Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Hands Across the Sky

by Lynne Arceneaux, Graduate Services Program Coordinator

James, adult male black Labrador Retriever in Guide Dog harness sitting down

Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) safely ships Guide Dogs, on a regular basis, via cargo across the United States and Canada. But recently, in January, we received a rather exceptional request to transport a working Guide Dog from Lima, Peru.

What’s a Guide Dog from America doing in Peru? Why was he being sent back? The circumstances were, sadly, most unfortunate. The dog’s blind partner had recently graduated from GDB’s training program and travelled to Trujillo, Peru, over the holidays to visit his family. He brought his Guide Dog with him, a beautiful black Labrador named James. While he was in Peru, the man passed away. His sister called GDB to ask if transportation back to our school might be arranged for the dog. Trujillo is a ten-hour drive from Lima over roads that cannot by any stretch of the imagination be called "highways".

After reviewing the flight options from Lima, I contacted American Airlines to ask for assistance with arranging a cargo transport for James from Lima to San Francisco. The very next day, Ms. Kathy Minihan, an American Airlines (AA) representative in the Miami Area, returned the call. She would be our liaison with AA Cargo in Lima. Her efforts launched a miraculous campaign for James’ return trip. Her hours of organization and international communications championed a Guide Dog’s transport under the most extraordinary circumstances.

Ms. Minihan coordinated the American Airlines flights for James: first from Lima to Miami, then Miami to San Francisco. It was the responsibility of Graduate Services to coordinate the ground transportation from Trujillo to the cargo facility in Lima -- a seven hundred mile trip!

When I relayed James’ story to GDB’s Assistant Kennel Manager, Karen Butterworth, Karen replied that Juan, her husband, had a sister who lived in Lima and might be able to help with the ground transport. After numerous telephone calls to the sisters and Juan we were able to coordinate the 20 hour trip to/from Trujillo, the visit to the veterinarian in Lima to obtain a health certificate for the flight, the purchase of an FAA approved crate and the transport to the Lima American Airlines Cargo Facility. This is where the "It’s a small world after all!" song began to play in our imaginations! And, amazingly, the preparations we so carefully worked on together played out flawlessly!

James was flown on the American Airlines flight from Lima to Miami where he had a "spa break" in between flights in the American Airlines-sanctioned kennel facility. He continued on the last leg of his journey to San Francisco and arrived shortly after midnight, where I picked him up. He was one tired guy and was very happy to finally be in a GDB van once again.

James is staying for a brief time with Foster Care providers in Tiburon, Calif., until he is returned to the San Rafael Training Department. He is most likely destined to return to a career as a working guide with a new GDB graduate.

Guide Dogs for the Blind would like to express our profound gratitude to those whose efforts brought James home: Brian Francis, Director of AGS; Karen Butterworth, Assistant Kennel Manager; Juan Ordonez, Ground Transport Coordination/Translator; Rebecca Hornick, Dog Placement Coordinator and especially, Kathy Minihan, American Airlines, Miami Area and Mario Figueroa, Rosanna Fiejo and Santiago Motta, American Airlines in Lima, Peru. And to one other kind, generous and very special person who knows who he is.


  1. What can you say, a sad tale to begin with but a brilliant effort that makes me proud to work with all those concerned and at GDB!

  2. We are so sorry for this family's loss. As James' puppy raisers we know that James was a good friend to his blind partner in the months they were together and we are extremely proud of James! May God's peace be with his partner's family.

  3. Wow, what an amazing story. Glad he made it home safely and healthy!