By Karen Saunders
Guide Dogs Baltic, CD, RN, CGC, TDIEVA
2-11-1998 - 3-13-2011
I was lucky enough to be the puppy raiser who received a ball of black fluff named Baltic on Easter of 1998. We worked hard on her puppy skills and quickly mastered sit, down, and stay as she visited every situation we could think of to help her on her way. She was recalled for “big dog training” at one year, but a few months later we got the call that she was being career changed, did we want to keep her? I have had three other German Shepherds, and although I would have preferred that Baltic be a guide to help someone else, if she couldn’t do that I wanted her back.
And so we started retraining Baltic and realizing her big heart and wonderful temperament needed to be used, not stay at home and not be able to go places with me. Baltic began her new life as an obedience and rally show dog and, more importantly, as a therapy dog. In her career of eight years as a therapy dog with Therapy Dogs International she made more than 460 visits.
Baltic visited nursing homes and hospitals; children read to her at the library; she visited schools and worked with children with Downs Syndrome, Autism, Spinal Bifida and a host of other problems. She was a bombproof dog--nothing ever worried or bothered her. A child screaming, jumping at her, fire engines with sirens...it was all just a matter of course. It was not unusual for her to be out visiting three times a week with either my husband or me. But her favorite work was at the Sycamores-Hathaway home for neglected and abused teenage boys.
For some of these teens, Baltic was the first living being they could give all their love to and have it returned. She never judged them. She never was repelled or upset by the things they quietly told her about their home life and growing up. She listened. Even if they said something mean to her, she still loved them.
Baltic has been credited many times with changing a boy’s emotional situation from being on suicide watch to being allowed to go out with her and a care taker. And as they hugged and talked to her, they were able to take control of their emotions and come down from their crisis, able to laugh and smile once more as they reached the mental state they needed to cope with their world. Baltic worked with unresponsive teenagers who could only curl into a fetal position, unable to talk or function. She burrowed her nose into their sweatshirt hoods and found their faces to lick them until they could uncurl and tell Baltic all their troubles. She never complained, she never whined or shied away. She was there for them.
I will miss her calming nature with people and other animals (she even got a panicked kitten to relax and go to sleep curled up next to her) and although I am crying I can only say I was lucky to have owned such a wonderful big-hearted dog as a member of our family. We all loved her.
The entire Saunders family will miss her. Thank you, GDB, for the privilege of puppy raising two of your dogs and for allowing us take our career changed dog back and help her reach her potential to help so many others.