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Three Wishes for Leader Dog Willow’s Birthday

October 19, 2016


Three Wishes for Leader Dog Willow’s Birthday


by Alice Jane-Marie Massa



Today, October 19, is the birthday of my fourth Leader Dog, Willow, who came sweetly into my life on June 7 of this year.  While my little black Labrador  is spending her birthday for the first time with me, this birthday is already her third.  She shares October birthdays with two other dogs of mine.  First, Little Prince II (“Prince”) was born on October 9, 1962, and came into my life as the most wonderful Christmas present on Christmas Eve of that year.  This gift from my father–a Toy Manchester/Chihuahua–was part of our family for seventeen years.  Additionally, my second Leader Dog, Heather (a yellow Lab), was born on October 22, 1996.  After working with me for ten years, she, as a retired Leader Dog,  was with my third Leader Dog Zoe and me for thirteen months before Heather’s passing on July 1, 2010.  Although born on September 8, 1995, my darling Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Chelsea, came into my life in October when I first visited the litter of puppies of Freckles.  What a lovely October day that was!  Thus, my October calendars have many happy dog memories and present canine happenings.  (You can read more about my pet dogs and guide dogs in the archives of this Wordwalk blog.)


During the 135 days that Willow and I have been together, I am learning her ways; and she is learning mine.  If she were to blow out the candles on her birthday cake, I know exactly what her wish would be:  just before blowing out her three candles, Willow would wish that all autumn leaves in Milwaukee would fall from the trees only late at night and then be blown over the lake before early morning.  While her approach to leaves flying near her or dancing toward her on the sidewalk is improving, I do predict that she will make peace with the autumn leaves before the snowflakes tickle her nose.


If I were blowing out the candles on Willow’s birthday cake, my wish would be that such a young working dog as Willow would not have to contend with so much construction noise and obstacles.  (Of course, you know that I am not at all in a party mood about the most unnecessary trolley/streetcar that is on track to eventuality in my neighborhood of Milwaukee.)  Fortunately, thanks to all of Willow’s superb training by Sue Hackman and Christie Bane at Leader Dog School, Willow has been guiding me well around these challenging areas and obstacles.


While Willow is “all business” around large obstacles, when she stops for a raise or crack in the sidewalk or small piece of debris on the sidewalk, she starts wiggling with delight–even before I highly praise her.  This reaction of hers is just too cute!  The one word that strangers, acquaintances, friends, and family use to describe Willow is “cute”–a word that people never used to describe my previous guide dogs.  For Willow’s cuteness, sweet disposition, and intelligence, I also thank, on her birthday, her mother dog Holly and her dad dog Sergeant.  Although I do not know the family who cared for Holly and her puppies during the early weeks of Willow’s life, I certainly admire their volunteering and appreciate all what they did for my once-upon-a-time “Future Leader Dog.”


One of Willow’s most outstanding qualities is her absolutely impeccable house manners, which have greatly impressed everyone who comes to our home.  If Willow and I had a third wish before blowing out the candles on her cake, the wish would be that I could more fully thank Willow’s puppy-raising family for their excellent work and devotion in teaching Willow such excellent house and public building manners.  Actually, these manners extend to her outside work because she is so mannerly and polite when encountering other people and dogs on sidewalks.  Perhaps, someday, she will pen or paw a Ms. Canine Manners Book.  For example, one day, a woman using a walker was so appreciative of Willow’s guiding me to the far right edge of the sidewalk and stopping while the woman passed by.  I imagine that the woman felt at ease with seeing how calm, wise, and thoughtful Willow was.


My considerate and gentle Labrador Retriever was not given her name by the previously mentioned Holly’s family, but by Willow’s puppy-raiser family who loved her, cared for her, and trained her until she returned to Leader Dog School for her “professional” training stage.  Shortly before first meeting my fourth Leader Dog, trainer Christie Bane (GDMI, guide dog/mobility instructor) shared with me some information about my new Leader Dog and told me my new guide dog’s name:  immediately, I like the name “Willow” and have come to realize that the name suits my guide dog well.  Nevertheless, as with my three previous Leader Dogs, I wanted to give my fourth a middle name.  After taking five or six weeks to decide what name I would give Willow, I realized that I wanted to wait until her birthday to announce her full name.  Since one middle name did not seem sufficient, I settled on three.


After the very sudden and highly unexpected passing of my third beloved Leader Dog, Zoe, I desperately needed another guide dog as soon as possible; thus, I prayed especially to Saint Francis of Assisi and Mother Theodore Guerin, S.P., who was canonized as a saint on October 15, 2006, and is the patron saint of Indiana (my home state).  With the feast day for Saint Mother Theodore on October 3 and the feast day for Saint Francis of Assisi on October 4, the October connections continue.  Thus, with due respect, I took Saint Mother Theodore’s name and changed it a little to “Treadora” for the first middle name of Willow.  With gratitude to Saint Francis, I chose the Italian, feminine form of his name–“Francesca”–for the second middle name of my Lab.


After these two serious names, Willow seemed to select her own third middle name –“Happy-Tail.”  Yes, my little Lab is quite the tail-talker.  Whenever I ask her a question, she responds with either a thumping tail, swishing tail, or various speeds of a wagging tail.  Through her Canine Morse Code, Willow clearly conveys her emotions and responses.  Asking “Where is my Willow?” brings forth a distinctive tapping of her tail.  At night, when she goes to her upstairs bed (purchased for my yellow Lab who, in her elder years, had arthritis), Willow still frequently lets me know how much she likes this “Cadillac of dog beds” by very happily wagging her tail against the comfy bed.  (Sometimes, Willow falls asleep before her tail stops wagging!)


Amazingly, all five of her names go together so well that I set the words to music (only fourteen notes) which I will sing only for Willow!  For this special birthday of Willow, my sincere, three wishes are that my fourth Leader Dog will enjoy a happy, healthy, and long life.


Happy Birthday, Willow Treadora Francesca Happy-Tail Massa!


Hoping you have a happy October 19 also,

Alice and Willow Treadora Francesca Happy-Tail Massa


FOOTNOTE:  While all of you are most likely familiar with Saint Francis of Assisi, you may not be familiar with the only saint from Indiana, Mother Theodore Guerin (October 2, 1798-May 14, 1856).  In France, at age 25, Anne-Therese Guerin, finally receiving permission from her mother, became a Sister of Providence.  After teaching, caring for the sick, and helping the poor in France, Sister Theodore  Guerin answered the call of the Bishop of Vincennes (the early capital of Indiana) to make the nearly three-month journey to the New World to educate children on this Hoosier frontier.  With five other nuns, Mother Theodore arrived on October 22, 1840, at the then wilderness of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (west of Terre Haute, Indiana), where within less than a year she established and academy for girls.  Today, at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, one can visit the Shrine of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin, located near the Church of the Immaculate Conception.


Besides founding the Sisters of Providence at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Saint Mother Theodore began schools throughout Indiana and Eastern Illinois, opened two orphanages in Vincennes, and started free pharmacies in Saint Mary-of-the-Woods and Vincennes.


When Pope Benedict XVI canonized Mother Theodore on October 15, 2006, at Saint Peter’s, three of my Hoosier relatives were present for this holy service at the Vatican.


Since Saint Mary-of-the-Woods–both the small town and the college–are only about a twenty-minute drive from my hometown of Blanford, I have been to the beautiful campus many times.  For additional information about Saint Mother Theodore Guerin (sometimes called “Saint Theodora”), please check some of the many online links, the few books, and a DVD about her.


October 19, 2016, Wednesday



From → Uncategorized

  1. Dear Alice. Your blog post has sent my emotions soaring this morning. Picturing Willow in my mind, with her tail wagging, reminds me of my own doggie members of our family over the years. There’s nothing that can match the feeling of visions of a dog wagging their tail, with an absolute look of happiness beaming from them.
    Happy Birthday Willow Girl. May the leaves of autumn gently bid you farewell as they skate across the lake.
    Thank you Alice for an unforgettable entry. There’s a smile spreading across my face that will surely last through my day.
    Happy tail wagging travels to you both.

    • Deon–Willow and I thank you so much for her birthday wishes. Especially with your busy school schedule, I do appreciate your taking the time to read my long blog post and then write such a nice comment.

      From the land of flying leaves–Alice and Willow

  2. Sue McKendry permalink

    Alice–It’s so much fun to read your blog! Being an animal lover myself, I just can’t get enough dog stories and enjoy them immensely. I also look forward to your posts about your family. But it dawned on me today, that I usually learn something from your blogs, and today was no exception as I never knew about St. Mother Theadore Guerin. Please give Willow a birthday hug, and I wish you both many happy years together.–Sue

    • Hi, Sue–Thanks so much for your enthusiastic comment! During my “dogless” days from March 16 until June 7, I filled many long hours with reading the dog (and donkey) stories of Jon Katz.

      Take care–Alice

  3. Fran Rayce permalink

    Happy Birthday to Willow. I am so glad to have had the opportunity to meet her and am grateful that you were so willing to introduce her to Natalie and Adam and am so thankful for the freedom and independence she has afforded you.
    Of course St. Mary of the Woods and Sister Theodora are special of interest to me as my maternal grandparents lived in St. Mary of the Woods village and we were frequent visitors there during my childhood. We were always so intrigued by the dedicated women who lived and worked there and carried on the important task set forth for them and often saw some them as they
    chaperoned the young women who were students at the college on their walks on Sunday afternoons through the village, watchfully keeping them from interest of my young adult uncles! What a nice tribute to a deserving person.

    I am so happy to hear that you have once again found such a dependable and willing companion. Best wishes for many more birthdays for the lovely and willing Willow!

    • Fran–Willow thanks you for the birthday wishes, and I thank you for the interesting comment. I am glad that you noted your connection with Saint Mary-of-the-Woods Village.

      The Sunday afternoon that Willow and I spent at Leader Dog School with you and your family will be a special memory throughout the coming years.

      So good to hear of your wonderful trip to France–Alice and Willow

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