Little Henry the chihuahua helps heal mum’s pain after tragic death of son

Henry the chihuahua is helping Debbie McCormick recover from the tragic death of her son Rupert....
Henry the chihuahua is helping Debbie McCormick recover from the tragic death of her son Rupert. Photo: Geoff Sloan
Following the tragic death of her son Rupert in a drug-fuelled car crash, Debbie McCormick struggled to leave the house and prevent herself from constantly crying.

But she is now slowly building herself back to the person she was before the tragedy – thanks to her emotional support pet, Henry the chihuahua.

Debbie, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of her son’s death, said 24-week-old Henry has had “a huge impact” on her overall well-being.

“I feel like I can take a breathe now, I feel like I was holding my breath before,” she said.

In December 2018, Rupert, who lived in Woolston, was a passenger in a car heading to the West Coast. The driver lost control and the vehicle crashed off the road.

Rupert was found 9m from the vehicle, suffering multiple head fractures. He was flown to Wellington Hospital but never regained consciousness.

Rupert as he lay unconscious in hospital. Photo: Supplied
Rupert as he lay unconscious in hospital. Photo: Supplied
The driver Corrie Wilson Hogg was sentenced to three years and eight months in prison after pleading guilty to two charges of causing death while driving a vehicle under the influence of drugs, one charge of causing bodily injury while driving under the influence, and another charge of possessing methamphetamine.

While Hogg survived, passengers Rupert and West Coast woman Kelsie Monk, who was the niece of Pike River families spokesman Bernie Monk, died.

The remaining passenger, who was Rupert’s partner, was left with permanent brain injuries.

Sitting by her son’s side for 18 days desperately hoping he would regain consciousness was like “living in a nightmare,” Debbie said.

“It was an absolute shock. It just felt like someone had ripped out a piece of my heart and chucked it away.

“My heart was just breaking inside when I was trying to do normal routine things. I would just cry at almost anything. If I saw a sweet wee child I would start crying, I couldn’t help it.”

Rupert and Debbie McCormick. Photo: Supplied
Rupert and Debbie McCormick. Photo: Supplied
Rupert was a “very strong individual with a good heart.”

Debbie, who previously worked as a health worker at a rest home and before that was an ambulance officer, has been unable to work since Rupert’s death.

But little Henry is helping her get to a point where she could return to work.

“I am getting better and since I have had Henry I have been remarkably calmer.

“I just feel like if I did not have Henry I would be stuck in Groundhog Day to be honest.”

She takes Henry everywhere she goes, into shops, restaurants and cafes.

There are some places that don’t let her in with Henry which she found upsetting.

She wanted people to understand the importance of emotional support pets for those who are struggling with mental illness.

“I would like people to recognise that people who have emotional support pets are not doing it because they are animal mad, we are doing it because we need that encouragement. I get very stressed if I can’t have Henry with me.”

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