Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tribute to Romance

By Louie P. (Pete) Nalda

Romance was my Guide Dog from February 2000 to March 2009. She worked a long time for a guide, and was my companion in somber moments, traveling, and at school. Wherever Romi went she was a hit, and she sure did do some traveling: to accordion festivals, the Kerrville Folk Festival, three trips to the East Coast, and nine trips to New Mexico, where she'd get to play in the snow.

She was a well endowed Yellow Lab, and yet she was always my "Romitxu" (Little Romi)! I used to speak Basque to her thinking she could understand it for some reason, because at GDB I'd learned that Labs may have been brought to the new world by Basque fishermen. Anyway, so I had her understanding me somewhat in Basque.

As a guide, Romi was always excited to work, to see people, and to explore whatever was next for us. She'd run into her harness when it was time to go, and man! That dog would walk! I'd bet our average speed was 3.5 mph. Afternoons she would slow down a little, but she had that zeal up to the year when I retired her. Besides guiding, Romi liked playing in water (as long as she could touch the ground), gnawing on her Nyla bone, and playing and running around with other dogs.

After she retired, she went to live with my dear friends the Hickmans in Cedar Park, Texas, just outside of Austin. I couldn't have been happier that she went to enjoy her retirement with people she knew and loved. This is dedicated to you, Romi.

Ondo Ibili (Go Well), old Girl.

The Time Has Come

By Morgan Watkins
Written in April, 2004

The time has come. The dark red golden retriever, asleep at my feet, has earned his retirement. His face, and paws, and the tip of his tail are white with age. For nearly nine years, this gentle beast, this loving creature, has kept me safe, given me freedom. We have traveled across the country many times. He has been on hundreds of airplanes. He has been at my side more than my own family or the people I work with. His loyalty is absolute. He has never quit trying, and he is still always ready to slip into his harness to work. Even so, his body is not as young or as forgiving as it once was. He is slowing down. And yet, how dear he is. His snoring reminds me of a kindly grandfather. He still runs in his sleep. He makes the dearest sounds while dozing, no different than when he was still more of a pup. And, still I know that if I ask him to work, he'll get up, a bit slower, but ready to serve. However, he's not a young dog anymore. He can't do the ten mile hikes that we once enjoyed together. I feel the fatigue through the harness at the end of a long day.

I've been through the mountains with this dog, over rugged and terrifying terrain, through snow and ice and hot Texas summers. He gave me my eyes and he gave me freedom. The grand realization has come in recent weeks as I've become aware that Fantom, my dear friend, has been truly doing his best and just hasn't been able to always keep up with my rather rapid stride and hectic lifestyle. Even so, I've found myself asking, insisting, that he pick up the pace and, my dear friend, has always given more, pushed himself harder, met my needs. He has always been so loyal, so dependable, always keeping me very safe. He doesn't know how to complain, or at least it isn't in his personality, but here I am, insisting that he pick up speed, move more quickly up stairs, to give more than his tired bones may possess. Am I really treating him with the same care and respect that he has shown to me? I cannot stop moving at a snappy pace, even for this dear and aging animal, but I should not expect him to do more than he can. There is a time, an epiphany, when you've got to ask if you are listening to your dog, to what his body is telling you, to be aware that you owe him the respect he has so richly earned.

There is a time for change, for passing the bone.

Literally hours before I got the call from Guide Dogs on March 29, letting me know of some special dogs in training, I was very aware that Fantom was faltering on the stairs that I'd been climbing all day. He would walk up them, but it was clearly slow going.

He was tired. He is old. Am I being selfish? Am I ready for the change? There is a dog out there, one that is anxious to work, anxious to please, anxious to be loved. There is another Guide Dog, at the beginning of his or her life, that would love to see the insides of beautiful buildings, airports, restaurants and my home.

I am not abandoning Fantom. I am letting him retire with dignity. In my particular circumstance, I will keep him with me for the rest of his life. When he gets older, I will care for him. I will talk to him and stroke him and love him. When his time comes, I plan to be holding him in my arms, ever thankful for his friendship and the vision he gave to me.

I pray that I can comfort him as he has always comforted me.

Thank you, Fantom. Thank you for your love, and friendship, and care. Thank you for my freedom, my eyesight, and the confidence to move as fast as I please. And, thank you God for this very dear soul.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Remembering Chip

By Andrea Guidice

Andrea and Chip
Mr. Snake, also known as Chip or Sphinky or Mr. Sniffy pants or Chippee the dog or Monk, has crossed the rainbow bridge. In his beautiful warm yard in Florida, on a blanket with his retirement mom and dad holding him, he did what he so loved to do - he went to sleep in the sun. Laural and Jonathan gave Chip the most generous gift possible, they gave him a peaceful death before he was caused to suffer. My gratitude for this finds no words.

In May, Chip was diagnosed with an aggressive form of throat cancer. Since the diagnosis, he had been brave and strong, and if it is even possible, he was more spoiled then usual. Doggie ice cream was part of his daily diet! Laural and Jonathan provided a safe, loving, prideful home for Chip in his retirement; a loving family unit in which to joyfully, exuberantly relax after seven and a half years of service. He had eighteen months of soaking up the Florida sun, taking leisurely morning and evening walks, patrolling the fence line, playing ball and Frisbee, and enjoying brotherly canine companionship with Eubie.

Now you know of his last 1.5 years but what of his 7.5 years with me as my trusted guide? Where/how to tell that tail? I met Chip in the early evening hours of March 21, 2001, the beginning of a truly wondrous journey. Chip guided me along countless sidewalks both quiet and busy; always knew his right from his left (though I often didn't); worked through buildings of every stripe; tackled escalators and elevators; walked in rain snow heat cold and wind; avoided obstacles of all descriptions (and some that totally defied description); climbed up and down billions of stairs; passed through millions of doors; navigated airports in at least ten states; patiently approved and vetoed my purchases over and over and over; and "found" counters, empty seats, sinks, rest rooms, hotel rooms, home and more.

Along with the routine tasks of guiding - and the not so routine times when Chip saved me from getting hit by cars, falling off a loading dock or bashing my head on a huge overhanging tree limb - he also guided me through three of the most difficult times in my life. Just over a year after Chip and I were partnered, I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Our life course took an immediate, dramatic and drastic swerve. I went from working full time and being an active person to being mostly bed and house bound. This caused Chip to enter a semi retirement phase at age 4. Remarkably, he did not eat me in my sleep and his guidework never suffered. Regardless the length of time that stretched between each time I harnessed him up, or how simplistic most of the routes might be, he could step right back on to the streets of San Francisco and guide like we had been working in the city every day. Along with his resilient guidework was his attitude. He never got angry or bored with his abrupt change in lifestyle. Dealing with CFS was almost more then I could handle, but having Chip so gracefully transition to our new life was one of his greatest gifts to me. Not having to worry about him and having a rock solid guide as my partner made so much more manageable.

At the end of 2007 Chip helped me through another huge life transition. My husband and I split up and I was single for the first time in 13 years. Chip soaked up my tears, listened endlessly to my woes and worries, snuggled with me and was a strong solid constant companion guiding me physically and emotionally into my new life. And in January of 2008, I embarked on yet another first: I moved in to my very own apartment, living alone for the first time in my life. Well not alone of course because there was Chip keeping me brave and making it all okay. Together we explored our new neighborhood. With Chip by my side I got my bachelorette sea legs and even started to flourish.

As the CFS remitted some and I conquered my new hood, the summer of 2008 approached and Chip had another gift to give. His gift to me was to get me ready for his successor, Yolo. As summer wound down into fall and Chip and I had our last dance, he helped me understand that he was happy to be retiring and that I needed to be open and accepting of my next guide. He went to his new home with a joyful heart and allowed me to go to Yolo with a guilt free one.

In February of 2010, Chip had a final gift for me. I visited him in his retirement home where he showed me his new life, his happiness and his peacefulness. He gave me eleven days of his healthy Chippee self to hug on and indelibly plant on the drawing board of my heart. As gifts go, this one was priceless.

I have written and written and yet I feel as if I have told none of it. Such an enormous dog, soft and gentle, calm and steady. Wise and silly with little ears, a dusty rose nose and a tail with a little crook at the end. Remembered by all who met him, coveted by many, loved by all, Chip has left gentle paw prints on our hearts. Oh, my dear sweet Chip my heart hurts and I miss you so. If I try very hard I can feel your velvety ears under my fingers and your soft fur against my cheek. I so wish you were here to soak up my tears tonight. I love, respect and thank you so very much for all your years of service to me.

I honor you always and forget you never,


My Heart Dog

By Megan Minkiewicz

Megan and Noah
A lifetime ago I met a yellow Labrador retriever named Noah who forever changed my life. He was young and I was single; we made a good team.

To say he stole my heart is an understatement. For nearly 14 years he was my shadow and constant companion. While Noah chose a career path different than the one he was prepared for as a Guide Dog puppy, he followed the path for which he was meant.

Every decision in my life was made considering how it would affect Noah, from moving in with a boy, to marrying that boy, to buying a house, to moving to Oregon. He helped me raise four other Guide Dog puppies, served as attendant in our wedding, and traveled wherever we went. I can honestly say I don’t recall a day when Noah didn’t hop in the car to go somewhere with us. We were his whole life; Megan & Alex, peppered with whatever current puppy we were raising.

Losing him has been the most painful experience. Losing anyone you love is devastating and we can never be prepared as the circumstances can never be predicted. I did not wake up Tuesday, January 19, 2010 and think it would be our last day with Noah. Yes, he was a senior citizen, but he was Noah and he was going to live forever. I had pushed the inevitable so far from my mind I never saw it coming. One moment he was fine, wrestling with the new puppy in training, and gone the next. Noah lived life to the fullest every last second, and that is Noah’s lasting legacy - one we can all strive to attain.

I continue to learn from my heart dog as I stumble through this unfamiliar territory. I have learned to be more compassionate, I have learned I cannot control everything no matter how hard I try, I’ve learned we have an amazing family in GDB, I’ve learned how to grieve. I’ve learned I will never be without Noah.

Every dog is special. Some just take hold of your heart a little more.