Written by Dagmar Fors Karppi: firstname.lastname@example.org Friday, 18 May 2012 00:00
The purpose of the Lions Club of Oyster Bay’s spring benefit is always to raise funds for the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind (GDF) and their America’s VetDogs (AVD) as well as other worthy causes. This year’s benefit event, held at the Seawanhaka Corinthian Yacht Club (SCYC) on April 29, allowed people to get a better idea of the GDF and the people they serve.
In 2003, the GDF recognized the need for an overall assistance dog program for veterans that would incorporate guide dogs, service dogs and state-of-the-art mobility devices – especially as our nation’s veterans age and as our country’s wounded warriors return home from active conflicts abroad.
AVD was created and incorporated to give veterans easy access to the best service possible to improve their lives. Their dogs have touched thousands of lives — from disabled veterans, to service members deployed overseas, to their families. All their services are provided at no cost to veterans, the military or active duty personnel. AVD relies on voluntary public contributions to fund its efforts. The Lions Clubs are known for their mission to help the blind.
Susan Semple, an ambassador of GDF was outside on the SCYC lawn with her dog Tobay, talking to Joan and Harold Kingsley. She said, “This is my retirement [focus].” She is raising puppies for the GDF in her father’s memory. He died 30 years ago. “My father, who was blind, did not like dogs, personally. My mother thought one might help him.” He loved the dog he received. “I knew in retirement that I would raise the dogs.” She said of her dog, Mr. Tobay, “He’s changed my life year by year. You need to explore and explain life.”
The GDF raises puppies to become future assistance dogs: an umbrella term for the guide dog for the blind, and the service dog for other than blindness needs. Today, with a burgeoning older population, the service dogs are used by seniors to provide stability when walking.
Susan gets the puppies at about 7 weeks old and raises them for one year. They go for training at 12 to 14 months old for a six-month course at the GDF in Smithtown.
After guests enjoyed the hors d’oeuvres and took part in the live auction, Jerry Lalonde, co-chair of the fundraising event got down to brass tacks. He said, “Now is the painful part, time to open your wallets to support the guide dog program.”
He introduced Kent Phyfe, a Brooklyn, Connecticut resident who attended with his part Lab, part chow dog. “She was a shelter dog. She came to me last September, 2011 when she was 2 and a half years old,” he said.
Mr. Phyfe is a retired Sgt. First Class. He was with the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division and Special Forces. Although disabled, you would never know it by looking at him. “I have TBI (traumatic brain injury), bad knees from jumping in a parachute, and a bad liver as well as cardiogenic syncope (fainting due to cardiovascular problems). My whole system shuts down and I collapse. Iris, my dog, knows when it is happening and hits the 911 button (wired to reach the EMTs) that calls for an ambulance.” He added, when people clap (or there is a sudden loud noise), “she startles for me,” which she did at the auction, standing up and looking at him in the face to get his attention.
Mr. Phyfe said to the guests, “I’m 15 years out of the service with a medical. I was retired when they found that I had a heart problem with my aortic valve. Now I have a titanium aortic valve, I went to Walter Reed Hospital to get it. It keeps the blood flow regular.
“I started an Internet company in 2001, but began to disintegrate emotionally and physically from the concussions I received as a paratrooper which brought on TBI. I have had seven electrical physical studies done on me. Two years prior to getting Iris I had to stick in the house. Doctors said a dog would be a good thing for me. I had started looking at dog breeders but they wanted me to raise the money before they would accept my application. I found VetDogs online. I told them my story and they said, ‘You definitely qualify,’ and I got an appointment.” A couple of weeks later they sent a trainer out to him for an interview and evaluation to determine his needs and then trained the right dog for him.
“With cardio geneticism my body stops. I’m not getting enough blood to my heart and then everything shuts down. It’s not a friendly thing. My kids have come home from school and found me on the floor. I was actually sitting in the emergency room when it happened the first time.
“Iris worked with the trainers and me. The trainer said Iris would be a great match with me. In September we started training.” The training took place over two weeks at the GDF campus in Smithtown.
As Mr. Phyfe talked there was a sudden commotion among the auction attendees standing in the sunny SCYC reception room. One of the guests fainted and East Norwich Fire Chief John DeBellis raced out to his car to get his equipment. Oyster Bay Fire Company ex-chief Pete Hosey offered his expert help too. It was a good place to have an emergency happen. Mr. Lalonde suggested the guests go out on the terrace and enjoy the beautiful day for a while as things settled down. When the ambulance arrived and the EMTs went to work, they took the guest, wearing an oxygen mask, out on a gurney. He waved to the crowd showing that he was doing well.
When things quieted down, Mr. Lalonde announced that Mr. Phyfe had left. He was upset by seeing the person fall in a manner he is all too familiar with, explained Mr. Lalonde. It was a good example of how lucky the rest of the group were, and an indication of the real need for service dogs, guide dogs and VetDogs.
After that Mr. Lalonde got down to brass tacks — raising money for VetDogs. Mr. Lalonde started the call for donations at $500. Many of the Lions Club members raised their hands at that amount. He counted down the dollars by hundreds, slowly, as Ginny Williams kept count of the donations.
Mr. Lalonde said of the event, “Overall the Lions Club of Oyster Bay 7th Annual Spring Benefit raised over $20,000. Included in the total was $6,500 specifically pledged for VetDogs. The Lions Club will donate a similar amount to the Guide Dog Foundation to sponsor a guide dog for the blind. The remaining monies will be allocated to the various local groups supported by the Lions Club.”