My friend Dale Turner, now living in Oregon but student services coordinator at Lewis-Clark State College in Coeur d'Alene when I worked there, owned a Brittany, vintage 1994, to whom he was devoted. Dale and Buddy visited my mother-in-law on nightly walks around City Park. They were inseparable except during Dale's work hours.
At seven, Buddy contracted Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration (SARD) which caused him to go blind. Blindness is always distressing - my mother and mother-in-law both suffered from it - but is particularly serious in a sporting dog like Buddy who was alert to everything that went on around him. Buddy compensated - he figured out he'd better listen when Dale told him to stop or risk running into a wall. He never had problems finding his food and water bowls, or his way around the house, but loss of vision limited his activities until Allegra appeared, around Thanksgiving of 2002, in time for Christmas and the New Year, Dale heard about a possible companion for Buddy, one who had experience with blindness. Raised and trained by Guide Dogs for the Blind, at age 4 1/2 Allegra had been a working guide dog for two years in Phoenix, where she attended classes at Arizona State University with her blind female partner.
Allegra developed allergies to mesquite and ryegrass, prevalent in Southwestern deserts. Even daily shots and Benadryl could not keep her from scratching her ears raw; a guide dog that has to stop every five feet to scratch can't do her job very well, though she tried hard and was beloved. Eventually, her human came to the sad realization the partnership must be dissolved and Allegra would get early retirement. Allegra's name, incidentally, was entirely coincidental; to name a dog for its affliction would be unspeakably cruel. Dale, a very sensitive man, pointed that out; he was also a super sensitive and effective student services coordinator.
But getting back to dogs, Turner learned of Allegra's availability. The lure of adopting a highly successful and retired guide dog as companion and partner to Buddy was irresistible. But Buddy and Dale needed to pass an in person employment interview. Allegra's mistress flew from Phoenix to Spokane, where Dale was then employed at EWU, to make sure the
environment was appropriate. They passed. From the first the two dogs played as though Buddy could see just fine. Did Allegra act as a guide dog to Buddy? Probably not, says Dale, even though that would be a nice touch. But it was as though Buddy could see again and so the blind woman who had previously owned Allegra could fly back to Arizona with a smile on her face to compensate for the now empty harness she took back. Allegra was back to doing what she did best and just in time to be a holiday present to Buddy.
Buddy died in June 2009, shy of his 15th birthday, so he and Allegra had nearly seven years together. Allegra moped around for a few days but bounced back and became even more attentive to Gillian, also a retired guide dog and another Turner adoption.
Most of this column came from Dale, who majored in journalism and probably could have written it better by himself. I have no idea what this story means. I do know Buddy and Allegra are the stars of one of the most touching holiday tales I have ever encountered so I am content to let the story speak for itself. Thanks again, Dale! I am looking forward to seeing the movie version, a Christmas release, of course.
Tim Hunt, the son of a linotype operator, is a retired college professor and nonprofit administrator who lives in Hayden with his wife and three cats. He can be reached at email@example.com.