Remembering a Gentle Man with a Golden Heart

Sadly, the Assistance Dog Movement has lost one of our greatest champions. IAADP's President, Co-founder, Ed Eames, Ph.D. passed away on October 25, 2009. It is hard to believe that it has been seven years since meeting Ed and his lovely wife, Toni. Although Toni has been blind since birth, Ed lost his sight at age 42. He very much relied on Toni's skills and access, and along with her deep love for him, this allowed him to flourish in his second, non-sighted life.

An adjunct professor at CA State University-Fresno, Ed spent his career teaching and doing anthropology research at NY's Baruch College and previously at Temple University. His doctorate was earned at Cornell University with his research based in India.

Ed obtained his initial guide dog from the Seeing Eye and met Toni in 1985 while writing his first book about the assistance dog field, A Guide to Guide Dog Schools. She joined him as wife and co-author of that project.

Their second book, Partners in Independence: A Success Story of Dogs and the Disabled, was drawn from their award-winning column of the same name, published for ten years in Dog World Magazine. The second edition of this book is still in print and serves as a wonderful history of the assistance dog movement in the 1990's.

Ed is the kind of person who has exemplified the adage, When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. The memorial section at the IAADP website attempts to convey his significant accomplishments, and the page of personal reflections from friends begins to reveal the incredible effect that he had on others.

Ed and his wife, Toni, with guide dogs, Latrell and Keebler, in this photo, traveled the world to foster the assistance dog movement, lecturing at many veterinary schools and conferences, co-authoring two books, magazine columns, hundreds of articles and scripting an award winning video/DVD, “Partners in Independence.”

In 1993, Ed chaired the inaugural meeting of IAADP, whose mission has been to empower disabled persons with guide, hearing and service dogs to work together to advance the assistance dog movement through many education initiatives, advocacy campaigns, peer support projects, the website, fourteen international conferences and its global networking publication, “Partners Forum,” that today links together thousands of assistance dog teams and more than 220 guide, hearing and service dog training programs worldwide.

As IAADP’s President, Ed has been an incredible advocate for assistance dog teams, tackling legislation, federal rule making, other important issues and many access cases whenever people would call him for help. Ed worked tirelessly to launch and sustain an emergency veterinary care fund to provide grants if an assistance dog had a treatable veterinary problem and the partner could not afford the recommended treatment. The list of his achievements and selfless devotion to our cause goes on and on……but perhaps his greatest gift was his friendship and concern for everyone connected with the assistance dog movement, …..puppy raisers, program staff, supporters, sponsors, everyone who shared his awe for the magical bond between disabled persons and their canine partners. He had room in his heart for us all.

It was Ed's enormous heart and sweet manner and concern for others that endeared him to so many. It was simply impossible to resist this man's charms once you met him. He just had that kind of effect on folks . . . . and dogs as well.

Ed was a true Golden Retriever lover and one knew that any Golden in the Eames household was one lucky dog. We all know how special our first entry into the Golden world can be, and Ed's relationship with Kirby, his first Golden Retriever guide dog, was quite unique. Below, is Dr. Eames with his Kirby, a Golden who amazingly went on to earn an AKC Companion Dog Excellent title. However, Kirby's claim to fame occurred when bone cancer necessitated the amputation of his left front leg, yet did not keep him from continuing his guide dog work. The telling of this courageous story, Kirby, My Miracle Worker, earned Ed a Maxwell award from the Dog Writers Association of America.    

Ed and Golden KirbyThere is a Yiddish word, beshert, which means "fated to be," and that's the way I felt about Kirby from the moment we met. He had waited for me, and I was still deep in mourning at the loss of my previous guide dog, a black Labrador Retriever named Perrier. As Kirby and I took up our lives together under the watchful eyes of the training staff, my admiration and love for this marvelous 78-pound bundle of joy and affection grew day by day.
The culminating event in our bonding process took place one day on the streets of Banning, a nearby town where students regularly trained with their new canine partners. As Kirby guided me across the street, a woman driver, blinded by the afternoon sun, made a left turn directly into our path. My new partner stopped on a dime, and I could feel the rear fender of the car as it brushed my leg. Trainer Kathy Laber said she never saw a closer call in her 20 years of guide dog work.

Ed's work and the difference he made in his life was detailed in two October 2009 Fresno Bee pieces: Ed Eames fought for rights of disabled and EDITORIAL: Ed Eames removed barriers.

Ed Eames had a simple goal for our community. "He wanted a barrier-free Fresno." said his wife, Toni.

Mr. Eames died Sunday at 79, leaving a legacy of making Fresno more accessible to residents with disabilities. Mr. Eames, who lost his sight at age 42, fought to improve bus service, lobbied for more sidewalks and battled against the growing trend of roundabouts and traffic circles in Fresno intersections because they make it difficult for the visually impaired to cross the street. Mr. Eames also founded an organization for people who use assistance dogs.

He made a difference, and our community is better for his work. Community members who worked with him said Mr. Eames inspired those who provide services to the disabled to understand how crucial their services are. Paul Kwiatkowski, manager of Handy Ride, which provides transportation for disabled people, said Mr. Eames influenced improvements to the Handy Ride system.

"He certainly helped improve the lives of people with disabilities in Fresno," Kwiatkowski said.

Ed and Toni Eames had not intended to live in Fresno. In 1987, the couple came to Fresno to team-teach a class at California State University, Fresno, on the sociology of disabilities. Mr. Eames was on sabbatical from Bernard M. Baruch College in New York City. They fell in love with Fresno and decided to retire here.

Mr. Eames founded and was president of the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners and served on the Americans With Disabilities Act Advisory Committee for Fresno Area Express.

He often wrote letters to The Bee on issues of importance to the disabled community. His latest was in opposition to a traffic circle proposed in the Tower District. He ended the letter this way: "As a blind person, I am stymied by traffic circles, and my volunteer drivers are no more fond of them than I! I have been told by traffic engineers that to safely cross, I must make eye contact with drivers who will then give me the right of way. Believing that would be tantamount to buying a bridge in Brooklyn!"

Mr. Eames' impact on our community will be lasting, and we are indeed fortunate that he and his wife decided to make Fresno their home after teaching that class at Fresno State two decades ago.

Toni is a most wonderful writer and has sent detailed updates about the family travels throughout the years. And, it is through these writings that one can begin to understand the amazing love that this couple shared. For that reason, we hope that Toni will understand the desire to share part of her last tragic, yet moving message here.

The first stroke hit on Oct. 9, and Ed made slow progress during the next few days. On Tuesday, the 13, he had a sleepy day, and I was scared. But on
Wednesday, he rallied and grew stronger and stronger. ...

When Ed was diagnosed with diabetes several years ago, we had many battles about his not walking around the house barefooted. When he received a pair of fleece-lined slippers from Eve Hoopes for the holidays in 2006, he diligently wore them. During his hospital stay, he obsessed about having the slippers handy. In his mind, they signified walking again. When the LAT guys helped him sit in the stretcher chair and later a regular chair, he insisted on wearing his slippers rather than the hospital socks.

Ed became a favorite among staff. He always treated them with courtesy, letting them know how much he appreciated their assistance. As his speech improved, he chatted with everyone who came into his room. He appreciated the many visitors and I needed the distraction of phone calls and friends.

In some ways, Ed was charmingly child-like during this first week. He greeted everyone with joy, and practiced leg lifts as prescribed by the physical therapist, arm stretches advised by the occupational therapist and swallowing. His motivation to get well and come home was over the chart. We both took joy and encouragement with every success, no matter how small. My friend Richard Stone suggested I write down my fears, and the list got pretty long. Would Ed have significant disabilities requiring us to move from our two storey town house? With a left side weakness, would he be able to work Latrell, or would Latrell need to be trained on the right? With my spinal stenosis, would I have the physical strength to assist Ed? The list is a lot longer, but I didn't allow myself to prepare for the worst!

When I arrived with my two precious guides on Saturday, the 17th, Ed was sitting in a regular chair chatting with the nurse' aid. After regaling his morning visitors, he got tired and was put back in bed. He hadn't eaten much of his lunch and had already been given an insulin shot. His sleep was restless and it turned out he had a hypoglycemic episode. After being given sugar by the nurse, he came out of his fog with a almost manic demeanor. Dr. Heller, the hospitalist, told Ed rehab was scheduled for Monday. Ed was ecstatic and chatted nonstop to the doctor, praising St. Agnes' open acceptance of our guide dogs, puppy raisers and therapy dogs. He captured the doctor's interest with reminiscences of hospital access denials satisfactorily solved through the intervention of IAADP. Ed's speech was clear and his cognition perfect. He was so wound up, he didn't leave room for anyone else to speak. When friend and reader Stephanie Stanley tried to read e-mails to Ed, he kept interrupting with stories and comments. When I left him, I finally let myself get truly hopeful that things would work out!

Sunday morning, the phone rang and I thought it was Ed calling with the assistance of the nurse' aid. He had done that for the past few days. Having left on such a high, I was not prepared for the news Ed was now in a coma. The staff found him in this condition when they were scheduled to turn him. My life, my hopes, my dreams and my partnership were destroyed in a flash.

Extensive tests, CT scans and EEGs showed significant swelling of the brain and a second, more extensive stroke was suspected. When I was told, Ed would be nonfunctioning if he came out of the coma, I made the awful decision to discontinue all treatments. If he survived, he would have no recognition his left side existed, making walking impossible. He would have no speech and be fed through a feeding tube. He would live the rest of his life in a nursing home. Ed and I had health directives, and this was not a life Ed would have wanted.

For four days, phenomenal friends kept vigil with me hoping circumstances would change. I always thought comas were quiet, but Ed thrashed and moaned and the hours I spent with him were torture. I talked to him, touched him and cried with each nonresponsive moment. Latrell put paws on the bed, frantically licked Ed's hand and wagged his Golden joy in seeing his partner again. No miracles happened and Ed was transported by ambulance to the Nancy Hinds Hospice home on Thursday, the 22nd.

Ed was so respected and like by the St. Agnes staff that many nurses and aids cried with me when they realized his goal of rehab and home were not to be. He was always so engaging and gave thanks for each bath, feeding, transfer, antibiotic infusion, taking of vital signs, cleaning him up, and whatever other intervention was needed. One aid said she looked forward to coming to work knowing her day would be filled with assisting Ed and being welcomed by his big smile. It was torture bringing home the suitcase I packed in readiness for transfer to the rehab center. Bringing those slippers home knowing Ed would never wear them again was the hardest thing. How do I reconstruct my life without Ed? How do I become half of a  team? ...

Thankfully, the hospice has been able to calm Ed's agitation and it is just a matter of waiting for his body to give up and end the journey. The crazy thing is that his heart is strong, but his brain is gone! Some people believe coma patients can hear, so we all talk to him and tell him he can let go.

My beloved husband and partner slipped into a quiet death on the morning of Oct. 25. To continue his giving back to society, his body was donated to Western University Medical School in Pomona, CA.

I plan to keep Latrell. He is my connection to Ed. When Ed's dog Echo retired, Eleanor Marugo made a lovely vest reading retired guide dog. We took Echo to meetings and restaurants. When I travel again, my friend Sheila Cary has offered to take Latrell and bring him to work, so he isn't alone during the day. Keebler is very attached to Latrell and would be very lonely without him. He is eight and too old to retrain with another handler. I love this goofy canine and don't anticipate a problem keeping him.

Ed Eames

Born: March 7, 1930
Died: Oct. 25, 2009
Occupation: Retired professor; author; advocate for the disabled
Survivors: Wife, Toni; two daughters; eight grandchildren