During the week of July 22, the House Veterans Affairs Committee denied support of the PAWS Act of 2019, HB3103. Again. This is another blow to service members getting the PTSD treatment that some of them desperately need: a service dog. For years, K9s For Warriors, a Ponte Vedra organization, has pushed to get the PAWS (Puppies Assisting Wounded Service Members) Act passed. There is published scientific research that proves service dogs work. We are losing 20 veterans a day to suicide. What are you waiting for, members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee?
K9s For Warriors CEO, Rory Diamond, said, in response to the latest news: “For the last three years we’ve been pushing PAWS because the VA refuses to acknowledge what we all know: Service Dogs are dramatically improving the lives of disabled veterans suffering from PTSD. Most importantly, these dogs are helping keep our heroes alive. Yet, each year we go and meet with the House Veterans Affairs Committee staff, and each year they find a new way to say “No.” This past week, we sat down with the Majority and Minority staff and, again, they said “No.”No to Service Dogs for veterans with PTSD. No to our mountain of evidence that these dogs are saving lives. Instead, they told us to wait. Wait until 2020 or 2021 until after the VA completes a study to tell us what we already know. The VA has spent tens of millions of dollars and over ten years “studying” what one of the 550 K9s For Warrior graduates can tell you in ten seconds: the dogs work. We can’t afford to wait any longer. We are losing at least 20 veterans a day to suicide.”
Members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, please look at these two photographs. Would you deny that Lily, a service dog, helped save Joe’s life? Would you deny the treatment that Blaze, a service dog, is providing for Adam? And, by the way, most of the dogs trained by K9s For Warriors as service dogs, were previously shelter dogs. Think about that.
The dogs are trained, then matched with a veteran in need. The team then goes through a training program. All of this is provided at no cost to the veteran. K9s For Warriors depends on corporate sponsorships and donations from the caring public.
THE NEW BARKERis asking its readers to please contact your local state representatives. Type in your zip code and your representatives will be displayed. Here is a sample letter you may want to consider sending to you representatives:
Hello Mr./Mrs. (representative’s name),
I’m writing to voice my support of the Puppies Assisting Wounded Service Members (PAWS) Act, H.B. 3103.
It was introduced by Congressman John Rutherford on June 5th, but was halted by the House Veterans Affairs Committee. With more than 20 veterans a day dying by suicide, it simply doesn’t make sense that the committee tasked with protecting them denies what is now proven to be a life-saving option to mitigate their PTSD: service dogs. Service dog organizations like K9s For Warriors have already scientifically proven that service dogs are highly successful in recovery of PTSD and Military Sexual Trauma, yet the VA healthcare system still refuses to recognize this. We must do more to save the lives and honor the sacrifice of our military heroes.
Service dogs help veterans heal. When they heal, their families heal, and they return to their communities as productive citizens, pursuing higher education and re-entering the workforce, rather than living in isolation, or worse, seeing suicide as the only way out. However, high quality service dogs come at a high price, one which most veterans could never afford on their own. The average cost of a service dog is $27,000.
Medication is not always the answer. The servicemen and women who voluntarily fought for our freedom should not have to suffer even more after their service because they can’t afford the treatment that is best for them. Please support this life-saving initiative that will give veterans the option of choosing a service dog to heal from their invisible wounds. Please vote “Yes.” Thank you for your time.
The unconditional love of a dog heals the soul, reaching into the heart to cross canyons of loneliness and despair. Military researchers are trying to learn if there’s real science behind that semi-mystical link and whether it can help treat the signature wounds of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
by Anna Cooke
“We had never trained a tripod to be a service dog,” said Mary Peter, CEO and founder of K9 Partners For Patriots. The Brooksville, Florida program is helping veterans win the war against suicide, depression and anxiety through the experience of training their own service dog. The dog Mary was referring to, a Jack Russell Terrier mix, had been pulled from a kill shelter by a Spring Hill rescue group called Furever Friendz Inc. When volunteers picked him up, he was jaundiced with an infection in his right leg and parts of his right shoulder. He looked as if he’d been to hell and back. Once his caregivers nursed him back to health, including treating his infections, he was scheduled for surgery to save his leg. During surgery, the doctor discovered that the injury to the dog’s leg was so severe, amputation would be the best solution.
The happy little guy re-habbed really well, hardly noticing the difference. Furever Friendz Rescue Inc. made him available for adoption. He ended up in a most unusual place.
In War, There Are No Unwounded Soldiers. Every veteran has a story. Sometimes, it’s the wounds that are unseen that hurt the most. The conditions of Post Traumatic Stress Disease (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) are often invisible to other service members, family and society. Each condition affects mood, thoughts and behavior. Yet, these wounds often go unrecognized and unacknowledged. Roughly 20 veterans a day commit suicide nationwide, according to new data from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The problem is particularly worrisome among female veterans, who saw their suicide rates rise more than 85 percent between 2001 and 2014. Women make up 15 percent of our All Volunteer Force. About one-third of these women will be sexually assaulted during their time in service.
The first step to helping our veterans is to educate them about PTSD and what is going on inside of them. “They need to stop seeing themselves as broken, instead understanding that their brain did exactly what it was supposed to do to keep them safe in combat. They trained for combat; now they need to train to be home,” said Diane Scotland-Coogan, an associate professor in the School of Social Work at Saint Leo University. She provides counseling for many veterans with PTSD.
Two major U.S. government studies are investigating the ways that trained service dogs may help veterans with TBI and/or PTSD. The first study is underway at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Participating troops are paired with puppies that they will raise for two years to serve as assistance dogs for other injured veterans.
A second study, conducted by the VA, has taken several years and is almost complete. The focus of the study is to determine if “there are things a dog can do for a veteran with PTSD that would qualify the animal as a service dog for PTSD.” K9 Partners for Patriots is participating in the study.
We All Have A Destiny. Mike, a retired veteran, has been through many tours of duty, including theatres in Desert Storm and Panama. Daily, he faces the mental, emotional and physical challenges as a result. Like many graduates of the K9 Partners for Patriots program, Mike returns to volunteer his services, wherever needed. His wife Lana volunteers as well. The day we met Mike, he was recovering from knee replacement surgery. Standing next to him was Lt. Dan, the aforementioned tripod Jack Russell Terrier mix. Mike named the dog after the character in the movie Forest Gump. Lt. Dan is now Mike’s service dog. It turns out this burly man with the imposing presence has a soft spot for the feisty little breed.
When Lana first found the three-legged dog on the Furever Friendz Rescue website, she called her husband. “Honey, I’ve found a Jack Russell but, there might be one problem; he only has three legs.” Mike didn’t miss a beat. “Not a problem. Let’s bring him home,” he told her. Once home, the dog instinctively began alerting Mike to oncoming anxiety attacks. Mike’s wife noticed the overall calming effect Lt. Dan had on her husband and wondered if he could be trained to do more as a service dog. Lt. Dan passed the preliminary tests conducted by the trainers at K9 Partners for Patriots. He and Mike were immediately enrolled in the 19-week program.
Lt. Dan was further trained to alert Mike to oncoming anxiety attacks, wake him from nightmares and calm him down in other certain trigger situations. At home, throughout the day and night, Lt. Dan never leaves Mike’s side.
Never Give Up. Never Give In. In the Army for 23 years (1983-2007), Paul had been working at one of the highest security clearance levels. “There was a sense of purpose,” he said. “But once the VA slaps you with a diagnosis, you’re out. And all dignity is lost. Once, we were someone important. Now, we’re forgotten.”
Paul was diagnosed with PTSD, TBI, MCI (mild cognitive impairment) and GWS (Gulf War Syndrome). “I’ve seen quite a bit; lost friends,” he told us. “I was taking so many medications, just to get my head clear.” In 2000, a doctor predicted Paul would be dead in three years. He credits his faith, sense of honor and the medical profession with keeping him alive. “And my two daughters, Caroline and Viktoria. They’ve stuck with me through it all,” he said.
About two years ago, Dr. Mueller, Paul’s clinical psychiatrist with the VA in New Port Richey, handed Paul a piece of paper. It had the phone number for K9 Partners for Patriots. When he called, he was told they would be able to evaluate his dog Moose, a black Labrador Retriever. If his dog passed, they would be trained together over the course of 19 weeks.
“How much is this going to cost me?” he asked. Not a dime, he was told. There had to be a catch. “Nothing is free,” he thought, out loud. “You’re right, Paul. Nothing is free. You’ve already given us a lot. All we need now is your commitment to participate,” he was told.
One in 25 dogs assessed actually makes it into the K9 Partners for Patriots program. “We look for dogs who can sense the adrenaline. Some dogs are repelled by it. Others could care less. We look for a dog who is attuned to it,” said Mary. Moose was 12 years old and it was determined he was too old for the service dog program. The Acquisition Team set out to find the perfect partner for Paul, which usually takes anywhere from two to six weeks.
“We interview the veteran to find out their needs. We also want to see a commitment from the veteran before we spend the time and money to find a dog,” said Mary. “We ask them to spend time at our facility to get used to the environment and meet the other veterans in the program. We invite their families.”
Hans, a two-year-old Lemon Dalmatian Treeing Coonhound mix, was transported from a North Georgia shelter to the K9 Partners for Patriots campus and paired with Paul. During their second night together, Hans pushed his head into Paul to wake him. “It was late and he was just looking at me. I thought he had to go outside. But he didn’t. Then I realized, I was having a flashback, and Hans woke me up and stayed by my side.”
Paul and Hans graduated from the K9 Partners for Patriots program earlier this year. They continue to come to the campus to volunteer wherever they’re needed. “I’ll cut the grass. I figure if I can do something to free up the trainers so they can focus on what they do, then, it’ll help save another vet’s life,” he said.
I’ve Got Your Back. Mary has never been in combat. “But I’ve seen some things that affected me while working in forensics recovery, and I had no one to talk to about it,” she said. She feels a higher power called her into action to help her community. “I cannot change the world, but I can sure help my corner of it,” she told us. The second hardest part of Mary’s job is convincing the medical field that the program is working. “Many of our veterans come into this program as highly medicated, barely functioning individuals,” she said.
In spite of this roadblock put up by some medical practitioners, K9 Partners for Patriots has been recognized by experts as a successful path forward for veterans living with PTSD. “When veterans come to K9 Partners for Patriots, they may not be able to visualize what their life could be because of the symptoms of PTSD. But if they trust the process, they can take control away from the symptoms of PTSD and start to live their lives again,” said Diane Scotland-Coogan, the associate professor at Saint Leo College. She has been working with K9 Partners for Patriots, conducting the double-blind studies that will be presented as a report to the Department of Defense. Continue reading “I’ve Got Your 6.”
Would you be able to tell whether or not someone was homeless just by their appearance? According to the Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative (THHI), data collected in 2016 counted 1817 homeless men, women and children. There are 67 counties in Florida.
Bob Blair, a member of the Tampa Elks organization, helps organize a monthly outreach program that assists the homeless. Once a month, volunteers visit homeless camps throughout the city to provide food, counseling, toiletries and other necessities. The roaming outreaches, as they’ve been dubbed, help to determine where each quarterly outreach program will be held, which is much larger in scope.
During the roaming outreach visits, volunteers have noticed an increase in the number of pets living with many of their homeless humans. While it is clear the pets, mostly cats and dogs, are loved, it is obvious they need care. About half the animals are spayed or neutered.
Thankfully, word travels fast among animal lovers, and Victoria Parker of Bayshore Dog Training pulled together some pretty incredible can-do partners, including Second Chance Friends Rescue and 4 Lucky Dogs Pet Rescue. All three organizations pooled their resources and were able to collect large donations of pet food, flea, tick and de-wormer medication, collars, leashes, toys, bowls and tarps. They attended their first quarterly community outreach event as the Homeless Dog Owner Outreach group, which was held yesterday, June 13 at The American Legion Post 111 in Seminole Heights on the corner of Florida Avenue and Sligh.
The group’s volunteers set up tables inside and outside The American Legion. They were just one of many businesses and volunteers donating their products and services to those less fortunate. The Homeless Dog Owner Outreach group connected with more than 50 dog owners, many of whom had not brought their pets with them.
“Oftentimes, when we visit the camps, these folks will refuse any help – whether it’s money or food. There are trust issues with many of these people,” said Bob Blair, the Tampa Elk volunteer. He estimated they would most likely see about 250 people during the day’s event. A hot meal was guaranteed to every person who attended. The food, donated by The Tampa Elks organization, was prepared and being served by Salvation Army volunteers.
“It was an emotional day for me; seeing the gratitude of the people passing by our table,” said Victoria.
“We didn’t know what to expect and ended up helping a lot of grateful people. We gathered good information,” said Bill Gray of Second Chance Rescue. “The biggest thing I learned is that nobody is actively helping these people. We found out that some of the pets are in need of immediate medical care.”
Not everyone reaching out was homeless, but they were definitely in need of assistance, and education. One woman, with two small children, said the family’s young female Chihuahua had lots of fleas. While the medication and supplies were being put together for her, Gray asked if her dog was spayed. “No, we want her to experience motherhood, so we’re going to let her have one litter of puppies before having her fixed.” In a most eloquent and respectful conversation with the woman, Gray was able to convince her that spaying would be beneficial to everyone – the dog and the woman’s family. “Give your contact information to one of our volunteers right here, and we’ll arrange to have your dog spayed. We’ll cover the costs.” The woman looked relieved.
As a result of their willingness to reach out, yesterday, the Homeless Dog Owner Outreach group has been asked to meet with both Metropolitan Ministries and Hillsborough County’s homeless veterans liaison. They are already preparing for the next quarterly outreach program in September.
In a previous issue of The New Barker (winter 2010), we featured a story on Gainesville’s St. Francis House Pet Care Clinic. At that time, the clinic was still operating in the back of the St. Francis House homeless shelter. While driving across town in Gainesville, Chris Machen noticed what others chose to ignore: the proliferation of homeless people with pets; mostly dogs, some cats. She observed how well-loved the pets were when their humans wandered into the St. Francis House soup kitchen and homeless shelter, where she volunteered. Wanting to become more involved in her community, Machen listened as her friend, Gainesville veterinarian Dr. Dale Kaplan-Stein, talked about wanting to open a clinic for animals of Gainesville’s homeless population.
“The homeless are not faceless,” Dr. Kaplan-Stein would tell her detractors. “They are people. Those who say that the poor should not own pets should rethink that statement, because that pet could be the only thing that gives them joy, love and hope. Pets make us all better people. Besides, if these animals are healthier, our community will be healthier.”
As Laura drives down the road that leads up to the Aquatic Center, Lucy is already jumping around in the car.
Florida municipalities, hip on the dog revolution, open up their public pools for dog swims at the end of their swim seasons. Public pools in Fort Lauderdale, Largo, St. Petersburg and Tampa have been doing it for several years now, much to the delight of their canine citizens. On Saturday, November 5, the City of Tampa hosts Drool In The Pool Doggie Paddle at Copeland Park Pool in North Tampa (11001 North 15th Street). There is a $5 per dog charge. Humans enter free (but no humans are allowed in the pool). Next Saturday at Largo’s Highland Family Aquatic Center, the annual Soggy Doggy Splash Party will be from 11a-1p (400 Highland Avenue). There is a bonus day on Sunday from Noon-3p. Again, this is strictly a dog swim. No humans are allowed in the pools.
Lucy, a Labrador Retriever who lives with her human Laura Allen, loves the Soggy Doggy Splash Party. The following is an excerpt from a feature that appeared in the Fall 2012 edition of The New Barker dog magazine.
As Laura drives down the road that leads up to the Aquatic Center, before even seeing the other dogs or the pool, Lucy is already jumping around in the car. When the gates to the pool open, this dog is ready for some serious play time. She takes off with the other dogs, barely looking back at Laura. Occasionally, Lucy will look up and around for Laura, just to make sure. She gives Laura a reassuring smile before going back to playing.
Lucy is the life of any party and has never met another dog she didn’t like. One moment she is relentlessly flirting with her best friend, Catahoula mix Oliver, adopted from the Humane Society of Tampa Bay. The next moment, she’s taking her toy to another human she doesn’t even know, coaxing him to throw it. No one can resist Lucy’s charm or her invitation to play ball. No one. She will continue to pick up and drop the toy in front of a stranger, until he finally picks it up to throw it into the pool. Mission accomplished, and off she runs.
Toy-driven and focused, Lucy will dive down three to five feet in the water to retrieve a toy. She loves swimming with Laura in the Gulf or in a swimming pool, so she has definitely honed her aquatic skills. That came in handy during the 25-yard swim, another event held during the Soggy Doggy Day Splash Party. On this particular day, there was a massive start at the relay, as the dogs all jumped in the water at the same time. Every dog was swimming in all directions. Every dog, that is, except Lucy. With an almost inaudible whistle from Laura, Lucy quickly spotted her mark at the other end of the pool, and was soon cutting through the water like an arrow. Of course it didn’t hurt that Laura held one of Lucy’s toys in her hand. Advantage: Team Lucy, winner of the 2013 Soggy Doggy Splash Party 25-yard swim.
Lucy embodies the complete and utter joy of a dog, and Laura brings the best of that out in her. They go almost everywhere together when Laura is not working on location or on assignment as a professional photographer. Laura, who completely appreciates our domestication of dogs as a society, also believes dogs should be allowed to be dogs. Like children, dogs sometimes like to get dirty, and roll around in the grass, or mud. Laura believes in taking it all in stride.
“If I know we’re going to a place where Lucy will get dirty, I just make it a bath day. I try to live in the moment, just like Lucy does, and to not stress about the little things,” said Laura.
How much money would you spend on your dog’s medical care? The following appears in the current/winter issue of THE NEW BARKER. It is the story of Zack, a Lakeland Terrier, and his devoted human, Stella. Today, sadly, we learned of Zack’s passing this week. Rest in peace, Zacky. This edition of Weekend PUPdates is dedicated to you.
Vitiligo is a condition in which the skin loses melanin, the pigment that determines the color of skin, hair and eyes. If the cells that produce melanin die, depigmentation occurs, causing patches of white irregular shapes to appear on the skin. It usually starts as small areas of pigment loss that become larger with time, striking any part of the body and anyone, regardless of race. The condition is not life-threatening or contagious, but alters the life of the patient physically, limiting sun exposure to avoid severe burning and blistering. It can also have an extremely emotional effect on the patient, especially children.
When Stella Pavlides developed vitiligo, she was only 22 and had just given birth to her son, Greg. The cosmetologist with flawless skin suddenly looked like a patchwork quilt, as she describes it. “I’ve had people refuse to take money from me,” said Pavlides. “They think what I have is contagious.”
After learning there was no cure, and that between four and five million people in the United States are afflicted with the condition, Pavlides contacted the Vitiligo Foundation. She wanted to help fund research to find a cure for vitiligo and became a faithful donor. When the animal advocate discovered that animals, including dogs, were being used for research and testing, she was conflicted. “I wanted a cure for vitiligo, but I wanted more humane research.” She asked the president of the foundation to consider going the humane route after discussing her concerns with the now late Dr. Thomas B. Fitzpatrick, Chairman of the Department of Dermatology at Harvard Medical School and Chief of the Dermatology Service at Boston’s Mass General. She was turned away.
The Clearwater resident then traveled to Gainesville to meet with Wayne McCormack, associate professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of Florida College of Medicine. McCormack told Pavlides that if she provided the funding for the research, he would use donated blood and skin from people with vitiligo, not animals.
Since 1995, the American Vitiligo Research Foundation Pavlides founded, has given around $200,000 toward vitiligo research at UF. The money comes through fundraisers and donations.
To say this woman is unstoppable in whatever she takes on is a gross understatement. Even baseball legend Tony La Russa, who founded the Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF) in 1991 with his wife Elaine, said of Pavlides, “She is a dedicated, hard-working person, devoted to her causes. She is also an avid animal lover. I admire her tenacity and drive as well as her determination to overcome obstacles.” Pavlides’ own rescue Airedale, Alex, was one of ARF’s first mascots.
In February of 1999, Pavlides adopted another dog, Sophie, a Lakeland Terrier. Several months later she received a phone call asking if she could foster another Lakeland Terrier who was just a puppy – one of Sophie’s puppies, in fact. Where Sophie was sweet, kind, high-spirited and loving, Zack was the exact opposite. He was aggressive, suffered separation anxiety and self-mutilated in addition to a host of health issues that would surface several years after Pavlides adopted him.
Pavlides allows herself to wonder, once in awhile, whether she would have adopted Zack had she known about his issues beforehand. One thing is certain: this determined, tenacious woman never gave up on Zack once she committed to bringing him into her home.
She did all the right things. Neutering Zack seemed to help with some of his aggressive behavior, but not to the extent she had hoped. She hired a professional dog trainer who told her he had trained many dogs and was certain he could train Zack. After Pavlides invested a lot of money for Zack’s training sessions, the trainer told her the dog was not trainable. Pavlides then took Zack to a licensed dog psychologist. She attended a presentation at the Humane Society of Manatee County by Cesar Millan. She purchased and read his book and applied his theories on Zack. Nothing seemed to help with her dog’s anxiety or aggressive behavioral issues.
Eventually, Pavlides accepted Zack for the dog he was. She realized his aggression and anxiety were all fear-based, and vowed to never put him in a position to fail ever again.
Zack’s physical issues began to manifest when he was five years old. He had surgery to remove cataracts in both of his eyes. He has suffered from chronic allergies, ear infections, and extensive seizures. His self mutilation involved spinning and biting his tail to the point of requiring surgery. He has seen almost every kind of veterinarian specialist within the Tampa Bay Area. At The University of Florida in Gainesville, he was seen by specialists in dermatology, ophthalmology, acupuncture, neurology and a licensed dietician.
Zack’s veterinary bills are currently more than $80,000. That does not include the money Pavlides has spent around her home to help keep her dog’s allergies in check: having the grass removed and replaced with cement; replacing her carpet with tile; providing Zack with a special daily diet of fresh cooked tilapia, salt-less peas and cream of rice.
The point at which we, as pet owners, determine enough is enough is a different decision for each of us. Factors will include the dog’s overall health and well-being, the bank account balance, and our own ability to cope with the situation.
There was a time, in the not so distant past, where euthanasia was the only solution for our pets’ suffering from chronic disease. Dogs have moved from the backyard doghouse into our homes, living as part of the family blend. We have come to learn how diet plays a role in the health of our dogs. Veterinary medicine has vastly improved over the last 10 years, offering pet owners a multitude of options.
We move forward and base our decisions on all the facts presented to us. Living with dogs takes a certain amount of patience, devotion and lots of faith.
It has been almost two years since Zack has had a seizure. Pavlides credits Dr. Gregory Todd at Animal Hospital of Dunedin, and his recommended combination treatment of acupuncture and Chinese herbs. “Zack’s indomitable spirit has been a great ally in overcoming his health challenges. But, none of it would be possible without Stella’s unwavering commitment as a pet parent, to a lifetime of love and care,” said Dr. Todd.
Pavlides knows that without each and every veterinarian and caregiver in Zack’s life, he would not be here today. Through her own trials and tribulations, as Pavlides puts it, Zack is now 16 years-old and has become a very kind, loving soul. To her, Zack has been worth every penny spent, every tear shed.
The following, by Anna Cooke, first appeared as a feature in the Spring 2011 issue of The New Barker dog magazine.
Many of us who live with dogs probably don’t really want to know what they’re thinking. To know may bring in the realities of life like dealing with what they think of us. Who needs that extra burden? We already have to cope with what our parents, siblings, significant others and business associates think of us. It’s one of the reasons we love dogs so much. We believe everything they have to say to us is said through their eyes. And of course, it’s nothing short of adoration and unconditional love, right? Our dogs are sentient beings with a conscience and feelings. They are intelligent and many people believe, they live with a purpose and set goals. The Reverend Nedda Wittels, M.A., M.S. believes that dogs make life choices. Maybe that’s why we don’t really choose dogs, rather they choose us.
It seems that every one in the animal world can tell a story of how they loved and lived with animals since they were very young. Jo Maldonado is not much different. As a young girl she would try to save the fish her father caught. In her teens she took dog-training classes and won ribbons with her devoted companion Rex; in her 20’s she rode horses and in her 30’s and 40’s she volunteered with German Shepherd Rescue in Pennsylvania doing canine assessment and fostering. And, for almost 30 years she lead a successful career as a publicist, owning her agency. But it wasn’t until she and her husband moved to Florida and her children had moved on with their lives, that a continuous odd series of events forced her to change her life’s path. Volunteering at local shelters and seeing the infinite line of discarded animals, and almost losing one of her dogs, led Jo to follow her animal passion and give back to the community.
“Three years ago I realized that I was not following my soul’s purpose, not fulfilling what I was supposed to be doing with my life. I was hospitalized twice, broke my hip, had two surgeries, was in two car accidents and almost lost two members of my family.” But it wasn’t until a series of events involving animals that Jo finally listened to what some other worldly force was trying to tell her. There was the black bear that began appearing in her driveway on a regular basis. Then hundreds of crows began following her around. A woodpecker began “talking to her.” And one day the door to her china cabinet flew open spewing forth china from past relationships.
Jo began reading every book on animal communication and angel healing that she could find. After she completed several classes on the same subject matter, it became clear to Jo that her purpose in life was to work with her first love: animals. Her Centers for Animal Therapies is based on the theory that both sides of the brain are necessary to truly communicate with the animal world. “The left side of the brain is the fact based, scientific side, while the right brain is intuitive, innate and natural,” said Jo.
Animal communicators speak with pet companions who live with humans, oftentimes facilitating a change in varied situations. Why is the cat spraying? Why is the dog cowering or food aggressive? Each situation may have something in common with another situation going on within the pet’s home. For instance, when there is a fear problem there is generally a kidney problem that results in uncontrolled urinating in the house. By communicating with the dog, Jo can show their humans the relationship their dogs would like to have with them. How we live with our dogs can result in a positive or negative affect on them and ourselves.
No telepathic communicator is one hundred percent accurate all the time. The reasons for error may include a weak telepathic connection; the human client has emotional and/or mental blocks about the situation; or the dog may be choosing not to communicate fully. Reverend Wittels adds that each telepathic communicator can bring their own emotional and mental baggage to the situation: belief systems, expectations, past experiences or emotions. A good animal communicator will know how to leave their baggage behind in order to be a clear channel.
As with any professional, it’s good to have a rapport with them before delving into this area of you and your pet’s lives. We had been working and speaking with Jo for the past year on various projects. One thing lead to another, and it seemed almost a natural progression to agree to let Jo communicate with our brood: Zoe, a 13 year-old Cockapoo, her 11 year-old niece Chloe, our adopted MinPin Rita, and our most recent adopted addition, Dougie (pronounced Doogie), a two year-old Scottish Terrier.
There were four dogs and so it took Jo a little longer to assess the situation and discern their different personalities. “I took a deep breath before looking at each photograph you sent of the dogs,” said Jo, who told us she took classes to learn how to communicate through the eyes of an animal. “But dogs don’t like for you to look directly into their eyes. That is why I like to use photos,” she told us. “I pick up the physical characteristics and I pick up the soul. I try to get through the layers in order to connect and communicate.”
She began first by saying that each of these four dogs represents a characteristic in each human member of our household, in this instance a husband and wife. “It’s up to you to figure out those characteristics of you,” said Jo. From the pictures, Jo described the aura of energy emanating from each dog, which assisted in giving the following information. “Your life to them seems scattered. You’re in multiple places at one time. You seem to be going from point A to point B in an instant. You are way too busy and they’re picking up on that. I received a strong sense from the dogs that you are very tired,” Jo said.
For many dogs, a situation such as the one Jo described could be confusing to them, causing problems such as becoming the take-charge being within the household. The Alpha dog if you will. But in this instance the dogs all seem to have adjusted. “Each one of them knows their role within your family,” she told me. “And,” she added, “Your dogs are all very funny. They are just all real characters.”
Dougie, the two-year old Scotty, knows exactly what he is supposed to do. He looks around at his humans and the other dogs and wonders why they don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing? He knows he is a purebred. In fact, somewhere in his lineage, there is a champion or two. So he demonstrates quite a lot of pride as if to say, “Of course I can do that. It’s exactly what I am supposed to do.” Jo said that if she were to humanize Dougie, he would be a career fisherman. “I could see him bellying up to the bar at the end of each successful fishing excursion,” she said. Dougie is a highly intuitive dog and would be excellent in agility. “Oh, he would be a natural,” said Jo.
Chloe, the 11 year-old Cockapoo.“Dougie was pointing at Chloe when I was communicating with him. He told me that while he feels very grounded, Chloe is constantly running around in circles, figuratively. Yet, she thinks she’s the one that has it all under control. But she doesn’t.” Jo explained that she sensed a bit of a Napoleonic complex in Chloe. She is constantly reminding everyone that she is in control; she is in charge, but she isn’t, of course. “If she could talk to you, she would be a tattle-tail and rat everyone else out. Chloe does feel confused most of the time, but thinks that’s okay because her humans are confused and running around in circles too.” Chloe communicated with Jo in such a rapid-fire way that she was almost stuttering. “I have too much to do and too little time in which to do everything,” is what Chloe communicated to Jo. “Interestingly, Chloe and Dougie have similar personalities. If you were to put Chloe in another pack, the other dogs would find her annoying. But she is well-accepted in your pack.”
Zoe, the 13 year-old Cockapoo. “She tends to believe she is the matriarch of the family. I could sense her little quirks. She does like her food and is set in her ways. She has a sense of entitlement, that whatever she gets, the others should not be allowed to have because they are not as deserving as she is. She can get snappy, only to let others know that she does not approve of what they are doing. But she would never display any kind of aggressive behavior towards anyone, human or animal, within her pack.” Jo spoke to me directly about the next point. “Anna, Zoe feels that the two of you are one. She is content to follow you and be wherever you are.” And then Jo added, “Oh, I’m hearing from her again that she really does love her food though. She likes that crunchiness and soft combination you give her.”
Rita, a five year-old MinPin, found wandering the streets. “I like Rita very much. She has this I-am-cool-as-a-cucumber demeanor. She likes to check things out, like a private detective before getting all excited, unlike the rest of the dogs in your pack. She smirks at the other dogs as if they’re ridiculously out of control. If I were to humanize Rita, she would have red hair, red-painted fingernails and a cigarette dangling from her mouth. She’s like one of those cool people you may see at a party. You don’t know them, but you walk up to them anyway and compliment them on the shirt they’re wearing. Instead of saying thank you, Rita would answer, ‘Huh. You don’t really give a damn about my shirt now, do you?’”
So it appears we have an odd little pack, with a funny mixture of personalities, each one of them strong in their own way. They all have their quirks but everyone gets along, albeit grumbling along the way. Most important, they all seem to be functioning as a pack and each feels they have jobs, which is a good thing. “They are all who they are as long as they’re all with the two of you. And as long as you make sure what your expectations are of them, they’re all pretty happy,” Jo said.
The dogs were all in agreement with one special request. “What they would like you to do is schedule more family time with them, altogether. They would prefer daily, but they’ll settle for weekly jaunts to a big fenced in field or park to run around.” I told Jo that we have a big backyard and take them out many times throughout the day. “No,” she answered, “They want family time. They want everyone in the car at the same time, to go somewhere together. And Chloe said not to forget the treats. That was a very strong communication to me. They want you to think about nothing but the present during these field trips with them.”
“Somewhere in time, an animal’s soul has made a pact with the human’s soul to help them. I look at what I am doing as my privilege to be able to work with two beings, human and animal, to decipher what that help might be,” Jo Maldonado.
“People will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to help their pets while totally ignoring the obvious to help themselves. We humans must recognize that we need to change to improve our own health and well-being. Through the voice of their pets, a person can help themselves,” Jo Maldonado.
“I’ve never found an animal who communicated to me that they hated their human. I know instantly when I go into that animal that there is a need for them to express themselves as to why they are here,” Jo Maldonado.
Jo Maldonado can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 386.279.0257
We first met Jolene, a beautiful white Standard Poodle, in Tampa at Woofstock, hosted by TampaPets.org. Her fur had been accented in pink to show her support for Breast Cancer Awareness. The following is an original feature from the winter 2015/16 (current) issue of The New Barker dog magazine, written by Anna Cooke.
At fifty years old, Barbara Mahoney decided to end her abusive marriage and sell her business. She knew the change would be good for her, but realized she was still not in a good place, emotionally. She recalled how happy she felt around her mother’s dogs while growing up, especially the Poodles. Now, she wanted a constant companion, someone who would give her unconditional love. A dog who would go swimming with her. Heck, maybe she’d even get into agility, she thought. Jolene came into Barbara’s life in 2011, and she decided to let the dog show her just what she wanted to do in the way of “work.”
When she was just a year old, Jolene began her athletic career in dock diving. She received her canine therapy certification in water rehabilitation. She took the Southeastern Regional Division championship in her class, and all was good. Then, someone threw a Frisbee. Jolene ran after it, and caught it. She and Barbara were hooked. Barbara sought out competitions and talked to other people about Jolene’s talent. “I even found people to throw Jolene the disc when I broke my clavicle,” she said. “I didn’t want her to stop having fun while I was laid up.” The duo’s devotion to the sport and hard work quickly paid off. Jolene became the only World Qualifying Standard Poodle in the sport.
“Working with dogs in activities like disc and agility enriches and completes our relationship with them,” Barbara told us. “Jolene is an exceptional Poodle, but she is also an incredible disc dog.”
Barbara and five other people formed Up Dog Challenge, an organization they hope will inform dog lovers how “awesome this sport is,” she told us. The group’s goal is to provide a non-intimidating forum where people will feel comfortable asking questions about the sport. Go to an Up Dog Challenge event and everyone involved is approachable and enthusiastic about the sport. “We want more people to know how fun this is,” added Barbara. “All ages and skill levels are welcome. All breed types, size, and shape. We’ll even teach you how to throw a disc so that your dog will catch it. We have trainers that are very good with newcomers to the sport. They explain how your dog thinks and will train you to throw the disc in a way that maximizes your dog’s success. We want to optimize that play for you both.”
Dogs are happiest when they have something to do, when people play with them. “Happy dogs equal happy people,” said Barbara. “Look what Jolene did for me. She changed my life.”
MORE: 2016 marks the 42nd consecutive year of competitive canine disc sports. The first annual UpDog International Finals will be held March 18 – 20 in Brooksville, Florida at Florida Classic Park (5360 Lockhart Road). Qualified teams must pre-register by Sunday, January 31. For more information, visit UpDogChallenge.com
This story originally appeared in the current issue of The New Barker dog magazine.
An interview with Kari Goetz, who is preparing to play a talking dog – the lead character in the A.R. Gurney play, Sylvia. By Anna Cooke for The New Barker dog magazine.
Kari Goetz and her husband Crawford Long may just have one of the best love stories ever. It’s kind of a Harry Meets Sally/You’ve Got Mail scenario. After their first meeting at a YMCA Youth Camp in North Carolina as teenagers, the two would spend the next 20 years staying in touch via letters, then email, instant messages, texts and the occasional phone call.
“We grew up with each other,” said Kari, “just not together.”
She pursued an acting career in Los Angeles for five years, going to nerve-wracking auditions. He went on to law school at the University of South Carolina.
Every year, Crawford always sent Kari a New Year’s Eve greeting at midnight. New Year’s Eve 2012, precisely at midnight, Crawford sent Kari his regular greeting, with one new question: Will this be the year we see each other?
Plans were made to finally see each other, face-to-face, after 20 years.
“I’ve never been so nervous in my life,” said Crawford.
“Worse case of stage fright in my life,” added Kari.
Their reunion began with a hug, then a kiss, immediately followed by a year of constant travel between her home in Seminole Heights (Florida) and his in Atlanta. By now, Kari was director of marketing at Tampa International Airport, and getting ready for the 2012 Stageworks production of Sylvia, the A.R. Gurney play. Kari would be playing the lead part of Sylvia, a talking dog. It was the very first time that Crawford had seen Kari perform on stage.
Once Crawford saw Kari’s Sylvia, he was smitten – enamored, in fact. So much so that his friends started calling him Bowser, one of the imaginary dogs that Sylvia “lusts” after in the dog park.
In real life, the two would marry and eventually have a baby, Porter, their son. Fast forward to today, three years later, and Kari will be back on stage, once again playing Sylvia, as Tampa’s Stageworks presents an encore production, August 6 through 30.
Kari has been acting since she was eight years old. She hasn’t been on stage since the last production of Sylvia ran in 2012. “It’s the longest run of me not being on stage ever,” she said. As the cast prepared for the grueling tech rehearsal, or what actors refer to as the 10 out of 12, Kari took a few moments out of her busy schedule to talk with us about theatre, family, work and dogs.
TNB: How does it feel to be back on stage after a three year break?
Kari: I did a lot of wagging on stage as Sylvia three years ago. I am able to wag my butt without any movement going on above my butt. At the time, Crawford noticed that whenever I was happy, offstage, I would start wagging. This is highly inappropriate in many circumstances, of course. We’ve been back in rehearsals, and the other day at work someone brought me some good news while I was standing by my desk. Suddenly, I realized I was wagging my butt. ‘Oh no,’ I thought, ‘it’s back. Sylvia has taken over my body again.”
TNB: How do you find time to juggle an intense career as Director of Marketing for Tampa International Airport, wife, mom and actress?
Kari: I have always had a day job while working as an actress, auditioning for parts, so I’m used to juggling. It takes a lot of balancing. TIA has been super supportive. Also, when I agreed to do Sylvia again this time around, I insisted on an understudy being completely present. Roxxi Jaxx is a University of Tampa student and an amazing actress, so good in the part. And, yes, that’s her real name.
As a first-time parent, I’m always in rehearsal. I’ve always thought that being a wife was the best role ever. Of course, being a mom’s not so bad either. (In the Stageworks program for Sylvia, Kari includes in her bio that, “I married a Bowzer and we now have a puppy.”)
TNB: You have dogs. Do you incorporate any of their personalities or mannerisms into your Sylvia character?
Kari: When I did Sylvia last, I had geriatric dogs. Sadly, they are no longer with us. Now I have two younger dogs and have brought some of their traits into Sylvia’s character, as well as two dogs my family had while I was growing up. Luke was my childhood dog, an Irish Wolfhound. He had very interesting ways of getting your attention. I put a lot of Luke into Sylvia. Jethro, another family dog, was very loyal. I bring that aspect of him into Sylvia’s character.
The two dogs we have now, Abigail and Eleanor, are terrier mixes and they’re both nuts. When Sylvia acts up on stage, it is definitely Abigail and Eleanor. Abigail has a habit of bringing things to you that you don’t need, like snooping around inside my purse and bringing me my wallet. You cannot walk Eleanor without her wrapping her leash around your entire body. In the play, Greg uses a retractable leash with Sylvia. As a dog owner, I hate retractable leashes, so we really dork it up on stage, how awful those things are, and I completely wrap Greg up in the leash.
I found Eleanor under a truck outside the Straz Theatre a few years ago. She looks like a Chinese Crested with some Rat Terrier and Chihuahua. We adopted Abigail from the Humane Society of Tampa Bay. We had just lost our oldest dog whom I’d had for 15 years. I went through a short mourning period, but quickly realized, someone else needs a home, so we immediately set out to adopt another dog. She looks like a Corgi with some Pit Bull in her. She is a low rider with wirehair and gold eyes. Her behavior is all terrier, but the way she is with my kid, I absolutely know she has Pit in her. She is my nanny dog, such a good girl with Porter.
TNB:What are you bringing to the character in this production that is new from the last time you played Sylvia?
Kari: It’s the exact same cast from three years ago. We’re all very comfortable with each other and the play this time around, so we’ve discovered some subtle ways to bring new things into the play. I’ve always been a really physical comedian. I messed my body up in Sylvia last go around, so this time, I’m more aware of what my body should and shouldn’t do from an injury standpoint. I advocated for a harness this time, versus a regular collar. It was a happy day when my new harness arrived in wardrobe. Realizing the damage that can be done with a collar from my own personal experience as Sylvia, both of my dogs now wear harnesses.
I had Porter, my son, after the last production of Sylvia. He was a C section, so now I can completely and physically relate to Sylvia in the scene just after she has been spayed. When she says, “Oh my aching gut,” I get it.
As a responsible, committed artist, you do not do anything on stage to upstage your fellow actors. That is especially important to realize as the actress playing Sylvia. The audience watches and reacts to every move Sylvia makes. The last time I had to tone her down so as not to pull the focus away from the other actors, especially when that moment on stage is about their characters. I try to blend into the set during those scenes.
TNB: What is your favorite line you deliver in the play?
Kari: It’s a two part line. Three years ago, while doing the play, it was the only line that I had to be very careful delivering because it would give me the giggles. Greg is telling Sylvia that she is going to live with another family, and she is not happy. When he tells her that one of the three children is a baby, Sylvia responds:
‘I hate babies. Their mouths taste good, but they’re always stepping on your tail.’
I also have a lot of fun with the audience participation. There is a scene where Sylvia walks into the audience and sits on someone’s lap. It’s never planned. Honestly, I don’t know on whose lap I’m going to end up when I walk out there. During the last production of Sylvia, word got out and audience members started bringing treats to lure me to their laps. Cookies mostly. One guy brought me a glass of wine which I brought back on stage and worked into the play.
TNB: Did you hear that Matthew Broderick will play Greg in the upcoming Broadway premiere of Sylvia? Annaleigh Ashford will play Sylvia. The show officially opens on October 27.
Kari: Yes, and I am definitely going to see it. It’s kind of a weird family reunion of sorts since Sarah Jessica Parker played the original Sylvia in the very first production of the play. It never made it to Broadway. It makes me wonder if Sarah Jessica will growl at Matthew Broderick, her husband, with his Broadway opportunity and a chance to win another Tony, which she has never won. It makes me wonder, why, after all of these years, is there such an interest in the play, Sylvia?
For years, Sylvia was my worst kept secret. The script by A.R. Gurney is fantastic. My friends and family knew how much I always wanted to play the part and lobbied for it for years, to anyone who listened. Everyone just shook their heads no. ‘C’mon, it’s a play about a talking dog. No, we’re going to do something with a more profound subject, like war.’
I remember walking around in Publix when I received word that Stageworks was going to do the play. I was over the moon when I learned I would play the part of Sylvia. My dream had finally come true three years ago. And I’m so lucky to be able to play her again with such a great cast and crew.
Sylvia, by A.R. Gurney – Synopsis:
The play originally made its Off-Broadway debut in 1995 with Sarah Jessica Parker as Sylvia, and Blythe Danner and Charles Kimbrough as wife and husband, Kate and Greg. The middle-aged, upper-middle class couple are empty nesters in New York City. Kate is in a happy place with her life, but Greg is having a bit of a mid-life crisis. When Greg finds Sylvia, a stray in the park, he likes her and decides to bring her home. Kate reacts very negatively towards Sylvia and wants her gone. They agree to keep the dog for just a few days until they can decide whether or not she can stay longer. Over the next few days, Greg spends more and more time with Sylvia and less time at his job. They go on long walks together; discuss life and things like astronomy. The tension increases between the couple, with Greg becoming completely obsessed with Sylvia. Kate fears their marriage is falling apart. She and Sylvia are now at odds with one another, each committed to seeing the other defeated.
Greg and Kate visit a therapist, Leslie, who is ambiguously male and female depending on her patients’ state of mind. Eventually, Kate is asked to teach abroad, in London and tells Greg that there is a six-month quarantine for dogs coming into the country. Reluctantly he succumbs and gives the news to Sylvia that he must give her away, to a family who live on a farm. They have a heated and tender moment. Then, Kate and Sylvia say goodbye. Something happens, however, and Kate has a change of heart.
Reviews of the Off-Broadway show included this from Vincent Canby of The New York Times: “Dramatic literature is stuffed with memorable love scenes. But none is as immediately delicious and dizzy as the one that begins the redeeming love affair in A.R. Gurney’s new comedy, Sylvia. A delightful fantasy, but also a psychologically persuasive look at one man’s mid-life crisis.”
Adult content, language.
Sylvia, by A.R. Gurney
August 6 through 30, 2015
Stageworks Theatre, 1120 East Kennedy Boulevard, Tampa
Special thanks to Air Animal, major sponsor for Stageworks, making this production of Sylvia possible. Beneficiaries of the production include Humane Society of Tampa Bay, SPCA Florida and Frankie’s Friends.
One thing we know for sure, dog lovers are a hearty lot, ready to share in their camaraderie and love of dogs. Whether it’s hosting dog-themed parties for friends or fundraising for an animal advocacy cause, it’s a given – the festivities almost always involve food and drink. Many adult beverages are named after a dog breed or are dog-inspired. We thought it would be fun to feature some of them alongside their recipes in our spring issue.
Our staging area was the award-winning ulele, located in historic Tampa Heights. It’s the newest restaurant from the Gonzmart family’s Columbia Restaurant Group and features native-inspired foods and spirits. The backdrop, vibe and colors made for some gorgeous photography.
While working with ulele Mixologist Chuck Cooper and ulele Head Brewmaster Timothy A. Shackton, we discovered their profound love of dogs. Both men were eager to share stories of how, when and why they adopted their dogs. It became obvious that this was too good to be true, and that we would be returning for a second, more dog-centric photo shoot.
But first – the drink recipes for your summer imbibing.
Colorado Bulldog 11/2 ounces Tito’s Vodka 11/2 ounces Kahlua 1 ounce cream or condensed milk Dark cola soda Combine vodka, Kahlua and cream in tin. Shake. Strain over fresh ice into a collins or pilsner glass. Top with fresh cola. Garnish with three chocolate chips and serve with a tall straw. Serves one. Shown with a shot of ulele espresso.
Pomeranian 11/2 ounces white rum (Don Q) 1/2 ounce pomegranate liqueur (Pama) 1/2 ounce triple sec 1/2 ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice 1/4 ounce fresh squeezed grapefruit juice Combine rum, liqueur, triple sec and juices in tin. Shake. Strain over fresh ice into an old fashioned glass. Garnish with lemon wheel and cocktail straw. Serves one.
Salty Chihuahua Wet the rim of an old fashioned glass with lime juice, then dip in crushed pink peppercorn and salt. 11/2 tequila (Patron Anejo) 1/2 ounce grapefruit liqueur (Pamplemousse) 5 to 6 ounces fresh squeezed grapefruit juice Combine tequila, liqueur and juice in tin. Shake. Strain over fresh ice into the peppercorn and salt rimmed old fashioned glass. Garnish with grapefruit wheel. Serves one.
Hair of the Dog 2 ounces vodka (Cane Fireant) 1 ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice 1 ounce sangrita 1 ounce fresh egg white 1 slice of jalapeño or Thai chili pepper Combine all ingredients in tin. Shake. Strain over fresh ice into an old fashioned glass. Garnish with lemon and chili. Serve with a tall straw. Serves one.
Bloodhound 1 ounce Gin (Nolet’s) 1/3 ounce dry vermouth 1/3 ounce sweet vermouth 1/4 strawberry puree Combine all ingredients in tin with crushed ice. Shake. Strain into coupe glass. Garnish with a slice of strawberry. Serves one.
Dog’s Nose 11/2 ounce Absolut Vanilla Vodka 14 ounces Buckhorn Black Nutmeg or cinnamon Add vodka to a 16 ounce chilled pilsner glass. Pour beer over vodka to fill glass. Dust with the freshly grated nutmeg or cinnamon. Serves one.
The colloquialism, hair of the dog originally referred to a method of treatment after being bitten by a rabid dog. In the Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1898), Ebenezer Cobham Brewer wrote, “In Scotland, it was a popular belief that a few hairs of the dog that bit you applied to the wound would prevent evil consequences. Applied to drinks, it means, if overnight you have indulged too freely, take a glass of the same wine within 24 hours to soothe the nerves.”
INTRO: One of the recipients of the 14th annual AKC Humane Fund Award for Canine Excellence (ACE) was featured in the spring issue of The New Barker dog magazine. His just-announced award is well-deserved. Only four months after his front leg was amputated and three weeks after completing chemotherapy, Bart earned his Senior Hunter title and continued to the Master Hunter level. Bart and Darcy, his human, were invited to visit with soldiers from the Wounded Warrior program. Bart, who ran fast and hard during a guided hunt, was an inspiration to the soldiers without limbs, and overcoming their own battle scars. Our story, A Case for the Power of Love, was written by Pam Stuart, a member of the Tampa Bay Vizsla Club. It may look like a long read, but if you’re in need of a smile and some inspiration, it’s well worth your time.
STORY: Life. It’s been said that life is what happens to you while you’re making plans. If you’re familiar with the sport of agility, life is like running an agility course: you have a start line at the beginning and a finish line at the end, with lots of obstacles in between. Sometimes there are challenges—wrong courses and dropped bars—but you and your dog run the course together and there is always praise and joy because you tried. You may not have a perfect run, you may not have earned a “Q”, but you and your best friend ran together, did as well as you could, and lived and loved in that moment.
Life. In times of strife, those challenges—those wrong courses and dropped bars—become the defining moments in which we find our strengths and our capabilities. Those moments test our mettle, our courage, our fortitude and our resolve. It is a great test for us when our beloved dog, our best friend and our heart on four legs, is diagnosed with a serious illness. Shock. Sadness. Denial. Reality. How did this happen and why? If we had the answers, oh, if we had the answers. It’s always been Darcy and Bart. For years. I can’t remember how or when we met, but it has always been Darcy and Bart. Darcy is a friend of immeasurable love, kindness, and strength. Strength that was tested when she and her Vizsla Bart, started on their journey.
It began with a limp early in 2008, during hunt and field season. It was just a sports-related injury. Bart was only three years old; a strong, young dog from a well-planned breeding who had already finished his show championship. He ran marathons with Darcy, his longest at 16 miles. He was on his way to great success in the field as nothing was slowing him down. Not even this limp. Dogs have their way of communicating with us. We know. We know our dogs and we just know. Is it a look? Is it intuition? Whatever It is—it is.
One June morning, Bart came out of his crate, looked up at Darcy and they went to the vet. The doctor found a lump on the top of the left shoulder and x-rays were ordered. They revealed that 80% of the scapula had been eaten away by cancer. Thankfully, Bart was young and in peak physical condition, which may have prevented further injury. After a biopsy confirmed osteosarcoma, Darcy, without hesitation, looked at the vet and asked how quickly Bart’s leg could be removed. Bart underwent a full scapulectomy. The surgery was a success as the doctor was able to get clean margins.
How could this happen to such a sweet, young dog? And why? Everything about Bart was not about cancer. Everything about osteosarcoma was bleak: the statistics, the poor prognoses, the dismal outcomes. Again, why? When word went out through the Vizsla grapevine of Darcy and Bart’s plight, I remember the sinking feeling of knowing osteosarcoma, and all that this diagnosis meant. I asked Darcy how she found the strength. She said: “Love. When he was first diagnosed, I kept asking myself why we were going through this and twice I saw the word LOVE, in bright, luminescent letters, inside my mind’s eye. When I saw it the second time, I gave in and took a leap of faith that this was going to be a journey of LOVE. Love of Bart, love from friends, love from strangers, love of this journey—and that has been my strength. It has been the best worst thing that has ever happened to me. Thankfully, there is an endless supply of love, so I feel we are prepared to keep on keepin’ on for as long as we need to.”
Friends came together in the name of love, as true friends do. Bart’s breeder became the Research and Development Department, attending vet appointments, taking notes, supporting her friend through this maze of science, medicine and spirituality. A TeamBarty Yahoo group sprang up so everyone could be kept up to date on the latest developments through photos and shared stories. Darcy put it best: “Friends became family, and strangers became friends.” TeamBarty gained traction and folks began to send items for the fund-raising yard sales, financial support, emotional support, prayers, toys and treats. Cards and letters from across the country started appearing in the mail box, often from strangers offering their sympathy, love and support.
When Bart came home from surgery, Darcy’s first priority was to try to get back to a sense of normalcy and Bart was all for that. They would take their morning walks, at first only to the end of the driveway. Then to the neighbor’s yard, then further down the street. Walks became runs. A milestone was reached when a run included an easy jump over a low retaining wall. Barty was back. A Vizsla is a hunting dog and hunting was deep in Bart’s genes. In October 2008, as a tri-paw, four months after an amputation and three weeks after completing his chemotherapy, Bart earned the fourth and final leg towards his Senior Hunter title for pointing breeds. For those not familiar with pointing breed hunt and field titles, to qualify for the SH title, the dog must run and hunt birds for 30 minutes, find, point and retrieve to the AKC’s exacting standards. Many dogs don’t get that far on four legs. Bart did it in grand style on three.
Darcy and Bart went even further and began competing for the Master Hunter title. There were times during their hunt tests when judges would have a sympathetic look for that poor girl and her three legged dog. Sympathy changed to awe as many grown men and women, often with tears in their eyes, were so moved by the courage and determination of the beautiful spirit in that beautiful dog. And Bart did earn that Master Hunter title, ten months after his amputation. Bart is the first Vizsla in history to have completed the Master Hunter title, start to finish—on three legs. Darcy and Bart have soldiered on, continuing their journey together in living life and performing in the field. They have also participated in the Vizsla Club of America All-Star review which honors Vizslas that have earned both their conformation championship along with one of the highest hunt or field titles.
The ribbons, the titles, the accolades—that’s all a bonus. Darcy and Bart have already won the real prize. They have lived, loved and grown through this journey that continues still. In the summer of 2010, Darcy and Bart were invited to visit with the military personnel in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, who are part of the Wounded Warrior Project. Later that fall, the Wounded Warriors came to Atlanta over Thanksgiving weekend and watched Bart compete in a field trial. Most recently, in January 2013, Bart, who will soon turn eight, ran fast and hard during a guided hunt with the Wounded Warriors, inspiring soldiers returning home who are overcoming their own battle scars.
Bart leads by example—thriving; never giving up and living life to the fullest thanks to love—in bright, luminescent letters.
We look forward to meeting Bart and the other ACE recipients this December in Orlando during a ceremony at the AKC Eukanuba Nationals.