Meet Cancer Treatment Grant Recipient: Guide Dog Scooby Doo

Scooby Doo is the first guide dog who we have had the pleasure to assist. He has been active for five years working by the side of Pam Hernandez. Pam contacted us in September 2010 about obtaining a
Working Dog Cancer Treatment Grant as her beautiful guide dog, Scooby Doo, had been diagnosed with lymphoma and was undergoing chemotherapy. Amazingly, despite this, Scooby was still able to go into harness and take Pam to run errands and go to work. Here is Pam's story about his work and her special guy, Scooby Doo:


Scooby Doo is a beautiful six-year-old male Hungarian Vizsla who is smart, obedient (most of the time), energetic, mischievous, and more social than most people I know. In his mind, every adult, child, baby, puppy and even a cat may be his next friend, so he prances proudly as he walks by them. One day he even stood wagging his tail at a lawn ornament - actually it was the donkey in a nativity scene on a neighbors lawn. I suppose you could stretch your imagination to see that it kind of resembles a dog...

I met my beautiful boy in April of 2006 when I decided, after 22 years of being legally blind, to get a guide dog.

I have been legally blind since 1982 due to diabetic retinopathy. I have used a cane most of my adult life. While visiting a friend in Florida, we found ourselves planning a field trip to "hug puppies" at the local guide dog school. I've always loved dogs but never really wanted one. Until I went puppy hugging...

I applied for my first guide dog from Southeastern Guide Dogs in Palmetto, Florida in August of 2005. I indicated that I wanted a Hungarian Vizsla as my first choice. I had learned of this breed while visiting the school, although had not ever "seen" one as the puppies I had met at the school were all black labs or lab/golden mixes. When I researched the breed and discovered they were short haired, long eared, demonstratively affectionate "a Velcro dog", easy to clean up and care for, I knew this was the dog for me.

I have always tried to be the best I can be at whatever I do, so I had big expectations for myself. I wanted to be the best guide dog mom ever. I had to learn how to care for a dog, how to talk to them, and when and how to use the 42 commands I would need to make Scooby and I a great team. We had a bit of a slow start, as my harness handle was too short at first and I didn't really know how to use a "command voice".

All dogs test their owners, at least that is what the school told us, and of course Scooby tested me right off the bat. I told Scooby that if he worked hard with me and taught me how to work with him, he would earn his gold medal. I happened to have my own gold medal with me from the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney and I had gotten a small plastic one at a party I had attended before going to school. As you can see in the photo I sent, Scooby earned his gold medal and wore it proudly as we posed for the Southeastern Guide Dog School's 2007 calendar.

Over the last four years Scooby and I have done all kinds of great things. For the first time in many years, I can walk to the local pharmacy, post office, coffee shop, nail salon, and Scooby's favorite place Trader Joes, which is a small specialty grocery store. We have also been to a James Taylor concert, a Triple A baseball game, to The Olympic Training Center where I now coordinate bike racing camps and of course to Florida back to see his first mom, Dot, who lovingly raised him.

Scooby knows when to work and when to relax and play. Here is Scooby Doo relaxing on my bed at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado in September of 2010.

I have received so much more than I have given Scooby. Being blind is not very easy at times. Something as simple as saying hello to people you pass on the street or in the store do not happen so much when you use a cane. I think people just don't know what to say to you. Now that I have my wonderful companion, I have spoken with many, many neighbors and others I pass while out for a walk. To most of the children in the neighborhood I am simply Scooby's mom. My house is quite popular at Halloween now since Scooby hands out candy with me while displaying his spider necklace. So, unbeknownst to him, Scooby has widened my social circle and introduced me to many of the people who live in my neighborhood. For the first time, I have a real sense of community where I live.

Another very cool thing that Scooby makes look easy is taking me into large restrooms like you find in an airport. I travel quite a bit and before having Scooby, I would use my cane and never really feel totally confident entering the restroom. Not only are these rooms convoluted, large and noisy, but it was hard to get people to give me the help I needed. When Scooby and I enter an airport restroom, all I say is "Scooby, find the stall" and he trots me off to the handicapped stall! It is like magic! When we are done I say "Scooby, find the door".

And at night, like all good Vizsla's, Scooby demands my presence on the couch so I can cuddle up with him. When he first tried to communicate this to me I thought he was sick. He just put his nose on me while I was on the computer. Then he just stared at me with his tail down. When I didn't respond, he hit me with his nose again and started walking out of the room towards the living room. Eventually I figured out the message. So, our time on the couch helps us both... it gives him the cuddling he wants and it makes me put down work to smell the roses and spend quality time with my friend, my constant companion and my best boy.

Scooby instinctively knows when and how to approach people off harness. One time I was in the emergency room with my boyfriend. An older woman asked if she could borrow my dog to bring it over to her husband who was in the next cubicle. I said sure so off we went to meet Mike. It seems they had a dog at home and his wife thought it would make Mike happy to see Scooby. I took off Scooby's harness so he knew he wasn't working. I introduced myself to Mike and then said to Scooby, "say hi to our new friend Mike", and so he did. He leaped right up on top of Mike's lap. I was mortified, but Scooby and Mike were thrilled with the encounter. Scooby settled right down on Mike's lap and Mike stroked Scooby saying "I feel much better now". I apologized to the couple but Mike said "please let him visit with me for a while". That is pretty typical Scooby Doo though, making people happy wherever he goes.

In April of 2010 Scooby started acting a bit odd. Nothing super obvious. He lost a bit of energy and didn't appear to be sleeping well. He grumbled at night quite a bit. It was only after he started drinking excessive amounts of water that I was tipped off. I started measuring his water intake and called the vet he was drinking about 150 ounces a day and he was still thirsty. We did blood work but found nothing to explain his behavior. It was 24 hours later that I found the lymph nodes in his neck. They felt like little grapes up both sides of his throat. He was diagnosed that week with stage 3 lymphoma. We began chemotherapy immediately. In May he went into remission and in August he came out of remission. I was so devastated. We started a new protocol of chemotherapy seven weeks ago and he is back in remission.

Financially things have been very hard. I do not make much money. I organized a fundraiser in June but with Scooby's need to stay on chemotherapy and his three emergencies due to complications from chemo, I found myself without much money left to care for him. I am so grateful to the Land of PureGold Foundation for their support. Within days of my application, they told me they would help.

For now Scooby is fine. The doctor said he is doing great and that some dogs do better on their second round of chemotherapy. I pray everyday that we will have more time together. In the meantime, I say everyday that Scooby wakes up wagging his tail is a good day.