Touching Memorial To Dog Spreads Joy Of What He Loved The Most

<p> John Hembree </p>
<p> John Hembree </p>

The joyful spirit of a dog named Forrest, who passed away earlier this year, continues to live on in the place which had been his favorite throughout his happy life - thanks to a sweet, simple memorial sharing with others what he had loved the most.

"Forrest loved to play on this beach," reads a sign posted above a basket full of sandy tennis balls. "Please feel free to borrow a ball and play with your dog. Please return it when you are done so others may play as well."

Below, curious passersby are invited learn more about the cherished animal in whose honor the memorial was placed on that Oxnard, California beach. And like a plain keyhole overlooking a breathtaking vista, that's where the unforgettable story of Forrest, and the people who loved him so dearly, begins to unfold so beautifully.

John Hembree

Like too many dogs, Forrest began his life alone and unloved as a stray before being rescued when he was about a year old. Over the next 12 years, he lived alongside his adoptive owners, John and Teri Hembree in Southern California, where he enjoyed nothing more than playing ball on the beach near their home.

John Hembree

Forrest's zeal and zest for life was uncontainable, and it seemed nothing could slow him down. That nearly changed last year, however, when he was diagnosed with Canine Degenerative Myelopathy which began to limit the mobility in his back legs. But still, his desire to play persisted throughout the growing shadow of his disability.

"Even when he could no longer walk, he would always go to his toy box and grab a ball over anything else," Teri Hembree told The Dodo. "That was just part of his personality."

John Hembree

Despite being told by some that Forrest would never again lead a normal life because of his condition, the Hembrees never gave up on him. As his ability to walk diminished more and more, they fitted him with a wheelchair which allowed him to carry on with his favorite pastime regardless of his affliction.

"Some people told us we needed to let him go, but he just had way too much spirit," John told The Dodo. "Aside from the mobility issue, he was perfect. He just wanted to play. He was just a ball-crazy dog."

Jane Sobel Klonsky/Project Unconditional

Forrest's frequent trips to happily romp in his wheelchair soon made him an inspiration. While at the beach, the Hembrees met other pet owners who hadn't realized that dogs with similar mobility problems could continue to thrive with the help of wheels. But Forrest's mark on the world didn't stop at just dogs.

"There were people who said they were so depressed they couldn't get out of bed in the morning because of some physical ailment, and they would write us and tell us that they saw Forrest and it helped them get out of bed and face the day," said Teri. "Even with what Forrest was facing, he would always get up and go. It inspired us to do more."

John Hembree

The wheels afforded Forrest another year of normal life after his diagnosis, but it couldn't stave off the inevitable. In May, after his body and mind became too frail and fragile to go on, the Hembrees made the difficult decision to lay their beloved pet to rest. But just as his love of life couldn't be contained while he was alive, that eager spirit continues to persist even after his death.

"We thought it would be a good idea to honor Forrest by leaving out a bucket of balls for other dogs and their owners at his favorite beach," said Teri. "We placed it there, and in the evening we sat and watched people grab the balls and play with their dogs"

"We thought it would last a week, but it's been there for months," added John.

John Hembree

The Hembrees are still in mourning months after Forrest passed away, but they are comforted in knowing the memorial placed on the beach in his honor is furthering the joy he brought to them over their many years together. They have since met pet owners who were inspired to bring their dog to play by seeing the tennis balls left out for that purpose.

"We're just really happy that there's a legacy for him. He was just a really good dog," said John. "When we're feeling a little bit down, we will go to Forrest's beach and just sit and watch other dogs playing with the balls. It makes our day to know that others are bringing their dogs out to play."

John Hembree

Forrest may be gone, but in some ways he's more present than ever - touching the lives of visitors to the beach he loved, and folks around the world who stop to learn his story online.

"It's been overwhelming, to say the least. It's just so heartwarming and inspiring for us, and bittersweet," said Teri. "We wish he was still here, but he's still inspiring people. It makes us really happy. He was amazing."

To help other rescue dogs like Forrest find loving homes, make a donation in his memory by clicking here.