About Ashlee L.
I’ve written and rewritten this letter a dozen times. Trying to get it “right.” It’s a lot of pressure trying to summarize the life and legacy a friend leaves behind. Especially when his wife, my good friend, could potentially read what I have to say.
The story I’m going to tell you is from an outsider’s perspective, a friend’s perspective. I am writing to tell you the love story of my two friends, Gayla and Don. They are the kind of people who are so good it’s hard to believe they are real. They were together 15 and a half years, married a little over 8 years. Don got his Prostate cancer diagnosis 2 months before he and Gayla were married. He literally did not stop fighting until the end. The night he died, Gayla went home for dinner and to care for the rescue dogs (did I mention they run a Dog rescue?). The hospice nurse called her and said he got really agitated then settled down and passed peacefully. Gayla never left his side I hope she doesn’t struggle not being there at the moment of his transition. Don was hospitalized several times over the last few months and needed blood transfusions regularly. Even though he could barely sit upright, he would insist on sitting in the car with her if she brought a dog over or had errands to run. I can’t tell you how many times over the past year I walked out to the driveway to say hi to him. Every time I saw him, I could see less and less life. But he kept smiling. He kept showing up for his wife, too. Even if that meant sitting next to her on a drive.
I have no clue as to the depths of the daily struggles and fears Gayla has endured. She was too busy helping her husband fight to talk about them. She did, however, ALWAYS speak of some new treatment or trial she got Don into. In the last weeks of Don’s time with us she started talking a bit more about what was going on as she was trying to figure out end of life care for him. Not only was she the type of wife who dedicated everything she had to her husband’s survival, but she is more than humble. She would never tell the world of her tireless work. She never gets the recognition or praise she should but dammit, she deserves it!
Don passed on January 25th, 2021. Don and Gayla were each other’s entire world. Together they created and ran a Dog Rescue, Soul Dog Rescue and Rehab. The type of rescue they ran and that Gayla continues to run, now on her own, is one that leaves no dog behind. They have dedicated countless hours, efforts, and dollars to troubled dogs. The most harrowing of stories and backgrounds. They make sure that every dog finds a home where they can live out the rest of their days. While my heart is in it, I cannot dedicate myself to rehab some of the dogs they have helped. I watch in awe at how they take on any task with positivity and surety. I’ve honestly never seen selfless dedication that could compare. Every single dog that comes into this rescue is safe. Every single dog has their needs assessed and they make sure they find a home with understanding and willingness to help the dogs work through their issues. I wish I knew their stats to share with you. Instead, I will tell you of one of our latest fosters. Kai, a mini-Aussie, was born (we think) without a paw on his back leg. The breeder reached out as he wasn’t sellable. She reached out to Gayla and despite having a husband actively dying, Gayla went and saved this baby. He didn’t stay with my family for long, but he is still with the rescue. He has been working on trusting humans and Gayla got him in for a consult over his missing foot. The Vet thinks a prosthetic is all he needs to live a normal active life, but he may need his leg amputated. After we determined Kai was not compatible as a foster with my family, Gayla brought us two extremely sweet lab mix puppies. Ruthie (inspired by RBG) and Soto (inspired after Sotomayor). They are small and sweet and have the best puppy breath. I don’t know how I’m going to rehome them. Probably keep one. Or two. Shit. No, they need to be adopted. One. We will keep one. Here’s the thing. I know Gayla will let me decide whatever is best for my family. She allows her fosters to be human. She allows her friends to be flawed and still sees the best in them. Despite spending the last of her days with her soulmate and best friend (her words) she still spent time and energy reaching out to me. To make sure my spirits were lifted when I was dealing with my own stuff. She always sends videos of LGBT stuff to show her support of me. She and Don both have always been supportive allies and a safe space for me and my family. Honestly, Gayla is, what I’ve always wished to have in a mother. She understands difference and diversity. She supports it. She is a true ally. They are the type of friends to hold on to. They are the type of friends where I sit back and ask myself how can I give back to them? Surely, pecking at my keyboard is the least I can do to try to make a difference for them now.
Since Don has passed, Gayla has been talking to friends and attending Grief Counseling. She is doing the work to keep herself moving forward. She went back to work pretty much straight away and good thing she did. The first day back, someone brought in an 8- or 9-year-old Chihuahua to be put down because he didn’t like the 18 months hold in the home. If you think that dog got put down, you are dead wrong. No way. That’s what she does. She saves lives. She took him home and got him into a foster a couple days later. OMG you should see the picture of this dog smiling in his foster home! Gayla is an angel among us I certainly hope Don is now in a place guiding us. I know he is. The night he died, Gayla was heading home and a suspected drunk driver pulled out and totaled her van. She was totally fine. He parked his truck then fled on foot. He finally came forward weeks later and told the cops he soiled himself so he ran away out of embarrassment (you can fact check all of this I’m not fibbing!). I’m sure Don made sure she was ok.
Now Gayla is back at work, back at rescuing, and learning to live a life without her person. She has a guitar necklace with some of Don’s ashes around her neck. She is still showing up. I don’t know how she does most of what she does, but I’m so grateful to know her. Thanks for taking some time out to read about my friend’s story it means a lot.
Sincerely, Ashlee L.