I lost my vision in the spring of 1997. I was frightened, angry and didn't want to live a life of not being able to see and enjoy things. I was a nurse and also lost my job because I couldn't perform the duties of a registered nurse. I did not want to live. I became very depressed. I was encouraged to attend a rehabilitation facility that taught visually impaired persons how to adjust and live again. I refused, but one day I fell down a flight of stairs at my home and was hurt very badly. I was home alone and I couldn't even dial a phone to get help. Then I went to Pittsburgh Vision Services where I spent 12 weeks learning to do things a new way. Here I also learned about guide dogs and noticed that people with guide dogs were a lot more independent, safer and could get around much faster. I did lots of research and applied to The Guide Dog Foundation in Smithtown, NY.
Ten months later, I received a call from the school that they had a dog for me. I went to the school, was matched with Lucie and we began training together. Lucie was a lot different than the other dogs in my class. She was very obedient, had impeccable manners, was very focused and not distracted. About a week into training, I was called into the office of the head trainer and the trainer that trained Lucie and then me. They told me that they had to tell me something about my dog. They proceeded to tell me that Lucie was raised in a prison. It was a new program called, Puppies Behind Bars. They went the prison several times to observe and were very impressed with the program and accepted 1 dog to give it a try. They got Lucie in August, 1999. Lucie was the first graduate of the Puppies Behind Bars program. I received many offers for interviews and she and I have been featured in many articles.
I have been a very big support of Puppies Behind Bars. They teach inmates to raised puppies to become potential guide dogs. They have since stopped raising for guide dogs schools and are focusing on raising dogs for explosive detection dogs and assistance dogs for veterans.
Lucie was raised in Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in Bedford Hills, NY. This is a maximum security women's prison. These women did a wonderful job. Lucie was born at Guiding Eyes guide dog school. When she was 6 weeks old she failed 3 tests they give all the puppies and she was discharged from their program. She was given to Puppies Behind Bars with 4 other puppies that failed to start the program. Guiding Eyes felt she would never be a guide dog. They were wrong; with love, nurturing and dedicated teaching, she became a guide dog. She was considered one of the best guide dogs ever. I was told she was extremely intelligent with a remarkable memory. She just had to do something once and she knew it.
Lucie and I did so much together. We traveled to 17 states, many cities, traveled to New York many times to attend Puppies Behind Bars functions and met many, many people. We traveled to the prison where Lucie was raised to meet the women that raised her. A New York TV station even video taped our visit and it was featured on the news. There were many tears that day as those women were very proud that they had a part in making my life easier and much happier. When I got Lucie, people noticed that I was much happier. She gave me a reason to live and do things again. I was totally independent. I just had to tell her where I wanted to go and she got me there.
On April 25, 2006, Lucie did not get up as usual. She laid in her bed, next to my bed. I got up and noticed that something was wrong. She was very weak. My daughter and I immediately took her to our vet. He didn't know what was wrong but noticed that her lymph nodes were very swollen. He aspirated one and sent it to the lab. The next day, he called me with the bad news; diagnosis lymphoma. He had already talked with Dr. Terrance Hamilton in Cleveland. He was considered one of the best oncologists in the field. I chose to take Lucie to him and we did so the next day. Chemotherapy was started on April 27, 2006. She went into remission with the second treatment and did very well. She continued to work and wanted to work. She did have a problem with Vincristine and that drug was discontinued and give another drug and she did fine with that. In September, 2006 Dr. Hamilton left the practice and Lucie's care of transferred to Dr. Nathaniel Myers in Pittsburgh. Chemo was completed on December 6, 2006, which was also her 9th birthday. It was a very happy day and the office celebrated along with us.
Lucie continued to do well and had frequent checkups until June, 2007, when Dr. Myers found, via an ultrasound, several internal lymph nodes that were swollen. This was a good indication that the cancer beast had returned. He did aspirate the lymph nodes and the test results confirmed that she had relapsed. I chose to restart chemo as she did very well before and we anticipated a return to remission. She received 3 treatments with the last being Adriamycin. She became very sick after that treatment with a horrible cough. Our vet, Dr. Bryan Krazel, who is absolutely wonderful, did an xray and Lucie did have some fluid in her lung. He gave her an antibiotic and Lasix. She was a little better. The weekend came and on Sunday morning, July 15, she became much worse and was struggling to breathe. We took her to an emergency facility where tests confirmed she was in congestive heart failure. She was admitted to the hospital, put on continuous oxygen and given mediation to decrease the strain on her heart and the fluid. She was in critical condition. She was discharged the next morning and we had to transport her with oxygen to our vet. We now had bigger problems. She could not have chemo and her heart was now affected by the chemo. We could give her medication to keep her going for a while, but how long was unknown. She was never going to get better. I promised her in the beginning that I would not let her suffer; if we reached a point when her quality of life was affected and she was suffering I would help her. I had to keep that promise to her. I chose to end that suffering. It was the worst day of my life and the most difficult decision that I ever made. She passed away on July 16, 2007, surrounded by her family and the veterinary staff that loved her. She had the most peaceful death that I have ever witnessed.
She helped me each and every day to find my way. I wish I could have helped her. I was so devastated to lose her. I received condolences from all over the world. She was a famous dog that helped so many people; not just me but each inmate in prison that they can do something good. Many have been released and gone on to do great things and Puppies Behind Bars has been successful.
So this is Lucie's story. I miss her terribly and think of her daily. She will be forever in my heart and in my memories.