Sunday, December 16, 2012

Guide Dogs of America - A Michael Bush Charity

“I shall pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi                                                          

Time after time this blog, "Michael's Heart" and the call from the Lord to write these Michael Jackson blog stories have been an evolving healing process for me. This morning's new adventure in Michael's memory and name is no exception. I was honored to be invited to attend my very first Guide Dogs of America (GDA) graduation ceremony by lovely, Lorri Bernson. I met Lorrie and Carter at the Julien's VIP Preview Party where she had invited me to attend the Graduation of Class 376. It was wonderful to see her and sweet Carter again. 

God bestowed a California, winter sun to brighten this special day quickly dispersing the crisp morning frost. The previous day's rain clouds had magically lifted their gray curtain giving way to brightly fresh, sunny, ultramarine skies. A very crisp, chilly bite lingered in the early morning air and frost on the roof tops along with the neighbors Christmas lawn ornaments reminded me it was Christmas time. I downed my mocha coffee and drove off to my anticipated destination. Climbing from my car, the feel and crunch of the parking lot gravel under my boots triggered the thought of how funny life is. I had spent so many years driving past this place on Glenoaks Blvd. in Sylmar and never knew it existed. Now here I stood. But then most of the past 15 years I've driven by giving only a quick averting glance toward Sylmar from the passing freeway lanes. There was a time I'd spent many a day in this area. Ironically I had not been back to this place for many years and stepping foot on this crunchy gravel after driving these streets triggered a burst of hidden memories and feelings flooding forward from the hidden crevices of my mind. Memories from a time and place in my life when I felt nothing existed except the emotional pain, struggle and loneliness of abuse. A time when just waking up each morning was a hard, reluctant push toward surviving life as I faced the humungous obstacles of an ex-husband's addictions and afflictions upon my precious family. So it's no surprise to me that I did not know GDA is housed here in this place for I knew little else but the bleak, dark tunnel vision of this daily survival for many years. 

Michael Jackson has once again given me the gift of new memories where there once was pain. 'Heal The World' was his message and once again the pathway to healing my broken heart. To heal from the negative you must replace it with postive... Michael Jackson has always done that for me. A place which represented so much pain and suffering for me is now transformed into a 'Mike Like' place of Joy, Growth and Goodness. MJJ's passing from this earth has miraculously and lavishly sprinkled LOVE, healing and restored passion for life globally. Just like Tinker Bell's pixie dust for all those who choose to believe. I am only one of the millions who have been blessed this way. Our lives enhanced somehow larger, brighter, with far reaching horizons and friendships we never dreamed possible. Just as these incredible Guide Dogs will also yield a blind or seeing impaired man or women new horizons and a much brighter future.

Noting to myself how small my world was before Michael Jackson filled my life I pocketed the memories in a new more positive way and moved on to the rather large tent which seemed to be permanently erected for graduation ceremonies. Looking out and beyond my thoughts now to this day's seemingly magical results stemming from hard work, discipline and LOVE which are about to be revealed to me. I am about to come face to face with the end result of patience, commitment and devotion in a way I have never seen before. The same excellent qualities that MJ built his life and career around, alive and large right here in this lovely little corner of the world. I am here to just observe of course but one more time MJ has brought me places I'd never dreamed possible. Coming from my introverted, isolated world four years ago I could not in a million years and beyond ever imagine that I'd be sitting here for this most memorable day.
Big boy, Guinness. I am told he is named for the
Guinness World Record not the beer. His yellow GDA jacket
decorated with tinsel for Christmas
As I find my way amidst the crowd of people and dogs wearing bright yellow GDA jackets, some decorated for Christmas with tinsel and bright Christmas materials, my mind wanders back to the first day of Conrad Murray's arraignment at the Airport Courthouse when I knew beyond all doubt that I had joined forces forever as one of "MJ's Soldier of LOVE". God is the master of restoration and on that day God's voice was Michael Jackson's voice from 'This Is It'. So clearly in my mind over the blaring MJ music which is still the backdrop of my life I heard his words telling me, "It's an adventure. We're going to go places we've never been before, do things we've never done before." So today thanks to Michael Bush, Dennis Tompkins and Michael Jackson here I sit. A most special big thanks to Michael Bush's big heart of LOVE and caring for choosing Guide Dogs of America as one of the two main charities which will benefit from proceeds from the Julien's Tompkins-Bush auction which was held earlier this month on Dec. 2, 2012 and raised over $5 million.
Jan's beautiful sweet Gideon
Gideon with puppy Winston. His head is bigger than little Winston. :) Yet he is so gentle.
My week had been filled with painful, surprising emotional landmines; yet here in this place they seemed so miniscule next to the hurdles of success I was witnessing. I was so happy I had kept this day as something to look forward to. It truly carried me through. It's easy to see how small your problems are when you are surrounded by such beautiful people. Behind me sits jovial, friendly Jan, who is blind. Smiling big she introduces me to her yellow Labrador Retriever, Gideon. We begin to talk and I learn that although Gideon is quite large he is still a puppy. They both only last month took part in a graduation together and are new companions, and all puppies who graduate continue to learn and train after being assigned their person and they become familiar with one another. Gideon is curious, interested in the other dogs and commanded to 'leave it' several times. He is a husky boy with a great temperament. Jan praises Gideon to me explaining that just the day before he proved his staunch reliability as he escorted her successfully down an extremely slippery, wet and unknown street. Clearly she is growing to trust him. A springy legged, 6 month old, black Retriever puppy, Java, comes in and sits near Jan with his puppy raiser. Then another, Winston, close in age at 4 months old who looks like Java's twin sits right next to Jan allowing Gideon a doggy close by to smell and get to know evoking many more 'leave its.' A command which the dogs all come to know as they must stop what they are doing and focus on the handler's commands. I hear this command throughout the gathering off and on from handlers. Learning also that puppy raisers will sometimes raise many puppies and then hand them over each time to new companions and/or new handlers as the need arises. Looking down at these beautiful creatures I wonder how on earth they can let go of these precious souls and move on without them. I think how difficult, painful and selfless that must be; countered with the over shadowing of great pride and satisfaction knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt your work is so purposeful and important. The training of a guide dog is long process. A guide dog's working life is approximately 10 years depending on the dog and the need.
Susan and Jaeger

Brie, such a sweet well behaved girl.
Inside the large, windowed tent a crowd has now filled not only the rows of chairs, a long row of the short lifted bleachers at the back but also there are others standing to the sides and around the perimeter. There looks to me to be about 150 to 200 people in attendance today. At the end of my row I meet, Missy, and her dog in training, Brie, like the cheese I am told. Clearly I don't eat much cheese because I need to ask for the spelling. Brie, a 6 month petite golden Labrador Retriever, she seems all girl in her yellow GDA coat, very self assured, simply precious, amazingly calm, and well behaved. Missy does little to speak to her and she instantly responds to each of her quiet commands or nudges. Missy's friend Susan comes in and sits next to her and holds her chubby puppy, Jaeger, who is 4 months on her lap. He has the most calm, peaceful, quiet spirit and very happily and comfortably is at home sitting in his trainer's lap. She allows me to pet him and his beautiful, doe eyes melt my heart as he looks up at me. She proudly states and I can plainly see that he is incredibly intelligent and well behaved. Behind them sit Glyn and sweet Fred who I met at the auction and Fred is his noble self, also just as calm and well behaved as he sits on the floor next to his trainer.
Then I am blessed as a very friendly knowledgeable couple, Bill and Kelly Green, who have raised 9 dogs so far sit right next to me with their new roly poly puppy, Milo. Like a rock star, Milo, is a great attraction for young teenage girls who run over to pet him. The sight and touch of Milo's sweet, perfect face and soft cuddly fur evokes many teenage oooh's, aaah's and squeals of giddy, sweet joy. I have to say I oooh'd and aaah'd myself. He too is a good boy who sits peacefully on his blanket or in his trainer's lap. He is fuzzy, round and adorable and just only yesterday had his picture taken as a poster dog for GDA. I too find I can not resist the urge to pet him as I reach out to say hello to Milo he licks me hello back. One thing I've noticed as I ask, "May I pet him/her?" is that all the trainers and puppy raisers do not hesitate to say over and over, "Yes. Of course." They are more than happy for you to pet the dogs and puppies. However asking first is only courteous, respectful and appreciated.

Bill and his wife ask why I am there at the graduation and I'm pleased to tell them I'm an MJ fan who writes a blog and am doing a follow up story on one of the charities which will benefit from the Tompkins-Bush Julien's auction. They relay to me that they had followed the auction with much interest and were very happy to hear it would benefit GDA. At that moment I feel so blessed, so very proud to be an MJ fan... even more so than a normal typical day. My heart is full. God bless you Michael Bush.

Home Schooler, Haley, and Jethro have an instant loving, affectionate bond
Christy Moon speaking, her black Lab Retriever guide dog Smokey sits calmly at her feet. 
Christy Moon and Smokey meet her family for the first time at the residence.
No matter how I took the pic this radiating bright light was present. Michael?
There is a family celebratory atmosphere in the air. No, this is not a tearful, somber event  although many are giving up their dogs to new companions today and will not see them again. Here today are 8 companions who had come to the campus of GDA to live in residence for 21 days with their guide dogs. Learning how to interact and continue the training started by the puppy raisers and trainers, building and forging a relationship with their newly assigned guide dogs. As the emcee, Chuck Jordon, the Director of Programs conducts the event I learn that all 8 people as well as 2 home schoolers are graduating with their guide dogs today. It's not just a graduation for the dogs but their new companions as well. They are a team. It is a rigorous course also including each puppy trainer who trains right alongside the new companions and the dogs for 21 days to assure a smooth transfer for both dog and companion. After all the trainers have been with the puppies for over a year and the puppies know them well. One of the trainers comments when giving their statement, "Teams clique. You can see when the dog turns to the owner and says 'You are my man/woman'." The puppy trainers/presenters escort each new team of companion/owner and their assigned matched dogs onto the stage as they 'hand over the leash' so to speak for the final time.

The home schoolers have spent a jammed packed 10 days of learning everything the residence companions learned in 21 days; however their training takes place within their own home and neighborhoods. All teams run through all sorts of obstacle training courses, speed training, street crossings, escalators, stairs, elevators where one of the companions, Christy Moon, the group elected spokes person jokingly tongue in cheek says, "Some have literally tackled the escalators."  Some of the learning activities I'm surprised to learn took place close to my neighborhood in the Valencia Paseos where they learned to walk the paths and work together in all sorts of weather including the recent rains.

Bill Hartman, the president of GDA, explains they get no federal or state funding and it requires about $42,000 to train a guide dog from start to finish. This money covers all expenses including medical, food, transportation, room and board, residency of companions, activities and materials in the full cycle of raising and teaching a guide dog. This extends from the first initial receipt of the puppy to the trainer at about 7 weeks all the way to the training and graduating of a dog to a new companion/owner at approximately 1.5 years. It is an expensive process and all expenses are paid by GDA and completely free to those in need. To sponsor a puppy yearly it runs $5,000 for a guide dog puppy. This is why donations are so important. This is why the proceeds from the auction will be so beneficial to a blind or visually impaired man or woman. Giving them the gift of peace of mind, the eyes of their guide dog, the companionship, comfort, guidance and aid for many years to come.

Both Michael Jackson and Michael Bush would be beaming and happy to see the children who then entered the room. Several from a local Girl Scouts of America troop open the event with a color guard presentation and the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. We are told with the pride of engrained patriotism this is how all graduation ceremonies begin. My past years of Girl Scout leader pride well up in me. Somehow I feel MJ, Dennis Tompkins and Michael Bush would be nodding yes along with me, sensing similar pride, smiling as big as I am at this moment.

As the graduation moves on we learn some of the companions are getting matched with their 3rd or 4th dogs and also learn a bit more about each person as the presenters/trainers and the companions each speak. It is moving, touching and joyous. There are tears; albeit cushioned with much applause and cheers.
One of the puppy raisers comments, "As puppy raisers we know that the dogs are not our dogs and wish them many happy miles as a team." Some enlist the help of local school children to help train the dogs. Each dog and each raiser or handler is different with distinct personalities yet each with the ultimate goal to graduate on stage just as the 10 dogs being presented today.
Kim and Porter
One new companion, Kim, a very cool, laid back biker lady was thrilled with her new guide dog, Porter. She and Porter like many have heartily bonded already. It was touching when she spoke of herself and Porter saying, "Music soothes the savage beast and music, motorcycles and Porter soothes and calms Kim."
Denali and his new companion Rachele along with
the presenter a member of the Hart Family who trained Denali
Each companion and presenter/trainer touched my heart with their stories but none for me more so than a young man in his early twenties from the Hart family. He so like MJ is very shy but through his experience with puppy, Denali, has grown into a confident young man. Denali teaching him to reach outside his shyness and interact at new levels. He reads eloquently from a paper, his words flow across the room touching hearts, relaying that his family (as it sometimes takes a village to raise a guide dog) named their dog, Denali, after the highest Alaskan mountain peak, meaning "Great One." He clearly loves this animal beyond measure and very well expressed something his mother told him:
                            "Some gifts have to change hands to change lives."

He then said, "I never dreamed she [Denali] would change my life. I was quiet, shy, introverted... me talking? I have even been able to talk to girls who have come to talk to her on the end of my leash... I saw her future was up to her. I spent 18 months training her and then realized even without her leash in my hand I stood a little taller. She has touched every person who has come into her life." Then summing up the entire process he shared this by Ralph Waldo Emerson:

"The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful
, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well."

This could not better express not only the lives of these wonderful people, these noble animals but also the extraordinary life of Michael Jackson. Yes God gave us the gift of Michael Jackson and then he took him back. In the process of time he spent on this earth sharing his gifts he changed and blessed millions of lives and although God reclaimed this gifted, gentle man he continues to give, continues to change and Heal The World. Thank you Michael for all you gave.  Thank you Michael Bush for your big heart of love and continuing to honor your dear friends, Dennis Tompkins and Michael Jackson in this most special way.

Michael Bush is a man of such sweet character. He is kind, gentle and in spite of many recent unwarranted and shameful attacks just like MJ he has remained generous in spirit. Clearly you can certainly see why Michael Jackson and he worked so well together for almost 25 years. Whenever I meet him in person immediately I feel comfortable... like I'm with an old friend. Many other MJ fans have made the same statement. He is always welcoming, open, patient and so easy to talk to. Being around Michael Bush makes me wonder if in a way this is how MJ's dancing loafers felt for him... just like an old friend. Yes Michael Bush was the dresser and designer for Michael Jackson but in the years he spent with him it's not an accident that he's also so much like him filled with a kind, generous, loving heart and spirit. Yes you can certainly feel and see how he fit so well working along side Michael for so very long.

Recently Michael Bush shared his heart about the Guide Dog puppies and the donations in Michael Jackson's memory:
“Not only did MJJ give me the tools to write the book but to raise money for people that can't pay medical bills or for medicine and to be able to support the seeing eye dog foundation affording puppies for blind human beings that did not get the gift of sight that I did and have every morning I wake up. The people that will never get to see Michael dance and entertain them. These people struggle through out life on a daily, hourly basis. I hope the first puppy we get, we can name him 'Thriller', not only in MJJ's honor but the 'thrill' the person will get indirectly from MJJ's gift of music and dance." ~ Michael Bush

Last but not least on the way back to my car was this beautiful German Shepard guide dog in training puppy. I failed to get his name, he was the only Shepard present this day. In asking his trainer what qualities set the German Shepard breed apart from the Labrador Retriever guide dogs I am told the German Shepard breed is well suited for those companions who do office work or professionals in the corporate or security world. They are alert, focused, multi-task easily and because of their stereotypical police dog reputation work well in the business world helping to keep a more dauntless appearance while still being loving and attentive to their companion.

In Michael Jackson's memory if you too would like to join in and donate towards this worthy charity to help enable a blind or visually impaired person to lead a more fulfilled life via Guide Dogs of America please give freely knowing that your donations are going directly to a wonderful cause in MJ's memory. They are very familiar with Michael Bush. Just state to them you are giving in Michael Jackson's memory at Guide Dogs of America:

Or if you would like to donate to the Nathan Adelson Hospice in Las Vegas to help the terminally ill and suffering to help defray their medical costs or medications and supplies, please go to this link:

Also you can find and purchase Michael Bush's book "King of Style: Dressing Michael Jackson" at Amazon:

1 comment:

  1. This is a beautiful cause. It's also well written Betty. Thank you. <3 - Love, Bonnie