Leftovers: A boy and his dog on the path back from addiction

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Earlier this month, Jennifer Kirk, 52, of South Portland, posted a Facebook message asking if anyone could rehome her son Will’s 1-year-old pit bull, LuckyPup.

She explained without apology that Will, 22, was in a recovery house in Massachusetts. Jen, husband Billy, 51, and son Brady, 18, could not keep the dog. Along with pictures of Lucky looking adorable, Jen also shared a few shots and a short video of Will.

Natalie LaddFirst glance shows a boy and his dog on the beach in Massachusetts, animated and happy to be alive during this family visit. 

But it wasn’t always so for Will, who fell into a cycle of addiction, detox, recovery, and then again, addiction. Abuse of his prescribed attention-deficit medication eventually led him to Xanax, cocaine, and methadone, along with alcohol and pot.  

“It really started before he was born,” Jen told me. “He comes from generations of alcoholism and addiction with great-grandparents, grandparents, cousins, and my brother. Some people have the ‘genetic gene of addiction,’ and I always told him he needed to be careful around alcohol and of course drugs. Later, he told me he remembered my warnings but thought he was Superman and could avoid that trap.”

Jen and Billy think Will started abusing his “as needed” ADHD medicine when he realized it helped him focus and concentrate outside of the classroom. After graduating from Portland Arts and Technology High School with an aptitude for automotive technology, Will got a job at Don Foshay’s Discount Tire & Alignment.

He also met a girl and they had a daughter, Anaya. Things were strained between the couple and by the time Will left for detox the second time, his daughter’s mom had married someone else and made plans to move to Hawaii. 

“While Will was in the recovery house, he would attend child-custody hearings on his phone,” Jen said. “It was frustrating and slow going because family court was backed up for months due to COVID. It dragged on and (Anaya and her mother) left for Hawaii as things were being finalized. We all love that child and before Will went away, they lived with us. The judge knew all the details. Finally, he ruled that we can visit Anaya on Zoom, and can see her if we go there. She’ll be coming to Maine for four months starting in May.” 

Will Kirk
Will Kirk and LuckyPup earlier in November. (Courtesy Jennifer Kirk)

During this time of uncertainty, with thoughts of never seeing his daughter again, Will violated recovery house rules by drinking a beer. Jen believes he did it on purpose so he’d get kicked out and could come home to see Anaya. But that wasn’t going to happen. 

“Will could not move back into this house, relapse, and die here,” Jen stated flatly. “I just couldn’t have that. Billy, Brady, and I will do everything we can to let him know he is loved and supported, but he couldn’t die here.”

With Anaya in Hawaii and nowhere to go, Will moved into a tent city off South Portland’s Main Street.

The Kirks, sweethearts since middle school, are known in their community as a loving force with a focus on doing good for others. The family has been involved with Wreaths Across America since 2014, annually accompanying the caravan from Maine to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. They also participate in The Summit Project, which ensures Maine’s fallen heroes are not forgotten. Jen has worked in child care for 30 years, at the Boys and Girls Club of Southern Maine, and in various public schools. Billy is a trucker and jack-of-all-trades who provides the family’s insurance. 

“The whole insurance company thing is another story,” Jen said, describing how she hung up on customer service after telling them she would rob a bank to get her son clean. “… Foshay’s helped us so much with getting Will into the detox place … and Billy’s work lent us $5,000 for the recovery house. We’re really lucky that we have a strong support group with contacts and experience in managing this.” 

As for LuckyPup, Will adopted him while he was living in the tent city. Their bond helped him realize how much he wants to be clean and healthy, Jen said – how much Anaya needs him to be the best dad possible, and how much he appreciates his family and his happy childhood.

He can’t have the dog at the recovery home so Jen did what she does, and advocated for her son. LuckyPup now has a foster home until Will can reclaim him.

Jen and Billy are not ashamed or embarrassed by their son’s addiction and “will scream from the mountain tops” if it helps another family get into recovery, she said. “Be it from trauma, mental illness, or genetic predisposition, the addiction crisis, along with mental health, just cannot be ignored.”

Natalie Ladd is a Portland restaurant veteran, freelance writer, and connoisseur of all things Bruce Springsteen. She loves Boston sports, chewy red wine, and has never sampled a cheese she didn’t like. She can be reached at [email protected]