[nagdu] My Experience of Having My Dog Taken Away

S L Johnson SLJohnson25 at comcast.net
Thu Aug 20 00:36:46 UTC 2015


I’m sending this both to you and the list.  I have nothing to hide.  I don’t 
mind everyone knowing the trauma I went through.  I am proud that despite 
this horrible beginning, forty years later, I am still a proud guide dog 
owner with a wonderful golden by my side.  Please feel free to keep my 
story.  I hope it helps prove our point that we need complete unconditional 

The incident was in 1976 with The Guide Dog Foundation.  I had graduated 
with Hogan, a male golden, in August 1976.  John Byfield had trained Hogan 
and on class I informed him that the dog pulled much too hard and walked 
much too fast.  He said it was my job to keep up with him so, I tried my 
best and graduated with him.  I don’t remember the exact day but, it was 
just before Christmas 1976 when a trainer showed up at my college dorm to 
take Hogan.  The reason given was my frequent falls due to multiple 
sclerosis.  My medical condition had nothing to do with me falling down 
curbs and stairs.  Hogan had the bad habit of walking very fast right up to 
the curb or steps without any slowing in pace to let me know a curb or step 
was coming.  This sudden stop  caused me to lose my balance and fall.  John 
Beagel and Barry Hatten had both been working with us a lot and Hogan was 
getting much better and I felt confident with our progress.  Suddenly one 
day during my very busy holiday performance schedule, I  returned to hear 
that Barry had been looking for me.  I was not warned of his visit so wasn’t 
there at the time.  I didn’t hear anything else until two days later when 
John Beagel showed up and informed me that John Byfield had sent him to pick 
up Hogan.  I was shocked.  I thought we had been doing so much better.  In a 
panic, I frantically faxed the contract to my father’s lawyer and was told 
that I had no choice but to give the dog to the trainer.  I was devastated. 
I was just minutes away from leaving for the airport to fly home for the 
Christmas break.  By the time I arrived home minus my wonderful guide, my 
family and their lawyer had already contacted members of the GDF Board. 
Immediately my doctor sent information to them and John Beagel and Barry 
Hatten gave their opinions of my work with Hogan.  The board decided that 
John Byfield had acted unfairly by taking Hogan.  They agreed with my doctor 
that I was physically capable of working Hogan as long as he could slow down 
a bit and not pull so hard.  I got him back right after GDF opened up after 
New Years.  What should have been a great first Christmas with my new guide, 
turned out to be a horrible traumatic experience.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t my only bad experience with John Byfield’s unfair 
actions.  When Hogan retired due to city stress a few years later, John 
Byfield again did the same thing in October 1979 after another graduate 
complained to him about my very young new dog, Bart’s behavior at a solo 
recital I had given the previous day.  As I was singing, Bart, a very 
playful young immature male golden, was lying at my feet and I was holding 
the leash.  Bart very quietly and sneakily slipped his somewhat loose chain 
collar and ran around the audience trying to play.  I immediately called him 
and after a bit more frantic running around he came back to me and I put his 
collar back on.  I kept a tighter hold on the leash and collar and Bart’s 
behavior and guiding were fine the rest of the day.  The next day, My 
accompanist, also, another GDF grad called to complain to John Byfield.  I 
suddenly get a call that someone was on their way to my apartment to pick up 
Bart.  I wasn’t given the chance to defend myself or Bart who was still so 
young and managed to slip out of that too loose collar.  All John Byfield 
cared about is how upset this other graduate was about what Bart had done 
and that it was my fault.  He said that it looked bad for GDF and it was 
obvious I should not have a guide dog.  I wasn’t given the chance to fight 
because the board wouldn’t listen this time, they just took the word and 
reacted to the pressure from of another grad.  We all know Stuff happens 
with new dogs and although I was also very embarrassed, I knew that it wasn’t 
the end of the world and no excuse to have my dog taken away.  This left me 
alone in a questionable neighborhood without my dog.  I was terrified to be 
walking alone with just a cane.  Two nights later after leaving the drug 
store with my medications, I was mugged by a group of teen boys who grabbed 
me saying, “now you don’t have that dog for protection so, we got you, give 
us your purse and bag of meds”.  I was so afraid of walking alone after that 
night that I had to stay with friends until I could get accepted to another 
guide dog school a few months later.

After those traumatic experiences, I will never attend a school that will 
not give me unconditional ownership.  It has been many years since then but, 
the horror and trauma remain as clear today.  I still feel very vulnerable 
and I’m still afraid to walk alone without a dog by my side.  I’m still very 
worried if I need to ask for a trainer to help with any issues even though I 
own the dog.  Those two experiences left me with the constant fear of 
suddenly without reason having my dog taken away.  I realize it will not 
happen due to my ownership but the knot of fear is always there.

.  Another story shows how my having complete ownership allowed me to keep 
my dog.  In February 2002, a serious back injury from afall on the ice along 
with a severe relapse of multiple sclerosis, I ended up having to use a 
manual wheelchair.  At that time, I was working Cinnamon, a golden from 
Leader Dogs.  With no other way to get Cinnamon out, get myself to medical 
appointments and do shopping and other errands, I taught Cinnamon to guide 
me in the wheelchair.  When Leader Dogs found out over a year later, they 
disagreed with her guiding me in the wheelchair.  Despite the evaluation by 
two well-known wheelchair guide dog trainers,  who said we were an excellent 
very well-trained safe wheelchair guide team, leader still refused to 
acknowledge it could be done.  Due to the contract I had signed, I owned 
Cinnamon but, Leader Dogs still owned the harness and could ask for it back 
at any time.  So, I gave them the harness, collar, tags leashes and ID card 
which all said Leader Dogs on them.  I got a harness for Cinnamon and 
continued to work her until her retirement many years later.  With Cinnamon’s 
help, I gradually got back the strength and stamina to walk again and when 
she finally retired in 2008 I was able to train with Tara, my golden who 
walked slow and helped with balance.

As you can see, I’ve lived through the negatives of not having ownership and 
the positives of having it.  I hope my stories will help our fight for 
complete and unconditional ownership.


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