A dog’s life

Like his namesake, Ray Charles Fleming had soul

Denise and Ray Charles Fleming

Denise and Ray Charles Fleming

Photo By mary j. miner

As regular readers know, I don’t ordinarily write about personal matters in this space. But I’m making an exception this week to tell you about Ray, our dog who died last week, because he had such an impact on people that, when he passed, many who knew him burst into tears.

The first thing to know about Ray is that he was blind from birth, the result of an infection that destroyed his eyes. Despite that, he was a pretty dog, a small golden retriever mix with that breed’s soft, fine fur and gentle temperament.

My wife, Denise Fleming, found him on an Internet dog-rescue site. He’d spent the first year of his life in a backyard shed, with no companions, not even a name. He was about to be put down when he was rescued and, about six months ago, came to live with us in Chico. We named him after Ray Charles.

Denise fell in love with him immediately, and he with her. He was fond of everyone in the family, but with her it was special. He liked nothing more than to cuddle with her on the couch.

Thinking Ray had potential to be a therapy dog, Denise began taking him with her to the Chico State Student Health Center, where she’s an administrator. The students loved him, as did Denise’s co-workers. Often the students would end up on the floor, hugging and petting him. Ray had found his calling.

Before long students were asking for him, and the receptionist would send out an email: “Where is Ray Charles Fleming?” Others would call in to make appointments to see Ray. There was something about this blind but lovable dog that spoke to their hearts.

Two Saturdays ago he started having trouble walking. Then seizures. His Chico vet didn’t know what was wrong, so Denise drove to the UC Davis Small Animal Clinic. An MRI scan revealed a brain awash in undrained cranial fluid. There was nothing to be done. Ray died in Denise’s arms.

When word reached the health center, people wept. Students had sent emails to friends asking them to pray for Ray. And one of Denise’s co-workers sent out a lovely Facebook message: “Ray passed away today, and we and the students will miss him so much. He was blind from birth but never hesitated to find someone to give him pets and love. Thanks, Denise, for letting us share Ray’s short life. Raise your glasses to Ray tonight, he was a great co-worker!”