A heroine is defined as “a woman admired or idealized for her courage, outstanding achievements or noble qualities.”
As I create heroines in my novels I reveal their courage and noble qualities by the choices they make.
Every day we all make choices – be they big or small – and each has consequences. Sometimes what seems like a small choice can set in motion consequences which change lives.
That journey started for Mary Segall when she chose to say to her fifteen year old son Devon, “Sure, I’ll help with your community service project.”
Mary had recently completed her animal healthcare internship when she began asking friends and colleagues about their favorite charities. She kept hearing about Canine Companions for Independence which provides assistance dogs free of charge to adults, children and veterans with disabilities.
Like Mom’s do, she did her research and was impressed by everything she learned. As Fate would decree, CCI was having one of four yearly “Graduations” open to the public. Mary and Devon didn’t know what to expect. What they found was an emotionally charged ceremony.
CCI Graduation is the culmination of two years of hard work, love and dedication by many, but perhaps the most important are the Volunteer Puppy Raisers who have kept the dogs in their homes providing basic obedience, socialization and care for most of that time.
Now the puppy raisers pass the lease of their highly trained assistance dogs to their new “forever person.” It is the beginning of a partnership between a human in need and a canine that will provide endless service and companionship.
“It was a heartwarming dream come true for the recipients and their families,” Mary remembers. “Seeing how the dogs would open up opportunities and possibilities for the recipients, we fell in love with the concept.”
A long application process, interviews, home visits and training sessions followed. “Devon and I were just doing this eighteen month project,” Mary says. “We didn’t think about another or what came next. Then we got Rumba.”
As every animal lover knows, pets quickly become part of the family. Older son, Garratt, and husband, Ray, were not immune. All fell in love.
Of course they could cuddle and play with Rumba but as volunteer puppy raisers they had CCI rules to follow. The approved obedience classes were no chore to attend but a delight as Rumba excelled. At home Rumba caught on quickly to basic commands and got a gold bone for good manners on Mary’s monthly report to CCI.
“As the months passed, the whole family got involved in walking Rumba, feeding her and taking her to Vet appointments. We made friends with other CCI volunteers at our organized outings to help with our pups socializations. We laughed and cried comparing notes on how our pups liked the recommended diet. We all dreaded thinking about the rule that we must return our pups upon request. The thought of turning in Rumba became torture for me and my family,” Mary admits. “Once I heard Devon and Garratt plotting how they would start slipping “people food” into Rumba’s prescribed diet so she wouldn’t pass her final training with CCI and we could keep her.”
Mary had to remind herself and the boys of the joy they had witnessed during Graduation which inspired them to become Volunteer Puppy Raisers. Someday Rumba would change a life.
They stayed the course and the time came when they turned in Rumba to CCI for six months of intense specialized training.
“We all cried,” Mary says. “We lived for the monthly reports of how she was doing. We knew this was the beginning of learning multiple specific commands to help the recipient who had been chosen for her.”
That recipient was Michelle Kephart.
On holiday hiking in the mountains, Michelle suffered a horrible fall. She was airlifted to a hospital in Reno where the doctors found her broken neck would leave her a paraplegic. After weeks in the Reno hospital she was transferred to a rehab facility in Denver. During her three months there, she met a Volunteer Puppy Raiser who introduced her to CCI.
“I wanted to live,” Michelle says, softly. “And I wanted to live with independence. When I learned about CCI I knew this could make it possible. I applied and hoped every day I would be accepted.”
Two and a half years later she received the call from CCI and asked to come to their headquarters in Santa Rose, California.
There she began two week Team Training where she and Rumba learned proper care and handling of each other.
“This was my first glimpse of Michelle and Rumba as they were in team training and pre-matched.” Mary remembers. It always brings tears to my eyes.”
Mary and her family were reunited with Rumba and met Michelle at breakfast on Graduation Day. “In that moment I could tell that Rumba was with someone special and that she already knew how special Rumba was and that they loved each other.”
As Mary and Devon passed the leash to Michelle the whole family felt confident this was a perfect match.
“Having Rumba in my life has given me independence and I feel in control again.” Michelle laughs. “She’s testy like a kid. Playful but so sweet. I love her.”
“Mary and her family are my extended family. She helped me get my driver’s license and finding a used adapted van. She is so supportive of me and Rumba. Because of her I have my life back.”
CCI continues to be a huge part of Mary’s life. She has raised many puppies and each is still torture to let go. Ray has also become a puppy raiser and is so involved he often takes the pups to work with him.
“He has almost as much fur in his car as I do,” Mary laughs. “Our journey with CCI has been magical. In some ways I think doing something special for someone you don’t even know opens your eyes to even more special things others are doing.”
Mary has found what she loves doing which has changed her life and the lives of others in need.
“Yes, I made a choice which led me here. Those I am helping did not have a choice in their disability but they choose not to be victims of their circumstances. They are my heroes and heroines.”
Mary, you are mine.