Friday, December 17, 2010
I’ve been a fan of his heartfelt memorials to his dogs in the “Pets Remembered” section for years, which I guess is why Mal Connors’ writing seemed so familiar to me when I came upon his full-page ad in the Times Colonist last week.
I saw his signature at the end of the 1,600-word letter he paid to run in the Dec. 5 paper, and thought, of course! It’s the Rainbow Bridge man. Thank you, Mal, for the opportunity to learn a little more about you after all these years.
As I now know, the Rainbow Bridge man (that’s how he closes the memorials to his dogs, “See you at Rainbow Bridge”) is the owner of Island Carpet Service, Mal Connors. He’s 73 years old, married to Lizzie, father of four, and retiring after 43 years of doing business in the region.
His ad was essentially a long and deeply personal letter to his customers and friends, every bit as heartfelt as his pet memorials.
“As my tour comes to an end in the work force I would emotionally like to pass onto you all, young and to folks like myself of developed years, these words. I have them in my home gym, office and kitchen: Be unlimited. Be Fearless. Be on top of your game. Be personable,” he writes in the ad.
The letter took him a month to write, he told me, and cost him $4,800 to run in the paper. “You can spend money on different things. I spend it on that,” says Mal, who also doesn’t flinch at the cost of the big memorials he runs for his dogs.
Mal listed his contact number at the bottom of the ad. His phone has been ringing steady ever since the ad came out, including a fellow from the Northwest Territories who called late at night to tell Mal his words had “real resonance” for him.
“People are telling me it’s an amazing letter - such an inspiration, simple and honest,” says a grateful but slightly puzzled Mal. “I just want to say thank you to them for even dialling my number. I’m just so humbled by the phone calls, and they don’t stop coming.”
Even if you’ve never read a Mal memorial, you’d know he loves his dogs by that ad. He writes about the seven dogs, several cats and pet crow that have passed through the family home, and urges readers to “be caring, gentle and show respect to your dogs and other valued pets and give them your daily love. Please, never forget them. “
He’s an interesting man, judging by his ad. But who’d expect any less from a man who mourns his passing pets so generously? Anyone who has known love for an animal knows there’s great grief in saying goodbye, which is why I’ve always appreciated that Mal puts his out there.
Mal has outlived nine dogs in his lifetime. His current dog is Starlit, a white German shepherd from the Cariboo.
But the family’s lab, Dave, died in September, and Mal is thinking about checking the SPCA for another dog or two. “I’ve got a quarter to a half-acre to farm here,” he says. “There’s room.”
He laminates the memorials to past dogs and hangs them in the kitchen. He has most of their ashes, too.
There are costs to doing it the way Mal likes to do it, but again, he doesn’t flinch at those. He pays the pet crematorium to give his beloved pets a sendoff in a “clean oven,” and patiently waits the two hours that it takes to collect the ashes and bring them home.
“Dogs aren’t for everybody, but they kept me on top of my game,” says Mal. “Cleaning their water bowls, taking them out to Beaver and Elk lakes, all their different personalities. Dogs are a big part of my life.”
I asked him about the Rainbow Bridge reference. He says it’s from a poem. I looked for it on-line, but the links were mostly other heartbroken pet owners saying goodbye to their own dear pets. Wikipedia says the author is unknown, but a kind reader who saw my piece in the TC this morning has now sent me the link.
“My pets are all waiting for me at Rainbow Bridge, and we’ll cross it together into Heaven,” explains Mal. “I’m not a religious guy, but that’s what I believe.”
Well, Mal, I hope your time at the bridge doesn’t come anytime soon. But you’re in for one heck of a happy reunion when the day comes.
Until then, carry on. The world needs more people with heart.