Rather than trying to neatly summarize this difficult year which has challenged our humanity in so ways or trying to deliver witty lessons that should be extracted from that hardship, we have chosen to end the year with a bittersweet story about a dog named Valkiss, his owners Kyle, Carolyn, and George, and a neighborhood collaboration to reunite them.
Rebecca lives at the top of a hill on a patch of desert just outside of Tucson proper. One afternoon in mid-October she was surprised to see a large German Shepherd cross her property. She tried to catch him but he ran off. He didn’t appear to have a collar but he was stout with a thick coat of fur leading Rebecca to believe that he likely had “parents” looking for him.
Rebecca contacted her neighbors to see if they knew of anyone missing a dog but to no avail. The dog reappeared for several days (there is a water hole on the property that draws a steady stream of coyote, javelina, and even occasional bobcats) but then he was a no-show causing Rebecca to conclude, sadly, that he must have succumbed to the harsh desert.
She was surprised a couple of days later to see the dog again, limping and straggly but still alive and unfortunately still running away when she tried to approach him.
She redoubled her efforts to find his owners, learning that she could post on Nextdoor a website which allows people to connect with their local community. Almost immediately, Rebecca was contacted by Kyle, owner of the German Shepherd who was named Valkiss after a Dungeon & Dragons character. Kyle came up to the property with his parents, Carolyn and George to try to get Valkiss, but regrettably, although they called for him, he did not come.
During the visit, Kyle revealed that even though he was only 25 years old, he was recovering from a heart transplant that his body was rejecting. It was clearly very grave, but Kyle said that he had had heart problems since he was very young and had survived much longer than expected. He had that sort of calm demeanor that people who have long lived on the threshold of death seem to exude. He was scheduled to go to California that week to see what could be done about the transplant.
After they left, Rebecca continued to set out food for Valkiss but he did not come back. She was troubled that, in the midst of Kyle’s deteriorating health, he would be worrying about his lost dog.
Just when Rebecca had given up hope, she got a text from a neighbor Mike, a neighbor who said that he’d been feeding Valkiss and had just seen her post on Next Door. Within a half an hour of giving him Kyle and his parents’ info, Rebecca received a text from Mike with a photo of Valkiss being picked up by Kyle’s parents.
Mike said that he’d also reached out to Kyle who was in an ICU in CA. Kyle’s body was still rejecting the transplant but he continued to rally. No surprise that Kyle started crying when he learned that Valkiss had been found.
The next day, Kyle’s parents came to Rebecca’s house with an 8 x 10 photo of Valkiss reunited with the other dogs in their household, Valkiss’ mother and two brothers. George and Carolyn also had a mysterious box with them. They playfully told Rebecca and her husband KC (who’d also seen Valkiss on the property) that they would be given its contents if they could pick Valkiss out from among the four dogs.
Rebecca and KC both correctly spotted Valkiss’ dark face and thick fur (in the image above he is upper left, his mother lower right) and were rewarded with a chocolate cake with espresso and butter icing made from scratch by George. In the midst of delicious bites, they celebrated the community effort that had made Valkiss’ rescue possible.
After a couple of weeks, Rebecca attempted to contact Carolyn and George to see how Valkiss was adjusting and how Kyle’s was doing but she wasn’t able to reach them. A couple of days later, when Carolyn and George’s truck pulled up to the house and they somberly got out, Rebecca knew that the news was likely grim. Sadly, they had come to share that Kyle had passed away. They were devastated, of course. But they said (with the same calm that Kyle seem to have because they had been told early on that they would not have him for long but they had been given a reprieve for a time) that they had been blessed to have Kyle for many more years than they had expected.
There is no deep moral message in this tale, other than a reminder of the powerful impact we have on each other. Kyle and his parents were obviously grateful that Rebecca and Mike (and the many other neighbors on Next Door who were also part of the effort) were trying to get Valkiss home. But Rebecca was also deeply affected by the exchange which turned from a mild abstract impulse (“Maybe I should try to get this dog back to his family”) to a profound and rich encounter with other human (and animal) beings.
Just before publishing this, Rebecca contacted Carolyn and George to ask for permission to write about Kyle and Valkiss. As she read them the story, they said through tears that Kyle would love that it was being shared. And as you read this, know that they are here with you in spirit.
So in closing this story and in closing the year 2020, we send you sincere hopes that we will all come through this difficult time in history with the same kind of grace as Kyle, Carolyn, George, and Valkiss.
Positively yours, Rebecca and Gioia
Think over the past year and see if you can remember any encounters with people in your community that had a strong impact on you (a neighbor, someone at a store you shop at, a service provider, etc.). Write about the encounter(s) and then draw a moment in the exchanges that had the most impact. Then write more about what that was like. Share your responses if you would like on our Facebook page!