Golden Heroes

Getting Recognized For It
By Ranny Green, The Seattle Times, October 27, 1999

Five years ago Michael Lingenfelter of Plano, Texas, had become terribly depressed. Once a robust guy, the 57-year-old had undergone two major heart surgeries, plus a bypass procedure. Yet this husband, father of four and grandfather of seven was reeling from the physical and psychological after-effects of unstable angina. "I lost the will to live,'' he admits. "I lost my job, and just sat around the house and vegetated. I was a burden on my wife who had to quit her job and care for me. And my children were wondering how they could help get dad going again.

In late 1994 his doctors -- a psychologist, psychiatrist and cardiologist -- were at their wits end and becoming very concerned about their patient's deteriorating condition. "They knew I needed an emotional jump start or the end was near. Drugs weren't doing the job, so they suggested a Therapy Dog. "When I heard that, I laughed. 'You gotta be kiddin',' I told them. 'There's no way.' As things continued to go downhill, I finally agreed to give it a try in the spring of '95.''

That's when a 5-year-old Golden Retriever named Dakota came into the life of Lingenfelter, an engineer for Dallas Area Rapid Transit. Dakota leaped into this marriage with emotional baggage of his own. He was abandoned early in life and was looking for a second chance. He had his share of psychological scars, in addition to suffering from heartworm disease and a broken hip.
But Goldens are versatile, resilient and popular creatures. Dakota ended up with the Golden Retriever Rescue Club of Houston, where he was rehabilitated and put up for adoption. Lingenfelter's doctors contacted the club, which put the two together. "Give the doctors credit,'' he emphasizes. "They could see medications weren't helping and were familiar with the success stories of dogs with patients of all ages. We both came into each other's life at just the right time.''
Dakota was placed as a Therapy Dog (performing duties as part of Lingenfelter's mental and physical rehabilitation) but eventually he assumed an entirely different and more vital role as a Service Dog. "He's my best friend and G-dsend,'' says Lingenfelter. "He's also my alarm clock and first-line warning system (about two to five minutes beforehand) when an angina attack is coming (which tends to occur three to four times a month).''
Dakota comes and lays next to Lingenfelter and pushes on his master's chest with his back when Lingenfelter has chest pains. "I just plain hold on to him until the pain passes. He has taught me to pick up his breathing rate to prevent me from hyperventilating when the pain is beyond my ability to tolerate. He is truly my guardian angel.''  And if you're wondering: No, this is not something a dog can be trained for, most experts agree. It's simply a G-d-given gift some canines possess.
The first night Dakota entered Lingenfelter's life was almost his last. "He'd pick up things, haul them around. You know, all Retriever. The next morning I was ready to take him back. But we quickly established a comfort zone and it's been incredible ever since.''Dakota prompted Lingenfelter to get out of his easy chair and walk, something no one had managed for two years. "The doctors encouraged me to walk more long ago, but I couldn't get motivated,'' he explains. "Dakota became a pain in the neck. If I wouldn't walk him, he'd begin whining and pacing.''
Within 1-1/2 years, the mahogany-coated 98-pounder began to really pay dividends, forewarning his owner of an angina attack and allowing Lingenfelter time to take his medications. Dakota gradually enabled Lingenfelter to be a "whole man again,'' and by the fall of 1997 he returned to work part-time with his new partner. Lingenfelter since has graduated to full time.
Dakota's heroics aren't going unrecognized, however. He will be recognized as Service Animal of the Year by the Renton, Wash.-based Delta Society at its annual conference, Science & Magic, in Cincinnati Friday through Sunday. "I owe this dog my life,'' Lingenfelter emphasizes. In addition to his own entry for Dakota in the agency's annual contest, Lingenfelter (and Dakota) received several other letters of commendation, including a delightful one from an 11-year-old.
Dakota's life-saving time clock never quits ticking. About 5 a.m. on a Sunday morning last June, he pulled on his master in bed, attempting to awaken him and a few moments later, his wife. "My blood pressure had dropped to 68 over 40 and I was having a major heart attack,'' Lingenfelter recalls. "My wife called 911 and I was able to get to the hospital in time.''
One way Lingenfelter has opted to repay his debt to Dakota and Delta is by becoming an ambassador for service dogs. He travels to Dallas area schools for special children, nursing homes and hospitals to spread the message. "Dakota has impacted the lives of hundreds in the Dallas area,'' Lingenfelter boasts. "You should see him working with the handicapped children. It brings tears to my eyes to see his love and understanding of their needs as they pet and cuddle him.''
Dakota's heroics haven't been limited to Lingenfelter alone. He has been the angina alarm clock for three of Lingenfelter's co-workers, none of whom had cardiac problems before. Each received corrective treatment. No one is certain how dogs' premonitions work on matters like this. English biologist Rupert Sheldrake in his new volume "Dogs That Know When Their Owners are Coming Home'' touched on it in a chapter dealing with seizure-alert dogs.

Almost no research has been conducted on dogs' ability to forewarn epileptics, diabetics or angina-attack victims of impending trouble. But the three most common theories are, according to Sheldrake: --The animal notices subtle changes in behavior or muscle tremors of which the person is unaware. --It senses electrical disturbances within the nervous system associated with an impending seizure. --It smells a distinctive odor given off by the person before an attack.

By Larry Powel, Dallas Morning News, March 10, 2000

Dakota, the 100-pound Golden Retriever who accompanies Mike Lingenfelter to work at DART headquarters each day, is the first nonhuman to win the Dallas Sertoma Club's Service to Mankind Award. (Aside: The civic club's name, Sertoma, comes from "service to mankind.").
Dakota is a service dog who can sense when his master is on the brink of a heart attack. Mr. Lingenfelter has a bundle of heart-related problems, but Dakota has helped alert the family during three of his master's episodes.

Dakota has been featured in stories on major TV networks, in magazines and in newspapers. Some presidential candidates don't get that much coverage. . . .

Prognosis is Positive for Dog
By Dave Curtin, Denver Post Higher Education Writer, May 23, 2000

The prognosis is good for a cancer stricken dog celebrated for his uncanny ability to sniff out his owner's heart attacks. Dakota, a Golden Retriever who has saved Mike Lingenfelter's life at least three times by frantically pawing him in the moments before a heart attack, will receive life-saving cancer treatment for a month at Colorado State University's veterinary teaching hospital.
Without the treatment, the 98-pound Retriever would likely die in about a month. "There's a great light at the end of the tunnel," Lingenfelter said Monday as he rested on a Fort Collins motel room bed with Dakota. "I'm on cloud nine. The original diagnosis was terminal cancer. It's been a terrible stress, but he's going to be fine."
The treatment at CSU will include chemotherapy, radiation and a "holistic" Eastern treatment that includes nutritional supplements, herbal treatments, Bach-flower teas and acupuncture, said Greg Ogilvie, head of medical oncology at CSU's veterinary hospital.
Lingenfelter, 62, of Dallas, suffers cardiovascular and pulmonary disease. He's had three major heart attacks and numerous minor ones. He was homebound and immobilized 4 1/2 years ago after a debilitating heart attack, when his doctor prescribed a pet to lift his spirits.
Dakota picked up on the smell of an an enzyme released by Lingenfelter's distressed heart that signals the brain to send more adrenaline to the heart so it will pump faster, says Lingenfelter. At first he thought his well-behaved dog was being uncharacteristically obnoxious but Lingenfelter figured out Dakota's motivation after the second of several heart attacks soon after he got the dog. "I think he put the smell together with me hurting and getting sick," Lingenfelter said.
Dakota was trained as a therapeutic pet but had no training to detect heart attacks. The pooch has alerted two of Lingenfelter's co-workers to imminent heart attacks at the Dallas Area Rapid Transit agency and once woke up Lingenfelter's wife when Lingenfelter was having an early-morning attack in his sleep.
The 6 1/2-year-old dog quit eating less than two weeks ago and was diagnosed with lymphoma, a malignant tumor of the lymph nodes. A quick dose of chemotherapy in Texas reduced the biggest tumor by 80 percent, Ogilvie said. But traditional chemotherapy won't be enough to save the dog, he said. "The probability for sustained control of the disease is high with this treatment," Ogilvie said.
"With routine chemo I don't think he'd have that long. We've treated a number of patients like this with success that are still alive. We're hoping Dakota will do just as well." Ogilvie cleared Dakota to leave today for an appearance on "Good Morning America" with Lingenfelter, but the dog will return this week to CSU for treatment. Because of his own medical condition, Lingenfelter will return to Dallas to be near his doctors while CSU cares for Dakota. "It will be frightening being without him," Lingenfelter said.

Click here to order The Angel by My Side Book!The Angel by My Side: The True Story of a Dog Who Saved a Man . . . and a Man Who Saved a Dog  — This is a book written by Mike Lingenfelter and David Frei that was published in October 2002. It details the story of Dakota, Mike's very special Golden Service Dog and his unique, life-saving talents. Dakota was named 1999 Service Dog of the Year by Delta Society, elected to the Texas Veterinary Medical Foundation Animal Hall of Fame, and chosen as Humanitarian of the Year by the National Sertoma Club of Dallas (the first nonhuman recipient in history).

"It was 1995, and Mike Lingenfelter was ready for his life to be over. Two serious heart attacks and open-heart surgery had taken away most of the good things that he had in his life. However, his doctors still held out hope for him, and they were still trying to find ways to motivate him to get out of the house and exercise. Their vision was that an energetic dog on a leash might do that for Mike. And so it was that this Golden Retriever named Dakota, who had been rescued from death himself, came to help Mike with his rehabilitative therapy. Eventually, Dakota became Mike's protector and his best friend, saving Mike's life several times after somehow learning how to alert Mike of an oncoming heart crises. Dakota gave Mike back his dignity, his pride, and his life. Early on, it became evident to Mike that this wonderful 98-pound, red-haired, four-legged angel had a special gift: Dakota was a spirit guide, and it was Mike's duty to share him and the power of the human-animal bond. Ultimately, as part of that journey, one more miracle was needed, as Dakota fought a courageous and dignified battle for his own life."

Click here to download a 3 minute quicktime video Dart news release about Mike and Dakota. This is a huge 26.4 Megabyte download, so you will need to give it some time. After download, just click on open. This video is just incredible. You can also click on Play 56K for the slow connection to a streaming video from the USA network with Mike & Dakota. And, click on Play T1 for the fast connection to this wonderful video presentation.


Leawood Vet Saves Dog's Life with Blood Transfusion
By Linda Cruse, The Kansas City Star, 2/14/98

What started out as an ordinary day off last week for a Leawood veterinarian ended with a heroic surgery that saved the life of a Leawood resident's beloved Golden Retriever. Emergency surgery and a blood transfusion from another Golden Retriever performed by Dr. Donald Dinges and the staff at the Camelot Court Animal Clinic saved the life of Red, a 12-year-old dog owned by Steve and Debbie Brancato of Leawood.
Red was rushed into surgery last Tuesday after hemorrhaging from a hematoma of the spleen, Dinges said. Without immediate action - and 600 milliliters of blood supplied by Katie, a Golden Retriever owned by the mother of veterinary technician Chris Borcherding - he would have died. "The dog would have bled to death without surgery,'' Dinges said. "He had began leaking blood, and we found about a half-gallon in his abdomen. This was a case when we could really make a difference, and we're thrilled that we did.''
The episode began last Monday, when Debbie Brancato rushed a sickly Red to the Emergency Pet Clinic, 103rd Street and Metcalf Avenue. She was told the outlook looked dim for the pet due to a large growth on the pet's spleen detected during a sonogram. She was advised to take the dog to her veterinarian the following day.
Brancato took Red to the Camelot Court Animal Clinic. It was Dinges' day off, but he kept in touch with his staff throughout the day, who monitored the dog's condition. He also kept in touch with Brancato - calling her four times to update her on the dog's condition.
Eventually, a sharp drop in the dog's red blood cells indicated a need for immediate action. Dinges then made a special trip to the clinic to perform emergency surgery.
Because Red was rapidly losing blood, he needed a transfusion in order for the surgery to be successful. Katie was selected as the blood donor for the canine because she was large enough to provide a sufficient amount of blood, said Steve Sigourney, a veterinarian technician at the clinic. "We needed a dog that was 60 to 70 pounds in size, and Katie fit the bill,'' he said. "So Chris went to her mother's home and brought the dog in. She was very cooperative - just sitting there calmly throughout the procedure.''
Blood from a tube in Katie's neck was drained into a bottle with chemicals designed to keep the blood fresh. The blood was then placed into a bag and fed intravenously to Red throughout the surgery. The two dogs met again on Thursday following Red's recovery. Tails wagging, the two Golden Retrievers greeted each other enthusiastically. Later in the day, Red was allowed to go home.
The surgery marked the second time the reddish-colored canine nearly escaped death. The first time occurred five years ago when Brancato rescued the dog on the eve of his last day at Wayside Waifs , an animal shelter. "He was scheduled to be destroyed the next day,'' Brancato explained. "The staff called me because I do a lot of animal rescues and asked me if I knew anyone who wanted a Golden Retriever. I ended up bringing him home, even though I'm extremely allergic to Goldens.''
At first, the Brancatos had planned to find another home for Red. But he clinched a spot in their household with his gentle manner and his ability to fetch the morning newspaper. . . . . "I think what Dr. Dinges and his staff did was definitely above and beyond the call of duty. I'm so grateful to him and his staff for saving my dog's life. There just aren't vets who are as dedicated as he is out there anymore.''


Goldens Take the Spotlight: Pulled From the Clutches of Death
By Solveig Fredrickson, Golden Retrievers, Volume 4 - 1998-99 Annual

It was a beautiful spring day in 1982, perfect for celebrating the Easter holiday outdoors. The Thompsons of Spokane, Washington, organized a cookout, inviting their grown children who live in California. Following the meal, Barbara Thompson enlisted her daughter's assistance in cleaning up the backyard while her 2-year-old grandson, Tom, played with Goldie, the family's Golden Retriever.
Barbara and her daughter were moving things indoors when they realized none of the voices in the yard held a distinctive little boy's lilt. "Two year olds--they're quick" Barbara Thompson says. "We just turned away for an instant, and he was gone. I said, 'If we can find Goldie, we can find Tom.'"
Barbara quickly scanned the area from her vantage point on the deck. She spotted Goldie in the vicinity of a normally dried-up pond that recent heavy rains had filled. When she called Goldie's name, the 90-pound Golden wouldn't budge. When they got to the water's edge, they saw Tom.
"She'd flipped him over [in the water] and was pulling him toward the side of the pond," Barbara remembers. "When we pulled him out, he was unconscious."
CPR was immediately administered, and paramedics who arrived on the scene moments later whisked him away. "It was very traumatic," says Barbara while fondly gazing upon the framed picture of Goldie on her wall.
Tom spent a week in the hospital recuperating, but 16 years later he suffers no ill effects of his near drowning. He's not afraid of the water, and the pond that nearly took his young life is once again empty. Goldie, the family's hero, fell victim to cancer in 1993 at age 15.  "She loved to care for things," Barbara says. "We had kittens, and she'd carry them around. She'd bring birds home and not hurt them. Even the neighbor kids--if they were outside playing, she was with them."
After Goldie passed away, the Thompsons tried filling the empty space in their hearts with a new Golden, but their love of Goldie made it difficult to love another. Goldie, the dog whose heroics earned an invitation to meet the mayor of Spokane and the title of 1982 runner-up Ken-L Ration Dog Hero of the Year, is irreplaceable. "She always had a smile on her face," Barbara says. "Everyone in Spokane knew her, and every once in a while they'll still say, 'Oh, you're Goldie's mom.'"


Dog Has her Day
By Wes Swift, The Daily News, October 2, 1997

Mark Muhich and his dog, Pink, are surrounded by television cameras Wednesday as Pink is inducted into the Animal Hall of Fame. Pink is credited with saving Muhich's from being hit by a truck & killed last year. (Photo by Kevin Bartram)

GALVESTON -- An island pooch had her day Wednesday when she was inducted into the Texas Animal Hall of Fame. Pink, a 10-year-old Golden Retriever, became the hall's 13th inductee for saving her owner's life. Surrounded by television cameras and reporters at DiBella's Italian Restaurant, Pink received a medal and plaque from the Texas Veterinary Medical Association.  "She's having a good time," said Mike Muhich, the dog's owner. "She's enjoying this."
It was Pink's heroics last year that led to the award Wednesday. Muhich and Pink trek out to East Beach every day, and on one particular day, Muhich lay in the sand doing yoga exercises.
A truck rumbled across the beach from the east headed straight for Muhich. The sun blinded the driver, keeping him from seeing the man lying in the sand.
Muhich, who is deaf in his left ear, could not hear the oncoming truck. Then Pink sprang into action. "She darted past my feet and got in the path of the truck and made it swerve," Muhich said. The truck missed the dog only by inches and missed Muhich by about a foot. "I'm certain she saved my life and I'm certain she knows she saved my life," he said. Dale Lonsford, second vice president of the Texas Veterinary Medical Association, said Pink's action typifies the relationship between pets and their owners.
"As veterinarians, we see this every day, the bond between human and animal," he said. Dr. Jackie Cole, Pink's veterinarian, nominated the dog for the award after Muhich told her of the incident. "I have a hard time not crying when I talk about it," she said.
Pink now joins nine other dogs in the Texas Animal Hall of Fame, which began in 1984. The program, established by the Texas Veterinary Medical Foundation, honors outstanding contributions pets make to human lives.
Animals can be nominated by any member veterinarian. The association's public relations committee reviews the nominees and selects worthy inductees. Pink is one of 10 dogs that have been inducted to the hall of fame, and the 13th animal overall. A pig, horse and cat also have been inducted into the hall.


Retriever Licks Man Awake, Saves 3 From Fire
Associated Press, October 8, 1996

WEST DENNIS, Mass. - A Golden Retriever has earned the title "Man's Best Friend." The 2-year-old dog, Lexi, saved three people from a burning home Sunday by licking the face of one occupant until he woke up.
Everybody was asleep when fire spread from a faulty second-floor fireplace into the attic of the Cape Cod home. About 4 a.m., Bob Colberg awoke to a roomful of heavy smoke and Lexi licking his face. He ran to wake up the others.
"If it weren't for him, they'd be in a lot different condition," Dennis Fire Capt. Richard Farrenkopf said. "There was a smoke detector downstairs, but no battery in it. The occupants said Lexi would be getting a steak dinner for the heroics.


Joanne Weber: Help from a Specially Trained Seizure Dog
by Arden Moore, Health Library, May 2000

With the camera pressed against her face, Joanne Weber leans over the edge of the wooden pier. She focuses on attendees at the summer Dog Scouts Camp of America enjoying a water game with their dogs and clicks frame after frame. About 150 feet away on the sun-soaked shore in Maple Valley, Mich., Willie, Weber's Golden Retriever, abruptly stands up. His eyes lock on to Weber. He begins whimpering, emitting a low growl, and prancing nervously.
Lonnie Olson, camp director and professional dog trainer, notices Willie's strange but insistent behavior. "Something's wrong," declares Lonnie. "We need to get Joanne off the dock right now!" A couple of camp counselors sprint down the long wooden pier, shouting Joanne's name. Startled, she turns around, but quickly follows them back to shore. Fifteen seconds later, Weber's muscles twitch and her body convulses as she slumps to the sandy ground. She slips into unconsciousness as she has a grand mal epileptic seizure. She awakens a few minutes later with Willie braced against her, licking her face repeatedly.

Trained to assist -- and even sense seizures
"Willie somehow knew I was about to have a seizure. He saved my life," says Weber, 47, a photographer in Maple Valley, who was diagnosed with epilepsy at age 14. "I could have fallen into the shallow water and broken my neck."

Willie is no ordinary dog. Olson, Weber's neighbor and a field trainer for Paws with a Cause (PWAC), a national service-dog training center headquartered in Wayland, Mich., trained him to be a seizure-response dog and assist during and after epileptic seizures. Willie, now 6, has developed the uncanny ability to anticipate Weber's big and small seizures and communicate a warning to her.
Willie's ability to sense Weber's seizures is very unusual. Most dogs trained for people with epilepsy can't predict when seizures will take place -- instead, they are best at providing help during and after a seizure. Medical experts and service-dog trainers cannot explain how Willie is able to alert Weber in advance. They suspect Weber releases a distinctive mouth odor a minute or so before an epileptic episode that only Willie's keen sense of smell can detect. They also believe the fierce friendship between Weber and Willie plays some part.

Basic training followed by specialized skills
After spending a year with a foster family in Massachusetts, Willie began his formal service-dog training in early 1995 at the PWAC center. Over the next six months, he mastered basic obedience training, learning how to sit, stay, come, heel, and follow other commands. Gradually, professional trainers at PWAC built on this foundation and taught Willie how to turn on light switches, fetch cordless telephones, open doors, brace against a person's body, and go for help when instructed.
About the same time, not long after the death of her beloved Chivas, also a Golden Retriever, Weber filled out the 16-page application for a seizure-response dog. Although lacking formal seizure-response training, Chivas had learned to brace Weber during her seizures and bring her the phone so Weber could call for help. In a strange twist of fate, Chivas began developing seizures and was euthanized at age 10.
Once Weber gained approval to be paired with Willie, trainers visited her home and videotaped the interior and exterior. They also recorded her pretending to have mild and major seizures. The videotaping helped Willie's trainers customize his seizure-response training to meet Weber's specific needs.
For the five months between the death of Chivas and the arrival of Willie in November 1995, Weber felt lost and isolated. Her seizures intensified, occurring daily. Depressed over the loss of Chivas, she lost her appetite and experienced many restless nights."I fell down the stairs in the condo I was living in at the time and became so scared that I wouldn't go outside past my mailbox unless I was with someone I trusted and who knew of my epilepsy," she says.
"When I introduced them to each other, Joanne and Willie bonded instantly," recalls Olson. She would go to the home and work daily with Weber and Willie for a few months. One exercise involved Olson commanding Willie to fetch the phone when Weber pretended to have a seizure at the bottom of her stairs.
The three would make trips into town as well for in-the-field practice. For example, Olson once instructed Weber to fake a seizure outside a shopping mall and then timed how quickly Willie ran for help. "All during training at the center and field work, Willie was right on, not missing a trick," says Olson.

Learning the ropes at home
After moving in, Willie quickly learned Weber's daily routine. When Weber's wrist alarm beeps, Willie comes trotting over with a nose-nudging reminder that it's time for her to take her medications. The alarm sounds five times a day at 10 a.m., 2 p.m., 6 p.m., 9 p.m., and 10 p.m. "Willie can be in the living room sunning himself on the couch, but when he hears the beeping, he comes out of a snooze to find me," says Weber. "He even watches me take the pill."
When Weber suffered her first grand mal seizure at the bottom of the stairs at the condo, Willie ran and brought her the phone. When he didn't get a response from Weber, he brought the television remote perhaps thinking it would help. A bit frustrated, he then fetched his Kong toy and brought it to Weber's side while he began licking her face to try to help her regain consciousness.
Later analyzing episodes like these helped Olson teach Weber and Willie to work better as a team. In this case, she re-emphasized the difference between a phone and a TV remote to Willie. "I believe Joanne's first seizure made Willie realize that this was serious stuff, not tricks learned from the training center," says Olson.

Life with Willie is safer -- and more confident
Today, Willie and Weber are inseparable, sharing a three-bedroom mobile home in a tree-filled rustic setting in northern Michigan. Her seizures occur sporadically, sometimes daily, sometimes minor and sometimes major. But the total number has been dropping since Willie arrived.
Willie now knows how to break Weber's falls during seizures and how to brace his body between furniture or other potential harmful objects and Weber. On a few occasions, Willie has literally phoned for help. If he cannot get Weber to wake up within a couple of minutes, he heads for the study and paw-presses a special button on the floor that automatically dials Olson's phone number. A recording with Weber's voice announces, "Willie has hit the button. Please come check on me."
"Having Willie as my seizure-response dog has given me a lot of independence and confidence," says Weber. "Until I got Willie five years ago, I tried to hide the fact that I got seizures, and rarely socialized."
Grateful for her canine ally, Weber gives volunteer presentations about the role service dogs play for church, school, and community groups. "I remember standing in front of a first-grade class with Willie at my side and announcing for the first time to an audience, 'I have epilepsy,' " she says. "Willie has brought me out of my shell and given me my life back."

Artist Honors her Lifesaving Dog with Drawing on Group's Holiday Benefit Card
By Susan R. Pollack, The Detroit News, November 23, 2000

Joanne Weber, who has a form of
epilepsy, says her dog, Willie, warns
her of upcoming seizures and can
make emergency contacts.

Strolling along a dock one day, artist Joanne Weber busily snapped photographs of the Michigan scene, unaware her life was endangered. Onshore, her gentle Golden Retriever, Willie, suddenly snapped into action, whimpering and barking insistently to warn her.

"He started alerting me to a seizure coming on," recalls Weber, who is undergoing treatment at the University of Michigan for seizure disorder, a form of epilepsy. "Had he not done that, I would have had a seizure on the dock and fallen and broken something -- or even worse. He's really been a blessing."

Besides rescuing her from five life-threatening episodes, Willie has been Weber's best friend and constant companion since prancing into her life five years ago through Paws With a Cause, which trains assistance dogs to help people with disabilities including blindness and hearing impairment.
To help the agency with fund-raising, Weber donated two Christmas cards, featuring pen-and-ink drawings of her canine friend, which are included in the annual holiday greeting card collection offered by Paws With a Cause, which is based in Wayland, Mich. (
The Willie-and-friends assortment is just one among dozens of cards-for-a-cause available this holiday season to help Metro Detroit charities. For Weber, 48, Willie has made the difference between a solitary existence, clouded with depression and fear, and her current life as a blooming artist, photographer and even public speaker -- something she says she never envisioned five years ago when she hid from the world in her condo. "He's given me more confidence just to go out in public," says Weber, who majored in art at Western Michigan University.

Paws With a Cause is one of several Metro Detroit nonprofit groups to offer holiday cards.

"He inspired me to start drawing and painting again and just realize that I have more potential than I ever thought. My life has come so far in five years."
Willie's and Weber's story will be featured in a PBS program, Dogs with Jobs, scheduled to air Dec. 2. They also appeared this year on an Oprah Winfrey show about working dogs. It cost Paws With a Cause about $12,000 to train dogs like Willie, who is now 7 years old and weighs 62 pounds, Weber says. Besides blocking her path if he senses an impending seizure while they're out walking, he also helps regulate her daily intake of medicine, which she believes has stabilized and improved her condition.
"I wear a wrist alarm that tells me whenever I'm supposed to take medicine. He comes to me when the alarm goes off and keeps nudging me until I get up and take the medicine," Weber explains.
"If I have a grand mal seizure, he licks my hands and face to stimulate me. He'll go get the phone so it's there if I come out of the seizure. He sits for a few seconds and if I haven't come out of it, he'll go to the emergency response unit and press it with his paw. "He's the best gift I ever received."


Glen Saves Woman from Smoke
By Mike Weland, Editor, Bonner County News, March 5, 2000

Pamela Blass, Sagle, has nothing but good words to say about Glen, who saved her from possible smoke inhalation when she fell asleep February 5 while baking food in her microwave. Glen's a bit more modest. Any dog would have done what he did.
Glen, a 13 year old Golden Retriever, began barking frantically as thick black smoke poured from the microwave, waking Blass, who became disoriented. So Glen, who'd run into the kitchen, returned and guided her through the smoke, into the kitchen, where she was able to unplug the microwave, and out the backdoor.
Blass, who is elderly, suffers from asthma. Had it not been for Glen, she said, she doubts she would have survived.


Trellis, Hero Dog
Photograph by Herm David

Golden Retriever Trellis summoned help -- almost certainly saving the life of an elderly neighbor. He was named last year's, Merck Hero Dog.
Trellis lives with Ann Underwood in Brookfield, Conn. The man he saved is Ms. Underwood's landlord.
Therein must lie food for thought. All of you landlords out there whose standard lease forms prohibit pets -- listen up and learn!





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