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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Who is the Guardian?

Heidi is a 12 year old German Shepherd.  When you look at her, she appears to be the typical, well-cared-for, senior dog that many veterinarians may see on any routine day.  But Heidi has been more than a companion to her guardian and friend, Doug.  Doug, is legally blind.  Heidi is not a trained service dog and her only job and obligation is to provide Doug with the same love and care that he provides to her.

Doug brought Heidi to my office a few months ago for some mild digestive upset.  She is a sweet dog that seems to be enjoying her senior years in good health.  As Doug told me a story from their past, I stood in awe of a dog that I now know is very special.

Ten years ago, when Heidi was only two years old, the two were out on their acreage clearing brush.  Doug created a small brush fire to dispose of branches and brush that he was clearing from the property.  He reached over and placed a large log on top of the fire in order to weigh it down so it would not fall or blow over.  As he placed the log onto the fire, the sleeve of his flannel shirt caught on fire.

Heidi immediately started barking uncontrollably which gained Doug's attention.  Doug realized the shirt was on fire, and immediately started to take the shirt off.  He got the shirt off his body and arms. As he tried to pull his hands out of the sleeves to free himself completely, the cuffs of the shirt were caught around his wrists.   The cuffs were too tight to slide over the gloves that he was wearing to protect his hands, and the gloves were now inside the shirt.  He tugged but could not free himself from the shirt that continued to burn.

As Doug continued to struggle with the shirt, Heidi grabbed the back of the shirt from behind him and started yanking on it repeatedly and forcibly.  In the process, she had pulled Doug away from the fire.  Finally, the cuffs of the shirt tore as a result of Heidi's continued efforts and the shirt fell to the ground.

When Doug realized that the shirt was off,  he called Heidi close to him to be certain that she had not been harmed by the flames.  Doug kneeled down to his friend, stroking Heidi in appreciation for her actions, vowing that he would do the same for her.  Meanwhile, on the ground next to them, his shirt was engulfed in flames.

Heidi (front left in photo) is not a trained service dog, but is the kind of  best friend that we all would be lucky to have.  She has the same instincts that many dogs have, guided by love and protection of the guardian that provides them with the same love and protection. She has the same instinct of many of the dogs that continue to sit in our shelters every day, the same dogs that are euthanized at our shelters every day. 

We always refer to the human half of a human-canine bond as the guardian.  I wonder if Doug is Heidi's guardian, or if Heidi is Doug's guardian?    If we were able to ask Heidi, I know what her answer would be.

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