Meet five canine heroes from our backyard.
Every night when I get home, my faithful pups, Maizy and Maybelline, greet me at the front door with such enthusiasm, you’d think that I was holding a juicy steak—or at least a bag of hamburgers. In fact, they’re just so happy to see me that no matter what kind of mood I’m in pulling into the driveway, I’m thrilled to be reunited with my dogs.
While anyone with a dog at home can relate, some four-legged companions go beyond just being our best friends. Here are five extraordinary East Bay canines.
The Author: Wilma
Berkeley artist Rae Dunn always wanted a dog but worried that her apartment was too small. But in 2005, Rae met Wilma, and it was a match made in Heaven. Dunn’s new four-legged friend wasn’t just a great companion but a creative inspiration for Dunn’s work as a sculptor.
“Wilma is like my muse: She’s simple and graphic and iconic, and that’s how my work is,” says Dunn. “She has definitely changed my life.”
In 2007, Dunn started a blog featuring photos of Wilma next to musings written from the dog’s point of view. The blog drew the attention of media outlets (Diablo included), and soon Wilma was featured in everything from American Craft to Martha Stewart Living to Spanish Architectural Digest.
In March, Dunn and Wilma released Wilma’s World: Good Advice from a Good Dog. The Chronicle Books release features charming photos of Wilma across from her Zen-like musings about how to get the most out of life.
“I pitched it as a children’s book, [but Chronicle Books] saw it as a book for adults,” says Dunn. “Kids don’t need this advice. Adults do.”
With that in mind, we asked Wilma to share a few thoughts with Diablo readers.
“The thing with humans is that they are so tall that they have a hard time focusing in on the small things in life that for me are right at my eye level. Humans seem to just walk right by beautiful things that deserve to be seen and smelled. I try to show Rae how to see the world from my perspective. When she walks too fast, I have to pull on her leash to slow her down. Sometimes when she tries to go left, I pull her to the right, and she always agrees: ‘Yes, this is the right way because I never would have seen this beautiful flower or bug or tree.’ ”
The Guide-Dog Mom: Fame
Lorrie and Sully Sullenberger know a thing or two about fame.
The Danville couple became household names in January 2009 when Sully made an emergency landing of US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River in New York. The story inspired people all over the world, and news shows clamored for interviews. (Sully’s story was recently optioned by director Clint Eastwood for a feature film adaptation.)
But friends of the Sullenbergers know that they have been community heroes for decades. They have been working with San Rafael–based Guide Dogs for the Blind since 1988, raising breeder dogs who have litters of pups that are trained as guide dogs. Lorrie says the experience has been extremely valuable for the family.
“I wanted this to be a teaching tool for our daughters. I wanted them to learn about giving back to the community and people with disabilities,”
For the past 27 years, the Sullenbergers have cared for five different breeder dogs. Twinkle was especially prolific, birthing five litters of pups. Typically, one out of two puppies is then placed, free of charge, with sight-impaired owners.
After Twinkle passed away, the Sullenbergers were paired with another breeder dog named Fame, who had three litters, each with nine puppies, before retiring last year. Despite being a perfect moniker, Fame’s name has nothing to do with the Sullenbergers’ unexpected celebrity.
“Everyone thinks we named her because of Sully landing the plane on the Hudson,” says Lorrie, laughing, “but it was totally random—or maybe it was fate that brought Fame to us.”
To learn more about Guide Dogs for the Blind programs, visit guidedogs.com.
The Enforcer: Yogi
Concord Police Department’s K9 unit boasts the largest squadron of four-legged law enforcement in Contra Costa. The program, which dates back to at least 1965, currently has eight dogs on patrol.
Yogi is a partner in crime fighting with Concord Police Officer and K9 handler Kevin Halm. The German shepherd has been walking the East Bay beat for the past three years.
“He’s my companion all the time,” says Halm.
Yogi was instrumental in the recent apprehension of a wanted man, who was involved in a vehicle chase with the Concord PD. When the man-on-the-lam got to a local golf course, he ditched his car, then evaded his human pursuers by running across the course and hiding in some nearby buildings.
“We had lost sight of him,” says Halm. “But Yogi found him hiding in a storage building, under a huge pile of golf bags.”
So what was Yogi’s reward—a key to the city?
“He got an extra piece of bologna that night,” says Halm.
For more on the Concord Police K9 program, visit facebook.com/concordpolicek9association.
The Champ: Max
In 2013, Danville’s GCH Charisma Maxim Von Diable (the standard schnauzer also goes by “Max”) won Best of Breed at the famed Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City. After this Super Bowl of dog shows, Max’s owners, John and Linda Adiletti, decided he would retire from competition.
But Max couldn’t stay in retirement. Like Rocky Balboa or Michael Jordan, Max, now nine, returned to compete in a Northern California dog show last October. He cleaned up at the competition, scoring top honors in the veteran select dog, stud dog, and working group categories. Then, he retired again.
“It was a beautiful way to end his competitive career,” says John. “He’s been the best there has been for the past decade.”
John adds that Max is enjoying retirement, and loves to visit Blackhawk’s new dog park.
The Therapist: Otto
As an occupational therapist at Veterans Affairs, Martinez, Karri Kennedy has seen the many intense effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq.
Knowing that evidence suggests dogs can be helpful in relieving the stress of PTSD, Kennedy recently connected with Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation in Walnut Creek, whose Pets for Vets program places dogs with veterans, free of charge. The connection was an instant success.
“I have been dealing with a veteran for several months, and he has been having a very tough time,” says Kennedy. “He has night terrors and does not sleep well. As long as I have known him, he has had a very difficult time sitting still, even for a few minutes.”
Recently, the vet came into Kennedy’s office and said, “I need a dog.” Off to ARF they went.
“We reached the shelter, and he was introduced to a mix of shepherd and pit bull named Otto,” says Kennedy. “Otto came up to him and immediately licked his face. It was love at first sight.”
The therapeutic effects were instantaneous.
“You can tell that his stress level has significantly decreased. He can sit still and have a conversation for a half an hour,” she says. “He came into my office with the biggest smile on his face, and has had no night terrors since adopting Otto.”
For more information about ARF’s program to help veterans, visit arflife.org/pets-for-vets.