Friday, July 17, 2015

In Memoriam: Kazoo (January 2005 - July 2015)

By: James Bluhm

Kazoo was a male yellow Labrador and my guide in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada (Oregon class OR128 September, 2006).

What a great boy! Some called him "Kaz", others "Zoo" but Kazoo loved his name and his temperament suited it perfectly. Whenever his name was acknowledged, he responded with an enthusiastic wag of the tail and a desire to get better acquainted with a new or old friend. He worked for almost nine years guiding me to work, school, and many travels to far-off places. He performed his duties as a service animal professionally, but there was always a touch of zeal lurking behind his demeanor. He was ready, on a moment’s notice, to explode with a, “its great to be a Labrador!” He had a love of life, people, animals, food, and blue latex gloves that will be truly missed. What a great boy!

We met in Boring Oregon in 2006. For those of us who received training at their facility, we found it far from boring. Kazoo was my second guide dog and I expected him to replicate all of the inimitable elements of his predecessor’s style. While this was often true as evidenced by how well he guided me safely to wherever we were going, he did not prove to be a flawless replica. He did not automatically know where my house was even after we had visited it several times. It took weeks for him to confidently arrive at home without taking detours around interesting parts of the neighborhood. He did not automatically know who my wife was either. We would go shopping to a large store and he would follow her for awhile but then, for whatever reason, he would find another pretty lady to tuck behind and follow. I still recall my wife calling “Kazoo” from a long way off to get him to return to her. He had a right fixation; while guiding me, he chose to hug the right side of the street as closely as possible. Why you may ask, would this be a problem?  Imagine walking across a bridge every morning with very fast moving traffic immediately to the right, just a step off the sidewalk away. Now imagine walking it with your eyes closed, positioned behind a rookie guide dog, who kept you immediately beside that curb, weaving his way around lamp posts and traffic signs that we encountered in our path. He always returned to his course, inches away from the right drop, despite ongoing attempts to persuade him to walk in the middle of the sidewalk. Roller coasters have no thrills compared to this. So there is little doubt that he was not a perfect dog, but he was damn near one.

He loved to work. He was always ready to spring to the door when it was evident that I was about to leave. He loved to learn new routes and once learned, he never forgot them. He loved to travel. He especially loved sniffing Hollywood’s walk of fame and the embedded stars of the great actors found there. He was less enthusiastic about whale watching off Vancouver Island only because of the hammering the boat took as it caught up with the whales. He took a cruise visiting many countries around the Gulf of Mexico which he found to be interesting, even though the facilities on the boat were less than ideal for a dog. You never saw a pup happier to see a palm tree surrounded by green, firmly planted on solid ground, at each of our destinations. Wherever we went, he always identified obstacles and changes in elevation that could have been dangerous if I had encountered them unawares.

He loved people; he had many friends at our office. When I retired, we spent two years at Carleton University earning a BA in English and many more new friends. By then, he had mastered “eye contact.” As a professional service animal, he could not go over to meet all of the pretty girls at the university who so obviously wanted to get to know him better. But with a practiced, steady contact with his eyes, he could often entice them to come over and say “hi” to him; he could not be blamed for that. He loved my wife Denise, and each time he found her, even after a brief absence, he reacted with a bout of near ecstasy. He especially loved church; he had so many friends who knew him for a long time. Following a church service, it would be bedlam as many people from the very young to old would want to respond to his wagging tail. Some of the tried and true guide dog school rules were thrown by the wayside in the turmoil. Happily, it never ruined him as a true professional guide dog.

What was it about blue, latex gloves? We never knew.  Perhaps they were used at the veterinary clinic where his puppy raiser worked and where he spent much time growing up. Perhaps, the vet and others at Guide Dogs for the Blind used them while making a fuss over him. Whatever the reason, he loved blue, latex gloves with a passion and would automatically go into play mode whenever somebody donned them. You might not think of this as much of a problem except when you realize that they are part of the normal attire of airport security staff. Kazoo loved going through airport security. As soon as the security staff put on their gloves, and as he was about to go through the metal detectors, he reacted with joy and enthusiasm. Much of my time at security was spent preparing staff for what they were about to encounter. I doubt if many other travelers requested security personnel that liked dogs because they were about to frisk a dog that absolutely loved each and every one of them. These were interesting experiences that I am sure staff of airports throughout North America still talk about today.

There are still so many stories to tell. The time he fell, thunderbolt in love with Princess Fiona at Universal Studios, the time he met a baby alligator on a tour bus in Florida, his love of carrots and ice cubes as special treats, his love of wading Black Creek (adjacent to our home in the Niagara), encouraging him to chase ducks trying to set up residence in our pool, sleeping on the front porch, in the back yard, under desks and wherever else when it was appropriate to do so, his treks from Professor Keen in Brit. Lit. II to Professor Beecher in Brit. Lit. I...the stories could go on and on.

He was such an amazing personality. We had no idea of how ill he was. He stayed just long enough to go to our convocation, wearing his well-earned gown and acknowledging his personal recognition by the president of the university. I will miss you my friend.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Carnation Crossed the Rainbow Bridge

It is with a heavy heart and much sadness that I bring you the news that my sweet Angel Carnation crossed the Rainbow Bridge Thursday Afternoon on April 23, 2015.  She lived a long and happy life and had just passed her fourteenth and one half birthday on Saturday April 18th.  She was happy and alert till the end and I was with her and she knew I was with her, and that it was OK for her to leave; I would be fine as long as she continues to watch over me. I know she is watching and I am happy she is no longer suffering or in pain and can run free, play keep away, and see all of her human and doggie friends who have waited for her.

The past month has been horrible as we learned from an ultrasound that she had a tumor in her liver. I opted not to have a biopsy or any further treatment as it would only give a little more time and we wanted her to enjoy the time left.  So, she got to eat whatever she wanted, go for walks when she wanted to, go for rides in the car, and stay in the yard enjoying the fresh air and flowers. She totally controlled her destiny to the end including deciding when it was time to do things or what she would eat or drink and when. We humans were sometimes frustrated, but she was totally in charge.

Roxanne (wearing a purple jacket) poses with Carnation (yellow Lab) in a studio portrait.

Princess Carnation was my first guide dog. We met later in my life and she gave me freedom and confidence that I had never known while using a white cane; I was able to go places alone where I would have never gone using a cane.  I could go anywhere with Carnation by my side and was never afraid. My Zaga took her place when retirement came for Carnation after nine long years of work. Carnation was jealous because she didn’t want anyone else to do her job, but eventually, she settled into her new lifestyle and enjoyed four years with other people and dogs who became her family too. She was alert and happy and lived life to the fullest and never gave up her professional duties of being a guide dog. She could still leash guide after all those years and was happy to do it.

My sweet Carnation, rest in peace and enjoy the love and contentment you have earned. We will meet again, so wait for me. We have so many wonderful memories of things we did together and I will never forget a minute of our times together. Watch over me and Zaga too, because we are all together and will never lose sight of each other.

Roxanne and Zaga

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Dog of Honor

By: GDB graduate Becky Andrews

It has been almost seven years since my first guide dog, Pantera, died at the age of 11 1/2,working as a guide for nine of those years. The pain of her loss has turned to such sweet memories and celebration of an incredible life well lived. Pantera was a devoted, loving companion up to the day she died. I remember with such joy receiving her on September 17, 1997. Experiencing the freedom and ability to walk joyfully again was incredible. I wanted to just keep walking. Pantera held her head high and was so proud working as a guide. She helped me hold my head high and once again walk confidently and conquer so many things.  

I soon learned I did not only gain a beautiful guide dog to enhance my mobility and independence, many doors were opened up in my life. This included being a part of the GDB family and friendships with so many including her puppy raiser. The pictures below are Pantera as the dog of honor at her puppy raiser, Meg's wedding. After that day, Pantera was referred to as our Dog of Honor.

I remember well the day Meg called to ask if I would be her Matron of Honor and Pantera the dog of honor.  I was busy catching a bus to go to class - living the independent life with my guide dog.

Pantera lived her life with honor loving and serving. When my family and I reminisce about Pantera, we often talk about how much she loved to serve as a guide dog and her devotion. Thank you, Pantera, for your example and for opening my world back up as a young wife and mother. I carry you in my heart forever.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

About Miss Laura

By: GDB graduate Karen Strudwick
It is with the deepest sadness and sense of loss that I am sharing this news.We said a final good-bye to dearest Laura on Thursday, March 13, 2014. She turned 14 last month but her ongoing struggles with arthritis in her hind legs, respiratory issues, and other challenges of a very senior dog  were getting the better of her. Despite our best efforts, it had become clear that, if we wanted her to leave us on a high note, we had to help her to take this last step.
Last Tuesday, spring arrived on Marrowstone Island where Laura was happilly relaxing at her home-away-from-home with Jeff and Newbe. Zarek and I joined them and we all enjoyed walking in the woods , relaxing on the bluff above Heart Rock Beach, and generally spoiling our darling girl one last time. Then, on Thursday morning , Jeff's plum treee burst into bloom. That afternoon, lying on her blanket and sheepskin on the sunny lawn, nibbling at a banana, with Jeff and I and the vet kneeling at her side, Laura went into a deep and peaceful sleep and her spirit gracefully floated away, unfettered by earthly ailments. I like to think that she bounded across a field of daisies toward a welcoming committee led by my mum--with a banana in hand.

Laura (Yellow Lab) stands in grass with the sun on her back.
Laura (Yellow Lab) stands in grass with the sun on her back.
Jeff's student tenants helped us to lay Laura to rest beside several other canine, feline, and fish friends in a small secluded garden surrounded by 7-foot-tall ferns and shaded by a dogwood tree. Both Newbe and Zarek attended the burial. Zarek sat leaning against my leg, as if trying to comfort me. We believe that Newbe played her own special role as well. Named after the canine-like Egyptian god who guided the recently deceased through the underworld,  our own Anubis made sure that her dear old friend did, indeed, reach that welcoming committee on the other side.
Through Guide Dogs for the Blind, Laura and I joined forces in 2001 when she was only 18 months old. Over the next 10 years, we were seldom apart. She guided me at work, attended social and cultural events with me, made sure we collected Stephen safely from after-school activities, wrapped my mother around her little paw, and charmed the world. With Laura at my side, I confidently traveled to big and little, crowded and remote places across the United States, Canada, and Australia. She literally saved my life on more than one occasion--the first time witnessed by neighbors as we tried to cross a busy intersection only a week or two after we came home from training as a new team.
Laura was a "talker" who used various vocal intonations to respond to people, and she knew exactly how to get whatever she wanted in her disarmingly determined way. She didn't care much for motorcycles or German Shepherds--not even a metal sculpture of a dingo in Sydney escaped her notice. In her youth, she loved to run free on a big lawn like a thoroughbred racehorse. Throughout her life, she enjoyed water and snow in equal measure and had her share of adventures in both elements (giving Jeff and I our share of grey hairs as a result).

Laura rests her head on a lap with her eyes closed.
Laura rests her head on a lap with her eyes closed.

I couldn't have asked for a more loyal or loving partner. I never dared to get sick for more than a day because Laura refused (and could not be persuaded otherwise, even by GDB) to go anywhere on leash with anyone but me. Jeff and I eventually solved that problem and that led Laura to three wonderful years of town and country life in retirement with two people who loved her with all their hearts.
The past few days have been very difficult for us, Including Stephen who could only share in this long-distance. Added to thaht, Jeff is now in Cleveland with his mum, 96, who is nearing her own finish line. So if I haven't responded to a call or email, please excuse me. But I do want to sincerely thank those of you who, in one way or another, learned of what was happening and reached out to us. And I want to assure you all that, though we feel a huge void in our lives, we also are at peace with Laura's passing because we believe it was her time and she was ready. She lives on in our hearts.

Wishing you the best,


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

My First Guide Dog Kit

By: Pamela Boyle, GDB Graduate

Words cannot express the sadness in our hearts....Kit was my first guide dog. I will never forget the incredible feeling I had when I turned myself over to Kit for the first time. Life changed for me at that moment and I never looked back. She guided me for six years. She danced at Mama Mia on Broadway, got a kiss from an actor in Lion King, sang with a Barber Shop Quartet (they probably though she was howling) and then retired to the life of leisure she deserved. We will miss her sweet face greeting us at the door when we come home every day. There will never be another Kit (03/18/2000-11/12/13).
Retired guide Kit (yellow lab) wears a striped jersey and rests her head on a soccer ball.
Retired guide Kit (yellow lab) wears a striped jersey and rests her head on a soccer ball.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Remebering Galleon

By: Larry Marcum

Galleon guided me for over nine years, and was the best guide dog that a person could ever hope for. For the past three years, in 2011, 2012 and 2013 he enjoyed a happy and much deserved retirement here as Ida and my pet. But ironically, those years would end on 11-12-13. Yesterday morning, as usual he instigated a play session with Brinkley, as happened most every morning as Ida and I sat in front of the fire drinking our morning coffee.

God blessed me with Galleon in January, 2002 at Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael, class #621. He turned two that month while we learned to work as a team, a team that would fly over 20,000 miles together, and experience so much in life. Galleon helped me to learn how to cope with blindness, he gave me the confidence, independence and strength to be what I am today. He touched so many of your lives as well in so many ways. He helped raise needed donations to Guide Dogs for the Blind, guided me on my path in Lions, and stood by me as Ida and I started our incredible life together, both Galleon and Ida allowing me to be the person that I have always wanted to be.

Below is a photo that I took a couple of months ago, I photo that I will always cherish because I can see it, and see the ever-present smile on his face.


Our hearts are heavy right now, Galleon will always leave a paw print on our hearts and I know that as the days pass, our hearts will once again be filled with the joyful memories of Galleon on the path of being a great guide dog.

Larry & Ida and Brinkley

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Eulogy for a Guide Dog

By: Todd Smith
She was whelped on September 30, 2004 at the San Rafael Campus of Guide Dogs for the Blind. She was the third of six pups, all Black Labs. She was in the “R” litter, so she was named “Roanna”. She spent her first weeks in the GDB kennels with her siblings, being cared for lovingly by the staff and volunteers.

When the time came, she was placed on the “Puppy Truck” and sent to her raiser home in Camas Washington, and her co-raiser home in Wilsonville Oregon. There, she learned her basic obedience, was potty trained, and was prepared for her life as a working guide by being socialized in many different venues. Roanna took trips to the local stores and restaurants, went to school with her raisers, enjoyed movies at the theatre, walks in the park, and rides in the car. She even flew with her raisers to San Francisco where she rode the cable cars, walked the Golden Gate Bridge, and saw the seagulls and sea lions on the piers. Her raisers taught her well, and she had lots of fun playing with the family pets and just being a dog.

When Roanna was around 16 months old, she returned to the Boring, Oregon campus of Guide Dogs for the Blind to begin the guide task training. There she learned how to be the eyes for someone who could not see. She had to learn many things that do not come ‘natural’ to dogs, such as looking up for overhead objects, stopping at curbs and steps, and keeping her handler from running into objects that she could simply duck under. It took a long time with many different training sessions in many different venues, but she learned it all and made it through the 10 phases of training to become a real working guide. Now all she needed was to be matched to the right person.

She was matched to Candy on August 12th, 2006, and from then until August 26th, Candy and Roanna spent all their waking and sleeping hours together. They learned about each other, how to ‘read’ what the other was needing, and began the formation of themselves into a symbiotic team. On August 26th 2006, they ‘graduated’ in class number 127R at the Boring, Oregon campus. From that day forward, they were always together.

It wasn’t always easy. Newly-placed guides will sometimes ‘test’ their handlers to see what they can get away with, and Roanna was no exception. She was sometimes stubborn, strong willed, and not always ready to work. Candy was concerned that Roanna would never ‘bond’ with her, because Roanna seemed so uninterested in being with her at times. But Candy persevered and by the time the six month ‘anniversary’ of their teaming together came about, things were starting to smooth out.

 Then came the day that Roanna went blind. Roanna had an issue with demodectic mange, and Candy had taken her to the vet for treatment. The vet prescribed medication for the issue, but the dosage had been incorrectly labeled on the bottle, so Roanna had been given an excessive amount of the medication, causing a negative reaction. Candy was at a seminar entitled (of all things) “Living With Blindness”, which had been facilitated by the Oregon Commission for the Blind at Fish Lake Resort, Oregon. Right after dinner on the first night of the seminar, Candy was returning to her cabin for a short break before the first session began when Roanna refused to move forward. She just stopped dead in her tracks halfway to the cabin. Candy tried to see if there was something Roanna was alerting her to, but nothing was there. She commanded Roanna forward, but she would not move. Candy reached down to touch Roanna to try and figure out what was wrong, and noticed that Roanna was trembling and shaking uncontrollably. Roanna would not move forward at all. Candy called me to her, and I took a look at Roanna to see if I could figure out what happened. I could not see what was going on with her, so I picked Roanna up and carried her to the cabin. When I set her down, Roanna just stood where I put her, shaking and trembling. We called the emergency number for the vet, and after talking with them we were able to figure out that the incorrect dosage of medication had been given to Roanna. We left the seminar and drove home that night. When we got home, Roanna refused to go into her kennel, and this dog always loved her kennel. If she was not on tie down, she would go and kennel herself because she favored her kennel over anything else, but this night, she would not go near it. She slept on the bed that night, still shaking and trembling. The next morning, we took Roanna to the vet for an examination. The vet examined her and found that she had been rendered blind by the over dosage, however it was deemed to be a temporary condition and that Roannas vision would return to normal in a week or so after ceasing the medication. That was a long, worrisome week for Candy and me. Roanna slept on the bed, was hand fed her meals, and spent every hour close to Candy. The next week, she was taken to the vet where her vision was tested and discovered to be ‘normal’ again, and Roanna resumed her guide work. But what a difference in her personality! The stand-offish, stubborn and strong-willed guide who did not want to ‘bond’ with Candy was gone, and in her place was an affectionate, loving and attentive ‘velcro’ dog that never wanted to be away from Candy if at all possible! The world’s first blind guide dog had made a comeback. A positive corner had been turned.

That is how it was for the next years of the team. Candy went back to college and Roanna was there to guide her safely through her classes, all the way through to her AAS degree in Human Services. Vacations and fun times were had with Roanna always there to guide, even with the most mundane of tasks such as grocery shopping or visits to the dentist. Roanna was ready to go whenever the harness came out, and happily worked as long as Candy needed her to. If ever there was a "perfect" guide dog team, they were it. Along the way, we decided to ‘give back’ a little, so we became puppy raisers for GDB. We knew what it was like having a guide dog which gives a sense of safety and independence, so we wanted to try it from the other side by raising one from a pup. Roanna was all for it. She helped mentor all the pups that came in to our house, “showing them the ropes” and leading by example. From Wally, our first pup (who made it to be a guide), then Vicki, who became a K-9 Buddy, then Jerianne, who became a breed dam, then Victoria, who also became a K-9 Buddy, then Lasso, who is in training now and finally, Oprah, who is Jeriannes daughter. Roanna has helped us raise all these pups.

 Then in December of 2012, we noticed that the tip of Roannas nose was starting to turn "up". A visit to the vet in January of 2013 gave disturbing news: malignant fibrous sarcoma. No surgical option for removal, and expensive medication for treatment was no guarantee that the cancer could be slowed down. After discussing the situation with our vet and the vet techs at Guide Dogs for the Blind, it was decided to retire Roanna and keep her as comfortable as possible for the time she had left to be with us. She became a much loved pet and happily settled into her new role. The cancer grew and swelled, pushing her nose upward until it was level with the top of her snout. Roanna could still eat and drink, she adapted quickly. But we knew it was only a matter of time. The sarcoma grew, and got to the point of becoming infected and bleeding, with no relieving effect from the medications given. Soon it got so big that the blood supply could not keep pace with the growth, and tissue began to die off. Gangrene soon followed, and at our vets suggestion, we helped her cross the Rainbow Bridge on Saturday, August 17th, 2013 at 1:00 PM. She no longer hurts, and can run free and wait for us to meet her there someday, along with Mariah, who crossed in April of 2013.

Roanna was a special girl who overcame a lot in her short working life. Both Candy and I have been truly blessed to have been able to share part of our lives with her.