By: Patsy Acker
Little did I know that a chance encounter with a lady carrying a puppy in our local market one evening about six years ago would lead to an ongoing relationship with GDB. To use the word “chance” is stretching the truth, because when I see a puppy, any puppy, anywhere, in anyone’s arms or walking down the street, there is nothing chance about what is going to happen. No matter what it took, I was going to pet that puppy. I shop in an electric cart, and it took me a few aisles and a few u-turns to just happen to run into her again. “Oh, you have a puppy. May I pet him?” And thus began my education and friendship with GDB.
The lady told me that she had just returned from the GDB campus in San Rafael and the puppy was their newest training project. A brief conversation and the exchange of a few phone numbers and I knew what I wanted to do. I was 78 years-old at the time and slightly disabled. In my mind my days of owning a dog were in the past, but my new friend told me of other opportunities to be with dogs.
A phone call to the director of the dog training families in my area resulted in an invitation to join them and their puppies for a training outing at the Railroad Museum in Sacramento. She explained that there are always more dogs than people to walk them, so I could have a dog for the day. To say I was thrilled is an understatement. When the day finally arrived, well, I had found my world. There were dogs everywhere.
The training that day included walks through the museum and a ride on a train. My favorite part of the day was when we went to lunch. There were six of us going together and each of us with a dog. This ought to be interesting, I thought. We were seated at a table barely large enough for our group. To my amazement the six dogs went under the table and went to sleep. The only way anyone would know there was a dog in the room was the sight of six tails sticking out from under our table. As the day ended I was encouraged to explore the opportunity to become a sitter for dogs in training when their families had to be away for brief periods. My yard and I both passed inspection and I was on a roll. Having dogs in my life was not over after all. It was actually just beginning.
Before I could offer to sit for anyone, I suddenly became a dog rescuer. One day my son, Chris, called to tell me we were going to go rescue two dogs that were to be euthanized if we didn’t go get them. “What kind of dogs?” I asked. St. Bernards, there are two of them. I know my son: one for you, Mom, and one for me. Murphy and Bella, as we named them, ended my dog sitting plans and everything else to do with GDB I thought. Wrong again.
They were beautiful, sweet, fun and BIG! Rescuing them was done at the request of a St. Bernard Rescue organization in another state, with the provision that if we could not keep them we would take them to the ranch. It only took a couple of months for me to admit what everyone else knew from the start. I could not manage Murphy and Bella was not a good fit for Chris’ family with four kids, including two year old twins. We took them to the rescue ranch where they were later adopted by appropriate families. I loved Murphy and had I been 20 or 30 years younger would have happily provided a loving home for him. That was not the case, so back to Plan A: Dog Sitter.
The director of the training families in my area, Kim, had become a friend, so I called her and said I was available as a sitter again. Not to be. A surprise gift from son Chris on St. Patrick’s Day put an end to Plan A – again! “What is it, Chris?” I asked as I looked into the bag to which a balloon was tied. My initial thought was: Oh, good grief! I had to give up Murphy so he has brought me a hamster. “It’s a dog, Mom.” And indeed, it was; an eight week old, four pound ball of white fluff that was to become my constant companion and a trainer for GDB.
I couldn’t believe my eyes as I gazed at this adorable little creature with eyes the size of ping pong balls. He immediately snuggled into the crook of my neck and buried his head in my hair. Chris had learned of a litter of eight Shih Tzu puppies, and when there were only two remaining, went with his wife to select one. One look at those two puppies and Chris said I knew I could not take one and leave the other; so he took them both and I received my treasured St. Patrick’s Day gift.
Now I had to make another phone call to Kim, this time to tell her my dog sitting plans were back on hold again and why. Kim and I stayed in touch, and I continued to report the wonders of my new little friend, now responding to the name of Duffy. And there was much to report. Duffy assigned himself the job of taking care of me. He reached hero status about two years ago when I fell outside and was unable to get up. I wasn’t badly hurt but my prosthetic leg came off, I split my eyebrow and was behind a bush and under a tree, not visible to anyone passing by. I yelled “Help” a couple of times and Duffy took over. He went to the curb and sat there and howled for ten minutes until a lady two blocks away decide something must be wrong somewhere. She got in her car and drove until she found Duffy and then me.
Kim learned of Duffy’s heroics and asked if I would bring him to one of their puppy training sessions and tell the story. At the same time she could use Duffy as a distraction for the dogs in training. That sounded like a fun evening for both of us and I readily agreed. Duffy and I arrived at the warehouse they use for the training exercises when only a couple of dogs were there. Duffy thought I had really planned a great surprise. He approached each dog in his usual manor: Let’s play! Nothing!
Within a few minutes other dogs began to arrive, lots of them. I knew what was going on in Duffy’s mind: Well, this is more like it. It’s like the park Mom takes me to, only inside; I can play with all of them. Kim had laid out different surfaces for the trainees to walk on, some obstacles to walk around, stairs to climb and other items and conditions a guide dogs was likely to encounter, such as another dog. Enter Duffy, The Distraction.
Kim took Duffy everywhere there was a dog, up and down stairs, around obstacles, over different surfaces, and he sniffed every dog he met. Nothing, again. Duffy is not a barker but this situation in his mind seemed to require some verbal encouragement, so he began to bark. Nothing, again. After about 15 minutes of effort on Duffy’s part to persuade a dog, any dog, to play with him, Kim brought him back to me. Duffy doesn’t have to be able to talk for me to know what he is thinking. He heaved a sigh, rolled his big eyes and lay down beside me. The equivalent was: “I tried Mom. They just don’t want to play with me”. I’m not sure if he understood my explanation as to why they wouldn’t play.
We have made a second visit to a training session, but this time I warned Duffy they probably wouldn’t play again. He did everything he was supposed to do and the trainees did what they were supposed to do – ignored him. He didn’t seem as disappointed the second time around. So now Plan A is on permanent hold. Plans B and C never even got a name. My favorite is Plan D. “Distraction” could well have been Plan D, as that is the job he does so well. But in my mind and heart Plan D will always be D for Duffy.