ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Those who knew Lisa Keebler will tell you how much of a people person she was, how easy it was to leave the East Mountain stores where she worked with a smile and a new friendship after a few moments of talking and laughing with her.
“I met her when she was working in the liquor department of Moriarty Food Grocery Store when I’d go there after work to get a beer,” said Tiffani Hilliard of Edgewood. “We just hit it off and became friends.”
So yes, Keebler loved people. But dogs – well, she loved them to death.
Which may be, at least in part, why Keebler, 56, passed away July 8. But it’s also why her beloved dog, Boomer, is still loved months after her passing.
Boomer is a middle-aged Australian shepherd who is blind and has diabetes. It takes a special person to love a dog like that. Keebler was that special person.
“She was a single woman and he was her dog and they only had each other,” Hilliard said. “She loved him.”
Keebler didn’t trust many people to take care of Boomer. But she trusted Hilliard with him while she underwent treatment for small-cell lung cancer.
Three weeks after it appeared she had beaten cancer, Keebler’s health deteriorated again when she began experiencing chest pains. Once again, her thoughts turned not to herself but to Boomer.
One Sunday night in July, Keebler texted Hilliard and asked if she could bring over Boomer in the morning. Keebler had taken her heart medicine and was arranging to meet an ambulance at Hilliard’s house once Boomer was settled in.
“I tried and tried and I fought with her to call an ambulance right away and quit worrying about the dog,” Hilliard said. “But she insisted that she wanted to make sure he was here and safe before she left to the hospital. She was a very stubborn woman.”
That morning, Keebler contacted Hilliard again, saying she was putting on makeup and hoping her neighbor wasn’t going to be late to drive her over.
Keebler never made it to Hilliard’s house.
“She was texting me in the car, and then her neighbor grabs the phone and says they’re lost and can’t find my house,” Hilliard said. “They were about a block away when Lisa went unresponsive. She basically died right there.”
Boomer, she learned, was frantic, jumping into Keebler’s lap, yelping, licking her face.
“It’s like he was trying to bring her back,” she said.
Hilliard took Boomer home, and for the next few days he seemed more solemn, more clingy.
“You could tell he was missing Lisa,” she said.
For four months, Hilliard said, she tried to do right by her friend and by Boomer, knowing it had been Keebler’s wish for her dog to be in a loving home.
But Hilliard’s possessive heeler was having none of it. And neither were her cats.
“I hated to do it, but I just kept thinking this isn’t fair to Boomer or my animals,” she said. “So I had to find a better place for Boomer.”
A friend of hers suggested she contact Ed Goodman, founder of Tootsie’s Vision, a nonprofit that helps find homes for sightless dogs, raises funds for their medical care and increases awareness for what great pets they make.
Goodman, who has been featured in this column a few times, was moved by Keebler’s determination to find a loving place for Boomer and became determined himself to find that place.
He didn’t have to look long.
Not far from Hilliard’s home was a woman coming to terms with her own health issues who had what seemed the perfect place.
“As soon as I saw Boomer’s post, I handed my phone to my husband, saying, ‘Read this,’ ” said Julia Kennedy, who runs 3H Humans Horses and Herds, a horse rescue and sanctuary in the East Mountains. “The fact that Boomer had suddenly lost his caretaker tugged at my heart, during the season when so many people feel losses as well.”
Besides horses, Kennedy’s place is home to seven rescue dogs, two of which are blind and one with diabetes. Having one more dog with special needs wasn’t a problem.
But she worried that one of her more rambunctious foster dogs, a Maremma sheepdog named Elsa, was. Before Kennedy could bring home Boomer, she had to rehome Elsa.
Another contact of Goodman’s posted about Elsa, a woman responded, and that woman turned out to be a new neighbor just three doors down from Kennedy.
“The stars aligned in uncanny ways,” she said.
Last Saturday, Elsa went to her new home and Boomer went to his. The bond was instantaneous.
“He came to me and kept returning, staying at my side,” she said. “I think Boomer is happy.”
Kennedy is. Fifteen years ago, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Recently, her husband was diagnosed with a devastating form of dementia. Her rescue animals, she said, remind her that they have plenty of life left and plenty of love to give – and so does she.
“Instead of lamenting about how MS stopped my career trajectory five years ago, I am grateful that it has allowed me to continue to serve by now having time to do rescue work,” she said. “I believe that animals are sentient beings and they need our help now more than ever. It’s not altruistic, though. The rescues give back way more than we give them. They are my serenity and sanity in a crazy world.”
That world seems a little less crazy with a dog named Boomer and the special people who love him in it.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.