FRIDAY HARBOR, Washington -- It may be the happiest possible ending to the saddest of stories.
Kathleen Zuidema is dying.
“It’s getting real now,” said Kathleen Zuidema from her home on San Juan Island. “Pain level and chemotherapy are no fun.”
But at least Zuidema can focus on one fact. Her trio of beloved Australian Sheepdogs have a place to go once she is gone.
“I get really mad sometimes that this is having to happen,” said Zuidema. “But what’s come out of it has been overwhelming.”
In early March faced with inoperable and incurable lung cancer spreading through her body, Zuidema turned to Facebook with a plea.
She had one wish before she died. She needed to know her ‘Aussie Posse’ would stay together and stay on the island after she was gone.
Calling it the hardest thing she had ever done, she published her wish on her own Facebook page.
Within hours it had been shared hundreds of times. Within days it had been shared by thousands.
Overnight after Q13 News aired Zuidema’s story the Facebook post went internationally viral and offers of help poured in from around the globe.
“The support,” said Zuidema. “I have friends over here every day helping and it’s just unbelievable.”
Despite the kind words and offers though she still couldn’t find the right fit.
At one point another Seattle TV station erroneously reported that she had found the posse a new home and she panicked believing the offers would subside before she had found the right fit.
She was right, almost.
Danielle Cochran didn’t know Zuidema personally despite living on the same small island for years together. She had seen the trio of dogs and she knew the owner would have to be a kindred spirit.
Cochran and her husband own two dogs of their own and she advocates for dog rescue and adoption.
When she first read Zuidema’s request she talked with her husband. But then the talk stopped when they saw the incorrect report.
Thankfully a day later someone at the local pet feed story set Cochran straight and told her the posse still needed a home.
“I went straight over there and knocked on her door,” said Cochran.
Everything else is history. The people and the dogs met and the chemistry was instant.
Zuidema knew she had found the right home for her kids.
“I feel really, really, really relieved and great about it,” said Zuidema of the match. “But on the other hand it’s heartbreaking.
Zuidema must now really turn her focus to her final months.
“When she thanked me I just told her I was so glad I was able to do it,” said Cochran. “ She doesn’t need that worry any longer.”
Along with well wishes and offers of help, donations also flooded in to Zuidema’s crowd funding account. She said she now has enough to stop worrying about her medical bills and instead to focus on helping the Cochrans build a new fence.
The two families were also able to devise a plan. The three dogs will spend an increasing amount of time with the Cochrans as Zuidema’s health declines.
Eventually the younger two dogs will move to the Cochran’s property full time. But the oldest pup will remain with Zuidema until the end.
And that is where this happy ending truly turns sad. Zuidema knows her pups will live on with the perfect family. She has a renewed sense of support from her island community and from around the world. All the attention even lead to a reunion with a brother estranged for more than 15 years.
And still the fact of her own fate remains.
"I got everything I wanted ... except for the dying part."