CONWAY, Ark. (KTHV) — Grief can be a powerful thing. It debilitated a Conway woman last month when her dog was killed, before allowing her to find a new calling in life.
“I saw her get hit,” Deborah Harrison said. “I held her while she died. It was devastating. I’m a widow, and the second-most devastating thing I’ve ever been through was that, was watching her die.”
Mirth, a black and white border collie, was like a child to Harrison. She said she got the dog when it was four-months-old.
“After having her three days, I couldn’t give her any other name. She was the happiest dog I’ve ever known," Harrison said. "She was always smiling. She loved people.”
Harrison, a professional dog trainer, said the rest of her family lives in Alaska, so Mirth and another border collie, Skye, were her closest friends in Arkansas.
“I got up for work, but for about six days, I literally would go home and lay down on her mat and just not get up,” Harrison said. “It was crushing.
“And six days in, I thought to myself: I’ve got to find something. How am I going to get through Christmas? Christmas is in a couple days, how am I going to get through this? And the only way, in the past, that I’ve gotten through the really worst things, is to stop thinking about myself and think about others.”
She had often taken Mirth to nursing homes to cheer up the residents. The dog loved it, and they loved her. “That was clearly her life’s work, was to just love people,” Harrison said. “And she did it really well.”
From the despair she felt, Harrison thought about all the seniors who had nobody except their pets, and felt an opportunity to honor Mirth. She decided to give cat food and supplies to an elderly neighbor on Christmas.
“When I visited her, she cried, and she said, ‘you know, my kids are away, and you’re the only person I’ve seen and will see.’ So, we talked about our pets,” Harrison said. “And then we made that connection.”
That connection gave her a mission. Instead of a one-day giveaway, she formed the Mirth-full Giving Foundation. She has visited with a senior in need nearly every day since Christmas, and has already raised more than $2,700.
“You know, I go home and I miss her a lot,” Harrison said, “but, you know, there’s a lot of people who could use someone to listen, as well as the financial help. And, you know, when I’m old, there but for the grace of God go I. And I figure we could all try to be part of that grace for each other.”
One of Harrison’s friends is a teacher at Martin Luther King Jr. Magnet Elementary School in Little Rock, and she enlisted her class to help. They are making posters and working on a video about the foundation, and Harrison plans to speak with them about it later this week.
“I think what I want them to take from it is: I would not be doing so well right now if I weren’t, if I didn’t have this project,” she said. “I mean, people shared all this money to give me the chance to go distribute it to people who can use it. And I often feel like, really, I’m the beneficiary here. Because every time I go out to do a call, I sit in my car. And I almost kind of dread it, because I, you know, talking about Mirth again is really painful. But as soon as I go in there and start talking to people and I see them light up. And I leave those visits feeling so much better. And I want them to have a sense of that, of what it means to people, and to just think of others. And that that’s been a great gift for me.”
Harrison says she may slow her pace of giving, to try to make the money stretch for the next year. But she plans to share pet supplies and conversations for as long as she can afford it, because the smiles she shares with her recipients are priceless.
“And that’s…that’s what people used to do when I brought Mirth around,” she said. “So, that’s how I’m letting her live on, that joy that was in her name, and that she just was.
“You know, it’s one of those things where you feel like it’s an honor," Harrison said. "This has allowed me to be part of someone’s life who is feeling pretty lonely.”
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