I love Google image search. I must admit when I research someone I begin with pictures. Pictures can tell you so much about a person. I thoroughly enjoyed researching Lisa Donnarumma as the picture that I saw again and again was of a dog. A particular type of dog seems to be associated with Lisa. Lisa likes labs. She enjoys their spirit and exuberance. They are not very good at sitting still and have a little trouble doing exactly what they are told (like many e-patients).
Lisa loved her own lab Caya and wanted the world to see her smart special friend. She enrolled Caya in an agility trial with the New England Community of Canine Agility in 2008. As they waited Lisa realized Caya might be the only lab in a sea of Border Collies. As Caya barked within a crowd of obedient dogs, Lisa wondered if they could quietly slip away. At that moment their names were called.
With great trepidation Lisa walked Caya toward the course as the crowd of hundreds watched their progress. Four times Lisa said Caya’s release word “Okay,” yet Caya did not move. The tittering crowd was filling with outright laughter. Lisa felt like she was going to faint. At that moment a voice rang out saying “Lab Power!” Lisa was so glad someone understood! She said to Caya “Simon Says OKaaayyyy!” Caya quickly completed the course and they walked right over to the man yelling “Lab Power!”
And so this painting has a name:"Lab Power."
That yelling man was Rich Dennison. Lisa soon met his beautiful yellow Labrador Gabby. Rich and Lisa became friends. Rich was one of those beautiful people. He was positive and supportive to Lisa and Caya, new to this course; but he shouted his support of the other teams. He always had a good word for his dogs regardless of how well they completed the course.
Lisa always looked forward to spending time with Rich on the weekends. Her weekday world focusing on healthcare policy would find respite in these breaks spent with such an unfaltering positive person. So that was the life of Lisa and her friend Rich until three years ago.
Rich came to a meet looking very sad. He had just found out he had pancreatic cancer. He was sad because he might have to stop participating in agility trials. Rich’s friends surrounded him with hugs and tears. Lisa, who worked in healthcare, was well aware that pancreatic cancer is often called a “kill cancer.” She knew Rich could leave them within mere weeks.
But to the surprise of many Rich rallied! He enrolled in several clinical trials whist running agility courses and undergoing treatment. Rich credited his extended life in part to his work with the dogs. His positivity coupled with treatment seemed to beating the odds. His novel approach at fighting cancer succeeded for three years.
In March 2013, Rich could no longer participate in clinical trials. He was failing rapidly. He looked frail and sad. He wanted his dog Gabby to get a chance to compete and finish her lifetime achievement award. Rich’s friends stepped forward and ran Gabby in his stead.
Then the entire New England Agility Community step forward to help. They created purple bracelets to wear in support of those living with pancreatic cancer. Lisa bought two one for herself and one for Captain Jack her young black lab. They wear those bands within this painting. Rich was so honored and he continued to attend and watch his dogs run until summer 2013. Then Rich’s family informed the agility community that Rich had entered hospice. He would not be coming back.
That is when the New England Agility Community created the “The Spirit of Agility Award” in honor of Rich Dennison. The money raised by the sale of the purple bracelets will fund this award and support cancer research. The first of what will be an annual award was presented to Rich Dennison at the New England Agility Team trial meet on May 18th, 2013.
On June 2, 2013 Rich died.
Some have said he lost his battle cancer. I say that statement is wrong.
I painted Lisa’s jacket depicting the trials of Rich Dennison. I painted him with his beloved lab Gabby upon a hill of medicine. I painted Captain Jack racing through weave poles that are test tubes in a lab. You see Rich was one of those wonderful people who dedicated the end of his life to research of a terminal disease. He went through trial after agonizing trial. These trials had their u-turns, their ups and downs and time was of the essence. All the while he worked with his dogs and no matter how they did he praised the result with a smile and said “Awesome job!”
No, Rich did not lose a battle. He finished his course and has been called home. We are left to say, “Awesome job, Rich, awesome job.”