Remembering the dogs who served
Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day is a time for all in the U.S. to remember and honor those who have past and served our country.  Throughout history there have been dogs who have helped our military men and women in ways no human could.   Below are stories of a few of these dogs, re-printed from the website:

STUBBY, Bull Terrier mix, WWI.
The most decorated war dog in U.S. history. As a small, stray bull terrier, he was smuggled aboard a troop ship to France. There he was wounded in no-man's land but recovered and still served in battles at Chateau Thierry, the Marne and the Meuse-Argonne with the men of the 102nd Infantry. One night in February 1918, he roused a sleeping sergeant to warn of a gas attack, giving the soldiers time to don masks and thus saving them. Gen John "Black Jack" Pershing awarded him a special Gold Medal. He was given Life Membership in the American Legion and the Red Cross. He met Presidents Wilson, Harding, and Coolidge. He died of old age in 1926.

SMOKY, 4 pound Yorkie.
WWII's littlest soldier. 8 Battle stars, 12 combat Missions 18 months straight in combat. YANK magazine's "Champion Mascot of the SWPA in 1944" became a WAR DOG on LUZON late Jan.'45 by pulling string with communications wires attached under the only taxi strip leading to the protected area of 40 U.S Photo and Fighter planes saving them from the hazard of daily exposure to bombings if they would have to be moved while a construction detail dug up the taxiway. This three day job was accomplished in two minutes by the seven inch tall Smoky who climbed through 4 inch piles of sand accumilated at each four foot segment. along the 70 feet, 8" in diameter drainage culvert. Her stories appear in over 50 books and magazine articles Including Volumes I and II of the History of the Fifth Air Force.

NEMO, German Shepherd, Wounded in Vietnam.
Depsite losing an eye to gunfire, he threw himself on 4 Viet Cong to save his handler in 1966. Both survived. One of the few Vietnam war dogs given passage back home to the United States.

CARLO, Belgian Malinois, Desert Storm.
During a ceremony in which Carlo's handler received the Bronze Star for his service in Kuwait, his handler removed the medal from his own uniform and pinned it to Carlo's collar, saying, "Carlo worked harder than me. He was always in front of me."

To all those who have served our country - men, women and dogs alike - thank you.

"Animals Make Us Human" by Temple Grandin
Friday, May 28, 2010
I recently began reading Temple Grandin’s book “Animals Make Us Human” and have not been able to put it down! This is a must-read for anyone who has a companion animal, who works with animals, or who interacts with animals and wants to better understand them. It’s full of interesting tidbits of why your dog or cat does this or why chickens or horses do that. Ms. Grandin has autism and has written several books on the subject. This is her second book on how animals have helped her become the amazing woman she is today. Her other book is titled “Animals in Translation”

I found this Q&A session with Ms. Grandin on and thought it would make for an interesting blog this week, since we’re all fascinated with the human-animal bond. To read the entire Q&A session, you can find it on I highly encourage you to read both her books about animals. They're truly eye-opening!

A Q&A with Temple Grandin, Author of Animals Make Us Human

In Animals Make Us Human, you discuss a wide range of animals, from dogs to pigs to tigers. Which animals do you enjoy studying and working with the most?
A: I've worked with cattle the most, so I really enjoy cattle. I always liked to sit in the pen and let the cattle come around me and lick me--they're really peaceful animals when they're not afraid. But the thing about cattle is they're a prey-species animal and they get scared really easily--and I can relate to that because as a person with autism, fear is my main emotion. So I can relate to how cattle are always hyper-vigilant, looking for rapid movements, looking for little signs of things that might be danger.

Q: How has autism helped you in your work with animals?
A: I'm a total visual thinker. And you've got to think about it: animals don't think in language. If you want to understand animals, you must get away from language. Animals are sensory-based thinkers; they think in pictures, they think in sounds, they think in touches. There's no other way that their brains can store those memories.

Q: How has your work affected the treatment of animals?
A: I've been working on improving the treatment of cattle for years. When I started out in the seventies, people were incredibly rough and abusive with cattle. The thing that kept me going was that there were some really nice people who handled their cattle well, and their cattle had a great life, and so I could see that it was possible to handle animals right. And today many more people are now involved in teaching low-stress stockmanship and good cattle handling. When I started in the early seventies, I was a pioneer in the U.S. on this; nobody else was working on these things.

Q: How will this book be useful to people working with cats and dogs in animal shelters?
A: People often don't recognize emotions in these animals. I went to a very nice animal shelter recently that had group housing for cats that had tree-like things with platforms and cubbyholes for the cats to get in, and a very astute worker there noticed that you can have a situation where a cat seems very calm in a shelter, but he's not really sleeping, he's constantly keeping an eye out for another cat. And people need to watch for that kind of situation, because even though it looks peaceful, that one particular cat that never sleeps is going to be stressed out.

Also at this shelter, I was very pleased that the amount of dog barking was way less, and I think one of the reasons for this is that every day, every dog is taken out for an hour of quality time, playing and being walked and interacting with a person. That's going to help lower the stress. Dogs need to be taken out every day for quality interaction with a person, exercise, and fun play.

Q: If you could give your book to one person or one group of people so that they could learn more about animal care, who would that be?
A: I think any kind of person who works with animals, whether it's a pet owner, a cat owner, people who work with horses, people who work on farms--anyone who works with animals on a daily basis is going to like Animals Make Us Human, and they're also going to like Animals in Translation.


Lily and Rick ~ Strengthening the Human-Animal Bond
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
My pal Rick Smith II is a poet and has published two books of poetry. I asked him if he'd share one of his poems with us about his love of animals and how pets help enrich our lives. Here's the background he shared of how his beloved Lily came into his life:

My wife, Bonne, had been looking for two rescue cats. Her search was almost exhausted when she was told of a cat and a kitten that were being evicted from an apartment complex. Our sons had expressed an interest in getting one cat and one kitten if she could find them. I said I wanted an all white cat with blue eyes. Bonne went to see them and it was a perfect match for the boys and my request. And thus, we rescued precious Lily and Sophia.

Lily was older and unfortunately had been abused by a former owner. They came to our house and found a home in our hearts. Lily stayed under the bed, out of sight, for almost six months. Eventually she found her way into our family routine and took ownership the entire house. She gave us love and comfort and provided endless hours of 'catitude' which we all enjoyed. Although she stayed aloof, she followed me around like a little puppy and adopted me as her own. Sophia is now the mistress of the house and I believe she misses Lily as much as we do.

Here's Rick's poem about Lily ~

Lily was, as Lily was, more quiet than the rest.
She needed it to be that way, after all,
it was I who stood for the test.
Quite selective in all she did,
she determined each circumstance.
If you couldn't meet the demands of her game,
She'd never agree to the dance.
Her ethics as regal, as were her good looks,
on display but never flaunted.
What you learned from her didn't come in books,
lessons that weren't always wanted.
She'd twist her head sideways in playful flirtation,
to torment my every desire.
Then soon as I'd try to sweep her off her feet,
she'd move on, like heat in a fire.
It was a playful game having her near,
a few steps in front of alone.
She preferred solitude to social graces,
her propensity not always shown.
Loving her, was a lot like grieving,
emotions high, with hope receding.
Not known as a woman to possess,
it isn't as simple as that,
for Lily was, as Lily was,
not really a woman at all;
she was always my favorite cat.

Since Rick's retirement in June of 2005 from a rewarding career in public safety, he has been pursuing his dream as a writer. He's had national success as a published author and found himself in a position to give back. He formed a nonprofit, New Poets Society, to provide scholarship money to high-school-aged poets.

Much gratitude to Rick for sharing his love of animals and his poetry ~ we need to get together for coffee sometime soon!

~ Lori

My Beacon of Light
Monday, May 24, 2010
"She's my friend. My confidant. My Partner. Together we are like two halves of a whole." That's what Andi told me when I asked her about her service dog, Dixie (German Shepherd, Rottweiler, Husky mix).

Andi was born with Cerebral Palsy. "As a child I was much more mobile. It wasn't until my early 20's when things really started happening. As I aged my body deteriorated, my body mechanics are off and unconsciously I compensate, which has resulted in extra wear on my spine. It hit me like a ton of bricks when my Physical Therapist told me I needed to start using canes to walk, as I was ruining my hips."

Today Andi, in her 30's, comments she is functional because of her determination and because Dixie is at her side. "Dixie has allowed me to take part in society. She's allowed me to be a productive member of the community. If it weren't for her, I'd stay home and I wouldn't want to go outside – it was just too difficult before."

Dixie and Andi got paired through the Prison Pet Partnership program in June, 2005. It was her brother's then girlfriend who suggested to Andi that she explore getting a service dog. Andi hadn't thought of it before. She always associated service dogs as helping people with visual or hearing impairments, or someone in a wheelchair. She hadn't realized how they could help someone with balance or mobility challenges. It took a couple of years for her to complete the application, be interviewed several times, and ultimately qualify to be accepted into the program.

Dixie had been partnered with another person previously, but that relationship didn't work. With Andi it only took 2 days before the two of them bonded.

So, how does Dixie assist Andi?

1) Andi no longer needs to use 'those canes' as Dixie is trained to help Andi maintain her balance and provide support as she holds on to the harness when walking. "This makes me feel FREE, SO FREE!"

2) Dixie retrieves things for Andi – her coat, picks up a credit card that's fallen, etc. This is important as Andi's range of motion is limited and if she 'pushes' too much the pain is severe.

3) Dixie does bracing work. If Andi falls, Dixie will stand next to her and stiffen. Using a technique learned in training to minimize the amount of pressure put on the dog, Andi can then get up by placing one hand over Dixie's shoulders with the other pushing down on her knee to provide needed support to stand.

In addition, Andi comments that Dixie is a "wonderful social ice breaker. Before I had her I felt invisible. People wouldn't approach me, as they didn't know what to say. I never really understood it, as I think of myself as a sociable person. Dixie is like a magnet, strangers will come up to me to ask about Dixie - what is her name, what kind of dog is she? This provides me the opportunity to introduce myself to them and engage in more conversation."

With Dixie by her side, Andi says she now does more on her own. She is able to get around better and she doesn't have to ask for as much help from other people. "After awhile asking my supportive family and friends feels burdensome. I'm an independent, spirited woman and Dixie gives me the opportunity to live how I feel. She gives me freedom. She's my beacon of light!"

"Dixie also amplifies that feeling of responsibility. My partnership with Dixie is not a one-way street, she takes care of me, but in return I have to address her needs – food, attention, love. Unlike canes, dogs have feelings and those of us who have service dogs must always remember to responsibly take care of their needs as well."

Andi had been an Engineering Technician for 15 years, until the stress of the position intensified certain aspects of her condition. When she had to quit her career it was hard. Eventually Andi realized she needed to 're-start' her life and "be part of things again. I like to make people happy and I like to help out. I'm auditing classes at Bellevue College and learning new things."

Andi also has been volunteering in Delta Society's office three times a week for the last several months. She has become a master of data entry for us! With her mobility issues, she says working at a desk for a few hours is perfect for her. "It's a great fit – and the best way for me to give back and be a productive member of our community."

Thank you Andi for sharing your story with us! And, for ALL the support you give in the office. You are a wonderful woman, who is a joy to be around and an inspiration to us all. And thank you Dixie, for being the 'beacon of light' for Andi and for making each of us smile everyday you are in our office.


Seeing Animals Through the Lens
Friday, May 21, 2010

As a photographer, one of the most frequently asked questions I get is “what’s your favorite subject to photograph?” My answer is always “animals.” They’ve always been my favorite, even before I was a photographer. But I’ve never really thought about why that is. I just assumed it was something that was built in to my DNA since childhood. My favorite playmates were Kola and Zapp, our neighbor’s dogs (That's me at age 5 with Kola. I remember he was such a gentle soul.) My favorite places to visit were the zoo, aquarium or the local reptile house.

I graduated from Colorado State University with a degree in Zoology because I wanted to work with animals. I was a volunteer intern zookeeper at the Denver Zoo for a summer. I got to bottle-feed pronghorn antelope fawns, prepare meals for monkeys and of course, scoop poop. I would bring my camera sometimes to take pictures of the animals I worked with. After developing the pictures, I noticed all the animals had expressions. Some looked like they were smiling at me and some stared right into my soul. I was intrigued by what I had captured and I wanted to take more. I wanted to be a photographer like those in National Geographic

In 2002, I went to Africa for a 3-week safari to Kenya and Tanzania. One moment that stood out from the rest of trip is something I will never forget. I got to witness a female cheetah hunt. She had signaled her 3-month old cub to hide in the grass then turned her attention to the Thompson’s Gazelle about 50 yards away (which I had trouble seeing with binoculars in the pouring rain.) She crouched and stalked, using the rain as her cover. The gazelle had no idea he was being zeroed in on. And then, she was off! She was so incredibly fast that all my pictures were just a blur. I had seen this scene numerous times on TV, but it didn’t compare to seeing it in person. They zigzagged over the savannah and eventually the gazelle got away. It was breathtaking and beautiful. I was watching nature happen in Africa and it brought me to tears. The next morning, we found the same cheetah and cub. We spent about an hour with them, just watching them nurse, groom, play and be mother and cub.

I came back from Africa with a whole new passion for photographing animals. I’ve come to realize that it’s up to me to figure out how to get that one shot that will make the viewer study the picture in more detail and better appreciate what has been captured. I strive to make my pictures speak to you or evoke an emotion. And if they do, then I've done my job in showing you the beauty in the human-animal bond in all its variations – whether the connection we make when we are close up that makes us feel good, or the emotions evoked in us as we witness animals in their natural state from afar. (That's me with Morani, a black rhino who was orphaned when his mother was killed by poachers. He was hand-raised and became a symbol for the plight of black rhinos in Kenya.)

To see my pictures from Africa and more of my work, please visit my website at: DeKu Photography.

Some other animal photographers whose work takes my breath away:
Nick Brandt:
Gregory Colbert: (Viewing Gregory's photos is an amazing experience in itself as he depicts a truly incredible human-animal bond.)


Healing Heroes and Helping Hounds
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
The bond between people and animals is a strong one--and can even be a healing one. Pets are good for our emotional and physical health, and studies show that having a pet can lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Caring for a companion animal provides a sense of purpose and fulfillment and lessens feelings of loneliness and isolation in people of all ages.
For wounded warriors and disabled veterans, caring for a pet can help them reenter society and avoid stress or depression. And if the soldier suffered serious injuries while serving our country, a service dog can provide much-needed assistance and critical care.

A bill introduced last year by U.S. Representatives Ron Klein (D-Fla.) and Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) would help place dogs with men and women of the military. H.R. 3266, the Wounded Warrior K-9 Corps Act, would establish a program to award grants to nonprofit organizations that provide wounded warriors and disabled veterans with service animals such as physical therapy dogs and guide dogs. The grants will help organizations implement programs that pair assistance dogs with eligible veterans and soldiers who suffer from loss of vision, hearing, or a limb, or a traumatic brain injury, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and a number of other injuries. The "commitment of the organization to humane standards for animals" is one of the bill's criteria for receiving a grant.

U.S. Senators Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) introduced similar legislation--S. 1495, the Service Dogs for Veterans Act--to create a pilot program on the use of service dogs for the treatment or rehabilitation of veterans with physical or mental injuries or disabilities. Franken announced after being sworn into the Senate that this would be his first bill, and he wrote in the Minneapolis Star Tribune about the many benefits of service dogs:

"Yes, they provide companionship. But they can also detect changes in a person's breathing, perspiration or scent to anticipate and ward off an impending panic attack with some well-timed nuzzling. They are trained to let their masters know when it's time to take their medication and to wake them from terrifying nightmares.

Service dogs raise their masters' sense of well-being. There is evidence to suggest that increasing their numbers would reduce the alarming suicide rate among veterans, decrease the number of hospitalizations, and lower the cost of medications and human care."

Because Senators Franken and Isakson and Representatives Klein and Whitfield advanced these important measures, which reflect the broader celebration of the human-animal bond, Congress took action on this issue as part of a larger bill related to the Department of Defense and military spending. Thanks to these leaders, Congress continues to make progress toward improving our care for the men and women who serve our country, and improving our care of animals, too.

The final National Defense Authorization Act for 2010 approved by both the House and Senate includes a provision which instructs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to partner with nonprofit organizations to conduct "a three-year study to assess the benefits, feasibility, and advisability of using service dogs for the treatment or rehabilitation of veterans with physical or mental injuries or disabilities, including post-traumatic stress disorder."

It's now becoming clear that pairing vets with pets is good for both soldier and canine. The New York Times reported last month some very tangible successes, with a number of servicemen in the program now able to sleep, no longer needing multiple forms of medication, and even getting out of their homes and reintegrating themselves into society. Some of the dogs come from a training program called Puppies Behind Bars, where inmates at jails are allowed to train and teach dogs, and then the dogs are connected with the vets. So here you have dogs helping inmates and our nation's veterans--two very different populations, but both with serious challenges and needs.

There is, in fact, innovative work being done around the country that is demonstrably healing broken lives, both canine and human: My friend and celebrity dog trainer Tamar Geller helped launch a program called Operation Heroes and Hounds at the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base in Southern California. She is teaching wounded warriors from Iraq and Afghanistan how to train shelter dogs to make the dogs more adoptable. Both service members and shelter dogs learn a new set of skills that will make a positive impact on their future.

Let's hope such programs expand across the country. A rising tide of compassion lifts all boats--it's a way to support the men and women who served our country, and give a second chance to the animals who ended up in shelters through no fault of their own.

Michael Markarian
Guest Blogger

Michael Markarian is chief operating officer of The Humane Society of the United States, and president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund. He writes the blog "Animals & Politics" online at

As a long time donor and supporter of HSUS and Michael's HSLFund, I know just how busy Michael's schedule is ~ in fact, when I asked him if he'd be interested in writing a blog post for us ~ i truly didn't expect him to be able to find the time!! Therefore, a HUGE thanks to Michael for writing a blog posting for us ~ I sincerely appreciate you making the time. Keep up the great work y'all are doing to help animals and humans!


Two Simple Words that Inspire.
Monday, May 17, 2010
The class project - 'help others'.

Each student in the 5th grade class was given the assignment - find a way to help others. The children were to work independently, not with other classmates, to come up with their own way to make a difference in other's lives.

11-year old Alyssa Stager decided she wanted to help bring more joy, compassion and comfort to others through the Delta Society Pet Partners program.

Alyssa decided to raise money to support this program. She contacted me in February, 2010. I then sent her some promotional materials for use during her fundraiser, including coloring sheets for kids, informational pamphlets for adults and a banner. At that time she wasn't sure what her project would actually be - maybe a bake sale. This past Thursday I learned she decided on a different type of event and I wanted to share it with you.

Alyssa wrote, "I wanted my fundraiser to be unique and fun and something that no one has ever done before. I knew a lot of people in my school had dogs so I decided to have a Cute Dog Contest. People seemed to like that idea because I got 18 entries!

I had the dogs' pictures on a board, next to each dog there was a number. There were 18 cups with lids near the poster. If you wanted to vote for one of the dogs you would look at the number next to it and put a coin in the cup with that number. The amounts of the votes were the amounts of the coins, for example a quarter would be twenty five votes. Once the cups were full I emptied them out into separate bags that were kept in Mr. Bernt's office.

The contest went on for two weeks and finally we had a winner. Bentley (Jordan's dog) got first place in the Cute Dog Contest! Followed by Bailey in second place, Ginger in third place, and Freya in fourth place. The winner of the contest got a huge gift basket with toys and snacks, and the runner-ups received smaller gift baskets with two items.

In the end fundraiser raised $424.29! It was a very fun and helpful experience!"

In a conversation I had with Alyssa's mother she commented not only how proud she was of Alyssa but also how "everyone was unbelievably generous - children and adults alike."

THANK YOU Alyssa for choosing to make your project about Delta Society and for raising such a large sum of money for our organization. It is quite remarkable! Also, I hear from your mother that congratulations are in order to you and Louie, your Old English Sheepdog, for recently passing the Pet Partners Team Evaluation as you look to continue helping others in your community!


Delta Society is a 501(C)(3) non-profit. We receive no government funding and rely on the generosity of individuals, foundations and corporations to keep our programs alive. If you are inspired by Alyssa and would like to donate, you can do so quickly and securely online - just click here. If you want to do a fundraiser, please contact me ( and I'd be happy to work with you.

Animals: A Cure for the Everyday Drama
Friday, May 14, 2010

Last week I was having one of “those” days. You know those days… where you wished you’d never gotten out of bed or because you did, you wished you could crawl back in. As the day wore on, I didn’t think it was ever going to end. When I finally got home, I was immediately greeted by the “Welcome Home!” brigade: Moki & Marta (our two rescue dogs) and Gracie & Oscar (our two rescue cats.) They’re all so animated and say hello in their own way. The dogs jump and dance. The cats meow… loudly. Everyone wants my attention so they can tell me how happy they are to see me. It was at that moment that I had forgotten what made the day so crummy.

Animals have an amazing ability to make it all better. They’re so in tune with us, in ways we can never understand. They can read our energies, facial movements and body language better than any person. Have you ever noticed when you’re feeling down, your animal always seems to know? It acts calmer and quieter, as if to say “I’m here if you need a hug or want to talk.” Then, when you’re feeling happy, they’re urging you to interact with them for a game of fetch or they’re jumping into your lap for some quality “scritching” time. These natural gifts have made me realize that animals have a purpose in our lives. Whether it’s to comfort us or protect us, they play a vital role.

There have been numerous studies done on the benefits animals provide to us. For example, just by stroking an animal, it can help to lower your blood pressure. Owning a dog can be the gateway to a healthier lifestyle. Is your child is having trouble reading? Studies have shown that children become better readers when they regularly read aloud to dogs for twenty minutes a day. Dogs are helping play an integral role in the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in veterans. They’re trained to help the veterans cope with panic attacks by curling up in their lap or by giving a nudge to calm them down.

Volunteers with Delta Society are introducing their special animal-friends to people in need around the world every day. These animals are dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, horses, llamas and everything in between. Each Pet Partner team has a unique gift to offer every child, patients, senior citizens and veterans they visit.

There are so many reasons why animals are good for us. If you’re lucky to have a pet (or four of them like I do) make sure to take advantage of the little things they have to offer. If you don’t have one, spend some time at a local shelter with those in need of a home.

So remember, the next time you’re having one of "those" days, look down. Chances are you’ll find the cure looking back up at you.

Stephanie Kuwasaki
Hi! I'm the new Marketing Coordinator with Delta Society & am looking forward to sharing more stories with you!

Sometimes it takes a while to find your true calling.
Wednesday, May 12, 2010

It was with the three year old Savannah, Georgia service dog who was "just too friendly and outgoing" to perform his job duties – twice. His service dog registry didn't want to try to place him a third time, and felt he should be a pet with a loving family. A call was made to Delta Society in April of 2006 in the hope of finding the yellow Lab that happy home and as a Pet Partner. My name was given as a volunteer who had worked for many years and been awarded the Delta Society Beyond Limits Award in 2005 with my shelter rescue yellow Lab, Hero. I said yes, without hesitation.

Three days later, the jolly fellow joined our family of four dogs as number five; a decision we have never regretted. Hero, age 11, had just been diagnosed with cancer, and we feared the worst. Happy Jack, as my husband named him, instantly cheered up our sad little family with his sheer delight in all things, as evidenced by his tail which vigorously shook his whole body and cleared the coffee table. He adored our old black dog, Rocket, and gently licked her blind eyes while helping her find her way around when she was lost.

Six months later, Happy Jack and I became a Delta Society Pet Partners team. Those next six months were tough on all of us; Hero went through two cancer surgeries in Auburn, Alabama, and subsequent chemotherapy. Happy Jack worked with me, filling in for Hero to make around 18 visits a month. We were so worried about the old dog that we failed to adequately acknowledge Happy Jack's love for his job and the people he visited. Hero survived and went back to work part time. Happy Jack was his "stand-in and stunt double".

As time went by, Happy Jack took on more and more duties and also became a Pet Partner with my friend Betty Hester. His love for his work and all the friends he visited grew and grew, and he became loved as much as he loved others. And I still failed to adequately acknowledge his great gifts.

In September of 2009, we suffered a stunning blow by losing both Hero and Rocket. They were both old, and died peacefully. Hero was 14, and lived his life in service to his community, which honored him with a memorial service and blessing of the animals at the shelter where we found him. I wasn't sure I would be able to continue my volunteer work without him.

Happy Jack and I have resumed our visits with other Delta Society teams to two area hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, Alzheimer's day care, adult day care for the disabled, and many more. His favorite place is the Regional Youth Detention Center where we have a mentoring program and teach humane education and compassion. He wins the hearts of the at risk youth there with his total acceptance of them – something few of them have known.

He does everything I ask with enthusiasm and happiness. He loves and is loved. He proves every day that he is doing his best to fill the giant paw prints Hero left behind. And I show him every day how much I acknowledge his great heart and great gifts. Hero would be proud.

It is my greatest wish that new Delta Society Pet Partners teams fill in for those of us who are getting older, whose dogs are getting older, to continue the cycle of happiness and healing. To that end, I became a Delta Society Pet Partners Team Evaluator 7 years ago, and now I am also a licensed Instructor. I tell the students that Happy Jack is the best therapy dog in the world, just like theirs will be! Happy Jack joins me for the workshops as my demo dog, sporting his Delta Society vest and jaunty bandana with his name on it.

Yes, sometimes it takes a while to find your true calling.

A big thank you to Marty Harris for sharing her story with us! If you are interested in helping Marty fulfill her wish by becoming a Pet Partners team with your friendly pet, so people in your community can benefit from therapy animal visits, learn more.


With his best friend by his side, the trials of life are less daunting!
Friday, May 07, 2010

A college student named Gabe and a black lab named Ruth – their lives were destined to come together and make each of them complete. In August 2009, Gabe Murfitt, a sophomore at UW graduated from Canine Companion for Independence (CCI) with his new service dog, Ruth VI, or Ruthie. Gabe needed help in his daily life and Ruthie was a solid, calm, easy-to-handle service dog. She needed someone to help.

Ruthie started life as a puppy in the breeding program of CCI and was raised by Volunteer Puppy Raisers, Lisa and Danny Akin of Mukilteo. She was 8 weeks old when she arrived in Mukilteo. During the next 15 months she grew from a bouncy 12-pound puppy to a beautiful mature and well-behaved future service dog. The Akin’s job was to socialize her in as many situations as possible in the course of their daily lives – taking her to stores, theaters, restaurants, malls, - everywhere they went, Ruthie went too. She also learned 30 commands and was taught appropriate house behavior. As the months passed and the time for Ruthie to be returned to CCI for Advanced Training grew closer, Lisa and Danny prepared to say goodbye. As always, it was a very tearful and heart-breaking experience. But Ruthie, they knew, was a very special dog – they had very high expectations from her. And she didn’t let them down.

To the joy of the Akins they were notified that Ruthie was to graduate as a Service Dog with Gabe. Lisa met Gabe and his parents, Steve and Gigi, for the first time in Santa Rosa, CA before the graduation ceremony. There were a lot of happy tears among a lot of hugs. The ceremony was moving and emotional. Watching the graduates receive their service dogs and see the joy in their faces and the wags of the tails, proved that each pair were destined to be together.

Lisa had Ruthie with her in the audience until it was time to present her to Gabe. During that time, Lisa noticed that there was a change in the very tight bond that she had had with Ruthie. Now Ruthie was happy to see her, but she was watching for someone else. She wasn’t Lisa’s dog anymore – she was Gabe’s!!! She had bonded completely with him.

After Gabe took Ruthie’s leash from Lisa, he gave the address for his class. Wow, if you hadn’t shed a tear up to this point, you certainly would now. Gabe, with tears of his own, was able to share how Ruthie will affect his life:

“Life will never be the same for me because now I have Ruth. I don’t only have a Service Dog but a best friend, a companion for life. I told my mom on the way down here that after this training I will never be alone again. For people with disabilities life can sometimes be difficult and lonely. Ruth is the answer to my prayer for the difficult tasks of opening doors, turning on lights and even getting dressed. She is also the answer to my prayer for a friend. I will never have to sit in my apartment alone again for now I have Ruth...and as my friends have joked, she might even be a chick-magnet.”

Since receiving Ruthie, Gabe’s life has become easier and enriched. In the months since he and Ruthie became a team, he has attended classes, ball games, flown to Montana – in other words - lived the life of a 19-year old college student. Ruthie retrieves dropped keys, cell phones, pens, coins; she pulls his socks off for him; she pulls the door to his apartment building open and turns on the lights when he gets home. She has become invaluable to him. But there is more…she cuddles next to him on the bed, she plays ball with him, she is there to talk to, a warm friendly soul to be next to. He has said that since he has had Ruth, more people have stopped to talk to him and he has made more friends on campus.

The Murfitts and the Akins have kept in touch and a friendship is developing. To Lisa and Danny’s delight they are able to see Ruthie and watch with awe how she works with Gabe. He has been asked to give several presentations for CCI, and with Ruthie at his side is able to share his story. Gabe faces his life with courage, grace and a sense of humor. His disability has in no way hindered his ability to have fun, enjoy life, go to school…and now with Ruthie, he is able to accomplish so much more. And with his best friend by his side, the trials of life seem a lot less daunting for Gabe.

Thanks to Lisa Akin (and the Murfitts) for sharing this wonderful story. Ruthie has definitely enhanced and improved the quality of Gabe’s life ~ yet another example of the human-animal connection. Lisa and Danny Akin are also very dedicated and active in Delta Society’s Pet Partners Program and visit many facilities each month.


Learn more about how service dogs can help people with disabilities by visiting our National Service Animal Resource Center.

The Bucky boy ~
Wednesday, May 05, 2010

He was the loudest puppy in the shelter. He was the largest puppy in the shelter. She walked up to his cage and was transfixed at this reactive bundle. Her ex husband later said when he looked at the dog’s eyes and then at hers, he knew that dog was coming home. They had the same expression in them. Frightened and lost.

He was difficult to house train, and left samples of his wares on the way home from the shelter. He was joyful, happy to be alive and out of the cage, and let loose in the back of the car, his facial expression one big doggie smile. He was nonstop motion, pacing back and forth in the car, yipping and whining.

This was him for the next year; dropping his waste wherever he saw fit, yapping, whining and howling like a wolf. There was no bark in his repertoire. His mom would take him out several times a day to encourage the use of the outdoors as a toilet. He would oblige somewhat, then finish his business indoors.

He did not have any interest in learning his name or indulging in good leash manners. To him, the leash was a good way to pull his mom to wherever; whatever or whoever he wanted to sniff. The world was his olfactory oyster, and smell it he did with great gusto. I saw, I smell, I conquered was his doggie motto.

This was all well and good when he was still under 40 pounds, but as he neared 6 months, he got big…really big and really strong. And really did not like other dogs. So, off he went to be neutered, his mom hoping that would take the feral qualities he possessed.

Well, he calmed down a little, pulled a little less, but still hated dogs. And cats. Except his two cats, Doobie and Winkie, who lived in his home. It was his home, and all other inhabitants were there at his discretion. But he loved his human mom, and she loved, cared for and happily put up with all his quirks.

The home life of the two humans in this family was troubled and disjointed. The husband was frequently absent, and when there, made his wife wish he was still absent. He would walk Bucky boy and play with him, but the dog was his wife’s and he knew it.

The stress of the shattering marriage seemed to contribute to the woman’s ill health. She developed an illness that, according to her doctor, would take about one year to be recovered from and rid of. The husband did what he could to help, as long as it did not interfere with whatever he wanted to do. This meant leaving his wife and pets alone for sometimes 20 hours at a time.

Bucky boy and the cats would never leave their mom’s side. Bucky would sit, with his paws and snoot perched on his mom’s hip, and basically not budge. This dog, who had made a commitment to avoid housebreaking, was now “holding it in” for those 20 hours they were alone. Their mom was bedridden and would only get up, bouncing between walls, to feed her pets and use the bathroom. The three pets would follow her to the kitchen or bathroom, and then back to bed. Where they would wait until the man of the house returned.

It is decades later. The pets grew old and passed. The marriage split up.

Yes that was me, and I still cry over my untrainable Bucky boy, who really came through when he was needed most. And missed most every day!

Dear sweet Karen, thanks for sharing Bucky boy’s story ~ wish I’d met him, he sounds like such a character and a comfort to you! If you’d like to read more of Karen Lyons Kalmenson’s stories, her poetry and prose ~ you can join her fan page on Facebook  & find her writings on Baby Boomer Knowledge Center  AND her personal blog. AND, she writes for the – just search her name, she has much to say! J Hugs to you my sister!


The Legacy of Beezer and Boomer: Lessons on Living and Dying from My Canine Brothers
Tuesday, May 04, 2010
"What a fabulous, heartfelt and enjoyable read (assuming you don't mind some crying). Doug adeptly describes his transition from skillful attorney, who takes pride in controlling the world around him, to a soul-searching student who, under the tutelage of his beloved four-legged mentors, strives to live in the moment. In the genre of 'dog vignettes,' it's mighty refreshing to read a journey of feelings rather than simply a comical description of life with a dog." ~ Dr. Nancy Kay, author of Speaking for Spot.

Nearly 80 percent of companion animal owners consider their pets as family members. Most of them will outlive their "children" and will face the difficult journey of caring for and saying goodbye to them.

Grief after a loved one passes, including a pet, is common and many resources exist to help. Just as common but less well-known is the anticipatory grief many individuals feel before their pet passes, which can cause fear, guilt, hopelessness, anger, denial, and depression.

The Legacy of Beezer and Boomer: Lessons on Living and Dying from My Canine Brothers by Doug Koktavy explores the author's overwhelming anticipatory grief when his beloved sibling Labradors, first one and then the other, were diagnosed with terminal illnesses. He comments, "This harrowing, sometimes humorous, and ultimately enlightening journey describes how I ultimately found peace, strength, and acceptance by learning to listen to my dogs." He adds, "If I can learn this, anyone can."

All told, this first-place recipient of the CIPA Evvy Book Award in the Self-Help category illustrates how one man - and by extension the rest of us - can earn "The Daily Point" and learn to stay present, cope with emotions, and ultimately find peace even in the most difficult situations.

Doug Koktavy is a self-employed creditor's attorney in Denver, Colorado, who has played ice hockey for years and competed in triathlons. He enjoys volunteering for pet organizations, biking, running, and taking walks with his new Labrador, Dory.


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