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Lions, and Thunderbirds, and Bears–Oh, My!

July 29, 2015


Lions, and Thunderbirds, and Bears–Oh, My!


by Alice Jane-Marie Massa



While the main campus of Leader Dog School is located in Rochester Hills, Michigan, another training center building is in the midst of downtown Rochester. When I was most recently there in June of 2009 for training with my third Leader Dog Zoe, I had her photo taken with the statue of the lion that proudly stands in front of the building to represent the Lions Clubs’ contributions to the school. I still have the framed photo in my living room. I do hope that lion is the only one which Zoe and I encounter–well, other than Zoe’s plush lion toy.


Thanks to national news reports, I imagine that all of you know why I am thinking about lions and why I cannot refrain from a little parody of a line from The Wizard of Oz: Lions, and Thunderbirds, and Bears–Oh, My!


As of this writing, the Milwaukee “lion” has (or lion and cub have) not been captured. Since the first siting on July 20, I have put into perspective the size of a Milwaukee lion. According to one local news anchor, an adult lion may be 48 inches at the withers and may weigh 400 pounds. My black lab/golden retriever mix, age eight, is 21.5 inches at the withers and weighs around sixty pounds.


Of all the fears I have had throughout my six and a half decades, I never thought I would have an opportunity to fear a lion. Since I hear the big cat is nocturnal, I have felt some fear each night when I take Zoe out to do her duties for the last time of the day. Fortunately, I am pleased to report that having lived in Lion Country for at least ten days, my fear is waning although I am more attentive than usual on these nightly outings. I keep telling myself that the lion is on the other side of the Milwaukee River. What are the chances that he would notice one of the drawbridges? Wouldn’t the lion just prefer the scenic route along the west side of the river? After all, the Riverwalk is gaining in popularity. Then, someone told me that lions can swim. Nevertheless, I am still determined to believe that the lion will not cross the river. The latest news which I have heard is that the Department of Natural Resources officials are setting traps to tempt the lion to captivity with turkey, chicken, a fast-food treat, and some Wisconsin sausage because the current theory is that the lion is an exotic pet who is most likely accustomed to such a menu. I am eager for a happy ending to this Milwaukee Lion Saga.


Part 2. Lions, and Thunderbirds, and Bears–Oh, My!


As if lions were not enough of a challenge, the Thunderbirds were in Milwaukee from July 23 through July 26 for the Milwaukee Air and Water Show on this past Saturday and Sunday. From previous years, I know to try to be inside when the Thunderbirds are practicing and performing their precision flying because the sound midst the skyscrapers of my neighborhood is tremendous–tremendously exciting for many, tremendously loud for my guide dog and me. Although I thought that Zoe and I would be home before the first practice session on last Thursday, I was a few minutes off. Returning from a late morning walk and an errand, my Leader Dog Zoe and I were two blocks from home when the zooms began. Despite my cringing at the all-encompassing sounds, Zoe was as brave and precise as the Thunderbird pilots: she never cowered. Zoe maintained a perfectly steady pace as if only a friendly, little robin were flying overhead. Fortunately, we had only one major street crossing before our home block. With the persistent roar of the jet engines, as we neared the intersection, I asked two ladies who were walking behind us if they would let me know when we could cross. Even though I almost never ask for assistance with crossing a street, I did not want to wait for the next cycle of the light: I thought we could cross before such a wait and avoid some of the loud zooms. The kind ladies obliged. As Zoe and I moved ahead to the up curb, I thanked them and told my guide dog, “Zoe, find the curb.” With much reassuring praise for her superior work, I encouraged Zoe to “hup up” as soon as we safely crossed the street. On our home block, we proceeded quickly to our front porch and then to our quieter home.


If the trainers at Leader Dog School could see a video of Zoe’s work with the Thunderbirds, I am certain that the trainers would give her a standing ovation. I know I gave her an abundance of praise for her excellent work and bravery. How blessed I am with such a remarkable and an amazing Leader Dog!


For the remaining days of the Thunderbirds’ visit, Zoe and I took our long walks only earlier in the morning and in the evening to avoid the zooms and roars of the Thunderbirds, as well as the lion.


Part 3. Lions, and Thunderbirds, and Bears–Oh, My!


Are you wondering how I am going to fit bears into this blog? Well, earlier this summer, I received a book from the Talking Book and Braille Library that I had not requested. I decided to at least begin reading the story. The intriguing and educational Beyond the Bear: How I Learned to Live and Love Again After Being Blinded by a Bear, by Dan Bigley and Debra Mckinney, kept me reading through the final page. Copyrighted in 2013, this memoir contains 212 pages. You may not believe this coincidence: Beyond the Bear is published by Lyons Press, of Connecticut. Set primarily in Alaska, the book reveals Dan Bigley’s life before, during, and after his attack by a grizzly bear at age 25. On that one day in 2003 when he was salmon fishing, Dan Bigley’s life changed forever. I recommend this book because it is not the typical story of a young man’s losing his sight and going through rehabilitation. The descriptions of this memoir are sometimes gruesome, sometimes painful, and sometimes beautiful and heart-warming. For some, this book will not be an easy one to read; but it will be unforgettable.


I must say that after reading this book, my fear of bears was appropriately enhanced. Some fears are logical.



Greetings from Lion Country!

Alice and Zoe


July 29, 2015, Wednesday



From → Uncategorized

  1. Since we have been traveling, I had been wondering about the status of the Milwaukee lion. Let’s hope that it will be captured very soon. On another note, I have always enjoyed the thunder of the jets. Even with my less sensitive ears, the vibrations can be felt throughout my body. As my recent e-mail states, we are presently enjoying the pilots’ workdays here at NAVAIR. Stay safe, Alice and Zoe!

  2. Wow, what an interesting post. I may check out the memoir as if I didn’t have enough to read. Smile.

  3. Alice,
    You and Zoe are so brave each and every day–and you didn’t go to the Land of Oz to get your courage! Stay safe always.
    Love, Mary

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