Like so many here in New England, and much further I imagine, I was very moved through the years by the remarkable dogs, Spencer and Penny. These beautiful golden retrievers belonged to Rich and Dorrey Powers. Throughout their lives as service dogs, they brought light, happiness and hope to the most vulnerable. Their presence along the marathon route silently let everyone know that anything was possible. Sadly, Spencer and Penny passed away recently, leaving quite a legacy but also a huge hole in Rich and Dorrey's hearts.
When we heard about their passing, my daughter, illustrator Erica Leigh and I were talking, and we knew that there must be some way to support this couple whose dogs have given so much. We discussed having Erica create a portrait of Rich and his beloved Spencer, based on a photo from a precious Christmas together. After a many, many hours of sketching and color, it was done. When I first saw it, I was in tears. There was something so universal in the love Erica captured in this portrait between Rich and Spencer that all pet owners would relate to. It was perfect. I couldn't wait to give it to him.
Spencer and Rich- a forever love- a painting by @ericaleighart
Arriving at Rich's studio, I was surprised and delighted to see Henry the Macaw waiting to greet me. He was striking in deep rich tropical colors swinging on his driftwood scaffolding. I was mesmerized by the palette of jewel colors in his feathers, fascinated to watch as he used both claws and beak to move about his perch. I giggled as he twisted his head upside down to check me out. Inside Rich introduced me to Tawny, his beautiful Tonkinese cat. ("Tonks"are a cross between the Siamese and Burmese breeds.) Tawny purred and rubbed her face on my hand and enjoyed a nice rub down. Memories of my sweet Camille came rushing back to me. I was in heaven and ready to take Tawny home. ;) Hearing Rich speak about his animals, I now understood the breadth of Rich and Dorrey's love for them.
I was happy to be able to offer Rich my condolences in person, and he responded with some lovely stories about Spencer and Penny. I savored every word. Even though the depth of his grief was evident, there was a pure beauty of love that sparkled in his eyes every time he spoke about them.
Photos and paintings of his dogs, Mandy, Misty, Spencer and Penny, hung in places of honor throughout their home. Each one inspiring another story. I was particularly moved when I saw this image as his screen saver on his computer.
Spencer will never be far from Rich's heart.
Rich then offered to show me the iconic painting of Spencer hanging in his living room. I was delighted. I must say... it was breath-taking. I have seen many photos of it in social media, but they do not do it justice. The artist Tom Mosser did an amazing job. There are incredible shades of paint layered at its base, and then black outlines swirl throughout Spencer's fur adding texture and depth. The technique was so fascinating to study, adding movement and emotion. Rich commented that if he and Dorrey ever moved, the first priority would be to find a home with a wall large enough for this painting.
Spencer's portrait by Tom Mosser recently hanging in the Hopkinton Arts Center.
I had a chance to meet Dorrey and watch as they opened up Erica's painting. With each rip of the tissue, my anticipation grew. When the final piece fell to the floor, Rich welled-up seeing the image and clutched it to his heart. Happy memories of their Christmas together came flooding back. It was the perfect thing to express what was so hard for Erica Leigh and I to put into words. Thank you Erica Leigh. Your art is the gift that will keep on giving.
Sometimes in life, really good things happen that just fill your heart. Jimmy is one of those things. This little white puff ball of love, was generously give to the Powers family by Golden Opportunities for Independence, which breeds, raises, and trains service dogs to be given to disabled members of our community. When I heard about this, I was SO happy for Rich and Dorrey. What kindness!
In the kitchen, at Dorrey's feet, I found a very sleepy Jimmy, sprawled out on the floor, legs twitching with little puppy dreams. From the moment I saw Jimmy, I could see that a bit of Rich and Dorrey's grief was slowly being healed.
Sweet, little Jimmy waking form his nap.
I asked if I could pet him, and they kindly obliged. I leaned over and stroked him, surprised at how soft his fur was. " My little polar bear," Dorrey chuckled. He stretched and yawned with my touch, but then satisfied with my belly rub, drifted back off. "If he were mine, I would get absolutely nothing done!" I commented to Dorrey.
If you know me, you know I love cats. But now... I think you wouldn't have to twist my arm too much to welcome a "little Jimmy" into my own home.
I think I'm falling in love...
Yep, definitely in love...
I asked Rich if he was planning on visiting nursing homes etc, with Jimmy like he did with Spencer and Penny. He said he would like to. There is a lot of training to be a service dog, but at Jimmy's young age, unofficial training will begin with lots of love and maybe learning to remain calm when the doorbell rings. I get the sense that Rich is a natural "Dog Whisperer" with an innate sensitivity to animals and an understanding of how to work with them. I gave Jimmy one last rub and told him I could tell he was going to have quite a life of love and adventure ahead of him. What a blessed little dog.
I am so grateful for our visit and for the smiles that Spencer and Penny gave us during some tough days. The world was made a kinder more loving place because of Spencer and Penny. RIP pups. Well done.
P. S. I was excited to pick up my Spencer t-shirt today before I said goodbye to Rich. I will remember Spencers kindness and strength when I wear it this summer. A few are still available and are lovely for this warmer weather. You can get the shirts here. In addition, they are hoping to create a statue of Spencer on the Marathon route and will be raising money for that. Stay tuned for updates by liking the Spencer and Penny FB page here.