Friday, September 9, 2011

Jazzy Shulleeta

black Lab Jazzy among red tulips

June 15, 2000 – July 7, 2011
By Sheila Shulleeta

My retired guide, Jazzy, died from lung cancer on July 7, 2011. She was my first Guide dog, my loyal friend, my teacher, and my “love-dog”, as I liked to call her. The wise folks at Guide Dogs for the Blind were the matchmakers for our partnership. They knew Jazzy and I were meant to be together and, thankfully, ignored me when I said, “All I want is one of those yellow Labs.”

My Jazzy-Girl became the center of my universe at the moment we met. There was no more “I” or “me”; it instantly became “we” and “us”. We were in-tune, in-sync, and in-love. My Jazzy-Girl gave me love, independence and the confidence to get out and do whatever I wanted.

Our first summer together we flew from Portland to Albuquerque, boarded a train to Las Vegas, NM, and then bounced around in a jeep as it navigated up 8,000 ft. to a remote, stunningly beautiful, and ecologically balanced section of the mountains of northern New Mexico. Jazzy was barely 2 at the time and handled everything with grace and ease. She kept me on the trails and skillfully guided me from campsite, to mess hall, to meditation hall, and to the ladies room. When it was time to go home, the other retreatants thanked me for bringing Jazzy’s awesome healing energy to the setting.

The following year we cruised to Alaska together. After just a day of adjusting to the new relieving situation, Jazzy was soon guiding me all over the ship and ports of call. Every night when our cabin steward turned down my bed he did the same for Jazzy; folding her favorite blanket back and leaving a kibble in the center. Jazzy brought him joy every day with her wagging tail and happy spirit. There were tears in his eyes as he said goodbye to her at the end of the cruise.

Jazzy was also a devoted hospice volunteer. Her calm, loving nature brought smiles to dying patients’ faces. They loved to rub her silky ears and feel her cold nose in their hands. Jazzy’s presence stirred the patients’ memories of dogs they had loved throughout their lives and they were sometimes able to share those stories with me.

Another time, again in hospice work, we met a young boy who had just lost his father. He had Asperger’s and struggle with human relationships. He fell in love with Jazzy and Jazzy loved him right back. She just knew how to “be” with him. My sweet Jazzy eased his pain.

These are just a few examples of what Jazzy did every day of her life. Whether we were on some big adventure or simply riding the bus to get groceries, Jazzy was there for me. She helped me grow and change into a better person. She brought me happiness, love, and independence. She gave me her eyes--and so much more--while keeping me safe. While my heart aches from missing her I can also smile thinking about the time we spent together. Jazzy lived a rich, interesting, fun, and meaningful life as part of my family. She will live on forever in my heart.

black Lab Jazzy near flowershop flowers

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Path With a Guide Dog

Larry in rocking chair with his arm around yellow Lab Galleon
by Larry Marcum --a tribute to his retired guide Galleon

Two months ago I retired my first Guide Dog Galleon after more than nine incredible years of him guiding me. Since retiring him I have had to go back to using the white cane, which I rarely used since receiving Galleon in January of 2002. Going back to the cane has been frustrating to say the least, but more than anything I have realized that I again feel like a blind man. That may sound strange, but I had not totally realized over the nine years with Galleon that he took so much stress out of my travels, how much he was truly guiding me, how there must have been so many obstacles that he effortlessly took me around that I did not know were there, that I now find with my cane. Now the tired shoulder muscles, headaches, and hunched back have returned. I now realize that while Galleon guided me I was able to walk standing straight up with confidence and being able to forget, at least during the time that we were walking, about my blindness and really allow my other senses to take in and enjoy our surroundings.

Galleon became such a part of me that I now realize how much we became one - a team. Although I always had my left hand holding a harness handle, it became so natural that I did not feel blind while out in public. Over the years we became so attuned to each other, it got to where I rarely needed to give him commands, he just seemed to know where I wanted to go.

Galleon and I flew over 20,000 miles together. On one trip we flew to Washington D.C., where Galleon guided me to stand at the Lincoln Memorial, which was a lifelong dream of mine. Galleon guided me up the steps of our nation’s Capitol, and to stand at the wrought iron fence surrounding the White House. As Galleon guided me to the Vietnam Memorial Wall, because of my small tunnel of vision, all that I first saw was a wall just a few inches tall. But as he guided further along, the wall was soon looming way over my head, with so many names on it that boggles the mind. Galleon guided me around the World War II Memorial where I was privileged to see our veterans reminisce together about that war. With my limited vision I got to see the never-ending hills of Arlington Cemetery that hold our freedom fighters of past wars.

We traveled together on planes, trains, buses, taxis, and boats. We walked on beaches, trails, cities and parks. He was at my wedding, several funerals, parties, church and meetings. We won awards together, played in the snow, walked in the rain, and sweated in the heat. He has come and sat at my side when I cried, and danced with me in joyous times. For more than 3,000 nights he has been at my bedside all night, every night, never once getting up and wandering until my feet hit the floor in the morning.

My greatest realization about guide dogs is that a guide dog does more than guide; a guide dog helps a person to live their dreams. Thank you, my Galleon for helping me to live so many of my dreams!

Galleon continues to live with my wife Ida and I, enjoying retirement here at our mountain home, and oh, how he will enjoy the company of my new guide in October! You see, because of so many caring, giving and dedicated people associated with Guide Dogs for the Blind, I am blessed to get to return there September 25th to begin the path with my next Guide Dog.