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Living for Justice

Pets are more than just companions. They can help you heal–and even renew your faith.

By Mary Deets, Monrovia, California

As appeared in

I promised, but in the weeks that followed I almost wished I hadn’t. My short-term memory was rapidly improving. Not enough to recapture my former life but enough to make me ever more aware of what I’d lost.

Everything in my house–T-shirts from charity rides, rafting and hiking photos, woodworking equipment–was a haunting remnant of a vanished life. I could ride a bike and drive but I was still working on my speech and balance.

Talking with strangers was excruciating. No way could I go back to work. I didn’t even want to venture outside my own house. I felt useless. The Bible tells us God knows every one of us intimately, down to each hair on our heads. Well, there wasn’t much of me to know.

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One day I loaded my bike in the car and drove up to one of my favorite trails in the mountains near my house. (Since I couldn’t remember the accident I had no fear of riding.) I left my helmet in the car and set off down a trail where I knew there was a steep cliff.

I was just picturing riding off that cliff and putting an end to my misery when I remembered my promise to Gayle. I braked and the bike came to a stop. Around me the mountains were quiet. The sun beat down. There was no reassuring presence, no sudden answer.

But a promise was a promise. Wearily I walked back up the hill.

I told Gayle about what had happened on the mountain. “Mary,” she said, “I think I might have found something for you.”

“Sure,” I said absently.

“No, I mean it,” she said. “I just saw an article about someone who raises puppies for the Guide Dogs of America program. You’d be great at that. You love dogs and you’re very thorough.”

“You mean I used to be those things.”

“I think you can do this. Why don’t I call them and set up a meeting?”

I was unsure but I agreed. The meeting was actually an interview and I was glad Gayle could accompany me. My speech still wasn’t perfect. The interviewer didn’t seem to mind.

What mattered more was that I’d had dogs before (two Springer Spaniels) and I was willing to do what’s required of guide-dog raisers–help the dogs socialize, expose them to different environments, keep them healthy and groomed, and teach basic commands.

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I had to admit I could probably do all that. I signed up.

I picked up my first puppy, Justice, at a Guide Dogs facility an hour’s drive away. Justice was a roly-poly yellow Labrador, two months old. When I got him home I realized letting him run around in the yard wouldn’t come close to exercising him properly.

I’d have to walk him. Which meant I’d have to venture out into the neighborhood. By myself.

I leashed Justice up and we set off. He pulled me every which way. Trying to keep up with a bounding puppy made my balance even worse. Justice soon tired of walking in circles and before I knew it he was leading me in a straight line.

The same thing happened the next day. And the day after that. Soon we were taking proper walks and I was teaching Justice to stay, sit and stand up.

Justice seemed to sense my difficulties and I found that holding his leash steadied me. Once, we ran into a neighbor and I found myself talking less hesitantly–about Justice. He got all the attention, taking the pressure off me.

Caring for Justice steadied me in other ways too. Life became a routine. Up in time to feed and walk my boy, devotions, excursions to stores and other places Justice needed to get used to, visits with other guide-dog raisers to socialize the dogs.

My life hadn’t been so active since the accident. I hardly had time to feel sorry for myself. And all the talking! Everyone wanted to stop and pet this handsome boy with the bright yellow Guide Dog jacket. Everyone wanted to hear his story. Our story.