Thursday Came Too Soon

We were vacationing with my niece, Adrienne,  and family in University Heights, Ohio. It was so nice to visit with her and her husband, Chris, and their 3 daughters over the Labor Day weekend. The 8 and 6 year old loved hanging out with Thelma.  They even invited me to play with them in their Barbie room, and I got a lot of baby time with their youngest, born in January.  We took walks with Thelma too, including the Cuyahoga Valley National Park trail, and the Botanical Gardens in Cleveland. Thelma even went with me to Urgent Care when I dislocated my left thumb. She also went with me to see a specialist on Tuesday who put my finger back into place.  Quite an unforgettable experience, which isn’t over yet!  We all loved visiting Ray’s cousins near Detroit, too.

But then Thursday came.  I knew Ray was thinking about how we’d miss Thelma also, even though he didn’t say much.  Wednesday, as we walked around Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan with cousins, Thelma did such a great job walking with me everywhere.

When Kathy and her friend, Mary Kay met us at our hotel on Thursday morning, we shared Thelma tidbits, words she knew, voice inflections, etc.  We walked to lunch together and Thelma was the perfect dog, lying under the table quietly as we ate our lunch. I showed Kathy how she sits in our car, on the passenger side on the floor under the dash board.

When it was time for them to go, we all prayed together and took pictures.  I gave Thelma her favorite toy, and a special bag of treats.  Then I opened the passenger side of Kathy’s car and told Thelma, “hup up, inside”.  She obeyed and curled up on the floor board ready for a long drive.  Off to her new forever home she went, a bond already starting.

It had been a long hard day for Ray and me.  We went back to our hotel room and took a nap.  For supper, we went to a place nearby that served Afghan food.  It was delicious.  The next morning we had breakfast with another of Ray’s cousins whom he had not seen for 20 years. Then we drove to the airport to catch our flight home to St. Louis.

Thelma’s empty harness stowed under my seat.

How I Found a New Home For My Dog

When I learned that Thelma might have Stargardt, a rare eye disease showing up in Labradors, I started to investigate. Stargardt’s disease is an inherited form of macular degeneration causing central vision loss. After confirming through extensive testing that Thelma had Stargardt, I was in denial for several days…maybe really weeks. But I knew I had to devise a plan for finding her a new home. I had to move on, and so did Thelma. We both had more of life to live and new adventures before us.

How would I ever find a new home, I wondered? I didn’t want to put it out on Facebook, or put out an ad. Not for such a special friend like Thelma! So I posted on a Seeing Eye graduate list asking how others dealt with having to retire one of their dogs, especially a hard working trained service dog. It was a discussion point for several days, and quite a few people spoke into it. Their stories comforted me. I wasn’t the only one who went through this dilemma! I contacted a couple of my local friends who had Seeing Eye dogs to see what ideas they had. I also talked with a few folks from church, and my kids did the same at their church. Several prospects came to light. I made a list of “musts” for the new owner; and a list of questions I’d ask a potential owner.

In a radio interview I did with a high school counselor, she mentioned how schools were beginning to add more therapy dogs to their tool boxes. Could Thelma do that? I started exploring the idea of Thelma becoming a therapy or a comfort dog. She needed to be of service…to have another purpose. I didn’t want her to become just someone’s lap dog who never had any more exciting adventures. I interviewed Tim Hetzner, the director of “K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry, “a great mission for MY dog,” I thought. They started dog training for that at 8 weeks old. They had just gotten back from helping survivors in Uvalde, Texas, the site of the most recent school shooting. You can listen to our interview, which first aired on Bott Radio Network, on my podcast at

All in all I had 6 individuals or families interested in being Thelma’s “forever new home.” Eventually that number dropped to two families. One was in St. Louis, the other in Columbus, Ohio. We did a play date with the family from St. Louis. We did a Facetime call with the family in Ohio. We checked references on both. They both would have been great homes, in our minds, to fill the bill.

I just hate it when you are in a gray area on something. I’m a black and white decision maker! I needed answers. All I could do was pray and ask the Lord to help. “Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take”—Prov. 3:6. My husband and I took Thelma on walks almost daily as I had done before when she was a working dog. But this time, I could only hold her leash, and take Ray’s arm to guide us. We waited for answers!

Finally, I woke up one morning with a clear mind about this situation, and joy in my heart. I knew then and there that the Lord wanted Kathy and her husband to be the new owners of Thelma. Kathy had been praying for 3 years for a good dog she could love and be its “forever home”. She is a semi-retired community nurse and her husband is a doctor. They would make sure Thelma got the proper eye care. Now, 420 miles away, how would we meet and arrange for Thelma to unite with her new “forever family?” I’ll tell you when it happens.

Have you ever had to find a home for a dog you loved? What helped you most? What tips can you share with others?

Last Week With Thelma

Hello Friends,

Thelma and I have been teammates since May 1, 2018.  She’s my trusty service dog.  There have been some major transitions since then, and family, friends and Thelma have been right there with me.  We’ve walked many miles together, and ventured into unknown territory. Thelma has faithfully been by my side.

At the St. Louis Society for the Blind and Visually Impaired, one of my responsibilities is to deliver presentations about vision loss at Independent Senior Living Centers throughout our metro area. Thelma especially enjoys being a part of these presentations to show off her many skills.  She also loves going to KSIV Radio Station with me, where she quietly waits while I’m recording interviews in the studio.  My family and friends are hers, too.

But now it’s time for us to say “goodbye” to each other.  Early in May she was diagnosed with Stargardt disease, a rare eye condition in dogs resulting in progressive loss of vision.  It’s like having juvenile macular degeneration.  Since her diagnosis, we’ve been praying and following up leads for a new “forever home.”  She and I have one more precious week together before she goes to Columbus, Ohio to meet with her new family.  I can’t wait to see what new purpose she will fulfill in their lives and others she meets.  But my heart is breaking as I think about how I’ll miss hearing her patter around, coming when I call, and wagging her tail as she shares her friendly greetings.  Most of all, I’ll miss her “get up and go-ness” in guiding me wherever I needed to go.

Yes, I will be getting a new teammate, as soon as the Seeing Eye finds a new dog match for me.

Will keep you posted.


Thelma's 6th Birthday Party

Happy 6th Birthday to MyFour Footed Friend

My dog was born 6 years ago. This is her Birthday weekend! She’s had a packed life for a 6-year-old.

When she was born at the Seeing Eye School in Morristown, N.J., she was sent to a wonderful puppy-raiser family. She learned all the rights and wrongs that a good dog should learn. She even went to school and helped her trainer, a teacher, in some of her daily duties. She learned all about soccer, too, from their daughter, who took her to all of her soccer practices and games.

At 14 months, she returned to the Seeing Eye School for additional training so she could be a street-smart dog when it was time for her to meet her new visually impaired owner.

But before Thelma completed her training, she was chosen to be a breeder dog because of her intelligence and good blood line. So, she took time off from her training to birth two litters of puppies. In all, I’m told she mothered 15!

Then it was back to the streets, to train for her new owner… me!
Happy 6th Birthday Thelma. So proud to be your new owner and have you by my side.

Helping people tell their story and find their highest potential

Encounter show host, Tuesdays 2:00 p.m.
KSIV Radio St. Louis, MO
AM 1320 / FM 91.5 / FM 95.9
Let’s connect!

Wet Menace

What does your dog do when it encounters a sprinkler?  It probably doesn’t matter much to you, unless you have a seeing eye dog and you are intent on getting somewhere. 

My dog and I try and walk at least a half mile a day.  We take different routes each day and some special routes on weekends.

I know grass and plants need water on these hot summer days in St. Louis, but to my dog, sprinklers are a dog’s worst friend.  We’ve passed around 6 of them in the past three weeks on our walks.  I always know we are coming to one because Thelma stops in her tracks.  Try as I might, she won’t budge.  No, I take that back.  The first time we met this moving creature we walked right into its circular path and got soaked.  That did it for Thelma.  The next time, she hastily turned around and we headed back home.  Our hike that day turned out to be almost twice as long just to avoid the spraying menace. 

So I started taking treats with me to help. But she was resolute and just would not walk through them, even though a little water would feel great on a 90 degree day.  So with my commands we’d go carefully out into the street, walk along the curb until the sprinkler was behind us.  I kept giving her commands directing her until she was back on the sidewalk.  Then we’d continue our walk joyfully as if nothing unusual had happened. 

A yellow lab not liking water?  Well, you never know what’s in the mind of a dog.  But together we can navigate as a team to accomplish our mission.  And I am glad that when Thelma sensed danger she wanted to protect both of us from it.  And isn’t that why I’ve chosen  to have a dog rather than just use a white cane?  Another adventure with my four-footed friend.

Helping people tell their story and find their highest potential

Encounter show host, Tuesdays 2:00 p.m.
KSIV Radio St. Louis, MO
AM 1320 / FM 91.5 / FM 95.9
Let’s connect!

Judy and Annette, Thelma and Gazelle

In this picture are two dogs who love to play together.  They are very special dogs, Annette and I are both blind, and Thelma and Gazelle are our service dogs.

Annette and I live not too far from each other, so we get together when we can to let our dogs play.  Recently, we decided to take our dogs on a long walk in our neighborhood.  We walked around our neighborhood, Thelma and I leading the way, warning our friends about low hanging branches, changes in sidewalk elevation, or street corners ahead. 

Both Annette and I each depend on our dogs daily to get us where we need to go. Maybe a trip to the grocery store, YMCA or gym or to work. Since neither of us drive, we might need to take public transportation, Lyft or Uber. Thelma, my dog, lies quietly on the stage as I lead praise and worship at church, or if I’m speaking or training somewhere. Both of us try to walk with our dogs at least a half mile or more in our own neighborhoods daily to keep them sharp and learning new routes.  It keeps us fit, too. 

In the spring, we often encounter low-hanging tree limbs.  You might love them hanging low over the public sidewalk in front of your home, but when you can’t see them coming, it is truly an annoyance, especially after a rain storm.  You see, our dogs are used to looking out for us on the ground. They make sure they stop at elevation changes in the sidewalks, or at street corners.  Reminding them to look overhead for those branches and overgrown evergreen ferns is something we must retrain them on every spring.

Lastly, our dogs are great companions.  You know, there’s nothing like a dog cheerfully saying “good morning.” It reminds us that it’s another fresh, new day that the Lord has given us, full of adventures.  Since my husband works away from home, even in the pandemic, my dog Thelma is my little buddy who encourages me to take breaks, hikes, and times to play fetch.  Annette works from home too and I know Gazelle helps remember that “dog time” must also be built into her day. 

Please pray for safety for those of us who depend on our service dogs, and remember to give your dog that extra love and attention they need.

Look for two more posts from me this week, both podcasts I think you’ll enjoy. Follow me on Face Book; subscribe to my website at and feel free to email me at [email protected]

Adventure Seven – A First Walk Through the Neighborhood (…and a Thunderstorm)

Now that we are home, learning our neighborhood is very important. My first seeing-eye dog, Velda, passed away two-and-a-half years before I got Thelma, so learning the neighborhood together with Thelma is a new adventure for both of us.

It was a sultry Saturday afternoon. We decided to start learning my route to work. This is a 16-block route, and there are some interesting irregularities on it. We walked down our street, turned right and crossed the corner. Thelma saw the wide expanse of a concrete patio in front of a store and, understandably, treated the whole thing like a sidewalk. Since I didn’t actually want to go into this particular store, I had to show her where I wanted to end up after crossing the street. So we went back across the street and repeated the process, reinforcing to her where the real sidewalk was.

My husband, Ray walked a few feet behind my right shoulder and alerted me to anything he thought I should beware of, such as cracks in the sidewalk caused by a root; construction; lime bikes, etc. Thelma skirted around most of these obstacles or took me past them without difficulty.

A few times I had to stop, show her the obstacle and praise her for seeing it, then take a few steps back and have her walk past it again to reinforce the learning. Then we encountered construction, and it seemed we might need to cross the street to avoid it. After traveling about eight blocks, we decided not to walk to my new office, but instead to turn left and walk to our friends’ house. They were working in their yard when we got there.

We talked for a while and then started the trek home. About three blocks from our house, the rain came and so did the thunder and lightning. Thelma just kept walking without a hitch, and I picked up my pace beside her. Ray almost had to run to keep up with us! When we finally arrived home, we were drenched… but we were safe.

I was glad to know that my dog wasn’t afraid of a little rainstorm. Thelma had already proven that several times in the short time we’d know each other. This was actually the sixth downpour we had traveled through together since our training began three weeks earlier.

We all dried off as best as we could, got a refreshing drink of water, and continued our day. I realized I was truly beginning to trust this four-footed friend of mine more and more. Most of all, though, I trusted in the Lord to keep us safe during our adventures as we learned more about each other’s traveling habits. And I did forget to thank the Lord for my faithful husband, who also invested time in this training.

After that eventful walk, Thelma and I had grown closer together and came away another fun adventure to share with our friends.


Judy⠠⠚⠥⠙⠽ and Thelma ?

Adventure Six with My NEW Four Footed Friend

Hello again from The Seeing Eye in Morristown, New Jersey!

After just a few hours sleep, I was awakened by my alarm at 3:00 a.m. This would be the last time I would roll out of bed here at the Seeing Eye School in Morristown, N.J. My Labrador retriever Thelma and I were to leave for the airport with our instructor at 4:30 a.m. Last night we said our goodbyes to staff and classmates. We packed carefully, because we were leaving with more items than we arrived with almost three weeks earlier. Three weeks… I’ve learned so much in that short amount of time, so many memories, met so many new friends, and renewed relationships with instructors who were here when I got my first seeing eye dog, Velda, 12 years ago…

As we drove to the airport, my instructor discussed some airport basics. Because Velda, my first dog, and I had flown at least 25 times together, I already knew the drill. Due to some new airport regulations, however, Thelma and I couldn’t check in at the kiosk. We had to stand in line for personal assistance. Then at security, the agent had to find someone who wasn’t afraid of dogs. Despite these delays, we arrived at my gate in plenty of time.

Persons with disabilities usually are the first to board an aircraft, so Thelma and I proudly followed the airline worker into the jet. After putting our items in the overhead bin, Thelma and I settled in our seat next to the window. I scooted her under the seat in front of me feet-first, so her head was facing me. She shinnied in like a little hot-dog. To avoid discomfort when the airplane took off, I gave Thelma a treat. When we were about to land, I gave her another treat.

During the flight, I had a lively conversation with an evangelist. He had just returned from Africa. It was interesting that he had a disabled son, so he was eager to learn about Joni and Friends.

When we arrived in St. Louis, the customer assistance personnel escorted me to the baggage claim carousel, where we retrieved our luggage. Soon, my husband Ray arrived to welcome us back to hot, muggy St. Louis. Here we would begin a new adventure, learning my home city together. A new dog for me, a new city for her, and a new office for both of us.

That evening, with Ray behind my right shoulder describing objects coming up, the three of us explored a good portion of our neighborhood. Thelma and I certainly had our work cut out for us. It would be no easy task, learning the streets in a ten by ten block area. Learning together how to conquer low-hanging tree limbs, uneven sidewalks, construction and dog distractions. Our neighborhood has them all.

The learning curve would be huge, but we were ready. My wonderful husband and son were ready, too, to help us learn our surroundings. They agreed to kick in as travel assistants.

In the coming weeks we had many exciting challenges ahead of us. Wait till you read about one in our next adventure!


Judy⠠⠚⠥⠙⠽ and Thelma ?

Adventure Five with My NEW Four Footed Friend

Hello again from The Seeing Eye in Morristown, New Jersey!

If you are a dog owner, you know that dogs are a big responsibility.

Learning how to take care of a dog’s basic needs is so important. Feeding it just the right amount of healthy dog food, giving it lots of fresh water, and providing it with sufficient exercise helps maintain the dog’s weight, keeps it a happy dog and makes you a happy owner.

For those of us who have working dogs, continuous training and challenge strengthens our team trust. One of the first things my Labrador retriever, Thelma, and I learned was the importance of practicing daily obedience. Just as the Lord desires us to daily feast on His Word, pray and praise Him, so is it important to teach obedience daily with your dog. This keeps its mind sharp and its basic skills active.

Each of us with our dog are encouraged to perform three obedience drills three times each day: come-sit; sit-down; and sit-rest. Grooming the dog’s coat daily keeps its skin oils flowing, its fur shiny and odor free, and eliminates the need for regular bathing. We also work with the dog to establish times for elimination so it will get on a schedule. If something changes in the dog’s pattern, the owner can catch it right away and handle the problem accordingly.

I’m happy Thelma doesn’t mind having her teeth wiped daily with dental wipes. When my classmates and I were taught how to get our dogs to take a pill, she didn’t fight me on that, either.

Our class had lectures on various topics almost daily. Here are a few of the them: the importance of obedience; dog care basics; grooming; tips from the veterinarian; food and appropriate toys; traffic safety; the dog’s senses and how it perceives things; how to travel on an airplane; dog attacks (WHAT ARE DOG ATTACKS?!); going home; and tips for a smooth transition. We also discussed advocacy and our rights as guide dog handlers. We even learned about pet insurance.

One morning, one of my classmates, Shelby, and I went with our instructor to the park to look at the Morris Franck and Buddy sculpture. Morris Franck was the courageous blind insurance salesman who started the Seeing Eye school.  Next year, the school celebrates its 90th year of providing seeing eye dogs to blind persons. As I stood in front of the statue, I thanked the Lord for this man’s tenacity and perseverance. I thought of the thousands like me who had been served by the school because of his persistence.

Twenty of us with our dogs walked to the ice cream shop to have a treat together. It was a celebration of our hard work during the past two and a half weeks. Some dog teams were faster than others, but all made it to the store, went inside and sat down in their places. No dogs barked, no dogs stole any ice cream cones and all enjoyed the fellowship during our last afternoon together. And, as was customary for so many of our adventures, it rained the entire time.

Judy and classmate, Shelbi, with their dogs in the park (Morristown Green)

We were wet walking to the shop but dried off a bit inside as we ate our delectable treats. It felt like we flew home through that pouring rain, showing how much we’d all grown to trust our canine teammates. Were we ever glad to dry off when we got inside. All of us anticipated with excitement our trips home to reunite with our families. We knew leaving the Seeing Eye meant we’d have to start from scratch acclimating our new canine friends to their new permanent homes, but Thelma and I were up to the challenge!

You’ll hear from us again soon.


Judy⠠⠚⠥⠙⠽ and Thelma ?

Adventure Four with My NEW Four Footed Friend

Hello again friends,

Here’s another Adventure with my new 4-footed friend. In this adventure, we are still in training at the Seeing Eye School.

The second route we had to master was the Elm Street route. In my estimation, this route was twice as hard and twice as long as the first one! The traffic was twice as heavy, too, and there were lots of hills on this route. In a couple of spots, we had to teach our dogs how to find the pole that had the button to press that allows us to cross the intersection safely. After the button was pushed and it was time to cross, the speaker on the pole said, “Walk…walk…walk” for a certain amount of seconds so we could cross.

We also had lots of random traffic checks. This is where a car suddenly pulls out of an alley or driveway in front of you. Other dogs were always trying to distract our working dogs, too. My dog kept her head focused on the route and not on the yelping or barking dog. I was so glad of that! We also had to deal with barriers in the sidewalk, such as those to keep you from walking into a hole or through a construction site.

After we passed our solo walk on our second route, we started to do more individualized training. The first thing Thelma and I did was to go to Century 21 department store. We walked several blocks to get to the store. Inside the store, we followed our instructor, who pretended she was the store clerk helping us. We “followed” her throughout the store. This is how “follow” works. If I have a store clerk or friend helping me through the store, I tell my dog “follow”. The person in front of me just talks with me, telling me what we are passing, talking about the weather or anything so I can hear their voice. They may warn me of steps coming up, an escalator, etc. I give the dog its direction based on what my human leader says or does. Even following someone with loud shoes works, if they forget to talk to me.

Anyway, at the store, we took the escalator and both of us, dog and master, learned the skill so the dog’s toes would not get caught in the moving escalator.

We toured a grocery store, too, learning different methods of using the dog with a shopping cart. We went to the pet store and bought a few items, including a dog tag with our dogs’ names and contact info on them. We even took a stroll through the dog food aisles, past the pet clinic, and past the grooming area.

Then we walked a half a mile to the bank. Inside we learned how to maneuver through the crisscrossed line maze to the counter. As you know, these portable line guides are often in airports and other places where many line up. It took a bit, but Thelma finally got it. And I finally got it, too.

Our class of four also went to the mall, about 15 miles away. We individually learned how to find or shop for various things in the mall, per our interest or need. I learned how to teach Thelma where the elevator is with my clicker. The clicker method helps you teach the dog how to find a specific thing like an elevator, a stoplight pole, or your specific chair at lunch. The method has a three step process: association, back-chaining, and completion. Using treats during each step of the process to show and reinforce the behavior you want is essential.

We learned how to travel on country roads. One route had no sidewalks, only curbs. The other was a paved road with gravel on the sides. Each was very different, but on both we used the same technique. It involved using the white cane at times in tandem with your dog to make sure you were walking along the side of the road and not in the middle of it.

The training at the Seeing Eye wouldn’t have been complete without a night hike. My instructor chose a partially familiar route. The 9-block route included finding your way through a parking garage, weaving through pedestrians and outdoor cafes in a busy nightlife section, avoiding overhead tree branches, and other sidewalk obstacles. Crossing the same streets we crossed in daylight was different, too. Traffic patterns changed and sometime the street traffic was so quiet it was hard to get a good reading on when to cross. It was a great adventure, and we both enjoyed it emensely.

The Seeing Eye campus itself had a leisure path. It contained hills, valleys, turns and even two gazebos where we could sit and relax, enjoying the fresh Morristown spring time air. It was also designed so we could walk with our dogs without assistance, giving us more training in how to work as a team. Check out our pictures.

Until next time…

Judy⠠⠚⠥⠙⠽ and Thelma ?