Calvin: A Dog with a Big Heart

Calvin: A Dog with a Big Heart

From Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover's Soul

Calvin: A Dog with a Big Heart

Blinded in a Nazi concentration camp at the age of twenty-one, I arrived in America with my wife in 1951. We worked and raised two sons; now, at eighty-two, I have five grandchildren. For most of those years, I depended on a white cane as my mobility aid. I envied my blind friends who had guide dogs—they had so much more freedom of mobility than I did. My problem, although I was reluctant to admit it, was that I had a fear of getting too close to dogs.

In spite of my fear, the day I retired I decided to apply for a guide dog at the Guiding Eyes for the Blind Guide Dog School. I so wanted the freedom a dog could give me, I had to make the attempt.

When I arrived, Charlie, the training supervisor, had a few cheerful welcoming words for the twelve of us beginning the May 1990 class. After the welcoming ceremonies, I took Charlie aside and said, “I would like to have a guide dog, but because of my negative experiences with dogs, I am not sure I could ever bond with one.” Charlie, curious, asked me if I minded telling him about my negative experiences.

“I am a Holocaust survivor. In one of theNazi concentration camps I was in,” I explained, “the commandant had a big, vicious German shepherd. Sometimes when he entertained guests and wanted to show how cruel he could be, or how vicious his dog was—or both—he told a guard to bring a group of prisoners into his courtyard. Once, before I was blinded, I was in that group. I watched as he chose one of us to stand apart. Then he gave the dog the command, ‘Fass!’ meaning, ‘Fetch!’ With one leap, the dog grabbed the victim by the throat. In a few minutes, that man was dead. The dog returned to his master for his praise and reward, and the audience applauded the dog for a job well done. More than four decades later, nightmares about this still torment me,” I confided to Charlie.

After a moment of reflection, Charlie said, “No human being is born evil; some become evil. No dog is born vicious; some are trained to be vicious. Give us a chance to prove to you that the dogs we train and the one you get will guide you safely, love you and protect you.”

His words strengthened my resolve. I was determined, I told Charlie, to give myself a chance. Should I fail, it wouldn’t be for lack of trying. Charlie called a meeting of his staff to reexaminemy file and decided Calvin would be the right match for me. Calvin was a two-year-old, eighty-pound chocolate Lab. Following our four-week training period, I went home with Calvin and found myself struggling to forge a bond with him. I was in the process of learning to love him, and although I understood the helpful role Calvin was to play in my life, I was still cautious around him, never fully relaxing and accepting him. This struggle affected Calvin as well. During this period, Calvin ate, but lost weight, and the vet told me it was because the dog could sense my emotional distance. I often recalled Charlie’s words: “No human being is born evil, and no dog is born vicious. . . .” My instructor called me several times, offering advice and giving me encouragement.

Slowly but surely, Calvin and I began to break down the invisible barrier between us. Finally, after about six months—twice as long as the average human/guide dog team—I began to trust Calvin more fully. I went with him anywhere I needed to go and did so with confidence.

Any lingering doubts I had about Calvin were dispelled one day as we stood at a busy intersection, waiting to cross the street. As we had been trained, when I heard parallel traffic start tomove, I waited three seconds, then gave the command, “Calvin, forward.”When we stepped off the curb, a motorist suddenly and unexpectedly made a sharp right turn, directly in front of us. Calvin stopped on a dime, slamming on the brakes! He had reacted exactly as he had been trained to react in such a situation. Realizing that he had saved us both fromserious injury, I stepped back onto the sidewalk, crouched down, gave Calvin a hug around the neck and praised him for a job well done.

It was the turning point in our life together. After that, the love between us flowed freely and Calvin blossomed.

Out of harness, Calvin became as playful and mischievous as any other dog. When my granddaughter Hannah, a one-year-old just starting to get steady on her feet, came to visit, Calvin let her painstakingly position herself to grab his silky ear. Then he moved deftly to the side, his tail wagging a mile a minute, as Hannah reached in vain for him. Calvin’s game made Hannah squeal with delight.

Calvin also formed a loving relationship with my wife, Barbara. She was coping with several chronic physical conditions and was homebound, and they became inseparable pals and playmates. At her periodic visit to the doctor, he noticed that her blood pressure was lower than it had been for a long time. Barbara asked the doctor if Calvin’s companionship could have anything to do with her lowered blood pressure. “Most unlikely,” he replied. “I’ll change your prescription, though, since your blood pressure is better. Come back in two months.” The blood pressure stayed down. The doctor, although unconvinced, grudgingly accepted that Calvin’s companionship might have had a favorable effect. Barbara and I had no doubt. The facts spoke for themselves.

Time and time again, Calvin proved he had a big heart, big enough for Barbara and me: He not only gave me the extra measure of independent and safe travel I had craved for many years, he also became a beloved member of the family.

Yes, Charlie, you were right. “Give us a chance,” you said. “Your dog will love you, guide you, protect you.” Calvin did all that and then some.

Max Edelman

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