Wednesday, November 27, 2013

My First Guide Dog Kit

By: Pamela Boyle, GDB Graduate

Words cannot express the sadness in our hearts....Kit was my first guide dog. I will never forget the incredible feeling I had when I turned myself over to Kit for the first time. Life changed for me at that moment and I never looked back. She guided me for six years. She danced at Mama Mia on Broadway, got a kiss from an actor in Lion King, sang with a Barber Shop Quartet (they probably though she was howling) and then retired to the life of leisure she deserved. We will miss her sweet face greeting us at the door when we come home every day. There will never be another Kit (03/18/2000-11/12/13).
Retired guide Kit (yellow lab) wears a striped jersey and rests her head on a soccer ball.
Retired guide Kit (yellow lab) wears a striped jersey and rests her head on a soccer ball.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Remebering Galleon

By: Larry Marcum

Galleon guided me for over nine years, and was the best guide dog that a person could ever hope for. For the past three years, in 2011, 2012 and 2013 he enjoyed a happy and much deserved retirement here as Ida and my pet. But ironically, those years would end on 11-12-13. Yesterday morning, as usual he instigated a play session with Brinkley, as happened most every morning as Ida and I sat in front of the fire drinking our morning coffee.

God blessed me with Galleon in January, 2002 at Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael, class #621. He turned two that month while we learned to work as a team, a team that would fly over 20,000 miles together, and experience so much in life. Galleon helped me to learn how to cope with blindness, he gave me the confidence, independence and strength to be what I am today. He touched so many of your lives as well in so many ways. He helped raise needed donations to Guide Dogs for the Blind, guided me on my path in Lions, and stood by me as Ida and I started our incredible life together, both Galleon and Ida allowing me to be the person that I have always wanted to be.

Below is a photo that I took a couple of months ago, I photo that I will always cherish because I can see it, and see the ever-present smile on his face.


Our hearts are heavy right now, Galleon will always leave a paw print on our hearts and I know that as the days pass, our hearts will once again be filled with the joyful memories of Galleon on the path of being a great guide dog.

Larry & Ida and Brinkley

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Eulogy for a Guide Dog

By: Todd Smith
She was whelped on September 30, 2004 at the San Rafael Campus of Guide Dogs for the Blind. She was the third of six pups, all Black Labs. She was in the “R” litter, so she was named “Roanna”. She spent her first weeks in the GDB kennels with her siblings, being cared for lovingly by the staff and volunteers.

When the time came, she was placed on the “Puppy Truck” and sent to her raiser home in Camas Washington, and her co-raiser home in Wilsonville Oregon. There, she learned her basic obedience, was potty trained, and was prepared for her life as a working guide by being socialized in many different venues. Roanna took trips to the local stores and restaurants, went to school with her raisers, enjoyed movies at the theatre, walks in the park, and rides in the car. She even flew with her raisers to San Francisco where she rode the cable cars, walked the Golden Gate Bridge, and saw the seagulls and sea lions on the piers. Her raisers taught her well, and she had lots of fun playing with the family pets and just being a dog.

When Roanna was around 16 months old, she returned to the Boring, Oregon campus of Guide Dogs for the Blind to begin the guide task training. There she learned how to be the eyes for someone who could not see. She had to learn many things that do not come ‘natural’ to dogs, such as looking up for overhead objects, stopping at curbs and steps, and keeping her handler from running into objects that she could simply duck under. It took a long time with many different training sessions in many different venues, but she learned it all and made it through the 10 phases of training to become a real working guide. Now all she needed was to be matched to the right person.

She was matched to Candy on August 12th, 2006, and from then until August 26th, Candy and Roanna spent all their waking and sleeping hours together. They learned about each other, how to ‘read’ what the other was needing, and began the formation of themselves into a symbiotic team. On August 26th 2006, they ‘graduated’ in class number 127R at the Boring, Oregon campus. From that day forward, they were always together.

It wasn’t always easy. Newly-placed guides will sometimes ‘test’ their handlers to see what they can get away with, and Roanna was no exception. She was sometimes stubborn, strong willed, and not always ready to work. Candy was concerned that Roanna would never ‘bond’ with her, because Roanna seemed so uninterested in being with her at times. But Candy persevered and by the time the six month ‘anniversary’ of their teaming together came about, things were starting to smooth out.

 Then came the day that Roanna went blind. Roanna had an issue with demodectic mange, and Candy had taken her to the vet for treatment. The vet prescribed medication for the issue, but the dosage had been incorrectly labeled on the bottle, so Roanna had been given an excessive amount of the medication, causing a negative reaction. Candy was at a seminar entitled (of all things) “Living With Blindness”, which had been facilitated by the Oregon Commission for the Blind at Fish Lake Resort, Oregon. Right after dinner on the first night of the seminar, Candy was returning to her cabin for a short break before the first session began when Roanna refused to move forward. She just stopped dead in her tracks halfway to the cabin. Candy tried to see if there was something Roanna was alerting her to, but nothing was there. She commanded Roanna forward, but she would not move. Candy reached down to touch Roanna to try and figure out what was wrong, and noticed that Roanna was trembling and shaking uncontrollably. Roanna would not move forward at all. Candy called me to her, and I took a look at Roanna to see if I could figure out what happened. I could not see what was going on with her, so I picked Roanna up and carried her to the cabin. When I set her down, Roanna just stood where I put her, shaking and trembling. We called the emergency number for the vet, and after talking with them we were able to figure out that the incorrect dosage of medication had been given to Roanna. We left the seminar and drove home that night. When we got home, Roanna refused to go into her kennel, and this dog always loved her kennel. If she was not on tie down, she would go and kennel herself because she favored her kennel over anything else, but this night, she would not go near it. She slept on the bed that night, still shaking and trembling. The next morning, we took Roanna to the vet for an examination. The vet examined her and found that she had been rendered blind by the over dosage, however it was deemed to be a temporary condition and that Roannas vision would return to normal in a week or so after ceasing the medication. That was a long, worrisome week for Candy and me. Roanna slept on the bed, was hand fed her meals, and spent every hour close to Candy. The next week, she was taken to the vet where her vision was tested and discovered to be ‘normal’ again, and Roanna resumed her guide work. But what a difference in her personality! The stand-offish, stubborn and strong-willed guide who did not want to ‘bond’ with Candy was gone, and in her place was an affectionate, loving and attentive ‘velcro’ dog that never wanted to be away from Candy if at all possible! The world’s first blind guide dog had made a comeback. A positive corner had been turned.

That is how it was for the next years of the team. Candy went back to college and Roanna was there to guide her safely through her classes, all the way through to her AAS degree in Human Services. Vacations and fun times were had with Roanna always there to guide, even with the most mundane of tasks such as grocery shopping or visits to the dentist. Roanna was ready to go whenever the harness came out, and happily worked as long as Candy needed her to. If ever there was a "perfect" guide dog team, they were it. Along the way, we decided to ‘give back’ a little, so we became puppy raisers for GDB. We knew what it was like having a guide dog which gives a sense of safety and independence, so we wanted to try it from the other side by raising one from a pup. Roanna was all for it. She helped mentor all the pups that came in to our house, “showing them the ropes” and leading by example. From Wally, our first pup (who made it to be a guide), then Vicki, who became a K-9 Buddy, then Jerianne, who became a breed dam, then Victoria, who also became a K-9 Buddy, then Lasso, who is in training now and finally, Oprah, who is Jeriannes daughter. Roanna has helped us raise all these pups.

 Then in December of 2012, we noticed that the tip of Roannas nose was starting to turn "up". A visit to the vet in January of 2013 gave disturbing news: malignant fibrous sarcoma. No surgical option for removal, and expensive medication for treatment was no guarantee that the cancer could be slowed down. After discussing the situation with our vet and the vet techs at Guide Dogs for the Blind, it was decided to retire Roanna and keep her as comfortable as possible for the time she had left to be with us. She became a much loved pet and happily settled into her new role. The cancer grew and swelled, pushing her nose upward until it was level with the top of her snout. Roanna could still eat and drink, she adapted quickly. But we knew it was only a matter of time. The sarcoma grew, and got to the point of becoming infected and bleeding, with no relieving effect from the medications given. Soon it got so big that the blood supply could not keep pace with the growth, and tissue began to die off. Gangrene soon followed, and at our vets suggestion, we helped her cross the Rainbow Bridge on Saturday, August 17th, 2013 at 1:00 PM. She no longer hurts, and can run free and wait for us to meet her there someday, along with Mariah, who crossed in April of 2013.

Roanna was a special girl who overcame a lot in her short working life. Both Candy and I have been truly blessed to have been able to share part of our lives with her.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Angel Dog

I, Becky a yellow Lab Guide dog went to doggy heaven on April 1st 2013 and my friend Kit buried me on June 2nd 2013 in her back yard between the apple and the Asian pear trees. I rest in peace here and I bless my family in the house.

I had 14 years of a happy life. I was not just Kit’s guide dog. I was her partner, her special friend.  We had walked more than a million miles together in our life. Financial district, busy street crossings, traffic checking, looking for doorways going in and out, strolling around street fairs, playing snow balls, visiting parks, and being treated like a princess, are things of the past!

Monday early morning April 1st 2013, Kit walked into the room to find me lying on the floor motionless. She rushed me to the vet at 9:00 AM while crying. Kit told John to spread a blanket on the floor for me. The vet suggested putting me to sleep based on my prognosis. She tried to hang on to me for a few more hours by asking the vet to give me an IV. After 3:00 PM, She pet me for the last good bye and let the vet put me down. Her tears ran down like rain. I knew she had an urge to scream "Becky, Becky don’t go." However, she wanted me to have a peaceful departure and she suppressed her emotions. I heard beautiful soft music and I saw a group of angels came to lead me into heaven. "Good bye Kit, my dearest friend, good bye world. I’m going to another new life."

Thursday, August 15, 2013

My Dear Beamer

By: David G. Carlson

You let us down
You were supposed to live forever
After so many years of dedicated service to us
how could you just leave?

It's so hard to imagine what you thought all the years
that you led Dad from one place to another
You made it seem like a game, like a romp in the park
and all that time you were helping him be independent

You had no idea how important you were
and how you gave us such unbridled joy
You willingly gave up the lead to a younger guy
and you happily became a life partner to your Mom

How can we express to you in a few hours and minutes
all the outpourings of love and awe?
How can we possibly give back to you a fraction of what you gave to us
and all in the name of simple loyalty?

My dear Beamer, my partner my left arm
go now to where you can rest and be away from any pain
Just remember that we were always at your side,
and were your most admiring companions.

In Memoriam
8/4/2002 - 8/4/2013

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Power of One - A Little Golden's Big Impact

By: Maia Scott

In September of 2012, I learned that my nine year old golden guide dog Tessa had a very aggressive form of cancer. Almost a month to the day, she passed away up in the mountains in my mother's arms.  It was all so fast and devastating, it physically hurt. One moment, England, Yosemite, the world at the end of a harness and the next, an empty little fleece in the corner of my room and an apartment that echoed with booming silence. I lost myself in my woes.

Back at work after a week off to grieve, I returned to face my coworkers and clients. I posted a letter so I wouldn't have to tell the story all the time. Even so... “Where's Tessa?” I ended up repeating myself at least five to ten times a day, depending upon how many clients I had on my massage table and how many people asked outside work. At the start, I felt awkward sharing the news, expecting to be alone in my grief when I should be taking care of my clients.

Guide dog Tessa sits in front of a waterfall.

To my surprise, I ended up having to offer my clients support. When many of them learned of Tessa's passing, they teared up, cried, caught their breath...and often expressed embarrassment at getting upset when it was my loss. I did not feel slighted as I learned the loss was not mine alone. In fact, with each person who grieved Tessa with me, I felt something warm welling inside. Gratitude filled me, reinforcing the Tessa shaped hole in my heart with stays of strength and stability. I began to realize my guide dog didn't just enhance my own life - she made an impact on people I never expected.

In addition to my clients, Tessa's gentle presence, coy ways, sweet little doe face, and melty brown eyes burrowed into the hearts of people I barely took time to notice. For example, there was the checker at the hardware store who sniffled and flapped her hands in front of her as I set my purchases on the counter a couple months later. “I still can't believe she's gone!” The manager at TJ's sent me home with flowers when I came in to shop without Tessa. 

Then there's the streetcar driver who held up her busy train to lean out the window and tell me how much she missed seeing Tessa on board. “Having her on here brightened my day. She made me feel so warm and happy.” The driver went on to say Tessa was so sweet and gentle and such a good dog... Many a bus driver and rider asked me about Tessa and expressed their sadness to know she's gone.
At eleven o'clock at night after seeing a musical downtown, my mother and I waited to cross a busy street. “Where's your dog?” asked a deep and soulful voice from nearby. We turned to find out who asked and came face to face with a man in a wheelchair who frequents the neighborhood in the hopes of collecting some change. I, like so many others rushing to and fro, learned to forget he was there in an effort not to feel the sting of others' situations. But he did not forget Tessa. I thanked him for asking and told him she passed. Like others who felt the blow of the news, he curled his shoulders in and covered his heart. “I'm really going to miss her.” He said in his slow and quiet way.

Human hand holding dog's paw

It amazed me, the kaleidoscope of people touched by this little Golden I assumed was mine alone. Tessa's abundant love and excellent guide work taught me a lot about life. I didn't expect losing her would exemplify one of the most important lessons of all. We are all interconnected and even the little things can make a big difference. Indeed Tessa was trained to guide a blind person through life.  She certainly offered guidance of many sorts, enhancing my life and the lives of so many along the path. 

Here's to guide dogs and the big jobs they do – bigger than anyone can imagine.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Sherby Says Goodbye

Sherby (May, 2001 – February, 2013)
Submitted by Natalie Martiniello

Dear mom,

It is so strange to say good-bye. We’ve never really said good-bye before. Sometimes, we’ve had to part for short moments. When you told me I was ready to retire and that it was your turn to take care of me, sometimes you’d have to leave in the morning without me. But I knew, and you knew, that these moments apart, and the distance, would be short-lived – that we would always come back to each other at the end of each day. Each night, I would find you in the house. I would loyally rest my head on your lap. You would scratch my ears and hug me. You would tell me that I was a good girl. Then, we’d walk together to my big pillow, and you’d say goodnight. But at the end of each dark night, we knew we would see each other again.

Somehow, I know that this time it is different. I saw it in your eyes. I felt it in the air. Something in my heart told me so. I do not know words as you do. I cannot find the words to say what this thing is. But I  know it is different, and that we would have to approach this time apart differently. For both of us, it was different and it would require us to be stronger than we’ve had to be in the past.

You are laying here on the couch. My big pillow is right beside you on the floor. Carlina is curled up against me – her head resting on me, our paws intertwined.

I don’t think any of you know that something has happened yet. We are all just resting, living in the silence. It all just seems to be a normal day… until you call me for dinner. I do not come.

I know you are thinking that is strange. I am thinking the same thing. There is food waiting for me in the other room. Why am I not getting up? Wait. I realize I am trying… but it is not working. There is a weight pressing down on my back legs. I am trying to pull myself up… but it is not working. You come to see me, to try to help me up. I know you are thinking it is just my old bones, but something inside me tells me  it is more than that this time. so much more.

I stay laying on my pillow. Everyone is beside me, trying to see what is wrong, and I know you recognize the signs. It is just as it was a few weeks before. My head feels funny, like it is off to one side. My eyes are not working very well at all. I am sniffing the air, trying to find where I hear your voice. You touch my ear and I flinch because I did not see it coming. But when I know it is you, I wag. I hear you laugh and say “only sherby would still wag, even during a stroke”.

This word, stroke, is a strange word to me. I’ve only heard you use it once before. A few suppers ago. It was when I felt strange inside, just like now. When my legs weren’t working and my eyes and my ears too and my mouth couldn’t close properly. I wagged then too.

I need you to understand why I wagged then, and why I wagged now. Because I am happy. I do not need many things to be happy. I’ve only ever needed you. well, the food and the strawberries helped. That just makes me wag harder. But if you are sad now and wondering whether I suffered during my final moments on this earth, I want you to remember that love is so simple, and so constant. For it touches us all and carries us forward and nurtures us and does not dessert us, even when our bodies and our health do. I wagged because our love was still there, and still is there now, so what is there to be sad about?

I heard you use the phone, that funny thing that makes noise sometimes. Anthony came home. He approached me and my tail wagged some more. Together, Anthony, your mom and dad transferred me onto this funny flat thing, and I was lifted into the air. Usually, I would have found this very strange and probably would have tried to jump off. Puppies don’t really like to be so far from the ground. But though I was wagging and happy, my bones were tired and I couldn’t move, and so I let them and your love carry me forward. I did not protest or try to jump off. I remembered your words, and let you take care of me this time.

In the car, you stayed beside me. You pet me and held my paws. You touched my soft ears. I was trembling a bit because I know the car means we are going to the puppy doctor, and I never liked that very much. But then I started to relax, because, you were here with me and telling me it would be okay. You always trusted me, and I have never doubted you.

At the puppy doctor, I was brought into a room. The doctor looked into my eyes and looked at me all over. She spoke to you but I did not understand. I heard words that sounded like “cancer”, and that word again “stroke”. Then you were silent for a moment and said something else. And she said something that sounded like “….quality of life” and “she had a happy life”. The puppy doctor patted my head gently. Everyone seemed sad, but I didn’t really understand why. Actually, I was really wondering whether anyone forgot that we left the house without my supper. It was getting to be way past my eating time, and this is a big deal to me, you know.

The puppy doctor and your mom left the room for awhile. It was just me, you and Anthony. I like Anthony. He cares for you a lot like I do, but I know that even though he’s around, you still have always loved me just as much. It makes me happy that many people care for you. this has always been my job, but I like to know that when you leave each day, others do the same.

You were on the phone. I think you were calling that happy place in California that I still have not forgotten. What a happy place. You spoke to a few people there. I could tell they were so understanding. I could hear it in your voice, that whoever you were speaking to, they understood what was happening and were supporting you, helping you make some kind of important decision that looked to be hard, but right. And I’m okay with tough. As long as you think it’s right, I will never doubt you.

This is how I see it. Sometimes, in my life, I have had to make very tough decisions. I have had to decide whether to walk forward, or around an obstacle. I have had to put your safety and your happiness first, and the path was not always clear. Sometimes I was afraid, or unsure, but all I had was my training and my love and my instinct. You had the same this night too, and I know from experience,  that these things are never wrong.

A lot of time has passed by. A lot of talking between you and Anthony. A lot of hugs and petting. I am wagging and wondering why everyone is making such a big deal about things. I have you and that is all I need, though I was happy to get that cookie jus now. I am wagging. Wag, wag, wag. I want you to know I am grateful, and happy, and thankful. I am so grateful, and happy… and thankful.

I am being moved to what the puppy doctor calls “a more comfortable place”. I am resting on warm blankets. Anthony, you, your mom and even your brother sit beside me. Everyone is petting me and telling me how good I am.

I especially notice you.

I notice you beside me.

I notice your hands looking at me, as though you are trying to remember me, imprint me in your memory in your heart forever. But oh, my best friend, my soulmate, remember that it is not the way we look or sit or the things we do that leave lasting pawprints on the heart. It is the thing itself, we call love. It has no substance nor does it look like anything in specific. But I promise you, you will never forget what my love feels like. I will cloak you in it, even when I am called away. And even though you say it is your time to care for me, we both know, I have never stopped watching over you… and I never will.
Your brother brought me a basket of strawberries. My most favourite thing in the whole, wide world. Now I am really happy. I even try getting up. You have to admit, that was a really good try this time, but it still doesn’t work so well. No matter. I’ll eat. As long as I have a labby tongue to lick, those strawberries will find a way in my belly. And they do. You each take one to feed me.

The last one I eat was given by you. this was my last strawberry, and my last meal. And I am so happy you thought to give me my favourite food.

The puppy doctor is back. I think I am starting to understand the tears, and the words. And what this strange feeling is. A little voice inside me is telling me I need to go. I think it is strange because I do not  go anywhere without you. I must stay beside you always throughout life, for that is why I am here. I hear you struggle with something very new in your heart. Throughout our time together, your instinct has been to protect me. You have always fought to get me the best vet care. You have always opted for the treatment, the pills, the care that would keep me going, keep me happy and healthy and well. But I see the struggle in your eyes, because something will be happening very soon that you are allowing, and it is something that feels unnatural to you – because your instinct is telling you that you should be fighting for me still, and instead, the right thing to do this time is to let it happen, and to let me go. I hear the words in your heart, as you ignore the urge to say, “stop”, to protect me one final time.
And that is when I know. this time, you have to let me go.

Now, I know you said it was your turn to care for me, but as I lay here thinking about those strawberries I just ate, I know that we have never taken turns – I have cared for you and you have cared for me. This is how it works, and how it always will. And though I cannot talk, this is what I want you to know.

It is okay. Please don’t hurt as you say this goodbye. Please don’t believe for a single moment that letting me go means that I am gone. When I was very young, I left the happy place in California and I went to a special family who loved me so very much. But then I had to say goodbye and return to the guide dog school. I worked with a special person who trained me to care for you. but then I said goodbye to her and started my journey with you.

Now it is my time to leave you on this earth, but this goodbye is different. It is different because we are strong for each other, and because the memories we have forged will hold us up and keep us close, even after you let me go.

Everything is becoming quieter, yet also, strangely, louder. As if, I truly hear what you are saying. I am resting my head on your lap, and you tell me I am good. And I truly believe you. and I truly feel loved.
I did not feel the needle. I need you to know this. I did not hurt.

Images run through your mind. Our first walk. Our memories. Our times together, both happy and sad. Both public and private. Like a film, they run through your mind, and before my eyes, and I think, “what a beautiful, beautiful story we have shared”.

Those final few moments lasted forever, as though we forced them to linger as long as we could, but so quickly, my head felt heavy and I rested it on my paw. I wanted you to know that I would just be sleeping. I hear you say “you look like you are resting” and I am happy. Because it is peaceful, and the very last thing I hear you say before my eyes close for the final time are these words:
“thank you, sherby, so much, thank you”.

And as my eyes droop and I begin to float away, I think, no, my precious friend, my loyal companion….
…thank you.

I am floating. It is light. I have not felt this healthy and young and whole for so long. I can move and jump.. and fly. Was this how it felt when you first held my harness and walked with me? You said then that it felt like flying, and what a beautiful, free feeling it is. I am happy I gave that to you.

You are getting up, and I hover around you, cloak you in my love, where I will, instinctively, remain forever, tucked within your soul, carried within your heart. I am far away, yet still so close beside you. and that is the beauty of love.

I know you were not ready. That you would never truly be ready. But I am writing this now because I want you to be at peace, as I am. I am floating, higher and higher. There are big, pearly white gates. Someone is calling me forward. I know this word, and I go because it feels safe, and warm, and right… and home.

I looked at you far below, and I know that where I am going, I will continue doing what I do most best of all. I will watch over you, and truly be the angel you have always said I am. I will never stop watching over you.

Here the ground is soft and warm. The sun shines brightly and heals my body. I am surrounded by love. There is a buffet of strawberries from every country in the world laid out before me. A platter of dog cookies, and kibbles, and more strawberries is put before my nose. I sniff approvingly and take it all – and the platter keeps refilling.

I see all the other guide dogs that have gone before me. They each wag and prance and seem so light and free. We have all we need to feel whole here, and best of all, we each possess a window, buried deeply within our hearts, that lets us see down to where you are, so that we can continue guiding you forward – even after our time on earth.

And I will continue guiding you my friend. I will hold you up and hold you strong. I will continue showing you how much you can accomplish each time you take a step ahead. I cannot guide you with a harness or down a paved path. But I can guide you through your life and within your heart.

And at the end of your journey, I will be hear to welcome you, just as you always welcomed me.
Do not be sad for me my friend. Be happy, because what we shared is beautiful. This thing called life is not always easy, but what we shared was momentous – and far stronger, and greater, and more worthy than life itself. It runs much deeper, and thus, does not die, even after I do.

So know this final thing, my friend. I am not gone. And just as you explained to me once I retired, it is never truly goodbye. This goodbye feels more permanent, but I will always be right there beside you. and as I close this final tribute to our story, I want to end by telling you the very same words you told me as I closed my eyes to my time on earth.

Thank you, my friend, thank you so much. For loving me, and always doing what was right. Even if it felt so hard. For giving me all that I gave you in return. Thank you, for letting me go, so that I could take my place in the sky and become an angel who will always shine high above you.

Thank you… so much… thank you.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Celebrating GDB’s Oldest Working Graduate: Don Knight

By Emily Simone
GDB Graduate Field Representative

Emily Simone with Don Knight and his guide dog

I am writing this memorial in celebration of an amazing GDB graduate, Donald Frederick Knight, age 100, who passed away on Jan. 19, 2013.  He was born in 1912.  When I met Don, he was living in Boulder, Colo., in a high-rise apartment that overlooks the University of Colorado campus His 10th story apartment has the best view of the famous Flatiron Mountain Range in the entire city…no kidding! People might pay millions for this view. Don lived alone and remained sharp as a tack and completely independent up until just one month before his passing. He was a remarkable man in so many ways and is officially the oldest active GDB graduate we’ve ever had.

Don first came to GDB in 1993 at the youthful age of 81 and trained with Marin a stunningly beautiful golden retriever male who had a wonderful, ‘old soul’. They were inseparable for 12 years and had a bond that went beyond anything I have seen in my many years at GDB. Marin was devoted to Don, and Don would have jumped off a cliff for his beloved Marin. Marin succumbed to aggressive cancer in early 2005 and this ended friendship was devastating to all involved… From the local vets, to GDB’s vet staff and the AGS grief counselor, we all wept copiously for Don and his lost Marin.

Don’s next soul mate was Sachi, a spunky little female yellow lab, with whom he graduated in June of 2005 at the amazing age of 94! Don worked with Sachi until summer 2012. Sadly Sachi passed away suddenly from aggressive cancer. Don was devastated to lose his constant companion.

Don loved GDB and over the years, he and I developed a warm relationship. He looked forward to my visits and I tried to visit him whenever I was in Colorado. One of my fondest memories was a time when I arrived for a visit and he had set up TV trays in his living room and served me a lovely take-out Chinese lunch, served on his deceased wife’s best bone china dish ware. It was so very sweet and touching.

Don lived through two world wars and witnessed the invention of cars, television and guide dogs as a mobility aid. He spoke frequently and lovingly of his lost wife and son.

On my last visit with Don, this last October, I took him to his favorite restaurant ‘The Buff’ in downtown Boulder. I asked him what his secret was for living to the age of 100 and still being so independent and sharp. He was humble and couldn’t offer any miracle for discovering the key to eternal youth. He did tell me that sharing his life with his guide dogs gave him a reason to live and thrive….Isn’t that what our mission is all about????

Gail Paulson: Friend, Mentor, Angel

By Aziza Rodriguez

God watched you as you suffered, and knew you had your share.
He gently closed your weary eyes and took you in his care.
Your memory is our keepsake, with that we will never part.
God has you in his keeping; we have you in our hearts.
Nothing could be more beautiful than the memories we have of you.
To us you were someone special. God must have thought so too.
All our lives we shall miss you, as the years come and go,
But in our hearts you will live forever. Because we love you so.
God saw you were getting tired, and a cure was not to be.
So he put his arms around you and whispered "Come with me"
With tearful eyes we watched you suffer and fade away.
Although we loved you dearly, you were not meant to stay.
A golden heart stopped beating, hard- working hands to rest.
God broke our hearts to prove to us, He only takes the best!

Gail Paulson and Firestone

I met Gail Paulson when I was fifteen years old. She came to me offering to stand by me while my family and I fought for my educational rights as a blind student in public school. She was inspirational and comforting, and one of the few who would set aside the legal aspect of the fight to listen to me express the stress I was under. Even after the issue was resolved, Gail stayed by my side as a mentor and friend. She was honest and caring, she always had something inspirational to say, or advice to give.

Every visit was begun, and ended with a warm hug full of love. She was forever attempting to smooth out conflict, and see the good side to everything. Gail assisted a number of students in our county to express themselves on many topics, including school, socialization, family, and how that all was affected by blindness.

We took a trip to Catalina Island, where she was around if we needed her, but encouraged us to find things independently and experience the island for ourselves. I took many trips to various blindness related conventions and conferences with Gail, she could always make me laugh. Especially when I didn’t want to wake up early, and she got her present guide dog to lick me into submission.

She loved her dogs fiercely. My heart broke when I answered the phone to find out her sweet Firestone had passed. Hearing the tears in her voice jolted me back to reality, even the people that are the strongest are affected by life and its tribulations. I spent Easter of 2012 with her, hoping to ease the pain of her loss with the presence of my rambunctious guide. We laughed and cried, and talked for hours.

When she left California for her annual trip to North Dakota, I was sure I’d see her at Christmas. Fate had other plans; I could never reach her, which wasn’t all that strange. When my mother discovered Gail had been admitted into the hospital I tried frantically to find someone to give me more information, calling mutual friends, but there was very little news. Soon after, I received the news that she passed on. The thought still brings tears to my eyes, and I miss her terribly.

I despair at the loss, and yet, rejoice that my friend is no longer suffering. She was as solid as a friend as you could ask for, and she will always have a place in the heart of my family. Her wisdom will stay with me, as will the memory of her laughter. My only regret is not having been allowed to say goodbye. My deepest condolences go out to her family, and the friends she’s left behind. She spoke of her children and grandchildren with such love. I find solace in the idea that she is looking down on all of her family, friends, and guide dog teams, with a smile, Firestone sitting at her side, with his head in her lap, wagging his tail. I know she’d wish us all to smile despite the pain, to go forward and make her proud. I’ve lost a friend, but gained a guardian angel.