Until he became sick with lung cancer, Kevin McClain, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, lived in a car with his dog, Yurtie (aka Yurt), an 8-year-old Collie mix.
Last month paramedics rushed an unconscious McClain to a hospital, and Yurtie was taken to an animal shelter.
McClain, whose cancer was incurable, was transferred to the Dennis & Donna Oldorf Hospice House of Mercy. He had just one wish: to see his beloved dog one last time before he died.
“In the transition of moving him over from our ambulance cot to the bed, he told me, ‘I have a dog,’” Jan Erceg, a paramedic for Area Ambulance Service who also happens to volunteer at Cedar Rapids Animal Care and Control, told TheGazette.com. “He said her name is Yurt and … that was my ‘Aha’ moment.”
Erceg told TheGazette.com that Yurtie, who was healthy, well-fed and groomed despite McClain’s condition, had been terrified and inconsolable since she was brought to the shelter.
At the hospice, McClain, who had lived with Yurtie since the pup was about 6 weeks old, wasn’t very communicative. “The entire time he was there, he only stated his goal was to see his dog. That was really all he was concerned with,” Brandi Garrett, the hospice’s patient care coordinator, told ABC News.
The hospice, animal shelter and ambulance company all worked together to make McClain’s final request come true.
Erceg drove Yurtie to the hospice in an ambulance. “This dog, I swear to God she knew where she was going,” Erceg told ABC News. “She was just freaking out — yipping and shrieking.”
When they arrived at the hospice, Yurtie led Erceg directly to McClain’s room, and jumped up on her sleeping dog dad’s bed.
“It was like watching her pour herself over his body — she laid completely on top of him,” Erceg told ABC News. Erceg held McClain’s hand on Yurtie’s head, patting her until McClain’s fingers began to move.
“And the moment he opened those eyes and saw that dog, there was instant recognition, and with Yurtie, she licked his arms, she licked his face,” Erceg told TheGazette.com.
“I’ve been a paramedic so long — you get kind of hardened sometimes, and things like this make you realize you haven’t seen it all and you should never lose your humility in life,” she said.
After an hour, Erceg tried to gently lift Yurtie off the bed, but McClain continued to stroke his faithful companion’s head.
“Behave. You behave,” were his final words to Yurtie.
McClain died the next day.
“So it just really seemed to work so perfect,” Garrett told TheGazette.com. She told ABC News that reunion had been simultaneously heartwarming and heart-wrenching.
A few weeks ago, Yurtie was adopted by Kate and Eric Ungs of Marion, Iowa, who had been mourning the loss of their black Lab.
“She just brings so much love and energy into the home,” Kate told TheGazette.com. She said that although Yurtie is adjusting well, she still seems to miss McClain.
“At night she starts to kind of cry a little bit and gets really snuggly,” she told ABC News. “We feel like that was the kind of time when she used to snuggle with her old owner.”