I met Judy at a gas stop when I was on a road trip to the Women Writing the West conference in Arizona. When Judy saw Hedy in harness, she said, “My husband and I donated a dog to a school for the blind.” Many people have told me they raised a puppy for service, but this story surprised me.
My husband Allan was in the army, stationed in Germany (Schweinfurt) in 1957-58 and it was there we found our wonderful Kelly, a German shepherd. When we had to return to the States, our parents told us they couldn’t find a place for us to live that would take a dog (both mothers were terrified) so we reluctantly realized we had to find a loving home for him. So beautiful and smart, we had many takers but we felt if we gave him to the Blindenhund Schule (school for training dogs for the blind) he would find a good home. And he did, completing the course in three months (very quickly, we were advised), he was given to a man who lost his sight in an accident. A year or so later we got a beautiful letter and a photo from Kelly’s new owner thanking us, saying, “”You haven’t just given me my sight, you have given me my life!” We were so happy that this could happen through our precious Kelly.
I know how devastating it is to be suddenly blind, and what it did for me to be able to have Hedy. I am grateful to her raisers, Heather and Amber Findley (and their family), for giving a year and a half of their young lives to create the kind of character and security in Hedy that makes her a confident guide dog. Kelly must have been an extraordinary animal to go from pet to service dog with no previous preparation. And it says a lot about Judy and Allan and the quality of relationship they had with their dog. But I think what touches me most about Allan and Judy’s story is that they chose to place their beloved shepherd where he would be of service to someone in need. In doing so, they gave Kelly a deeper life. I see how Hedy is—so bored if she doesn’t have a job to do, and so proud when she’s out guiding me through the obstacles in our path.
There is sacrifice in a life of service, yet when that sacrifice is made for the sake of someone else’s well-being, there is an ennoblement that can’t be fully explained—I just see it in Hedy and I’ve noticed it in my friends and family who are police and sheriffs, firefighters and EMTs, health professionals, teachers, counselors, ministers, and in the armed services. It takes a special kind of heart and I admire and appreciate each one. I truly believe they give us back our lives more often than we know. Thanks to all who serve, and thanks to Allan and Judy for their gift of love, life and Kelly to a blind man in Germany more than 50 years ago.