A Passing: Eli

Eli (File photo)

Eli worked with more patients than most doctors. You might say he was a general practitioner since his skills were limitless.  And his bedside manner was better than even Marcus Welby’s.

For a decade, Eli was the Numero Uno member of the Baylor Animal Assisted Therapy program. From his birth on March 13, 2007, there was something special about the Golden Retriever. Sure, he was like any dog if a tennis ball caught his eye. But once he arrived at any of the Baylor campuses in North Texas wearing his ID badge and bandanna, he transformed into a care provider.

By an act of the fates, Eli was able to pursue his calling with his partner Linda Marler, who was in charge of the Baylor program. Partner? Yes. Anyone could see that in Eli’s and Linda’s relationship, there was no “owner.” They were partners.

For years, Linda and Eli would daily go to “their” office on the first floor of Baylor Institute for Rehabilitation and set up schedules and work with all types of patients. In some cases, it was just to provide some comfort for a patient who missed their own dog. For others, it was helping a young person trying to regain the use of their hands after a motorcycle accident. And for still others, it was quietly putting his head in someone’s lap when they were having a bad day.

Linda Marler and Eli (File photo)

However, it was more than the patients who got the Eli treatment. Baylor staff members would greet them as they walked through the halls.  Their little office became the “must-stop-by” spot for anyone working in the building. It was never surprising to see a patient in a wheelchair roll up to the door to see how Eli was doing. The Golden Retriever greeted each visitor with a wagging tail and a smile. Yes, Eli did smile.

Alas, poor Eli had to put up with some of Linda’s silliness. She would balance everything from treats to balls on his nose to show how obedient he was. Everyone from children to the most highly educated specialist would look in amazement as he held his nose just the right way until Linda gave him the signal to release.

Eli in the center with Baylor Animal Assisted Therapy testing team (File photo)

And, of course, Eli became the rock star of the Animal Assisted Therapy program. The temperament testing team considered Eli not to be a dog, but rather one of the testers. When new dogs would be tested for the program that was considered one of the toughest, Eli would quietly lie nearby until Linda needed him.

Eli (File photo)

As the years passed, Eli found himself training a new puppy in the Marler household. The pup’s name was Micah and, like Eli, he was a Golden Retriever. Only Micah was a bit of a cut-up. As a youngster, he got loose and was the victim of a hit-and-run. Luckily, Micah pulled through, but it is believed that Eli took him aside and told him to get his act together … which he did.

In recent years, Eli’s muzzle was turning white and he was slowing down a bit. After all, that’s why he had been training Micah to take over some of his duties. But Eli was still showing up for work with Linda and taking care of their patients and staff.

Just this past Sunday, an email was sent by Linda, “Went to ER today. Eli has hemangiosarcoma … We brought him home with us…..giving him extra love and attention. He is not eating….. it is only a matter of time.”

That time came last night, when Linda watched her partner cross the rainbow bridge.

Canine Companions For Independence Graduation At Kinkeade Campus Changed Lives For Both Humans And Their New BFF

Linda and Terrence Marler

May is filled with graduations and that applies to pooches as well as youngsters. On Friday, May 5, Canine Companions for Independence held a graduation ceremony at its Canine Companions for Independence Kinkeade Campus at the Baylor Scott and White Health facilities in Irving. It was overflowing with humans like Jan Rees-Jones with Susan McSherry, Baylor Animal Assisted Therapy Coordinator Linda Marler and her husband Terrence Marler as well as four-legged types.

Before the graduation took place, U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade, who had been the driving force for Texas’ only CCI, teased new Baylor Scott and White CEO Jim Hinton, who had just recently arrived in North Texas from New Mexico: “When Jim first got here, he asked me what are those green objects. I told him, ‘Jim, I know you’re from New Mexico, but those are trees. We have a lot of those here.’ ”

Jim and Kristen Hinton and Ed Kinkeade

Following Ed, Jim told the crowd, “I love my wife first, I love my dogs second and I love my kids third and I’m completely unapologetic about that.”

Despite the Hinton dogs still living for the time being in New Mexico, Jim confessed that he does Facetime with them. “The good news is that they recognize my voice and I’m still a little bit of a wag. I miss those dogs terribly. To me this effort is a convergence of two things that I am passionate about: one is dogs and the other one is healthcare, taking care of people. We all owe a huge debt of gratitude to Judge Ed Kinkeade. It is his vision; it is his passion; it is his unique way that has caused this to exist.”

Jim recalled his attending the previous graduation and “I asked the question that all first-time guests ask, ‘Why are all these Kleenex boxes sitting around?’ And so for the past several months, I’ve been building up this moment with my wife [Kristen] and she is with me today. I’ve noticed that she’s already getting a little teary and we haven’t even started the darn program yet. So, she’s going to be a mess before this thing is over. ”

Luckily, there were boxes of tissues placed throughout the room. Sure, it was Cinco de Mayo to the rest of the world, but it was a parting of relationships for some in the room and for others it was the coming together for a lifelong journey.

Canine Companion for Independence puppy in training

Canine Companion for Independence puppy graduate Dutch II

One group consisted of young Labradors that for two years had been raised through the “awkward years,” thanks to volunteer puppy raisers. These dogs had been loved, hugged and been exposed to the world. Now, they were leaving the comfort of their homes and stepping up to a new level of education that would take place at the facility for months by skilled trainers. Their goal was to become the “companions” for those in need.  

Judy Schumpert and #18

A word about the puppy raisers; they range from all types. Some are families; some are prisoners; and then there was Judy Schumpert, who was turning in her 18th dog and already training her 19th : “I’m either on a mission for God or a glutton for punishment. I’ve got to keep doing it until I can do it no more.”

It’s hard to imagine anyone living, loving and working with a puppy for two years and then giving them up. New puppy raisers Mary Catherine Lombardi and Erica Hotvedt admitted, “When we got started, I think we knew what we were getting into. But I think the final goodbyes are harder than we expected.”  They recognized that their puppy Yoshi III, however, was destined for a truly remarkable role.

That purpose became so apparent when the graduation of the new teams took place. For the past two weeks, the seven humans had arrived and lived at the facility to be matched and trained with their new best friends.

Edgar

Chosen as class spokesperson for the graduating teams, Edgar, with Chase V at his side, eloquently told of the importance of this program for the graduating humans. One was an autistic child, whose outbursts would “calm down immediately” when her pooch, Tess VI, “came to the rescue.” Thomas, whose weakened motor skills caused by cerebral palsy resulted in his dropping things to the floor, had been helped by  Atlas IV retrieving them for him. Wheel-chair-bound youngster Lauren‘s arm was subject to bouts of spasticity and limited control, but when Egan II lay down at her side, it was still and under control. Edgar himself admitted that there were times when he would fall out of his wheelchair and Chase’s bark command would sound the alert for assistance. Thanks to Dutch II, wheelchair-bound Lauren was looking forward to getting out on her own and not being “a burden on my parents.” Sara, who works with first responders in dealing with PTSD, would be assisted in the future by Aiken II, who would be “the non-judging entity in the room that helps the patients relax.” 

From the left: (seated) CCI graduate team Lauren and Egan; (standing) Puppy raisers Andrew, Ella, Mark, Angela and Lauren’s mother

Edgar continued, “These stories are a mere excerpt of what has happened in the past 10 days. Can you imagine what is going to happen in the next 10 years? All of us graduates would like to say thank you for being here today, whether you’re a donor, a puppy raiser, a volunteer. Even if this is your first time with Canine Companions, that’s how it starts. That how you get the ball rolling.”

Summing up the two weeks of team training, he addressed his fellow graduates: “We arrived as seven families, but today we graduate as one. And here we stand on the brink of a 10-year-journey. It won’t always be easy, but I promise it will be worth it. All the troubles that we deal with daily will soon be alleviated by an incredible new resource, my new best friend that is unconditionally at our side just waiting to help anyway they can. Thank you.”

As the new teams headed home for a new life of independence, the new recruits were taken to their CCI spotless digs for the next step in their education to be a life-changing partner for someone in need.   

Lauren and her mother

And that’s why the boxes of Kleenex were throughout the hall.