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Guide-dog Memories Are Forever

March 3, 2021

All Began with Golden Moments:  Guide-dog Memories Are Forever

By Alice Jane-Marie Massa

                Throughout the month of March, WORDWALK will highlight and spotlight my four Leader Dogs because on March 21, 1990–unbelievably thirty-one years ago–I met and began training with my first of four Leader Dogs.  During the past eight years, I have shared with my WORDWALK readers a number of stories about Keller, my first Leader Dog:  thus, I will try to share one new anecdote and some new reflections in this first post of March.

                Since I was not a confident nor adept white-cane user and since I have always adored dogs, holding the harness handle of my first Leader Dog certainly seemed like the right answer for my circumstances.  Holding Keller’s harness returned to me such wonderful freedoms of movement, mobility, and life choices.  Besides all of the “firsts” which my Golden Retriever and I shared during three-and-a-half weeks of training at Leader Dog School (Rochester, Michigan), we practiced what we had learned at nearby Terre Haute, Indiana, before we moved in that July, to Kalamazoo, Michigan, where I attended Western Michigan University.  With Keller as my guide, I learned the campus that we called home for the fall and spring semesters.  Keller was a smooth and swift-paced walker around the WMU campus.  Due to Keller’s loving her work so much and being so well-behaved, there are not many amusing stories to tell about her.  ; however, one anecdote does come to mind.

One day when I had an appointment with one of my professors in the Department of Blind Rehabilitation, my first Leader Dog and I took the usual route from our apartment, through the area of other campus apartment buildings and dormitories, and eventually up the hill to Sanguin Hall where we entered one of the doors, went up two long flights of stairs, down a couple of hallways, and directly to the office of one of my professors.  With the door closed and muffled sounds coming from the office, I knew that someone else was with the professor and that we would need to wait afew minutes.  As usual, I was a little early for the appointment.  While my stunningly beautiful reddish-colored Golden sat at my side in the hallway, a friend happened to come our way.  The fellow graduate student left all greetings aside and immediately asked, “Do you know that Keller has a lollipop in her mouth?”

Astonished, I reached down and felt the stick of a Tootsie Roll Pop.  Keller had the round candy portion totally in her mouth with only the stick protruding from her mouth.  Of course, when I told her the command “Give,” she quickly relinquished the lollipop to me.  As I was holding the Tootsie Roll Pop, my face must have revealed my bewilderment as to what to do next:  I did not want to discuss the thesis for my second master’s degree with a Tootsie Roll Pop in hand.  Luckily, my friend told me that in the workroom next door, there was a wastebasket.  We hurried into the room, found the trash receptacle, and quickly disposed of the lollipop.  While Keller was quite nonchalant and regally innocent about the incident, I greatly thanked my friend. 

                All I could imagine was that Keller must have spotted the unwrapped candy on one of the stairs and very smoothly picked up the Tootsie Roll Pop which must have been directly in our path as I never noticed her picking up a thing or making an unwanted move along our route.  Fortunately, from 1990 through December 15, 1997, when she was ever at my side with loyalty and love, Keller never again picked up a piece of any kind of candy.  Perhaps, she discovered that she did not have a sweet tooth; but Keller was the sweetest, most intelligent, most dedicated, and most loving Golden guide dog I could have ever imagined.

                After the fall and spring semester of classes on the WMU campus, Keller adapted especially well to guiding me around a new building where I did my internship as a blind rehabilitation instructor during the summer semester of 1991.  A few days before that summer term was over, I was hired to teach full-time at Milwaukee Area Technical College–another city and campus for Keller to learn.  How quickly she learned to guide me around this new area!  How impeccable her behavior was around my students, as well as in the crowded hallways and skywalks! 

                Cancer took my Keller from me much too soon, but could never take away all of my precious memories of this remarkable Leader Dog who opened the curtains to a totally new stage of life for me.  She gave me a world of wonderful tomorrows, a mindset where dreams could once again come true.  For all that Keller gave me and taught me during those precious seven-and-a-half years, I am forever grateful to her puppy-raisers, to her trainer (and mine) at Leader Dog School, to all who make possible these magnificent guide dogs, and to my extraordinarily special Golden Retriever–Keller.

Wishing you special golden moments in your life,

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

March 3, 2021, Wednesday


From → Uncategorized

  1. Alice, have you ever considered writing a book about your four guide dogs? I bet you have a lot more stories to tell about each one.

  2. Susan McKendry permalink

    Alice–So enjoyed reading about Keller and her tootsie pop. You were so lucky to have such a wonderful “starter” leader dog. I’m looking forward to reading about the others this month!

    • Sue–Many thanks for your comment!  You are in the unique position of someone who shared an office with us and who saw Keller in her amazing action on a daily basis at the college/rehabilitation cetting.  We were so pleased to meet a fellow animal-lover then.  I always enjoyed your appreciation of and enthusiasm for my first Leader Dog.

      Take care, and enjoy the warmer weekend–Alice and Willow

  3. Annie Chiappetta permalink

    Hi Alice, a beautiful tribute to Keller the Golden.

    Ann Chiappetta, Author

    ` Making meaningful connections with others through writing `

    914.393.6605 Facebook Annie Chiappetta

    “We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.”

    * Joseph Campbell

    • Thank you, Annie, for reading this post and commenting. Always good to hear from a fellow guide-dog handler and writer!
      Take care–Alice and Willow

  4. joanmyles permalink

    Too adorable, Alice, thank you! Maybe I’ve shared my sory about Ari and the tomato? well…ask me sometime…equally adorable, you can be sure. Guide dogs are certainly a special breed. blessings and love to you and Willow!

    • Joan–Special thanks for the “like” and your comment on this post!  I am eager to hear Ari’s tomato story.

      Take care–Alice and Willow

  5. Carole permalink

    Alice, this Leader Dog spotlight is my favorite of your blog posts! Anything about dogs, especially your wonderful guide dogs, makes for special pawprints in my heart! Keller was the perfect introduction to our family, as we quickly appreciated the magnificent intelligence and obedience they behold. I totally forgot about the Tootsie Roll Pop story, so thanks for the humor!

    Anniversary hugs to you and Willow!

    • Carole–Many thanks for the very nice comment and “like” for this post!  Yes, I do think the posts about my four Leader Dogs are the most popular for my readers.

          Willow and I enjoyed a late morning walk of three miles in 43-degree weather.

      Talk with you soon–Alice and Willow

  6. mfanyo permalink

    Dear Alice,
    Thank you for sharing this amusing memory of Keller! She was an amazing leader dog who was also very photogenic with poise and grace that were a photographer’s dream! I especially like the beautiful professional photo of the two of you. You and Keller were a great team working together to successfully meet many challenges. Sincere thanks to “Stellar Keller” for her love, devotion, and guidance!

    • Hi, Mary–Many thanks for your comments on this post and about Keller.  Oh, yes, the trainers at Leader nicknamed my first Leader Dog “The Stellar Keller”; and, indeed, she was.  All came “full circle” when Willow’s trainer described my current guide dog to me as “stellar.”

      Take care–Alice and Willow

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