I’d never met anyone like Janine Ritchie. I know I’ve never met many people who suffered so much pain in their lives and still kept a loving heart like she did.
If life had tossed anyone around as much as it did Janine, no one could blame them for being bitter and angry.
Death came easier than living did for Janine. She died peacefully in her sleep on April 16 at 69 years old, her beloved mixed-breed dog Princess by her side.
I’m not sure how I met Janine, but I came to know her in 2003. She lived in a small Midtown apartment with her dog Little Bear. Most of her furniture she made out of scraps of white-pine lumber.
The Native American woman was born with two club feet, a twisted neck and a tumor on her head. She wound up in a Wallace, Idaho, orphanage. She ran away from there at 9 years old to find her parents.
Some told her that her father lived in California, but he really was dying there after having drank his liver sick. He died two hours before her plane landed.
Janine did have a daughter. But after she moved to Missouri as a young woman, the state took that daughter from her for reasons Janine always found hard to explain. The daughter eventually died in a plane crash at 27 years old.
Janine then met a kindly elderly gentleman shortly after she joined Alcoholics Anonymous in St. Joseph to deal with her own drinking problems. They were together for 18 years until he took sick and his family moved him away to a nursing home in Topeka, Kansas.
The only constants in Janine’s life were her dogs. When I met her, her dog companion was Little Bear, a German shepherd/Siberian husky mixed breed. When Little Bear died, she got another mixed-breed dog named Luke. Luke died a few years ago, and Janine got another mixed-breed dog from the animal shelter that she named Princess. Princess was with Janine when she died. She is currently in the shelter again awaiting adoption.
Amy Jenkins, Janine’s caretaker, is the one who found her dead in bed that April morning. Jenkins said she looked as if she was sleeping peacefully.
Jenkins said she still can feel Janine’s presence at times.
“Sometimes she’ll send a sign,” she said.
Sometimes now when I drive past Janine’s Midtown home, I look over at the porch and think I’ll see her standing there. I still expect to get a call from her as she called me from time to time just to say hello or when she needed money for a few groceries or cigarettes or dog food. I found out that there were others who looked out for her, too. Janine had such a sweet disposition and thoughtful, caring personality that drew people to her. At the same time, those traits also made her vulnerable to users, as some took advantage of her generosity and kindness. Janine had little, but she was always willing to share what she had with others in need.
Janine did die having people who cared for her, which is all any of us can hope for.