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.

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