Helping Paws was honored this year to be selected to receive the proceeds of the UnitedHealth Group Charity Golf Tournament.
I know the good folks at UHG do not like to publicize the golf tournament -- I think they are truly, humbly doing it out of the goodness of their hearts, and not for the PR -- but Dempsey needs to say thanks to UnitedHealth and their vendors for supporting Helping Paws, as well as the other worthy groups they support each year: Thank you very much! I know most people aren't in the habit of thanking insurance companies, but the good people at UnitedHealth genuinely deserve appreciation. (Full disclosure: Doreen works there. However, she did not make me say she deserves appreciation. ;-)
I would say the folks at UHG have no idea of how their gift touches lives, but they do. One of the speakers at the tournament was Angela, and her Helping Paws dog Milo. This year, Milo won an honorable mention in the "service dog" category at the American Kennel Club's Awards for Canine Excellence, for his work getting help for Angela when she broke her leg.
It happened late one night last autumn, when Angela was trying to transfer from her wheelchair to her bed. It's a maneuver she's performed thousands of times, but that night, she had a little too much momentum going in and -- snap! -- she found herself on the floor, pinned between her wheelchair and bed, in excruciating pain. Milo is trained to retrieve a phone during an emergency, but as luck would have it, Milo couldn't reach the phone the way Angela and the wheelchair were lying. Angela asked Milo to bark, but no dice: None of the neighbors heard him.
It seemed like the best Angela could hope for was to lie in agony, praying there was no internal bleeding, till somebody the next morning noticed she was missing. But the great thing about service dogs is that they're trained to quickly learn new skills, and to do things they may have never done before. And that's what Milo did. As Angela held onto Milo's collar, she asked him to go "back," and Milo dutifully dragged Angela into a position where she could reach the phone and call for help.
Even before Milo became a hero that night, he was Angela's best friend: There's a video on YouTube where Angela speaks about how much Milo means to her. (The "My Precious" picture frame, I think, is particularly darling.) In the video, she talks about how graduating from "team training" was just as meaningful to her as graduating with her doctorate.
Hearing these stories, and thinking about how generous people in our community have been, I'm more determined than ever to train Dempsey well. Last year, Dempsey's grandfather became the first golden retriever in history to win "law enforcement dog of the year" at the American Kennel Club. (In addition to finding hidden drugs and missing persons, Robin volunteers in his spare time at hospitals as a therapy dog. Oh, and before he started his police job, he was a champion show dog, too. Overachiever!) And of course this year, Dempsey's colleague Milo wins honorable mention for his service dog work. If Dempsey fails, I won't be able to blame either nature (Robin's genes) or nurture (the Helping Paws program).
I think for me, Dempsey's graduation will be more meaningful than my own graduation from college. Having stereotypical Asian parents, I always just expected I would graduate. But training a service dog, one who will be somebody's faithful friend, and maybe hero? Now that would be an accomplishment.
Sadly, we still have a long way to go. Dempsey did pretty well working at the golf tournament, till the very end. I'm not normally into crafts, but a UnitedHealth employee put together some adorable golf-ball dogs, which were the centerpieces at the tables. We were lucky enough to bring one home, but somebody thought it was a toy for him, and he accidentally docked the dog's golf-tee tail.
Oy vey. Forget about being a hero and winning medals, Dempsey; you still have a lot of work to do on basic doggie manners!