t like to ask anyone for help but was so thankful.
After four months, Tim let me know he thought he would have one more course of chemo and likely that would be it. And even though I had some insight into his condition beyond what he had shared which was minimal, I was shocked and saddened when he called unexpectedly to let me know his tests had shown that the chemo had not helped and his tumor had doubled in size. He wept as he told me and I wept along with him while trying to console this stranger I barely knew. Admittedly I am still not sure if I felt such sadness at the death sentence or so sad that he had no one else to call. Either way, I felt hollow with the helplessness that envelopes us when we can do nothing but listen. I shared this sad news with Kristal who wept for him too.
I had promised during the first stretch of treatments that I would care for his dog if anything ever happened to him and that he should let his family or friends know this in case it was ever a question. I assured him more than once that she would never want for anything and that I would keep her or find her a home worthy of her if that ever became necessary. I hoped that would never be necessary but again did not want him to ever worry for her. Over the months after we made contact with his sister, she asked repeatedly if I would take care of Dakota and reassured her that this was a certainty. And wondered often why this was even a question. She was a wonderful dog. So well behaved. So quiet and gentle and loving and loyal. Who wouldn’t want her? I never asked why she didn’t want her or couldn’t help…it didn’t matter.
She has been the great friend to a living man and a dying one in ways that I suppose most cannot imagine. I am not sure I even do. What I do know is that when my dog Tag, who was my dog of a lifetime was taking his last breathes in my yard one beautiful warm late summer day, I whispered to him words that I know beyond any doubt were true. I told him I would have died to save him. Those words and my Tag often came to mind when I thought of the risk that Tim had taken to keep his dog with him. I would have done the same had I had no other option. My respect for Tim’s dedication to his dog won my respect immediately.
Over the last month or so Tim’s condition worsened and he spent more time in the hospital. Thanks to my great friend Gabby Olson, who checked on him for us and helped us stay abreast of how things were for him, we would get some news when Tim would not or could not respond to our calls. I took his dog, with Kristal to visit him there once when he was really struggling. He had been doing very poorly but on that day Dakota’s visit lifted him so that he rebounded with sudden energy and easy recognition of us all. He was tearful with joy at the visit of his friend. He hadn’t seen her in quite some time but as she climbed into his bed and he stroked her face it was impossible not to tear up sharing the moment with him. And as we left that day and I took his dog through the halls of the hospital, I wondered if it was for the last time.
While he returned home briefly, Dakota never returned to him as he was barely able to care for himself, let alone Dakota, despite how little care she required. He would return to the hospital within a few days and remain there.
This morning I received word from Kristal that Tim had passed away this morning.
I cried for this man who I barely knew. And know Kristal too surely wept for him. He brought us together in a wonderful way and brought Dakota into our lives. For that I’ll be grateful to him forever. I know so little of this stranger. I knew he liked to hunt and helped build a cabin in the woods and played the guitar. I don’t know what bridges he burnt in his past that left him so alone but I know without question he loved his dog. I also know that Dakota loved him. And know too she will live out her life as I promised Tim she would. I promised I would ensure she had a great home forever and would want for nothing.
Whether she stays with me or in another home worthy of her, it doesn’t matter so much. She will return the love she is offered and ask for nothing more. Other than the love of her best friend who risked his own life to keep his dog by his side.
I don’t share this story to promote what we did for Tim. We did for this stranger what we should do. Help each other. In a world that often seems so full of hate and injustice, helping a stranger seems of value and the right thing to do. Tim came into my life at a time when I needed him as much as he needed help with his dog. Trusting fate as I do, it is no accident that he made his call to the shelter during a time when I was struggling greatly after leaving my role as President of the Board of our shelter after months of frustration. It is no accident that Kristal answered the phone that day and wouldn’t let his need slip away. And it is no accident that not long after his call, would come another from the domestic violence shelter about a woman there that needed a temporary home for her small dog. Fate drives my destiny more than my own devices.
So while I am sharing this story in part selfishly to help myself understand the grief I feel and simultaneously my appreciation for this experience I also tell it with the hope to encourage and promote what I want to do for others like Tim. People should not have to die because they don’t want to give up their pets. People should not have to surrender their pets to shelters because they have no friends or family willing or able to care for them. They should have other options. Even if it means entrusting their beloved pets to strangers.
I founded the MOV Animal Safe Haven as a nonprofit foster based organization that provides temporary care for the pets of people with medical emergencies and for the pets of victims of domestic violence. My hope is that not only can we help people like Tim and others keep their pets but reduce needless surrendering of pets to shelters that are already overcrowded. Sharing your home with an animal like Dakota can be not only life changing for their owner but to you as a foster. While the end of this story is not what I hoped for or even considered when I got involved, that can’t discourage me from doing it all over again. And I hope it won’t discourage others from getting involved.
You can learn more about the mission of MOV Animal Safe Haven and volunteer opportunities on our website www.movanimalsafehaven.org.
Categories: Shelter Facts