In early February of 2013, John Bifield, a renowned trainer of guide dogs, then working for The Freedom Guide Dog School, arrived at my home with Percy for a test walk. Percy hopped out of the van, joyfully ran back and forth between my knees, laughing and wagging his tail. John watched us navigate and at the end of our trial walk, he deemed us a perfect pair. A month later I began my training with Percy in earnest.
The nine and a half years that I had Percy at my side, guiding me, loving me, caring for me, and sharing life’s experiences with me, were truly a blessing.
Percy was magic! Everyone with whom he came in contact simply fell under his joyful spell. This includes those who really weren’t dog people or who, like Will, were genuinely afraid of dogs. Parents let their tiny children say hi to him, veterans just wanted to touch him, old people stopped and admired him. Those at my place of employment would come running just to take his picture. To quote one of my friends, “he was a rockstar”.
That’s all well and good, but was he a good guide you ask? He was the best! In nine years of travel together, I can say in all honesty that I was never injured on his watch. If we mis-stepped, it was always because I wasn’t paying attention and, in those cases, I can almost hear him sighing in frustration.
Percy loved baby carrots, apple slices, playing keep away, other dogs, and, ok, I’ll admit it here, sleeping pressed up against me every night.
Some of my fondest memories of Percy are from conferences to which he accompanied me. One memory in particular stands out. I was waiting in line to go into the first-timer event along with Rose Martin and her beautiful guide, Jordan. Another individual was ahead of us with a guide who turned around and barked at Jordan. Percy proceeded to put himself between Jordan and the other pup and barked right back at the stranger. Before that, I’d never seen him protect a friend pup.
Percy had an amazing memory. As you all know, we had conferences in both Harrisburg and Pittsburgh alternately and Percy remembered both hotels and only needed a brief reintroduction to each before he was zipping around like he owned the place. He was patient, loyal, faithful and sometimes mischievous. At one of our banquets, his leash somehow slipped out from under my thigh where I always kept it while sitting at a table for dining. Off he trotted to the next table where he just needed to say hi to Marlett and Tom Reid and the Swartzes. It was Carol Swartz in her sweet way who alerted me to the fact that he had gone visiting. Percy simply loved people and was loved in return.
Here, in Florida, where I live, those who visited for our social nights would argue over who Percy loved best. Of course, the answer is, he loved them all, but he loved me best.
Inexplicably, inconceivably, shockingly, without warning, on August 22nd of this year, my beautiful baby who had zero interest in our pool, fell in and was drowned. I will never know how it happened, all I know is that there is a void in my life, a hole in my heart that cannot be filled.
My most profound gratitude goes out to all who have reached out to me with loving thoughts and kind words in this difficult time. Grief is like a fire one just has to walk through and I am sure I will come out the other side with the support of loved ones and because Percy’s memory demands it of me.