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More Memories of Zoe

March 24, 2021

More Memories of Zoe:

Celebrating 31 Years with Four Leader Dogs, Part 4 of 5

By Alice Jane-Marie Massa

                My third Leader Dog Zoe was matched with me because she was especially good working in a city.  Her guide work in the downtown area of Milwaukee, through various neighborhood construction projects, and on the campus of Milwaukee Area Technical College was masterful, dependable, and trustworthy.  From semester to semester, my beautiful Black Labrador/Golden Retriever Mix so quickly learned my schedule of classes, the locations of each office and classroom where we needed to go, as well as locations of the cafeteria, food court, library, restrooms, and various entrances and exits of each building.  Through the crowded hallways, my Leader Dog was sound and steady.  When we went to a large meeting or event at one of the three auditoriums on campus, I knew she would lead me into the auditorium, find an empty seat, lie quietly and still at my feet, and then lead me carefully out of the auditorium.  In the office which I shared with three other instructors, Zoe had a dog bed where she could rest while I worked in my office or talked with students between my classes.  As my two first and second Leader Dogs, Zoe was well-known around campus, our apartment complex, and our neighborhood. 

                I believe that good working dogs or outstanding working dogs, like Zoe, do relish the responsibilities and challenges of guide-dog work.  Nevertheless, my lovely Lab/Golden Mix did enjoy her toys at home–especially a myriad of stuffed, plush toys, many of which she knew by name.  At times, unable to select just one toy to carry around, Zoe would carry two plush toys at the same time.  Quite a feat for a rather slender dog!  Like my other Leader Dogs, Zoe was especially “soft-mouthed” and maintained her toys in very good condition for a long time.  Treating her toys so gently resulted in our amassing quite a collection of stuffed animals and gingerbread dolls.  Despite the love of her toys, Zoe did not mind at all sharing her toys with our little friend Harper. 

                Whenever we traveled, I packed a couple of toys and a Nylabone so that Zoe could have some play time at the hotel room or relative’s house.  In addition to flying with Zoe to Colorado, we enjoyed several road trips around the Midwest at different times with my sister and/or cousin Carole.  Fortunately, all four of my Leader Dogs have been very good travelers, as one would expect of a guide dog.  Journeys to Minnesota to visit relatives were always important  and special times for Zoe and me.

In Springfield, Illinois, Zoe was at my side when we toured the Abraham Lincoln sites, including the home where the Lincoln family lived for seventeen years before moving to the White House; my Leader Dog was with me as we paid our respects at President Lincoln’s tomb. 

In Michigan, we enjoyed the tourist sights of Holland, as well as a visit at the President Gerald R. Ford Museum at Grand Rapids.  More highlights in Michigan were attending wedding events of my nephew and his bride.  How pleased I was when my nephew escorted Zoe and me down the aisle to our seats at the church for his wedding.  (On the wall along my stairway, one of the large framed photos is of Zoe and me with the bride and groom–Eric and Marissa.)  After all of the wedding events, Zoe and I had another big event in Michigan:  on the campus of Western Michigan University, we spent a memorable afternoon with Zoe’s puppy-raiser Lisa who was very happy to see Zoe working in harness.  Although the WMU campus had undergone significant changes since I had previously been there in 1990-1991, Zoe and I were still able to walk around the campus independently in July of 2012.  Lisa is the only puppy-raiser of my four Leader Dogs whom I have had the great pleasure of meeting.  Fortunately, Zoe maintained a “professional” demeanor when meeting again her puppy-raiser; however, at the designated time, both Lisa and Zoe enjoyed re-acquainting.  What an extraordinary time for all of us!  Puppy-raisers are such wonderful people who give so much!

                Trips back home to my Indiana were always the most special to me.  Besides visiting family and friends who were able to meet my third Leader Dog, we warmed our hearts with visits to a variety of places of my younger days.  As soon as we entered the Hall of Fame Museum at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, one of the docents greeted us with special attention because he was a member of the Lions Club and was delighted to welcome a Leader Dog to the museum.  My sister, Zoe, and I were thrilled to take the tour bus around the famous 2.5-mile oval of the Indy 500.  As we departed from the museum for the ride around the track, the bus driver said over the speaker to a base unit that he was leaving for the track with thirteen people and one Leader Dog!  (Willow, my current Leader Dog, is still awaiting her ride around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway–someday soon after COVID.)

                After I retired from full-time teaching, Zoe was with me to celebrate with many family members at a family reunion at one of our favorite gathering places–Turkey Run State Park in Marshall, Indiana.  Even though Zoe was picked for me because of her ability to work well in a city environment, my guide dog worked very well at the state park also.  From previous visits over many years, I knew Trail #1 to Sunset Point well; nevertheless, having Zoe guide me along the densely wooded path, down a few unusual type of uneven stairs to the opening and overlook at Sunset Point added even more to my trust in her working abilities.  At the overlook, I enjoyed hearing the canoers, the sounds of the canoes and paddles in the water of Sugar Creek, as well as the birds.    Then, with other family members, Zoe and I led the way toward the suspension bridge and then onto the road that circled back to the Turkey Run Inn.  What a pleasant time to share with Zoe and my extended family! 

                Leader Dog School, my trainer Jessica Bimmerman at Leader, Zoe’s trainer Sue Hackman, and Zoe’s puppy-raising family gave me one of the absolute greatest gifts of my life–my third Leader Dog.  Since I cannot see photos of Zoe, I do try to keep in my mind a clear picture of her grace, beauty, and tenderness.  However, I wish I had a marble statue of my treasured Zoe who made my life so much easier and brighter from June 6, 2009 through March 16, 2016.  Yes, Leader Dog School gave me this greatest gift of Zoe; then hemangiosarcoma took away this gift much too quickly.  Memories of Zoe are always written with great joy and too many tears.

WORDWALK NOTE:  Please return to WORDWALK next week for the fifth and final installment of this series.  March 31 will be Willow’s turn!

Happy spring to my WORDWALK readers!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

March 24, 2021, Wednesday


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  1. mfanyo permalink

    Dear Alice,
    I also have tears in my eyes after reading the touching tribute to your third Leader Dog Zoe. She was truly exceptional—exceptionally beautiful, brilliant, and affectionate! I treasure our times together, especially all the miles we traveled on the scenic midwestern highways and around the famous Indy 500 track!
    Thanks for sharing these special memories.

    • Mary–Thanks for being our chauffeur on the blue highways, super highways, and Hoosier country roads!

      Take care–Alice and Willow

  2. Carole permalink

    Yes, Alice; Zoe’s brilliance shone brightly in her beautiful coat, spirit, and mind! Her impressive life was definitely cut too short, but you made wonderful memories together in many unforgettable ventures.

    Hugs to you and Willow,

    • Carole–Many Thanks for adding your comment onto this “Zoe” post!  I had not mentioned in my posts how especially shiny Zoe’s black coat was.  She did shine with the best qualities of the Black Labrador and the best of the Golden Retriever.

      Take good care, and talk with you soon–Alice and Willow

  3. Susan M McKendry permalink

    Alice–Like Mary, I needed a tissue while reading this post. Zoe was the first of your leader dogs that I got to spend time with in your townhouse and at the restaurants we visited over the years. Coincidentally, yesterday I ran across a photo Mary took of you, Zoe, and me in front of Andrews Restaurant in Delafield. No offense, but Zoe definitely was the beauty in the photo; you came in 2nd, and I was a distant 3rd. I also remember her ability to choose the toy you named. Thanks for this post which brought back happy memories–Sue

    • Hi, Sue–I did get a chuckle from your comment on this post about Zoe.  I do so clearly recall that day we spent together in Delafield.  The Wisconsin weather was absolutely perfect and visiting with you on the front porch of the Delafield Hotel was delightful.  How wonderful that we have this memory with Zoe beside the three of us.  I guess the icing on the cake was the delicious lunch we enjoyed that day.  Zoe was always such a “lady” at restaurants and other outings.  So glad you have the photo of this day!

      Enjoy the weekend!

      Alice and Willow

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