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January 20, 2010 > Ohlone Humane Society: Remembering two of our ambassadors

Ohlone Humane Society: Remembering two of our ambassadors

By Nancy Lyon

All dogs are wonderful but therapy dogs have a special mission in life - they provide a unique connection to affection and comfort for people in care facilities, retirement homes, classrooms and libraries where unquestioning patience and benevolence is the order of the day. They give solace to the lonely and are often a link to happy memories encouraging them to reminisce about their animal companions in the distant past. They help children to build confidence in their reading skills, and learn to trust and how to act around dogs.

In recent months we saw two such ambassadors of compassion, dedication and just good old fashioned goodness pass from this life. These extraordinary beings were two of OHS's beloved Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) dogs - the beautiful and joyous Filene and the equally wonderful and brave Golden Bob Gates.

Each had different paths that lead them to a life of giving joy and service to people... each was a special gift to the world. Filene, a beautiful black Labrador Retriever, came to live with and love her human mom Vianna Bullis, our OHS-AAT team leader. In her former life as a Guide Dog for the Blind (GDB), Filene had been raised from a pup to be a service dog, and with Vianna's daughter Jenna, working at GDB as a Master Guide Dog Instructor, it provided an opportunity for her mom-to-be to see Filene as she progressed in her training.

Filene's life as a guide dog was to take many turns and she touched many lives with her willingness to be a shepherd for those who needed her protection and love. After initially caring for a person who subsequently passed away and two others who became too ill to care for her, it was decided that Filene would retire from service. When this happened, Vianna remembered Filene as that adorable pup and her heart was captured. Retired and no longer a career dog, Filene went on to happily live out her life with Vianna.

Vianna felt that Filene was such a wonderful, loving, perfect little dog, that she was meant to share her love with the world. She and Filene passed the Delta Society's Animal-Assisted Therapy test and later joined the Ohlone Humane Society's AAT program. Filene was now touching many more lives.

Sadly, after spreading happiness to so many people, the beautiful and loving Feline passed from this life last summer.

Bob Gates, a happy and confident Golden Retriever, had a different life path. Bob had lived all his life with his family Cheryl and Henry Olvera and was a seasoned member of the OHS-AAT team for more than 6 years. Bob was the epitome of goodwill and graciousness, thriving in his mission of spreading cheer to all, Bob was a favorite with everyone he met.

A while back Cheryl wrote a humorous account of Bob's unquestioning people skills while visiting his many fans. "One day we walked in the door at Aegis of Fremont and he recognized some of his friends. He stood at the door and howled hello. I know he was trying to speak and was saying, "Hey, I'm here." I'm sure he thought he was speaking English.

When we went next door to the Carlton Plaza, he would always stand at the door of their cafe howling at his friend Karen who runs the place. He howled to her whenever he hadn't seen her for awhile and she carried on a conversation with him. Besides seeing people in the Aegis living room, he also visited one of his friends in her room there. He knew we needed to take the elevator up. She would leave her door open for visitors and one day we didn't see her in her chair and Bob, having no shame, walked right into the bathroom to tell her hello. Being a dedicated dog lover, she just laughed."

Not too long ago, Bob developed a serious health problem, and while undergoing treatment he felt well enough to continue with his visitations with old friends. He still enjoyed joining with the OHS team when they partnered with the Fremont Main Library System in the Reading to Dogs program. Bob, Filene and other OHS canine therapists helped the children with their reading skills by listening without judgment while the children practiced reading aloud. Many of the children had never experienced being around dogs and during the sessions they were helped to overcome their apprehension.

Just weeks ago, Bob could no longer fight the disease that would take his life. In typical Bob Gates fashion, he showed his amazing bravery and kindness to the very end.

After touching countless lives, both crossed the Rainbow Bridge. We are so very grateful to have known these wonderful beings that enriched our lives and many others. We send our condolences to their families for their loss.

"Cherish the wonderful ways our animals are models of living life to the fullest, loving unconditionally, embracing the passion within, and being completely in the present moment."
- Susan White, artist and author

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