Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Dog tales

Unbroken circle of rescue

        When Bracken was dodging cars on Kellogg Avenue, he was technically free. Free to scrounge for food. Free to freeze in the snow. Free to be a flea ranch and tick farm.

        After he was caught, Marlys Staley sent him to prison, where he learned a useful trade. Now the 2-year-old mutt is the partner of a young man who has limited use of his limbs. Bracken opens closet doors and dresser drawers, and turns on lights.

        Dogs like Bracken are killed because they misbehave or nobody wants them. Dogs like Stone are killed because they swoop through the gene pool and come up with one that is unpopular.

        A Weimaraner with distinguished forebears, Stone was born with long hair. Breeders usually destroy these puppies. Stone's soft-hearted owner gave him to Ms. Staley instead.

        She sent the puppy to Chillicothe Correctional Institution, where two inmates trained him to follow simple commands. “These guys love the dogs, read up on their care and are serious about the responsibility,” Ms. Staley says.

        Founder of Circle Tail Inc., Ms. Staley gave Stone some additional training and then gave him to Tina Mooney. Quite a gift.

        “He has turned my life around,” Ms. Mooney says, “made it immeasurably better.”

        Dogs will do that, even in the best of circumstances. And Ms. Mooney's circumstances were not the best. A social worker, she suffered brain trauma in a car accident seven years ago.

        Her balance, speech and short-term memory were impaired. “I used to fall all the time,” she says. Now she can walk to a park or the grocery store in her East Price Hill neighborhood, leaning on Stone's harness. “I don't need to be dependent on another human being just to get around.”

        She takes medication regularly throughout the day, sets a timer. But if the timer went off and she was distracted before she took her pill, she'd forget.

        Now Stone won't let her. He hears the beep, goes and gets the pill. Then he tugs on a rope on the refrigerator door handle. After he retrieves her water bottle, he goes back and shuts the door.

        “And he loves to do this,” Ms. Staley says. “Some dogs like to have a job, and Stone is one of them.”

        She founded the Circle Tail organization five years ago to provide service dogs to people with hearing, neurological or emotional disabilities. Free of charge.

        who rescue people. She needs short-term foster families for one- to four-week visits. She could use help with grooming, and money is always nice, of course. She is available at circletailfuse.net. Her Web site (www.circletail.org) has pictures of Bracken and Stone and stories of many more dogs performing remarkable services. That is besides the usual priceless doggy services, such as wagging tails, handing out sloppy kisses and not asking any dumb questions.

        And, no matter what the technical job description, they are actually setting somebody free.

        E-mail lpulfer@enquirer.com. Past columns at Enquirer.com/columns/pulfer.


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