Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Mathew: The Dog with a Heart of Gold

By Marilyn Lind

Mathew, my first guide, was a love with a heart of gold. Not that Mathew is the only guide I've had, or currently have, with a heart of gold, but he was something special.

When I left for my class training at GDB, my dad wasn't sure I was doing the right thing. While I was in class he'd call me saying he didn't feel good. After I brought Mathew back home, my dad loved him and he understood what Mathew did for me. Mathew also loved my dad. They seem to have some type of bond separate from the bond Mathew and I held for each other.

One morning I received a call from my dad saying he was sick; my brother took him to the hospital. When I arrived, the doctor said that my dad only had a few days to live and he was placed in the ICU. During that time, Mathew and I would stay with my dad all day (Mathew as the first dog to ever be allowed in this ICU). My dad would pet Mathew and talk to him. One afternoon I told my dad I needed to find a green spot, and my dad responded by saying "Be careful." Those words - be careful - were the last words I would ever hear from my dad. He lost consciousness shortly thereafter. From then on, I'd put my dad's hand on Mathew's head and do a stroking movement. The nurses started doing the same thing when they discovered that my dad's monitoring rates would go down and that he would relax.

Not only did Mathew help my dad in those final days and hours, but I'm convinced that my dad also helped Mathew in a couple of ways. Prior to my dad getting sick, Mathew had been experiencing some health problems of his own. Mainly, his nose would start running for no reason. Our vet was unable to determine what was wrong with him, so I was talking with GDB's Dr. Patti to see if she could help solve the mystery of the running nose. During our time at the hospital with my dad, I'd always take Mathew out to the same place to relieve, and sure enough, his nose would start running.

After my dad passed away, we went to the funeral home. When we got into the building, Mathew's nose started running like a faucet. Immediately following the funeral, I got a call from Dr. Patti, saying she had set up an appointment for Mathew to go to Kansas State Vet School for diagnosis and treatment. I feel like this was my dad's way of helping his friend out.

It was finally determined that Mathew was allergic to a ground cover plant called hostice - which is prevalent in Kansas, but doesn't grow in Oregon where Mathew was trained. Mathew's allergy was so unusual that there wasn't anything that could help him out. Fortunately, a cousin of mine who lived in Oregon adopted Mathew; he and his wife treated Mathew like he was their son. When Mathew died, it was a very sad day for everyone. But we'll always have our memories of this special dog with a heart of gold.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Remembering Havarti

By Barbara and Jerry Edwards (Havarti's puppy raisers)

Havarti as a young puppy
On July 13, 2010, we picked up the most adorable 9 week-old puppy at GDB's California campus in San Rafael, and before the kennel staff member brought her out, she asked if we liked cheese. We thought that was an unusual question but our response was "yes" and she said, "Good - because your puppy's name is Havarti." Our immediate reaction was that she was given an odd name and thought about giving her a nickname, but over time, the name Havarti grew on us. When we took her on outings it was always comical to hear the responses from people when they asked her name. As soon as we said, "Havarti, like the cheese," many of the responses were, "that's my favorite cheese." She did eventually get some nicknames: Little Peanut, Little Cheese (GDB kennel staff) and Little Cheesecake (Andrea Christensen).

We couldn't have asked for a better puppy to raise. She certainly had her moments the first couple of months and we were beginning to wonder if she was going to make it. She was very demanding of our attention to the point she would do whatever she needed to get our attention to play with her. With some diligent training and lots of patience we were able to get over this hurdle and she grew to understand her boundaries. Havarti was very food motivated so she was willing to please us in order to get the food reward when it was appropriate.

During the 16 months we raised her, she had so many opportunities to experience life. We are retired so we were able to take many vacations that allowed us to include Havarti. Her one-year birthday was spent at Disneyland where she got to meet Goofy and Pluto. She loved our camping trips, playing on the jungle gym at the campgrounds, going to the beach and going to the snow. She was extremely well behaved on all of our public outings and knew that when she had her puppy jacket on, she was expected to show good manners. But she also knew that once we were home and the jacket came off, she could relax and frolic around the house.

Havarti with Andrea and the Edwards on graduation day
Graduation Day
One of Havarti's favorite pastimes was getting her daily belly rub. Our routine after dinner was a game of tug. When it was time to stop, we would tell her, "That's enough," and she would let go of the toy and proceed to roll over onto her back for a long belly rub until she fell asleep. She loved her belly rubs so much that when a stranger would lower their hand to pet her, she would slide down onto her back for a belly rub. Of course, that became a training issue and her belly rubs were limited to off training times.

In October of 2011, we received the notification that she would return to the GDB campus in November for her formal training to become a guide. She progressed quickly through the program and completed the phases in early February 2012 but was held back until she could be matched with the right person. That special person, Andrea Christensen, arrived at the GDB campus on March 11 and on March 14, Andrea and Havarti were united and their long-awaited adventure began. It was love at first sight for both of them. They worked well together and Andrea said that Havarti would get excited when she saw the harness in Andrea's hands. On March 31, 2012, Andrea and Havarti graduated during a beautiful ceremony. When we walked up to present Havarti to Andrea, it was evident that Havarti had a strong bond to Andrea as she looked up to her new "mom" and wagged her tail.

Prior to graduation, we noticed during our meet and greet with Andrea that Havarti didn't seem to be herself - not her usual energetic self - but we thought maybe it was due to all the excitement of the day. On Monday, Havarti started showing signs of distress and it was evident that something was really wrong. She was taken to a local vet in Andrea's home town and it was quickly determined that Havarti was extremely sick and needed to get to an animal hospital immediately. On April 3, her health rapidly declined and within a few hours of arriving at the hospital, she passed away. It was later determined that she had developed a very aggressive form of leukemia that goes undetected until the symptoms appear in the very last stage of the disease. There was no way for anyone to have known she had this disease.

A close friend of Andrea's (Glenna Williamson) wrote this about the connection between Andrea and Havarti:

"Andrea called me several times throughout her three weeks of being away from family and each time we spoke, she was thrilled beyond words of the connection and affection she felt towards her new escort. One might have to have an inside look to know and understand that Andrea is full of life and although blindness has been a thorn in her side, she never complained about this obstacle in her life, but she kept determination and with a full blown 'Attitude Ahead,' she was ready to meet, greet and move forward in life with Havarti. Oh how she instantly bonded with Havarti with a new sense of life's direction for both of them. Andrea had a song in her heart of Amazing Grace as she could now sing 'I once was blind but now I see' - of course that being in doggie language.

"Andrea stayed by Havarti's side until the end. For Andrea thought Havarti was there for her, but in actuality...God turned the tables, as Andrea was there for Havarti."

Andrea told us that in the short time she had Havarti, she performed her guidework with excitement and enthusiasm. We all are very saddened that Havarti succumbed at such a young age and wasn't able to fulfill her long time purpose as a Guide Dog for Andrea. She touched so many hearts in her short life and she will always hold a special place in our hearts.

Havarti, you were a special puppy and you made us very proud of your accomplishments. We feel blessed that GDB gave us the opportunity to have you for 16 months as you warmed our hearts with your many puppy antics, and your enthusiasm to please any one. You will forever be remembered as the energetic puppy who loved belly rubs, would do whatever any one asked of you, and loved everything life brought to you.