Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Saying “Goodbye” to a Hero

by Michael Hingson

It is strange for me to be writing this article while I have feelings of both sadness and joy in my heart. Nevertheless, it is something which must be done.
I have the solemn obligation to inform you that my hero Guide Dog, Roselle, who was with me in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, passed away last evening, Sunday, June 26, 2011 at 8:52 PM. I am sad, of course, because I will miss Roselle so very much, more than any of my other Guide Dogs. I write with joy because Roselle is in a better place, no longer feeling pain, leaving me with so many fond memories of her and a life forever changed by our shared experience.

Roselle was born on March 12, 1998 at Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael, California. Right from the start, she was quite a mischievous little puppy. Raised by several puppy-raising families in Santa Barbara, she spent many joy-filled days with Kay and Ted Stern, who introduced her to airplane travel, New York, snow, and even the theater. I must say that I think the culture did rub off on her.

After her time with puppy raisers, Roselle returned to Guide Dogs for the Blind for training. Our first meeting was November 22, 1999. Roselle was my fifth Guide Dog. It was obvious from our very first walk together that we were a perfect match. What took me a few days to discover was that Roselle was also quite a character; I constantly referred to her as a “pixie.” Roselle had a penchant for stealing socks. She didn't chew them up; she just carried them around and then hid them somewhere only to bring them out later just to taunt me. She was always willing to give them up undamaged and ready-to-wear although a little bit damp. Her tail wagged through the whole experience. In fact, her tail hardly stopped wagging during the almost 12 years I knew her (I also discovered that she was a loud snorer. The Stearns told me later that even as a puppy, she could snore with the best of them).

When I brought Roselle home to New Jersey on December 2, 1999, she met my retired guide, Linnie. Linnie and Roselle seemed a bit uncomfortable with each other that night and into the middle of the next day. I decided that this awkwardness had gone on long enough and brought out a rope tug bone. I made each of them take an end and I grabbed the middle of the rope. They started off by teaming up and tugging against me. After about 20 seconds of this with mouths inching up toward my fingers from both sides I release the bone and let them go at it alone. From that moment on they were inseparable until Linnie passed away on July 4, 2002.

I would not be alive today if it weren't for Roselle. On September 11, 2001 Roselle and I were in our office on the 78th floor of Tower One of the World Trade Center when it was struck by American Airlines flight 11, hijacked and under terrorist control. Our escape from that tower moments before its collapse is story that has been told around the world and is still an inspiration to many. This amazing story is the subject of my new book called “Thunder Dog” co-authored with Susy Flory, which will be in bookstores and available on my website soon. All I want to say here is that Roselle did an incredible job and is a true hero. She remained poised and calm through the entire day, giving kisses and love wherever she could, while working valiantly when she needed to do so. Roselle’s service on 9/11 was a testimony not only to the Sterns and the others who raised her, but to her trainer, Todd Jurek, the entire Guide Dogs for the Blind training staff, and all the people who make up that wonderful organization. Most of all, what Roselle did that day and in fact every day she and I were together is nothing less than the most powerful evidence I can provide of the enduring value of trust and teamwork.

In the aftermath of 9/11, in January 2002, Roselle and I began an exciting journey, serving as the National Public Affairs Director for Guide Dogs for the Blind. Roselle and I spent countless hours speaking to the media, officiating at events, even riding on a float in the Rose Parade on New Year's Day. Over the next 6 1/2 years Roselle and I traveled hundreds of thousands of miles throughout the United States and the rest of the world speaking about trust and teamwork, guide dogs, and blindness. Our goal was to help people understand that the real “handicap” of blindness is not a lack of eyesight but a lack of proper education about blindness. Roselle took every trip with poise and confidence whether it was to Kansas or Korea. She was an incredible traveler.

She met many dignitaries and celebrities, including President George W. Bush, Queen Noor, Hilary Rodham Clinton, the Prime Ministers of Ireland, New Zealand and Canada, Senators Chuck Schumer and Barbara Boxer, Larry King, Regis and Kelly, and many others. She received numerous awards and was even honored in the US Congressional Record by Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey.

In 2004, Roselle was diagnosed with immune mediated thrombocytopenia, a condition which caused her body to attack her blood platelets. It was thought that her condition may have been brought on by exposure to the contaminated air at Ground Zero. Through medications, we were able to control the disease and Roselle was able to continue guiding. As usual, she worked like a trooper and never once exhibited pain or discomfort.

On the home front, from the time that Roselle lost her tug companion, Linnie, in 2002, we cared for several foster dogs from GDB until Fantasia came to live with us in 2006. In Fantasia, Roselle found an inseparable friend and made the most of it. She still swiped the occasional pair of socks, but Fantasia was her main interest. Roselle taught Fantasia how to bark every time the doorbell rang and how to beg for treats, which became a regular household ritual for both dogs especially when 8:00 PM rolled around.

In February 2007 during a normal checkup we learned that some of Roselle's kidney values were changing for the worse. It was decided that the medication regimen on which Roselle had been placed as well as the stress of guiding were putting her health at further risk. Roselle retired from guidework in March of 2007. It was a sad day for all of us, but Roselle took it in stride and soon made it very clear that retirement suited her well. After retirement, Roselle loved to take walks most of the time, she loved her meals, her treats, playing Battle of the Bone with Fantasia and later with my current Guide Dog Africa, and of course barking at the ringing of the doorbell. Roselle was the loudest barker of the bunch. I have fond memories of Roselle, Fantasia, and Africa all tugging on the same rope, all battling each other across our living room giving no care to whatever was in their way.

In 2010, Roselle began exhibiting some chronic back pain. While speaking at the annual convention of the American Animal Hospital Association, I introduced Roselle to Doctor Robin Downing, an expert in dog pain management. Robin noticed Roselle's pain and while I gave three consecutive workshops she spent time with Roselle. I think they got to know each other pretty well that day because right after the workshops Doctor Downing, right there on the floor in the front of the conference room, gave Roselle a back adjustment which clearly helped Roselle and made her back feel somewhat better. Upon our return home, we immediately took Roselle to her vet and started her on a treatment of acupuncture, back adjustments, and herbs which altogether mostly eliminated her chronic back pain.

Earlier this year we noticed that Roselle was beginning to have a harder time standing up on her own, although once she was standing she loved to continue her daily walks. She stopped playing tug bone with Fantasia and Africa, but she still enjoyed lying in the sun, eating, kissing everybody in sight, and barking at the doorbell. Her ability to stand on her own grew worse throughout the first half of this year.

Last week she began exhibiting some other signs of distress and pain. On Friday, June 24, 2011, she had to be taken to her vet, who suspected that somehow she had developed a stomach ulcer. Also, it was discovered that her red blood cell count had dropped significantly. Friday evening she was taken to the Pet Emergency and Specialty Center where she was well known by Doctor Harb and the other staff. Yesterday, Sunday, June 26, we visited her in the evening only to see her condition continuing to deteriorate. She was in a lot of pain and discomfort. There was no one cause for her discomfort, but Doctor Bowie of the PESC felt that some of her immune-related conditions had returned in addition to the possible stomach ulcer.

After much consultation and discussion we all came to agreement that the best thing we could do to help Roselle was to assist her in crossing the Rainbow Bridge and go to her friend Linnie. At 8:52 last evening she crossed that bridge and, I am sure, she is now pain-free, enjoying socks and other games, barking at doorbells to her heart’s content.

How can I possibly say goodbye to a dog who is done all Roselle has done and who lived life to the fullest? How can I ever do justice to her life, work, and memory? Roselle has been one of the greatest blessings and gifts I have ever had the joy of receiving. God surely broke the mold with Roselle. I have had seven Guide Dogs including Africa, my seventh, and also I have had the opportunity to see thousands of them at work around the world. Roselle is unique without a doubt. She worked through the most trying time in our nation’s history, and she was right there unflinching for all of it. Her spirit never diminished and, in fact, grew stronger through the years after 9-11, helping me become a better person today.

I thank God for the time my wife Karen and I were allowed to have with this wonderful creature. She touched everyone whom she met in a special way, giving unconditional love wherever she went. She kissed firefighters in the World Trade Center as we descended the stairs, a memory that moves me to this day. She inspired us all and will continue to do so.

Roselle’s passing coincides with the formation of “Roselle's Dream Foundation,” which has been in development for several months. The purpose of the foundation is to educate people about blindness, and to assist blind children and later blind adults to obtain new technologies to empower them to learn, work and engage in life more fully. Shortly the website www.rosellesdream.org will be up and running. I invite people to honor Roselle by making donations in her memory to the Roselle's Dream Foundation to help us in our work.

My goodbye prayer: Roselle, your memory will always be with us and your spirit continues to touch us. I know you're nearby, watching us. Your memory inspires us to be better people and dogs, to be the best we can be. I hope you're feeling better now. You have shown us what real love and service look like, setting the bar high for us to follow. Be at peace and know that we shall try to love each other as much as you loved each of us during your time with us on earth.

Love, Michael

Thursday, June 16, 2011

“Freida” Kennedy

yellow Lab Freida with legs crossed
November 10, 1998 – June 16, 2011
by Vickie Kennedy

My precious Freida, my first guide, my companion, my partner and my soulmate, crossed the Rainbow Bridge on Thursday, June 16th at 2:35AM(HST). Freida was with Jim and my son, George, when she went with the angels. Ironically, at the time I was staying in the dorm at our San Rafael, California campus, to attend a couple of Guide Dogs’ meetings. Jim told me that in her last moments, she gave a big labby stretch, a beautiful smile came across her face, and then she peacefully crossed the Rainbow Bridge. She was a Lady till the very end.

Guide Dogs for the Blind gave me an incredible gift. Freida was my first guide and she was not only an extraordinary guide, but she was also such a sweetheart.

Some of you may recall that back in 2000, I was first partnered with Nettles, a very good guide, but she had to be career changed after five days. Charles Nathan then went looking for another guide for me and found Freida. At that time, Freida had only started in her eighth phase of training, but with some special catch-up training he got us working together beautifully. That was indeed a match made in heaven. Thank you, Charles!

Freida was puppy-raised in Mesa, Arizona, by Sandy Thomas. Sandy told me that of the 13 puppies she has raised, Freida was her easiest puppy. Thank you Sandy! When returned to Guide Dogs, Freida was trained by Kelly Chadwick. Thank you Kelly for getting Freida to be the perfect guide! Freida never needed a correction – she just knew!

Some of you may not have known this, but the day after Freida and I graduated, a rather large growling German Shepherd made an attack run on Freida. Fortunately Jim interceded and ended up scaring the dog away. But Freida was scared out of her wits! It took Paul Keasberry and his faithful Rottweiler, Albert, to give Freida confidence to work again. God bless you Paul and Albert!

I remember Paul doing one particular annual assessment. Turns out that Freida had listened to Paul’s instructions to me to turn left or right at an upcoming intersection, over a hundred feet away. When we got to that intersection, Freida remembered and, before I could even give her a command, she prepared to turn as Paul had instructed a minute earlier. Paul said that Freida was so smart, she could “multi task!” :o)

Freida was truly a Lady, always crossing her paws, her trademark, whenever she would be lying down. She had an elegance about her that everyone admired and loved. Her demeanor drew lots of “aaaaahhhhss.”

In March of 2006, Freida had a mast cell tumor and Doc saved her life by going in wider and deeper to get it all out. The biopsy results showed that she had over an inch of clear margins and she remained in good health until her passing. Thank you Doc, and the whole veterinary team, for taking great care of my Freida and giving us the gift of five more wonderful years with Freida.

While we are not sure exactly what took Freida from us, we believe that her cancer had finally returned. Her blood work a month ago suggested that might be the case.

In November of 2007, Freida took on a second career as a pet visitation dog at our Queen’s Medical Center where she visited every Friday, sometimes as many as 30 to 35 patients a day. Her visits there became to be known as “Freida Fridays” as Jim and I took Freida in at 10:00AM and often stayed as long as 4:00PM. (NOTE: she got lots of love, her favorite rice cakes and small carrot treats and potty breaks). The patients as well as staff benefited from her visits. Freida loved seeing everyone and in her very quiet and ladylike way, she brought so many smiles and joy to everyone she met. Then in March of 2008, we became involved with two St. Francis Hospice facilities and in her first year there Freida got their “Volunteer of the Year” award. There, she brought joy and smiles into the hearts of the dying patients and helped the family members cope with the difficult times. During the visits, she helped each patient escape from reality for the five to 30 minutes of time we were with them. We estimate that Freida made about 3,000 patient visits over the past few years. Can you believe it!

This is a very difficult time for us trying to cope with Freida’s passing. Our hearts ache as she has left a huge hole in them. But, there are a lot of happy tears as we are getting so many beautiful tributes to Freida from many of our friends who knew her and loved her. Jim and I are recalling so many wonderful and fun memories with Freida over the 11 years she was with us. All of you saw her as the Lady, the quiet professional that she was, but she also had the fun side of her as she would do the “play bows” and the “Labrador scooch” around our house … and sometimes even at the hospital! :o)

Freida retired as my guide in February of 2008. Then wonderful Angela became my guide. I truly believe that Angela rejuvenated Freida. They were both so very close and loved each other so much.

When Freida passed, I was staying in the dormitory at GDB as I had a couple of meetings there. Jim told me that Freida was having trouble eating and seemed a little stiff, so he took her to the vet clinic here. She sort of trotted into the clinic but, at the same time, she was shaking like a leaf as she always did at GDB’s vet clinic. She loved the people there but hated what could go on in the place. :o)

That evening, she did not want to get up anymore. Jim and I talked and cried. We did not want her to suffer anymore … she deserved much better than that. As painful as it was for us, we agreed that the next morning we should have our vet come to our home to help Miss Freida across the “Rainbow Bridge.” Before we hung up, I had Jim put the phone by Freida's ear so I could tell her how much I loved her, thank her for all she did for me and tell her it was okay to let go. (Since the day we graduated on June 24, 2000, I always kissed her goodnight and thanked her for guiding me).

Bless dear Freida’s heart, she spared us having to help her across. She passed away early morning, with Jim and George, the two favorite men in her life, at her side. They were lovingly petting her and whispering their great love as she began her new eternal journey.

I had asked Jim to check with the vet to see if they could keep Freida so I could get to say goodbye and have closure when I returned to Honolulu the next day. The vet staff here was terrific about letting us do this!! Straight from the airport we decided to stop by the house first so Angela would find that Freida was not there, and so she could sniff around a lot, which she did. Then we went to the vet’s office. In a private room, they had Freida on a beautiful red velvet blanket, with a white blanket covering all but her crossed paws and her head. Just Jim and I went in first, so I could be myself emotionally, not having to worry about upsetting Angela. Then afterward, I asked Jim to walk my mom and Angela into the room. It worked out perfectly. Angela sniffed only a little, then backed away. She knew something was not the same, but did not seem to be terribly upset or spooked. In fact, as we walked out of the vet’s, her perky tail was swishing away as usual. To be sure, Angela can be subdued at times, but from that first day back home, she started dragging out some toys to play with. What an easy-to-please, exuberant, doggie!

We are overwhelmed by the incredible, warm responses of the organizations Freida had volunteered with as a Pet Visitation doggie. The Sisters of St. Francis, at a hospice volunteer meeting we attended one morning, started with a prayer, and with a short memoriam comment about having lost a great volunteer, Freida. They had an enlarged color photo of her that was draped with a beautiful orchid lei. The Hawaiian Humane Society (which had to clear Freida for the Pet Visitation work) has just posted a mini-tribute to her on their Facebook page . Now, they tell us that they are thinking about saying something special about her in their next Annual Report. And, Queen’s Medical Center is planning a memorial service there, with a presiding chaplain, to honor Miss Freida. Freida was once referred to as a most amazing new “chaplain” who expressed so much love, didn’t care about denominations, listened patiently and was always the quiet professional. That was my girl!

You have heard me say this many times before, but I feel the need to say it again. When I graduated with Freida, she not only gave me confidence and mobility of independence, but she gave me the peace of mind and an inner strength to do whatever I set out to do. Freida was truly an extension of me and she was the next best thing to having my sight back. Now, my exuberant and sweet Angela will continue to do guide me safely.

Thank you EVERYONE in our Guide Dogs’ family for this precious miracle of a gift called Freida. I miss her so much but her beautiful demeanor and love will be forever in our hearts!

Love and aloha,

Vickie, Jim, Angela and Freida-angel

P.S. Jim wrote a beautiful poem tribute to Freida last night which I really want to share with you. I think it captures the spirit of my dear girl.

Gentle lady though she was
Crazy doggie she could be.
With paws crossed daintily,
Always there for you and me.

Easiest one was ever trained,
So, well earned her being entrusted,
She guided her mommy so unrestrained.

Shaking only near vet and dog,
All other times a “calma doga*”.
Unlike cute Angela’s “Hello, I’m, here!”
T’was gentle Freida’s gracefulness so dear.

Chaplain Freida, all will say,
With wide grins and playful play,
Made all smile day to day.
Helped Queen's patients and at St.Francis
Preparing them, and she and we,
For the day our bridge crossing be.

Oh, dear God, now what's the matter?!
Oh no, not now! Not now!
Oh how … we will … so miss her patter!

Then she did pass that early morn,
With her love’s last breath
Bringing tears and mourning.

Though leaving da Peanut and we behind
She’ll always, always be near of mind.

Gone our sweet lady she is now
To romp again and do play bow.
In heaven where she was destined
Our precious angel is now a rest'n.

*Captain Fabio Amitrano of Princess Cruises “anointed” dear Freida with this sweet term of endearment on our 2004 Alaska cruise aboard the Regal Princess.