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The Stellar Keller

March 25, 2015


NOTE:  During this special month of March, each of my blog posts have been dedicated to my three Leader Dogs–Keller, Heather, and Zoe–because March 21, 2015, marked 25 years of my working with my extraordinary guide dogs.  I close this month-long celebration with an unusual story about Keller at the Indiana Theatre.



The Stellar Keller


by Alice Jane-Marie Massa



My dad and I had always given nicknames to our pet dogs; so when I was at Leader Dog School for the first time (in March of 1990), I was not surprised to hear nicknames for the Leader Dogs.  My beautiful golden retriever was dubbed “The Stellar Keller”; and she did shine with intelligence, spirit, energy, beauty, and devotion to work.  Having enjoyed grooming my cocker spaniel Chico and my Cavalier King Charles spaniel Chelsea, I was delighted that Keller’s lovely, long hair would need substantial grooming.  When Keller was a little older, I once used my braille ruler to measure her feathering (longer hair from a dog’s legs):  her graceful feathering from a back leg was fourteen inches long.  Keller’s coat was more of a reddish hue than a true gold color.  several times during our working years together, people asked me if Keller was an Irish Red Setter.  Nevertheless,   the most memorable misconception of Keller’s breed took place at the Indiana Theatre in Terre Haute, Indiana.


After teaching for the first of twenty years at Milwaukee Area Technical College, I, with Keller at my side, went back home to Indiana for a visit.  At my parents’ Blanford home, my sister and her two sons also arrived for a summer visit.  One afternoon during this visit, my sister and I decided to take my nephews, then ages ten and eight, to the Indiana Theatre (at the corner of Ohio Street and Seventh Street in downtown Terre Haute, just one block south of the historical marker for “The Crossroads of America”).  The movie Beethoven had just been released on April 3, 1992; and we thought the boys would enjoy the movie.


The impressive Indiana Theatre first opened on January 28, 1922.  The silent film Cappy Ricks, a Paramount Picture, accompanied by the thirty-piece Indiana Symphonic Orchestra, began a long line of stellar memories from the single silver screen of the Indiana Theatre.  For that first show, Hoosiers paid twenty-five cents for one ticket to watch a movie before 6:00p.m. and forty cents for a movie starting after 6:00 p.m., in this luxurious theatre.  The cost of a ticket for a child under twelve was a dime.  Architect John Eberson, the creator of the atmospheric style of architecture, designed the Indiana Theatre which took a little more than only eighteen months to build for one million dollars.  The Indiana Theatre was Eberson’s second movie palace to include elements of his atmospheric design, along with the Spanish Baroque style.  On November 13, 1997, the Indiana Theatre was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.


Seventy years after the opening of the theatre, the spacious lobby was still awesome as my sister, my two nephews, as well as Keller and I entered the historic building.  Smelling the popcorn and hearing the soft popping sounds echo in the ornately decorated lobby, I was content to wait there with Keller while my sister took her sons to the restroom at the opposite end of the spacious lobby.  A few minutes after my sister and nephews left Keller and me, the prior showing of the movie concluded; and a throng of children with some adults seemed to burst from the theatre doors in one large mass.  Suddenly, one child spotted my svelte, 54-pound Keller.  Of course, they had just enjoyed the delightful movie about Beethoven–a Saint Bernard–not a golden retriever, not a guide dog.  Nevertheless, one little child shouted with glee and recognition, “Beethoven!”  Within a few seconds, seemingly the entire crowd of children were shouting, “Beethoven, Beethoven!” and heading my way.  With the very high ceiling, “Beethoven” echoed closer and closer to me.  From our work together during the previous two years, I knew that my Leader Dog was calm and well-behaved in crowded areas; however, as the mass of children drew nearer, I began to wonder what would be the best course of action.  Well, “The Stellar Keller” was not the star of the movie–she did not even slightly resemble Beethoven.  Indeed, her behavior was much better than Beethoven’s.  Had these children never heard about guide dogs on Sesame Street?


Fortunately, as the excited little movie-goers passed by Keller and me, the adults managed adeptly to steer the children to the exit doors and not to my golden retriever.  Standing and holding my Leader Dog’s harness and leash, I tried to smile a little while Keller maintained a perfect “sit-stay” at my left side.  As the very young movie-goers exited, they were still yelling “Beethoven, Beethoven!”  Undoubtedly, they must have thought that the managers of the Indiana Theatre had arranged for a Beethoven look-alike to be in the lobby for the showing of the film.


I breathed a sigh of relief and praised Keller for her calm demeanor.  As I patted her, I once again smelled the popcorn and heard more kernels softly popping.  People coming into the theatre for the next show did not have the same reaction as those who had just watched the movie.  When my sister and nephews returned, I had a tiny tale to tell them before the movie started.


Throughout the years I shared with Keller, the live theatrical production she most enjoyed was Hal Holbrook’s one-man show Mark Twain Tonight, on the campus of Western Michigan University.  Of course, the movie which she most enjoyed was Beethoven.  She even gave the movie a “sitting” ovation:  instead of lying down through the entire movie, Keller did sit up to watch parts of the movie Beethoven.


My first Leader Dog was and always will be my “Stellar Keller.”  In the upper left and right corners of Keller’s tombstone are engraved stars.  Keller was the star who led me through these twenty-five years of working and living with my wonderful guide dogs.  Keller shined on the path for my working even more independently with Heather, and Heather cleared the path for an even easier life with Zoe.


Many thanks to the puppy-raisers and all at Leader Dog School who made possible for me my stellar trio of Leader dogs!



May all your memories be happy and golden,

Alice and Leader Dog Zoe


March 25, 2015, Wednesday



From → Uncategorized

  1. Alice. I so look forward to your posts concerning your four pawed guides. Each episode places me right in the middle of the mix. Keller resonates an image of a magnificent creature, with grace and poise. Well done and keep the popcorn coming! dp

    • Deon–How you do always “pop” up with a much-appreciated comment about my blog posting! Have a good weekend–Alice and Zoe

  2. Alice, I had to laugh when you mentioned people thinking Keller was an Irish setter. My family had two of them, and although they’re lovable, they can be hard to train because they only care about themselves. Having seen Beethoven, I can understand why children wanted Keller’s autograph. Thank you for sharing this.

    • Abbie–Yes, I remember that you had previously shared that your family had Irish setters as pets. Thanks also for your comment about the movie BEETHOVEN. Enjoy the weekend! Alice and Zoe

  3. Carole permalink

    Alice, that was a new and interesting story for me about your Indiana Theater experience. Also, I didn’t know about the stars on Keller’s tombstone. Another interesting note about the intelligence and perception of your amazing girls was when we visited the cemetery in Paris. I remember how remarkable Heather was when she guided you to Keller’s grave site and put her paw on the stone without ever visiting there before. Unbelievable!

  4. Another stellar moment for Keller was having her photo in the Terre Haute Tribune-Star newspaper! You and your young nephews were sitting on Dad’s front porch swing with Keller at your feet when the reporter snapped the photo while interviewing you about your experiences with a Leader Dog. Of course, your nephew Eric was “caught” reaching down to pet Keller, even though he knew it was against the rules. What a great memory!
    Love, Mary

  5. Fran Rayce permalink

    I loved your description of the Indiana Theater since I had occasion to visit and enjoy its ambience when the refurbished theater was the site of my niece Andrea’s November wedding reception. The dinner was in the gorgeous lobby, still as grand as you described, and the stage and the area in front of it was used for dancing and other festivities. The theater is used frequently for receptions, reunions and various charity events.

    I can imagine your beautiful Keller enhancing that lobby and staircase and being the object of much attention. Surely she earned here stars!

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