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An April Confluence of Amazing Canines

April 20, 2016


An April Confluence of Amazing Canines


by Alice Jane-Marie Massa



April is the month when I can most readily cite a confluence of my three amazing canines–my three Leader Dogs. While several dates in April are of memorable importance, April 12 definitely connects my first two Leader Dogs.


On April 12, 1990, my first Leader Dog Keller and I, having just completed our 25 days of training together at Leader Dog School, flew home to begin a new life as a team. Just a few days after our return, my mother had to have back surgery. Thus, quite quickly, much very good behavior was required of my beautiful golden retriever. Suddenly, at the large hospital, those “elevator lessons” were put to more practice than I had ever imagined. Although I knew that my guide dog and I had every right to be in any public building, I was still certainly a novice as a guide-dog handler; so, I was very grateful and pleased that my mother’s surgeon and nurses were so welcoming to Keller and me, in my mother’s hospital room. Actually, I noticed that Keller brightened everyone’s day. During one of our daily visits to the hospital, as we approached the main entrance, I could hear classes of little children chirping with excitement about an upcoming tour of the hospital. I wondered about walking through this crowd of excited children. However, learning to trust my guide dog, I let my Keller lead me through all the little chatterers and directly to the entry door without a hesitation. These early April days of working with my first Leader Dog laid a strong foundation for our moving to Kalamazoo, Michigan, where she made possible my earning a second master’s degree from Western Michigan University. thirteen months after moving to Michigan, Keller and I moved to Wisconsin for my new full-time teaching position at Milwaukee Area Technical College. Throughout those early April days of working with Keller until just four days before her passing on December 15, 1997, Keller absolutely loved to work as a guide.


With my second Leader Dog Heather, April held at least three noteworthy days. To read a memoir about my exciting flight to Detroit to attend Leader Dog School for the second time, please read my archived Wordwalk post of April 14, 2013–“The High-flying Tales of April.” Having survived that flight and finally landed in Detroit on April 12, 1998, I received my yellow lab Heather on April 15, 1998–yes, “Tax Day.” Two years later on April 7, a blizzard quickly blew into Milwaukee. To save the recollections of Heather and my memorable walk home in that blizzard, I wrote the memoir “Heather’s Blizzard of April 7, 2000,” which appeared in the spring, 2014 issue of Dialogue magazine. (Since this one April walk is a story of its own, I may recount all the details in a future blog post.) Despite the harrowing happenings of April for Heather and me, Heather worked well beside me at Milwaukee Area Technical College for a full ten school years before she semi-retired. When my third Leader Dog Zoe joyfully came into our lives on June 6, 2009, Heather was able to enjoy thirteen months of full and much deserved retirement–with Zoe as her best buddy.


Are you wondering what Zoe’s connection is with April? My beautiful and extraordinary black lab/golden retriever was born on April 23, 2007. How perfect to match a teacher of English with a guide dog born on the anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth! Well, if you have read my Wordwalk blog for any length of time, you know that my third Leader Dog Zoe and I were the “practically perfect” match. If you have read my three prior blog posts, you know how much I miss this truly wondrous guide dog. On this Saturday, April 23, when she would have turned nine years of age, my heart will be full of her blessed memories; and I will celebrate her relatively short life with the utmost gratitude. This year, on Zoe’s April birthday, a different type of candle will be lit for my Zoe.


As I ponder this April confluence of my three amazing canines, I wonder how my fourth Leader Dog will fit into this cherished group of Leader Dogs. What I wish is that this stage of my waiting will be over in April: I wish that during the latter days of this month of April, I will receive the happy news that a good match for me is available in the June class. I hope. I pray. I pray for April’s fourth gift–news of my fourth Leader Dog.


* * *


Still thinking of National Poetry Month, I, during this third week of NPM, will share with you only one short poem, based on the above memoir.


An April Confluence


Like three rivers

at their confluence–

waiting, hope, and prayer

flow together

into one heart.


Like three Leader Dogs

guiding one heart,

a fourth will stream

into this canine confluence.


The novice handler, seasoned handler, mature handler

reaches out

at this April confluence

to grab the magic, miraculous ring–

the weathered harness

of a young guide

to go “forward”

on this tributary of trust,

through this inlet of independence,

via an estuary of esteemed devotion

at this canine confluence of love,

once again,

in April.


* * *


During National Poetry Month,

take the time to enjoy reading and writing poetry!

Best April regards,



April 20, 2016, Wednesday



From → Uncategorized

  1. I share in your prayer for news of your fourth Leader Dog during this month of April, Alice. Your tremendous faith and strength are clearly evident in this interesting essay and heartfelt poem. Zoe will be in my thoughts on April 23, and so will you.
    Love, Mary

    • Mary–Many thanks for writing your comment and for lighting the candles. Best always–Alice

  2. Dorothy-Clare Jacobs permalink

    Dear Alice-Jane, Monday, April 25th is my Birthday–a good one, I’ll be 65. My Birthday wish is that on that day you will receive the news that you have a new Leader Dog waiting for you for the June class. When I blow out the candles on my Birthday cake my wish will be twofold; I have a wish for myself, and I’ll wish for you. Best Wishes for good news!
    Love, Dorothy-Clare Class of 2006

  3. Alice.
    Another steller post from across the miles. I am sure as Zoey filled the padded footprints of two amazing creatures, so too will the fourth of your leader dogs.
    Wishing you short hours until you are reaching for the harness of guidance again.
    Best always, dp

    • Deon–Thanks for your nice comment. I like your idea of “short hours” for waiting. Also, your using the word “stellar” in your comment is interesting because my first Leader Dog had acquired a nickname even before I arrived at Leader Dogs School. The trainers sometimes called my golden “The Stellar Keller.” Take care–Alice

  4. Fran Rayce permalink

    Beautiful language in your poem, Alice. You used such precise words to capture and convey your relationships with your wonderful guides. I join the others in hoping that you soon have news.

    • Fran–Thank you! Your comments are always so special. The support of so many people really helps me through this period of waiting. Take care–Alice

  5. Sue McKendry permalink

    Alice–Just read that today is International Guide Dog Day, so I re-read your post from last week. Your guide dogs’ April connection was a most appropriate one! And I loved the comment about “Steller Keller”–Sue

  6. Your trio of faithful girls were matted, framed, and presented in 2009 for all to see at the Clinton Lions Club. We hope and pray that your fourth will be soon on its way.

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