Every 26 days or so, a new group of students start class at Guiding Eyes for the Blind (GEB) and with each new class, my wife Katie, gives them a welcome presentation about volunteers who are available to assist these new students on sundry levels (e.g., go shopping, drive them to church, cut their hair, massage, etc.).
Thus it is always interesting for me to be at dinner table on the nights she comes home from those monthly presentations.
“Who is in this class ..??.. what kind of backgrounds ..??.. any interesting reactions to Kasha (our released dog and GEB ambassador dog) ..??.. any funny jokes or comments ..??..”
And even though I’ve raised six pups, attended and filmed numerous graduations, sometimes Katie tells stories that blow me away, like this one of Mr. Max Edelman who’s tale was featured in Sept GEB newsletter (see below) and I’ve included the text here:
Max Edelman’s story was featured in the July 29, 2009 issue of USA Today.
“I was blinded in a Nazi concentration camp at the age of 21, and arrived in America with my late wife in 1951. We worked and raised two sons, and now, at 86, I have five grandchildren. For most of those years, I depended on a white cane. My problem, although I was reluctant to admit it, was that I had a fear of getting too close to dogs.
But the day I retired, I decided to apply for a guide dog at Guiding Eyes for the Blind. I so much wanted the freedom a dog could give me; I had to make the attempt.
Charlie, our class supervisor, had a few cheerful welcoming words for the twelve of us that arrived in Yorktown Heights in May 1990. But afterwards, I took Charlie aside and said, ‘I would like to have a guide dog. But because of my negative experiences with dogs, I am not sure I could ever bond with one.’ Charlie asked to hear my story.
‘I am a Holocaust survivor,’ I said. ‘In one of the Nazi concentration camps I was in, the commandant had a big, vicious German Shepherd. Sometimes, when he entertained guests and wanted to show how cruel he could be, or how vicious his dog was (or both), he told a guard to bring a group of inmates into his courtyard. Once, before I was blinded, I was in that group. I watched as he chose one of us to stand apart. Then he gave the dog the command, ‘Fass!’ meaning ‘Fetch!’ With one leap, the dog grabbed the victim by the throat. The man died in just a few minutes, and the dog returned to his master for his reward. More than four decades later, nightmares about this still torment me,’ I confided to Charlie.
After a moment of reflection, Charlie said, ‘No human being is born evil; some become evil. No dog is born vicious; some are trained to be vicious. Give us a chance to prove to you that our dogs will guide you safely, love you, and protect you.’
His words strengthened my resolve. I was determined, I told Charlie, to give myself a chance. Should I fail – it wouldn’t be for lack of trying. Charlie decided Calvin, an 80-pound chocolate Lab, would be the right match for me. When I returned home with him after our four-week training period, I found myself struggling to fully relax and forge a bond.
Often, I recalled Charlie’s words, ‘No human being is born evil, and no dog is born vicious …’
Slowly, Calvin and I began to break down the invisible barrier between us. Finally, after about six months I began to trust Calvin. Any lingering doubts I had about Calvin were dispelled one day as we stood at a busy intersection, waiting to cross the street. When we stepped off the curb, a motorist unexpectedly made a sharp right turn, directly in front of us. Calvin stopped on a dime. Realizing that he had saved us both from serious injury, I stepped back onto the sidewalk, gave Calvin a hug around the neck, and praised him for a job well done.
It was the turning point in our life together. After that, the love between us flowed freely and Calvin Blossomed.
Calvin retired in 1999, after more than nine years of giving the best he had and then some. He was succeeded by Silas, a 78-pound yellow Lab, that was his mirror image.
And today, nineteen years after I began my Guiding Eyes journey, I have been blessed with Tobin, my third guide dog.
Yes, Charlie. You were right. ‘Give us a chance,’ you said, ‘Your dog will guide you, love you, and protect you.’ ”
Be sure to checkout this GEB Sept Newsletter (222k PDF file) for more stories and the picture on page four of Max and Tobin – Woof On!