Golden Heroes

Texas Pooch Named "Hero Dog of the Year" by Dog Fancy Magazine
Business Wire, Business & Lifestyle Editors Feature, May 25, 2000

AUSTIN, Texas - Texas Hearing and Service Dogs ("THSD") Service Dog Honor was named Hero Dog of the Year by Dog Fancy Magazine in their June issue. Honor, a Golden Retriever, saved her companion, Maribel Schumann, of Bryan, Texas, after a dangerous fall. Ironic, given that Honor herself was three days away from being put to death in a shelter before becoming a service dog.
Schumann, who uses a wheelchair due to a variety of medical problems, is determined to live independently despite advice to go to a nursing home. One day, while on a recently built porch swing, Schumann suffered a severe head injury when the swing collapsed.
Honor, trained to help Schumann with everything from retrieving dropped items to helping her get back in her chair when she falls out of it, sprang in to action. She roused Schumann who had lost consciousness and helped her back into her chair, then helped guide her back to her home, 50 feet away. Once there, Honor "went for help" -- hitting a button on the phone as trained for 911.
Founded in 1988, Texas Hearing and Service Dogs ("THSD") adopts dogs from animal shelters and rescue leagues. "Our training staff uses positive reinforcement to train the dogs, then pairs them with individuals who are either hearing impaired or who have a mobility impairment," says THSD president, Sheri Soltes. The dogs and owners become a team, increasing the owner's independence.
The hearing and service dogs are provided free of cost and trained to meet each individual's needs. THSD invests $5,000 in training each hearing dog team and $10,000 in each service dog team.
Hearing dogs are trained to alert their owners by touch and lead them to everyday sounds such as door bells, smoke alarms, telephones, crying baby, etc. Service dogs assist their owners by opening doors and refrigerators, fetching wheelchairs, retrieving dropped items, operating light switches, moving paralyzed limbs and getting help.
Trainers from THSD and Maribel Schumann and Honor are available for interview -- just contact organization president, Sheri Soltes, at 512/891-9090.


Murphy's Law: Love is a Healer
Golden Retriever in Summa's Therapy Program wins National Award for Service to Sick, Shut-Ins

By Kerry Clawson, Akron Beacon Journal, September 27, 1998

When he lays his silken, Golden head at your side, for a moment pain and worry subsides and joy surfaces. That's what 73 pounds of pure patience and love can do for a body. These healing qualities come in the form of Murphy the Golden Retriever, an award-winning Therapy Animal for the 1998 Delta Society Beyond Limits Awards.
Murphy, who lives with his owner, Mary Demastes, in Seville, has been bringing smiles to hospital and nursing home patients as a participant in Summa Health System's Prescription: Dog Love program for five years. The program, founded in 1992, includes 60 dogs in animal-assisted activities and therapy at acute care facilities.
Only two therapy dogs and two service dogs across the country receive the Delta honor each year, in recognition of their outstanding love and sensitivity toward patients. The Seattle-based Delta Society, which sponsors 3,000 pet-partner teams in 48 states and five countries, provides standardized testing and screening methods for animals and handlers working in hospitals and nursing homes.
In October, Murphy and Demastes will fly to Seattle for the Delta Society's 17th annual conference and awards event. The 5 1/2-year- old pooch won the national award in August by simply being himself. He has passed the highest-level Delta tests on dog temperament, skills, aptitude and behavior.
According to Prescription: Dog Love member Beth Fink of Akron, these qualities can't be taught. A dog must be inherently well-adjusted, she said. Celebrity dogdom hasn't changed Murphy -- he still slobbers and grins everywhere he goes. Murphy and Demastes, who wear matching blue Prescription: Dog Love T-shirts, have become welcome faces at Summa hospitals. Wednesday evening, they made the rounds through Akron City Hospital's intensive and progressive care units.
For each visit, Demastes carries a doggy "diaper bag" with dog treats, a sheet for Murphy to lie on and a washcloth to wipe patients' hands after they've petted the dog. Murphy's squeaky clean, receiving a bath, nail clipping and even a tooth-brushing before each hospital visit. "You have to talk real quiet in the hospital," Demastes instructs Murphy. The dog, ever deferential to his mistress, answers with a gentle "Woof!"
When Murphy and his mistress visit very ill patients, they're often walking into family crises. Their mission is to help brighten patients' days with Murphy's dogged devotion. "This is a totally non- threatening diversion for the family," Demastes says of the dog therapy. "They (dogs) are pretty nonjudgmental, aren't they? And their love's unconditional."
Demastes, who has overcome her own fear of hospitals through Murphy, has learned that she can't control what happens to a patient. "You couldn't carry all that baggage around with you. That's not my job," she says.
On Wednesday evening, Murphy visited Akron City Hospital patient Don White, 77. He had been admitted early that morning for a stroke. "My first name is Mary," Demastes told White. "This is Murphy. Once people meet Murphy they don't remember my name."

"Murphy, get up here," said White, whose eyes perked up at the sight of the dog. Demastes laid down her sheet on White's bed and lifted Murphy onto the bed. The dog laid quietly with his head across White's lap as White rubbed his ears."Pretty, pretty, pretty," said White, a longtime dog owner. Demastes told him Murphy's age and weight, and described his bathing and teeth-brushing regimen.
"I haven't had my teeth in for about two days," White quipped. After chatting, Demastes thanked White for allowing Murphy to visit. "I want to thank you and Murphy . . . for visiting me," White said.
Hospital staff say the dogs lift both patients' and employees' spirits. "It's a pick-me-up to watch the patients do a turnaround" after a dog visit, says nurse Donna Clark. Murphy stories are many. Once, a male patient said he couldn't wait to tell his wife he'd been in bed with a blond. On the serious side, an oncology patient told Demastes that knowing Murphy would visit weekly helped him hang on to his will to live.
Last year, upon doctor's orders, Murphy and his dog teammates visited a comatose teen-ager for eight weeks. The Summa team is comprised of 60 dogs, with most dogs and owners visiting hospitals at least once a week. The boy was in a tight ball, but after volunteers moved his hands over the dogs, his muscles relaxed and his hands opened up.
Another oncology patient was so touched by Murphy's visits during her chemotherapy, she tracked Demastes down in Seville and asked if she could visit the dog again. She came to Demastes home, where she knelt down and wrapped her arms around Murphy, telling him her cancer was in remission. She had just come from her doctor's office, and wanted Murphy to be the first to know.


Hiker Survives Tight Squeeze: Dog Helps Rescue Man from Ordeal in Utah
Associated Press, October 18, 1996

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- John Ey heard the tinkle of a bell on a search dog's collar and got a second chance at life. Ey spent eight days trapped in a narrow crevasse in southern Utah, living on a swallow of water a day. The 44-year-old printer and photographer from Tucson, Ariz., was rescued Wednesday after a search dog tracked his scent to a 75-foot-deep crevasse near Brimstone Canyon in the new Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument 210 miles south of Salt Lake City.

"It was hard, horrible," Ey -- pronounced eye -- said by telephone Thursday from a hospital bed in Page, Ariz., where he is being treated for dehydration. "I wouldn't wish it on a murderer or a rapist," he said. "I'm eternally thankful for a second chance at life."
Ey had been camping alone in the area for several days and started what he intended to be a day trek the morning of Oct. 8. He packed three quarts of water, two sandwiches and two candy bars, expecting to return to his truck by nightfall.
The area is fractured with slot canyons, some hundreds of feet deep and only two or three feet wide. Ey went into one and was unable to hike out of it. He searched for another exit in the sandstone maze, descending again and again, sometimes in canyons he had to squeeze through on his side.
After a day of exhausting dead-ends, Ey found himself all but wedged into a narrow crevasse with no more room to maneuver. "I made a mistake," he said. "And by the time I realized it, I was too tired to climb out." By sundown, Ey had only three bites of a sandwich and five ounces of water left. "He'd gotten himself in a real pickle, that's certain," said Garfield County Sheriff's Deputy Monte Luker. "He can't go up or sideways, and he's wedged in there at the bottom of this crack." His food was gone after the first day, and he rationed his water -- one sip a day. But his real enemy was time.
"I can't even begin to tell you all the things I thought about," he said. "Friends, family, religion. Literally the gamut." Daydreams were a welcome relief. "The days were interminable, but at least they were warm," he said. "But nights were agony," shivering from the cold and believing hours had passed when his watch would tell him only 15 or 20 minutes had slipped by.
"People stand in a line at a grocery store and get mad after five minutes," he said. "Never me. Never again." A worried friend called the sheriff on Tuesday, and on Wednesday Ey's truck was spotted from a search plane.
Four dogs from Salt Lake-based Rocky Mountain Search Dogs were put on the ground and a helicopter joined the search.
On Wednesday afternoon, a Golden Retriever named Silvi and his trainer, Mike Jensen, heard a weak yell from a crack in the ground. Ey said he had heard the tinkle of a bell on Silvi's collar and started hollering. "He shouted up at us and that was it," Jensen said.


Avalanche Dogs Can Mean Difference Between Life, Death
ANG Newspapers, February 13, 1999

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE -- Veteran skier Dave McConnell hopes he'll never be buried by an avalanche. But if McConnell, director of the Heavenly Ski Patrol, ever suffers that misfortune, the first thing he's likely to see -- and feel -- when he emerges from the snow is the big, sloppy tongue of his Golden Retriever, Kiva.
"Dogs are great searchers because their smell is thousands of times stronger than humans'," said McConnell, who wears a rescue transceiver or beacon when he patrols. "If I were in a slide, I'd want them there looking for me."
The history of dogs working in the mountains is a long one. Monks have been using St. Bernards in the Alps for several centuries. In the Lake Tahoe area, however, they have only been used for about 15 years. McConnell estimates that nearly two dozen trained avalanche dogs are working at Tahoe ski and snowboard resorts. Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows each have approximately a half-dozen pooches who roam their respective slopes.
Disasters such as the one Feb. 6 at Donner Summit, where four sledders were buried in an avalanche and one died, reinforce the importance of finding victims quickly. "A dog can search a slide area in 30 minutes that would take a team of 10 good probers six to eight hours to cover," McConnell said. "A dog can mean the difference between life and death. I've seen Kiva find someone in a drill in three minutes or less."
Jeff Eckland, who drives a snow-grooming machine at the Kirkwood Ski Resort on weekends, knows how effective an avalanche dog can be. Six years ago, Eckland was caught by an avalanche in Kirkwood's Button Bowl, smashed into a tree and suffered a broken back and ribs. He was buried for nearly 15 minutes under 5 feet of heavy, wet snow before he was dug out by a Golden Retriever named Doc.

Jeff Eckland now sports a tattoo of
Doc (reunited, above) on his chest.
Photo by Keoki Flagg.

"I owe my life to that dog because I was folded up backwards by that slide and couldn't move a finger," said Eckland, a Modesto resident. "I'm one of three people in the United States who has been saved by an avalanche dog. That's why I have a tattoo of Doc on the left side of my chest. I was buried way down there against a tree and was close to blacking out when I felt his paw hit my back. Because I worked at the resort, I knew it was him. "Without Doc, it probably would have been several hours before they found me. I'm pretty sure I would have died. That dog is the greatest."
Doc, owned by Kirkwood ski patroller Dave Paradysz, was traversing into the avalanche area in Button Bowl when he went straight to the clump of trees where Eckland was buried. "Just before he found Jeff, his tail was spinning like a propeller," said Paradysz, 36. "I could tell that Doc was really adrenalized. He got a lot of hugs and pats all around. Later on, Jeff threw a party for him."
According to Paradysz, searching for people buried by snow slides is a big game for avalanche dogs. "Doc's 11 years old now and getting up there in dog age," said Paradysz, who oversees the training of four avalanche dogs at Kirkwood. "But he still loves to get up on the hill and play. He's pretty much retired, but he still thinks the drills are a real kick."
Paradysz, a professional ski patroller for more than 15 years, said he became a dog handler after a roommate gave him a Golden Retriever puppy in 1987. "I figured I should do something with him and get him some obedience training," he said. "It just made sense with my job that he become an avalanche rescue dog, too."
Since then, Doc's training has never stopped. It started when Doc was 11 weeks old, and by 11 months he was ready to work. In addition to saving Jeff, he also has helped find lost hikers, hunters and Alzheimer's patients. During the past decade, he has sired two litters, and now some of his offspring are working at Heavenly.
Paradysz said he started Doc's training by simply hiding behind a tree and having Doc search him out. "Over time, we worked up to finding four people buried under six feet of snow with a lot of distractions going on at a mock rescue scene," he said. "But these dogs are hunters, and they can find the scent rising up from the avalanche debris. I know if I'm ever caught by a slide, I want a dog there fast."
McConnell said a trained avalanche dog, like 75-pound, red-coated Kiva, is one of the best insurance policies for a ski resort with steep terrain. "If we are doing our jobs well and knocking down snow before it can build up and slide down on a skier, then we shouldn't really need these dogs," McConnell said. "But if something should go wrong, or someone goes under a rope and triggers a slide ... "
If a skier or snowboarder is buried in an avalanche, McConnell said the chances of surviving much longer than 30 minutes are poor. "If you can get a dog there and find the victim quickly, you may recover a live person instead of a body," he said.
Golden Retrievers like Kiva -- who started riding the chairlift at seven weeks old -- are great ambassadors for any ski area, McConnell said. People often stop and smile when Kiva bounds over hard-packed snow or surges and "porpoises" through light powder. Children especially seem to love him and the five other avalanche dogs at Heavenly. "I just wish every employee at this resort had a great attitude like Kiva," McConnell said. "He never really has a down day. In fact, he gets bummed when we don't come to work."


Dog is a Hero, Spots Neighbor's Fire
By Jay Hamburger, Record Staff Writer, October 7, 2000

A neighbor's dog might be Parkites Chuck and Patti Saccio's best friend right now. Early last Saturday, the motor area of Saccio's outdoor hot tub caught fire while his family was asleep in their Ashley Avenue home.
But Milo was awake. Milo, a six-year-old Golden Retriever who lives with his owners next door to the Saccios, apparently noticed the flames and became agitated.
Diana Thompson, Milo's owner, says Milo began growling and barking outside and then came inside, through French doors that he opened himself, and continued to make noise. Thompson's husband awoke and went outside and saw the Saccio's hot tub on fire. They then called 911 and fire crews quickly arrived. "It was Milo who saved the house," Thompson says. "He doesn't normally bark and growl if there isn't something. He caused enough ruckus to get our attention."
The Saccios are grateful their neighbor's dog saw the fire. Chuck Saccio says they might not have noticed the fire from inside the house. "We were home but it was five in the morning. Since it was in the outside of the house, it had not come to our attention," he said.
Saccio knows Milo but said the dog was not close to his house so it's surprising Milo saw the fire. "The dog has to be a good 100 feet from our house," Saccio said.
He said after the Thompsons heard the dog and saw the fire they came over and banged on the door. The Saccios awoke and the flame was extinguished with a garden hose. The Park City Fire District quickly arrived but the flame was already extinguished. "He came over and we got it out before the firemen came," Saccio said.
The fire, he said, was not large but it did cause some damage to the hot tub and a deck and it could have spread. The Saccios do not have a cost estimate of the damage yet. The fire remains under investigation. "The flames were probably three or four feet high coming out of the hot tub and the decking. Another 10 or 15 minutes, I estimate, it could have spread to the house," Saccio said.
The Saccios have two dogs but they were in a kennel in the house's garage and did not see the fire. They sent flowers to the Thompsons and some dog biscuits to Milo in appreciation. "It was a good day for him but a better day for us," Saccio said.


Canine Hero, Saves Man in Jeopardy
By Teresa Killian, Binghamton Press Staff Writer, November 19, 2000

When Rusty barks, those around him had better pay attention, Bernard Massis said after his Golden Retriever on Saturday led him to a man who needed help. The Westover man's 3-year-old dog started trotting toward 17C about 1 p.m. Saturday as Massis was cutting firewood on his property near River Road, between Endwell Rug Company and Home Depot, in an area known as flood plain flats.
At first, Massis did not hear Rusty's barking through his earmuffs, worn to fend off freezing temperatures and muffle the buzz of his chain saw. When he did hear it, he thought the dog was barking at a deer. A closer look revealed a man who needed help. "He didn't have any clothes on - no socks, no shoes, nothing," Massis said. The man, who appeared to be middle-aged, Massis said, stumbled and fell between 20 and 30 times and was entangled in undergrowth at a fence that separates 17C from Massis' land.
Massis asked if he could help and went to ask a neighbor to call 911. The 116-pound Rusty sat about 30 feet from the man and watched him, Massis said.
Two state police troopers were the first to arrive on the scene. They helped the man up the embankment to Route 17C and wrapped him in a foil-like tarp. The man was placed in an ambulance and taken to Binghamton General Hospital, a state trooper said Saturday. He did not release the man's name. "I can't say enough about the troopers and their professionalism," Massis said. And he can't say enough about Rusty. "I believe my dog saved that man's life," Massis said. "He alerted me there was a problem that I was able to do something about."
It was so cold the man might have suffered from hypothermia or possibly could have stumbled all the way around the fence to the Susquehanna River - if Rusty hadn't noticed him, Massis said. "He doesn't have a mean streak in him," said Massis of Rusty, who was born on Valentine's Day. He named him Rusty because of his reddish fur, he said. "We raised four children, but he's family," Massis said.
The dog accompanies Massis and his wife everywhere, from going out to cut wood to shopping, he said. When Massis stops for doughnuts, he buys two snack-sized blueberry pies - one for him, and one for his dog. To celebrate on Saturday, he gave the Rusty a big portion of steak. "My dog did save someone," he said. "When he barks, you'd better listen," Massis said.


Tucker, Animal Hero
11th Annual (1997) Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the American Humane Education Society Humane Awards Ceremony


Tucker, a Golden Retriever, received the Animal Hero award for rescuing a drowning man from a Maine pond, renamed Tucker's Pond in honor of the dog.






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