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2 Dogs Save Life Of Creator Of Londons Times Cartoons

Mar 22, 2008
I was still relatively new to southern California in 1994. I had sold my successful bus tour business in Washington D.C and moved to Los Angeles to try my hand at screen-writing. Not much was shaking for me in Los Angeles, except the ground. I settled in Sherman Oaks in the San Fernando Valley area. I can clearly remember being awakened about five a.m by my golden retriever puppy Otis who was barking wildly. Otis slept on the bed with me but he had hopped down onto the floor to begin his ranting. This was no ordinary bark but I took him outside anyway into the back yard which met an alley. Otis kept barking and was clearly agitated but did not relieve himself. I rubbed my eyes and looked around and there was dozens (if not more) cats walking around in circles in the alley. I had never seen this before. They were clearly not acting the way I normally see cats behave, but it was as if they were trying to escape something. My golden puppy continued barking.

Within a millisecond, I was thrown to the ground which was rumbling. Everytime I tried to get back on my feet, I would fall again. It felt like someone drunk trying to regain his composure or as if I was in the center of a volcano minus the heat. Then I heard loud crashing sounds. My home and a few others on the block had caved in. Part of the roof was at ground level and the rest was hanging in various places. It no longer resembled a roof, and shingles were strewn everywhere. The wall had caved in where my bedroom used to be and a giant ceiling beam lay across the bed where I had just been sleeping not more than 10 minutes earlier. The ground continued to shake and more structures were falling apart. The animals continued their strange circular dance. Otis continued howling. It was like something out of a bad Fellini movie.

I could not return to the inside of my house for severa days due to the terrible condition it was in. It would be too dangerous with hanging wires and boards. The ground continued to shake on and off for another few weeks. I had lost everything. I was ok about the furniture, as those things can be replaced, but family albums, memorabilia that dated back to kindergarten, childhood videos, college and travel collectibles were never to be found again. So I rented an apartment, which was not easy, as they were being filled rapidly. The apartment would not allow animals, so first I had to find a good home for the dog who had just saved my life. Fortunately, from an emotional standpoint, as much as I hated to lose this wonderful animal, I knew I had to. I quickly placed an ad and Otis drove away to Malibu in a Rolls convertible and probably lived a better quality of life than I will ever live. The universe provided him good karma for his good deed I suppose. I felt he deserved the best, and he got it.

The insurance company told me i could file a claim but would have to "wait in line". Then my mother called from Mississippi to alert me she had contracted an incurable form of cancer. She needed me there. I left, and did not resolve any of my valuables. But I will always remember the beautiful blond golden retriever puppy who saved my life, sensed the coming danger, and alerted me. I drove home with virtually only the clothes on my back.

Being back home in southern Mississippi after being gone for so long was hard on me. I had worked around the country and was very different from my childhood friends who had never left home. It proved difficult to form friendship bonds because of lack of similar interests, hence not a lot of conversation. So I focused on taking care of mom and a sales job I took at a local television station.

Sadly Mom died in 1996. I was devastated and was becoming very depressed. Some college friends from near Boston, in Newburyport on Cape Cod, invited me to stay with them for a week. I did. They kept me my spirits up with movies, dinners etc. One of the movies was with Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt "As Good As It Gets" in which a dried-up, crusty writer (played by Nicholson) has his life changed by taking care of a neighbor's (Greg Kinnear's) dog, learning unconditional love.

A few days later, upon returning home to Ms., I realized that the character played by Nicholson could have easily been me. I had been a writer most of my life, (as far back as fourth grade, writing everything from sit-coms to movies, to short stories to, finally cartoons. I had wanted to start an offbeat cartoon project similar to The Far Side, but was too drained and depressed to launch it, plus, I was too depressed to work, and just sat at home for months and watched the news making me more sad.

To get back on my feet, I began volunteering at the local university equestrian center, cleaning out barns and feeding horses. One very stormy day, with tornadoes in the vicinity, a pack of three dogs showed up. I fell in love with one immediately, who looked just like Benji, but he was a bit scared of people. He obviously had been abused and/or hit by a vehicle and his hair was one big mat. His coloration was superb, and his soulful eyes showed he wanted love, and had a lot to give. They begged for help. I could tell this one was a survivor. We left food and water out for him every night since he did not want human interaction, and he would eat and drink a little and slept in the barn with the horses. Whenever it thundered, which was often, Thor barked. That is how he got his name.

My friend the vet took Thor home to help him recover, and promised she would do the job if I would adopt him, afterwards, otherwise, he was ready to be put down. I was not in a good space, I felt, to take care of an animal, but I agreed. Little did I know that one day, that animal would take care of me. She shaved his mats, put him on drips, and cared for him in her home night after night. Thor was indeed a survivor, a new dog when she finished with him.

Almost a month later, he was socialized, loved to be petted, ride in the car, go everywhere with me, lay by my side, and even sleep in my bed. He was housebroken. Though still scared of thunder and loud noises, it wasn't long before I realized this was not just a pet, but a gift from God. He knew my every mood. I was working from home, and like magic, creating my cartoons after four years of no creativity.

It took time for me to realize the dramatic changes occurring in my life. I could not see the connection between pet care and increased creativity. Finally it started to all make sense. He not only loved me, but his playful antics made me hysterical with laughter. It was as if he knew he was doing them, to awaken my spirituality. And he did.

He stayed right by my side, always smiling. If I called his name, he would wag his tail, come over to me, I would lean down, and he would kiss my face and keep smiling. The look seemed to say, "Keep doing what you are doing Rick, one day you will see. Good things will happen for you." I felt this was all my imagination, but I continued my daily rituals with Thor. He could be very playful and manipulative. When he was in the mood to play, he would let me know that just a kiss was not enough. He wanted me on the floor with him to play, roll around with him, or play with any of his favorite toys. I always obliged. Oddly enough, the longer I had Thor, the more productive I became.

Time flew with Thor, months, and finally the years, I noticed my cartoon venture had grown rather large. Out of the blue, emails were coming in asking me for my autograph. "Why?, I thought. What have I done?" Thor continued to smile as if he knew. It was what he had done. He was slowly helping me regain my creativity and spirit by offering me something I had never had...unconditional love. When my mood was down, he automatically came to me full of kisses, and would jump on the bed and sleep with me, right by my head on my pillow if I really felt bad. He knew when I felt good, his smile would return and he would lead me to my computer, as if he knew, that was where I was going to make a name for myself.

The vet estimated Thor was about eight years (by his teeth) when entered my life. Four years later, he developed some sort of disease that made him act catatonic and simply stare at walls. He would not even respond to his name or eat much. I rushed him to the vet who made an immediate diagnosis: "juvenile seizures" and that he would have to be put on barbiturates daily (and other medicines) and would live a short, and not a very good quality of life, and to prepare to put him down soon. I had been feeding him the highest grade dog food.

The web got me into research mode. I discovered a controversial veterinarian surgeon/author n in Australia named Dr. Ian Billinghurst, who had written several books on what is known as the b.a.r.f diet (bones and raw foods) and I researched more about it. There was not much science behind it, but the theory made good sense, in that a dog's digestive system had not evolved that much from when they were still wolves, just as a cat's had not since they were lions (the diet allegedly works for both). This would be the first time I had ever tried something so dramatic with no science behind it. The first month was terrible. Though Thor devoured the food, his elimination was very discolored, a lot of diarrhea and vomiting, and was always sleeping.

A few months later, I awakened to a "new Thor" He had jumped on the bed next to me. He was ready to play and play a lot. We played for hours on the floor. He was not only his old self again, he was a brand new dog. His elimination was working properly again. He quit vomiting. When he was ready to eat, he led me to the fridge. He ate only raw fruits, vegetables, meat and bones. He was now turning 13 and walking five miles a day with me. This would continue until he was eighteen, and it would be done so without one illness nor vet bill. I stopped his vaccinations, and started giving him homeopathic nos odes and for heart worm protection, walnut hull tinctures. He thrived. He remained the happiest, healthiest most energetic dog I had ever owned, much less seen in my life He was so special that shop owners came outside just to talk to "Thor" when I took him on his long walks. They astounded that a dog that old could walk so far, without being out of breath, and have so much energy to show his love to them as if he'd known them all their lives. Just twelve years earlier, he would not let a human touch him.

Thor "never gave up on me", even during some more "dark periods". He even stood by me through 3.5 years of college. I went back (online) at age 45 after a major heart attack. Friends who kept him for me when I was in the hospital told me he simply laid in the corner with his head on his front paws. He was almost totally inactive except to go outside to do his business. When I came home, he was happy again, but actually sensed I was unable for awhile to get on the floor to play so he jumped up on the bed to be with me while I recovered. Never bothering me if I was too tired, but being by my side, in any case.

By the time Thor turned twenty, he started developing minor heart problems so I put him on some special herbs that I also took and still take, including samento (a strong form of cat's claw herb), cayenne, hawthorn berry, and several others. This kept his disease at bay, but he was beginning to be unable to take the long walks. Finally, about a year later, it reached another stage which was more serious. I finally had to take him to the vet and put him on heart meds. I knew this would eventually affect his liver and kidneys, but at least he stood a chance before that happened. He lived almost another year. Thor finally passed away on the floor, in my arms, at age 22 about four months ago of liver failure.

The vet had told me not to to put Thor down, he still had a chance, and sent me home after giving me morphine to administer to him every four hours. I lay on the floor with him as he could no longer jump on the bed. I set the alarm clock for every four hours, and put the pill down Thor's throat. He showed no signs of pain, and the vet advised me what he had was not painful; that heart ailments and such do not manifest in animals the way they do humans; they simply grow tired and numb; and, to be sure, the morphine would prevent any pain in case the liver had damage. I knew there had been liver damage, as he had been on heart meds for about 5 months, and, I had read enough to know what to expect. He had some kidney damage as well, which they tried to "flush out", but it was too little, too late.

I finally agreed with the vet. He had been given death sentences before and made it anyway. This dog was a survivor and as long as there was no pain, I had to give it one last try. The vet assured me he would not be in any pain.

I gave him his morphine around the clock and stayed on the floor right by his side stroking his back which he seemed to appreciate I fell asleep about 3am the next morning after giving him, what would be his last dose. When I woke up, Thor was not breathing, yet he still had a smile on his face. I could feel the tears building in my eyes. "I kissed him, and told him I loved him very much, and how much he had done for me." The dog that a vet begged to rescue, ended up rescuing me.

I wrapped him in a blanket and had built a small coffin out of a wooden box. I dug a hole on a mountain in the backyard of my building in Hot Springs, Ar where Thor's body lay today. This was his favorite place to go hiking with me. There, he chased squirrels, possums, armadillos, barked at soaring eagles, and ran around sniffing all the scents that nature has to offer.

His headstone reads "Here lay Thor, the best dog I ever had who changed my life. RIP".

Not too long ago, I had a long term relationship with a wonderful woman named "Rosy" She had a fear of dogs due to having been attacked by one in her youth. I had talked about "Thor" to her. She lived far away, but we visited often. She came one day, and met Thor (when he was about twenty one) and he loved her immediately, rubbing against her leg, demanding to be petted by her. This only surprised me a little, as I know that dogs have a 6th sense of person's fear and sometimes bark or attack. But she was not scared of Thor in the least and bent down and hugged and petted him. They were immediate friends. This was a good sign, as, though Thor loved almost everyone, if someone came even close to me that he did not have a good feeling about, he would bark nonstop. I believe Thor sensed that Rosy knew how to practice unconditional love, felt it, and Thor sensed it. Instead of giving her further fear, he showed her he loved her.

Even the stress and the strain of the care-taking phase was rewarding. I was able to do everything I could for both the person who gave me life (my mom) and the dog who eventually taught me how to live and give unconditional love. If it can happen to me, and can happen to Jack Nicholson's character, it can happen to anyone. This story may sound fictional, especially to one who has never owned a dog, particularly a rescue dog, but for those who have, they know I am writing a nonfiction story here. If anything, I am underplaying much of the magic that occurred between Thor and me. I will never forget that gift; the greatest gift I ever had.
About the Author
The Internet's top offbeat cartoonist is also an animal lover and is especially fond of dogs (and cats). He founded the most visited cartoon site on the Internet. Many of Rick London's cartoons are dog and cat-related. He has a huge inventory of over 8000 color cartoons
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