Friday, July 17, 2015

In Memoriam: Kazoo (January 2005 - July 2015)

By: James Bluhm

Kazoo was a male yellow Labrador and my guide in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada (Oregon class OR128 September, 2006).

What a great boy! Some called him "Kaz", others "Zoo" but Kazoo loved his name and his temperament suited it perfectly. Whenever his name was acknowledged, he responded with an enthusiastic wag of the tail and a desire to get better acquainted with a new or old friend. He worked for almost nine years guiding me to work, school, and many travels to far-off places. He performed his duties as a service animal professionally, but there was always a touch of zeal lurking behind his demeanor. He was ready, on a moment’s notice, to explode with a, “its great to be a Labrador!” He had a love of life, people, animals, food, and blue latex gloves that will be truly missed. What a great boy!

We met in Boring Oregon in 2006. For those of us who received training at their facility, we found it far from boring. Kazoo was my second guide dog and I expected him to replicate all of the inimitable elements of his predecessor’s style. While this was often true as evidenced by how well he guided me safely to wherever we were going, he did not prove to be a flawless replica. He did not automatically know where my house was even after we had visited it several times. It took weeks for him to confidently arrive at home without taking detours around interesting parts of the neighborhood. He did not automatically know who my wife was either. We would go shopping to a large store and he would follow her for awhile but then, for whatever reason, he would find another pretty lady to tuck behind and follow. I still recall my wife calling “Kazoo” from a long way off to get him to return to her. He had a right fixation; while guiding me, he chose to hug the right side of the street as closely as possible. Why you may ask, would this be a problem?  Imagine walking across a bridge every morning with very fast moving traffic immediately to the right, just a step off the sidewalk away. Now imagine walking it with your eyes closed, positioned behind a rookie guide dog, who kept you immediately beside that curb, weaving his way around lamp posts and traffic signs that we encountered in our path. He always returned to his course, inches away from the right drop, despite ongoing attempts to persuade him to walk in the middle of the sidewalk. Roller coasters have no thrills compared to this. So there is little doubt that he was not a perfect dog, but he was damn near one.

He loved to work. He was always ready to spring to the door when it was evident that I was about to leave. He loved to learn new routes and once learned, he never forgot them. He loved to travel. He especially loved sniffing Hollywood’s walk of fame and the embedded stars of the great actors found there. He was less enthusiastic about whale watching off Vancouver Island only because of the hammering the boat took as it caught up with the whales. He took a cruise visiting many countries around the Gulf of Mexico which he found to be interesting, even though the facilities on the boat were less than ideal for a dog. You never saw a pup happier to see a palm tree surrounded by green, firmly planted on solid ground, at each of our destinations. Wherever we went, he always identified obstacles and changes in elevation that could have been dangerous if I had encountered them unawares.

He loved people; he had many friends at our office. When I retired, we spent two years at Carleton University earning a BA in English and many more new friends. By then, he had mastered “eye contact.” As a professional service animal, he could not go over to meet all of the pretty girls at the university who so obviously wanted to get to know him better. But with a practiced, steady contact with his eyes, he could often entice them to come over and say “hi” to him; he could not be blamed for that. He loved my wife Denise, and each time he found her, even after a brief absence, he reacted with a bout of near ecstasy. He especially loved church; he had so many friends who knew him for a long time. Following a church service, it would be bedlam as many people from the very young to old would want to respond to his wagging tail. Some of the tried and true guide dog school rules were thrown by the wayside in the turmoil. Happily, it never ruined him as a true professional guide dog.

What was it about blue, latex gloves? We never knew.  Perhaps they were used at the veterinary clinic where his puppy raiser worked and where he spent much time growing up. Perhaps, the vet and others at Guide Dogs for the Blind used them while making a fuss over him. Whatever the reason, he loved blue, latex gloves with a passion and would automatically go into play mode whenever somebody donned them. You might not think of this as much of a problem except when you realize that they are part of the normal attire of airport security staff. Kazoo loved going through airport security. As soon as the security staff put on their gloves, and as he was about to go through the metal detectors, he reacted with joy and enthusiasm. Much of my time at security was spent preparing staff for what they were about to encounter. I doubt if many other travelers requested security personnel that liked dogs because they were about to frisk a dog that absolutely loved each and every one of them. These were interesting experiences that I am sure staff of airports throughout North America still talk about today.

There are still so many stories to tell. The time he fell, thunderbolt in love with Princess Fiona at Universal Studios, the time he met a baby alligator on a tour bus in Florida, his love of carrots and ice cubes as special treats, his love of wading Black Creek (adjacent to our home in the Niagara), encouraging him to chase ducks trying to set up residence in our pool, sleeping on the front porch, in the back yard, under desks and wherever else when it was appropriate to do so, his treks from Professor Keen in Brit. Lit. II to Professor Beecher in Brit. Lit. I...the stories could go on and on.

He was such an amazing personality. We had no idea of how ill he was. He stayed just long enough to go to our convocation, wearing his well-earned gown and acknowledging his personal recognition by the president of the university. I will miss you my friend.

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