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Happy St. Patrick’s Day

March 17, 2021

Holding My Second and Third Leader Dogs in My Heart’s Memory

By Alice Jane-Marie Massa

                On the weekend of St. Patrick’s Day in 1990, I was completing my packing on the 17th and was off to Leader Dog School for the first time on the 18th; so, I do associate my luck of working with tremendously wonderful guide dogs with St. Patrick’s Day.  Due to my first Leader Dog’s reddish-golden color, some people mistakenly thought that Keller was an Irish Red Setter; however, she was pure Golden Retriever.  On the other hand, my third Leader Dog, Zoe, was part Golden Retriever and part Black Labrador.  Zoe’s father was the Golden, Quincy; and her mother was a Black Labrador, Breezy.  Since first meeting Zoe on June 6, 2009, I always thought of my Zoe as the “best of both worlds–Golden and Labrador. 

                When we first met at Leader Dog School, Zoe was so excited to meet me that, for a few minutes, I thought, “Oh, she will be a handful.”  Quite quickly, I learned that she was only a handful of love, discipline, expertise, and devotion because as soon as I put on her harness, her demeanor totally changed.  The bouncy, puppy-like behavior immediately transformed into all one could ever hope for in a Leader Dog.  Additionally, Zoe was statuesque and strikingly beautiful.  Amazingly, our first walk was superb!  Some people may think that I have not been very lucky in life, but I felt as if I won the lottery with my Leader Dog Zoe.  Unbelievably quickly, Zoe and I became a fine-tuned working team.  I was extremely grateful then and am still extraordinarily grateful that Zoe was a part of my life from June 6, 2009, through March 16, 2016. 

                Learning to work with Zoe was so very much easier than with my first two guide dogs.  Perhaps, Keller and Heather had taught me so much about guide work that my transitioning to Zoe became so easy.  Most clearly, I recall that on one of our last evenings at Leader Dog School for the three-week training session, my third Leader Dog and I went on the night-walk lesson.  That evening, a different trainer (guide-dog mobility instructor–GDMI) observed Zoe and my walking around the downtown training center to the main street, down the main street, and then back to the front door of the training center.  I must have been beaming because I knew Zoe had done everything perfectly–guided me with absolute perfection.  What a wonderful feeling!  The icing on the cake was a most generous compliment from the GDMI:  I believe that even he was somewhat surprised, but overwhelmingly pleased at Zoe’s perfect work. 

                From that night walk, I knew that Zoe and I would have together many happy trails.  We did.  My third Leader Dog was beside me for my final two of twenty years of full-time teaching at Milwaukee Area Technical College through my early years of retirement. 

Although I thought I had the perfect plan for introducing Zoe to my second Leader Dog, Heather, at my home in Milwaukee–Mother Nature had other plans.  When we arrived at my apartment complex, stormy weather and rain drenched my plans.  My cousin Carole had been staying with my newly retired Leader Dog while I went to Rochester, Michigan to train with Zoe.  My sister had come from Colorado for a visit and had picked up Zoe and me at the airport.  Due to the weather, I introduced Zoe to Heather inside the house.  With both Carole and Mary watching, Zoe was very happy to meet Heather who was lying down in my office/dining room, on one of her beds.  Heather was fine with Zoe’s playing with one of the older dog’s toys; however, possibly due to arthritis, Heather did not want the bouncy Zoe sharing her bed.  Heather drew the line  about sharing a bed, and Zoe promptly complied. 

                As the next thirteen months passed, Heather and Zoe became good buddies.  Zoe learned that she was permitted to lie beside Heather’s bed–just not on the bed.  Once, on the largest of the three dog beds, upstairs, both Leader Dogs did lie together.  I wish I had been able to photograph the two of them together at that minute.

                As Heather grew older, turning thirteen and then almost fourteen, she was not as calm as my Yellow Lab had been in previous years.  Nevertheless, Zoe would lie near her older “sister” and calm her down.  Also, Heather had become less and less comfortable with veterinary visits; however, when Zoe was with Heather, my Yellow Lab was significantly calmer at the veterinary clinic. 

For many reasons, I adored having the two Leader Dogs (one retired and one active) together.  Since Heather was so ready for retirement by the time of Zoe’s arrival, Heather did not seem to mind another Leader Dog’s taking over the duties of guide work:  we were a fortunate threesome. 

                Since Heather had never been left alone at home, a dogsitter stayed with Heather during the hours, each Monday through Friday, when Zoe and I went to work at MATC for the next two semesters.  Somehow, all worked out so well that I could keep my retired Leader Dog while working with my new Leader Dog, Zoe.

                A couple of months after Heather passed away on July 1, 2010, I was cleaning under a tall bookcase and found a clump of what I knew was the soft undercoat hair of Heather.  As soon as I picked up the clump of hair in my hand, Zoe came running:  my third Leader Dog must have picked up a scent of her old buddy, Heather.  For a few minutes, Zoe and I shared in missing Heather.  Zoe was even my companion in grieving Heather’s loss. 

**  TO BE CONTINUED–next Wednesday!

MUSICAL NOTE:  You might think that my dad was most known for singing an Italian song, but no.  Definitely, he was most known for singing “The Irish Lullaby,” or “Toora-loora-looral.”  My father sang this song to many babies and toddlers in our family.  I love the song because it reminds me so much of my dad.  While I am certain he heard Bing Crosby singing “The Irish Lullaby,”  I am sharing with you on this St. Patrick’s WORDWALK, a version by The Irish Tenors.

The Irish Tenors- Toora-Loora-Looral (LIVE) – YouTube › watch

Happy St. Patrick’s Day and Happy Spring!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

March 17, 2021, Wednesday


From → Uncategorized

  1. Carole permalink

    Yes, Alice; Heather and Zoe’s first meeting was very special and definitely one to remember, as were your extraordinary guide dogs in general! It was my pleasure to witness the homecoming and will not forget the many walks taken with you, Mary, and all of them through the years!

    Happy St. Paddy’s Day!

    • Hi, Carole–Warm thanks for your commenting on this post and giving it a “like.”  Despite the miles between us, you have walked so many paths with us throughout our lives.  Along that path are many signs of gratitude to you and Tim for so many reasons.

      Hoping you all enjoyed St. Patrick’s Day!

      Talk with you soon–Alice and Willow

  2. Sue McKendry permalink

    Alice–This post added to my knowledge of Heather. I knew you had them together for some time, but didn’t know about Zoe’s ability to calm Heather. I never got to see them together, but fortunately I had many occasions to visit with Zoe. She was such a sweetheart. Your first three leader dogs left some very big paw prints for Willow to fill, and it seems she is living up to the challenge. I wish you many more happy memories and walks with Willow.–Sue

    • Good afternoon, Sue–Willow and I thank you for your comments on this post.  Yes, Willow did have mighty big paws to fill; and despite Willow’s having the smallest paws of my four Leader Dogs, she is managing to fill those paws very well.

      May these March winds blow much happiness your way for a warm and special Spring!

      Best always–Alice and Willow

  3. mfanyo permalink

    Dear Alice,
    Thanks so much for sharing the heartwarming memories of Heather and Zoe together! They were amazing Leader Dogs and very dedicated to you as you were to them.

    • Mary–Many thanks for your comment on this post!  Willow and I were glad that the very high March winds of yesterday finally subsided so that we could enjoy a nice25-block walk this morning and will look forward to another walk this afternoon.  Spring is in the air here.

      Enjoy the weekend with your grandkids–Alice and Willow

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