Monday, September 21, 2009

Filene’s Tribute

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.

Filene with a child at the Read to the Dogs program
Mom and Filene were regular visitors at the Masonic Home, convalescence homes, and hospitals. They were particularly well loved at a retired Nuns community where Filene was frequently blessed. One of their favorite places to visit was an Alzheimer's unit. Mom would tell me stories of usually unresponsive people who would light up and talk to Filene, reminiscing about pets from their youth. Because Mom was a retired teacher’s aid, she and Filene were invited to visit the severely disabled classroom at the school where she used to work. Working with these kids led Mom and her “Hug-A-Pet” group to form a “Read to the Dogs” program at the local library (pictured here).

Filene, participating in a Read to the Dogs program

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.


  1. Filene was so sweet and gentle, and could solicit a smile and a pet from just about anyone. I have met and forgotten hundreds of dogs over the years, but Filene will always be remembered by me as the dog who was "so darn cute!"

  2. What a beautiful, wonderful girl Filene was! I cherish every day that I have with my CC dog, Emma.

  3. What a great story - but, as touched as I am by the story of how special Filene is, I am more touched that instructors create such special bonds with some of the many many dogs they work with. The thought of my current puppy (or my previous 16 pups) possibly being so loved and cherished between my house and their final destination makes my heart smile.

  4. I am a fairly new puppy raiser, our daughter raised Luxor who is now in phase 10, and hopefully we will go to a graduation for him soon. We are now raising Dublin who is 9 1/2 weeks old, and another real smart little guy.

    Stories like this are why I wanted to raise another one, they are such exceptional dogs!

    Such a beautiful story, and a dog that lived a full life!

  5. My girl Aziza is a cc from GDB. I know that she has touched many young and not-so-young lives in a positive way. We are also a therapy team and can understand why Filene and your mom made such a difference. It is a blessing in this world to be able to give more than we get. Thank God for Dogs!

  6. Wow, that put a lump or two in my throat. Sounds like the jumping bean was able to jump from one heart to another, and do great things. Often I have thought that we ape's who have classified ourselves as smart-smart could have ended up so different without these wonderful creatures. Dogs have been everywhere with us since they left wolf behind. Been to a pet food store lately? I would say that our lovable canines have carved out a pretty good life through their dedication to us. My girl destroys nylabones, and they are not cheap. How much is that orthopedic dog bed? Hey, it's more comfortable than my futon. From warmth at night, to hunting and herding, even protection and sledding; the duties that they have performed for us are immeasurable. Just like the coyote who loved Acme products was known to say, genius. Like many of us lucky guide handlers say; I can't see myself without a dog as my guide from now on. As long as I can still breathe and walk I hope that a dog will be my pilot!
    There have been many times sine I became Bamboozled that someone has told me it made their day to see my girl proudly wearing her harness at my side. What is one supposed to say after that? As talkative as I can be, I am at a loss for words when those moments arrive. More lumps...

    Wags, Seth & Bamboo.

  7. Hey I finally got an actual account! JR, you told me to keep it up... Now I am feeling the pressure! Just kidding, but I was able to get some help just after I posted. It was so nice to meet you at the volunteer lunch! Bamboo even got her lovely self on a flikr picture, woo-hoo Bamboo! S&B.

  8. It was a rare moment at the Luncheon, Seth. I asked someone "Hey, who's that grad?" and they said, "I don't know, but his dog's name is Bamboo" and I said "Seth!" You have achieved co-branding -- the ultimate test of true partnership! Great to meet you, too!

    By the way -- How do you know the dog beds are so comfortable??? Bamboo, just tell him to move over!

  9. Just like many of the places I go where people know her name, but not mine. Since she is the better half of our dynamic duo, I'm all right with that. She is a hard to miss; it must be those bright eyes, and shining coat! As for the beds, we are snuggle buddies! Of course only when the work, play, and wrestling matches are over for the day.

  10. Jenna, what a wonderful tribute to Filene. We are making a contribution to GDB in her memory. I hope your mom is doing okay.