By Jenna Bullis
Master Guide Dog Instructor
Dogs are amazing creatures with extraordinary talents. They are capable of the most incredible things. Detection dogs can sniff out cancer, bombs, or drugs. Medical alert dogs can anticipate the seizure of a person with epilepsy or the drop in blood sugar of a person with diabetes. Search and Rescue dogs find people lost in the wilderness or under deep piles of rubble during disasters. Then there are the many types of service dogs whose jobs vary depending of the disability of the person they are assisting. A person in a wheelchair might need a dog to pick up dropped items or turn light switches on and off. A deaf person might need a dog to alert them when the phone rings or the fire alarm goes off. This last category is where we find our own Guide Dogs for the Blind.
These wonderful animals have something in common. They touch peoples lives. Some of them touch one or two people, some touch many more, but they all have have a profound effect on SOMEONE. One of the things I cherish the most about working at Guide Dogs for the Blind is that I get a chance to see many dogs touch many lives.
This is the story of one of those special dogs who touched many lives, including mine.
In May of 1999 I began my second string as an apprentice at GDB and welcomed my new batch of training dogs. They were all cute, eager pupils, of course, but one in particular stood out; an adorable petit black lab named Filene. She was 55 pounds of cuteness who had an engaging way of cocking her head to the side when I talked to her and a naughty habit of jumping up on me which earned her the nickname, “Filene, Filene the jumping bean,” later shortened to “Bean.” She began her training along with the rest of the recruits and her story probably would have been much like any other dog in training except for an unexpected tragedy.
In June of 1999 my healthy, active, 57 year old father suffered a fluke medical condition and died instantly while at a golf event. My family was devastated to say the least. After the funeral I returned to work, stunned and still grieving. The rest of that training string is mostly a blur to me, punctuated by moments of crying in the van before training routes but thankfully also by moments of well-being when I worked with the dogs, particularly with little Filene. Filene accompanied me on occasion to visit my mother who was also trying to put her life back together. Always a dog lover, Mom fell under Filene’s spell too and always asked about her progress in training. Filene had touched us both.
By November of 1999 Filene was ready to be matched with a blind handler, an older woman who was receiving her first dog. I will remember their first walk forever. We had walked along a simple long straight sidewalk and were approaching the end of the block. Filene made a move to the left, guiding her handler around the pole near the curb edge. When I casually informed her handler of what had just happened she looked around with a stunned expression, searching for the pole with her residual vision, burst into happy tears, and hugged me. Filene had just touched her too. Filene worked for six months until her handler passed away and Filene was returned to GDB.
I was assigned to evaluate Filene for potential “reissue” as she was young enough to still work a long life. Filene proved herself and entered class again in July of 2000, this time going to a young person who had received an organ transplant. Gentle Filene was the perfect dog for this fragile person who had never had a dog before (let alone a Guide Dog) and truthfully, was a little frightened of them. Filene soon convinced her handler that dogs were nothing to be frightened of, and in fact, were wonderful companions and friends. Filene had touched another life.
But Filene’s story had not ended. In the Spring of the next year Filene’s handler became too ill to work and care for Filene. Filene once again returned to GDB and was retired. Filene’s graduate graciously agreed to place Filene with my mother who had always remembered the adorable little lab who visited her home.
Because my mom thought that Filene was such a wonderful, loving, perfect little dog, she felt Filene was meant to share her love with the world. She and Filene passed the Delta Society’s Animal-Assisted Therapy test in 2002 and joined the Ohlone Humane society’s Hug-A-Pet program. Filene was now touching many more lives.
Sadly Filene’s story ended last month. At 11 years old and after touching countless lives, Filene crossed the rainbow bridge.
Webster’s defines the word tribute as “a statement that is intended to show gratitude, respect, or admiration.” This is my tribute to Filene, she will be missed by many.