Lasting Tribute 

Inspired by a dying dog and her grandmother's memory, one woman wants to help others grieve.

The dog has been her constant companion. He even scared off a burglar once, she says. But Mullins knows she can't buy her dog any more time. "Casey's dying now," she says.

But as he weakens, her resolve grows. Mullins is creating a foundation in Casey's memory that she hopes will help people get through the grieving process. It won't provide therapy or counseling, she says, as there are already several organizations that exist for that purpose. The purpose of the Frances Casey Foundation is to pay for people's expressions of grief, whether they take the form of a gravestone, a printed book of poems or a memorial Web site.

It may seem like a modest goal. But, as Mullins says, it can be difficult to honor the dead when you don't have much money.

She pulls out a photograph of her grandmother's bench-shaped grave marker, which is inscribed with a poem Mullins wrote. It took her 11 years to get that stone, she says, because she didn't have much money and no one would finance the $3,000 purchase.

Since that experience, Mullins says, she has heard many others recount similar stories. Some couldn't afford the final payments on a gravestone and lost the money they'd already paid. Some had shoeboxes full of poems and remembrances, and wanted to print a memorial book, but couldn't find money to do it. A co-worker of Mullins died with no family and no savings for a grave marker. For a long while she lay beside her husband unnamed.

It wasn't fair, Mullins thought. "There's no price on love," she says. "Everybody loves the same." The Frances Casey Foundation, she decided, would enable those in grief to pay tribute to their dead — whether human or animal. In grief, "there's no difference," she says adamantly.

A few weeks ago, she quit her job with a printing company to begin setting up the foundation (named for her grandmother and her dog) and to spend more time with Casey. With the help of her girlfriend, Sue Cline, Mullins is setting up a Web site, www.francescasey.com, filing for status as a nonprofit organization and seeking donors.

The process hasn't been easy, Mullins has discovered. "It's unbelievable, the amount of stuff you have to fill out just to give away money," she says. Nevertheless, she hopes to have the foundation active by Jan. 1. People would apply on the Web site for money for monuments, memorial books or any other tribute they could imagine, she says. A "grief-relief advisory board" would decide which proposals to fund.

Of course, first she must find funding sources. Even without money, however, Mullins hopes to begin offering pages on the Web site for free, so people can create online memorials to their loved ones.

Mullins' eyes light up as she talks about her plans. Not everyone agrees that her mission is worthwhile, however. Her parents, for instance, were incredulous when she spent $3,000 on her grandmother's monument when a simple flat stone already marked the spot. "Well, she's not there," they told her. "You wasted your money." People have said the same of Mullins' efforts to save Casey. Between the hip replacement and heart medication, the little mutt she got for free has cost her thousands.

But he's worth it, she says. "I've never had another dog like him. Ever," Mullins says, as Casey rests in her arms. She found him in a Style classified ad on Sept. 19, 1989 — a day she didn't have enough money to buy a newspaper, she recalls. When she arrived at the house, Casey climbed in her lap. It was love at first sight.

Since then, the docile, 9-pound dog has been her constant companion. When Mullins found out about his failing heart, she looked into transplants, even cloning, to no avail. ("I get the impression that they would make a whole litter of little Caseys," she says of the cloning process. "No matter what was wrong with them, I'd like to have them all.") Last week, she looked up the 13-year-old issue of Style and called the woman who placed the classified years ago, hoping to find another dog that perhaps shared some of Casey's genes.

The woman cried to hear her story, Mullins says, but could offer no help in finding any of the dog's relatives. She still had Casey's brother, but didn't know where the other puppies had gone.

It's OK, Mullins decided. For now, she'll spend her days holding her dog and working on the foundation, she says. "This is one of the ways that he will live forever." S


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