Click here to read a story in the San Jose Mercury about a rescue dog that returned the favor by saving the rescuer's life.
These little guys are among the zillions of kittens that need homes (a mom and her babies, now 6 weeks old. They'll be ready to go in two weeks). If you're interested, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many years ago, I wrote about Dennis Walters, a professional paraplegic golfer on the PGA tour. Dennis, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, was injured as a young man, making a conventional pro golf career impossible. But he did what he could with what he had and became highly successful with this "trick golf'' show. I've seen it, and it's really amazing.
He has always had a little dog in the show - first Muffin, then Mulligan, then Benji Hogan. Working with professional trainer Tracy Tenner, Dennis has been able to teach these little critters the most amazing tricks. Sadly, Benji just died of cancer. And it's not the first time there's been a tragic end to one of the dogs.
|A GOLFER'S BEST FRIEND HIS CANINE PARTNER GONE, SHOWMAN GOLFER BEATS HANDICAP AGAIN, AIDED BY A FRISKY NEW MUTT|
|Bylines:||ELINOR J. BRECHER Herald Staff Writer|
|Body:||It's a few days till the Honda Classic golf tournament in Coral Springs, and a young hopeful is warming up for his first PGA event. |
His name is Hogan, as in Ben Hogan. The latter is a golfing legend. His namesake is a dog.
Hogan sits atop a kitchen table, fixated on the clenched fist of Dennis Walters, the only professional paraplegic trick golfer in America.
"Let's start off with a little wave action, " Walters tells him. "You see a big crowd, what do you do? You wave!"
Up goes the right front paw. Once, twice, three times, Hogan bats the air.
" Very, very nice!" Walters exults. "Now, high five."
Up goes Hogan's left foot. Palm meets paw.
"Beautiful! Daddy is so proud!"
Dennis Walters has become a fixture on the Professional Golfers Association circuit, sponsored by some of the biggest commercial names in golf -- including Maxfli, Cobra, Yamaha and the Golf Channel -- and Hogan is his new sidekick.
Walters, who lives a chip shot off the ninth fairway of the Jacaranda Golf Club's east course in Plantation, also works corporate and charity events, inspiring teeth-gnashing envy from weekend duffers who can't hit as well on two good legs as he can paralyzed from the waist down.
For nearly 20 years, he's has been doing the golf-dog act with scruffy little mutts. Muffin was the first, rescued from the Broward County Humane Society shelter. She didn't do tricks, but sat in Walters' golf cart looking cute.
After she died, a heartbroken Walters trolled shelters and pounds all over Florida until he found Mulligan. In golfing lingo, that means a "free" drive, especially off the first tee after a bad shot. A second chance.
In time, they became the George and Gracie of trick golf.
Walters: "I'd say, 'Mulligan, if you get a King Cobra titanium driver, one of the new ones, you'll hit the ball great, and you'll never hit it in the . . .' and she'd go 'Ruff!' I'd put a cookie on her nose, and she'd catch it. I'd sneeze, she'd get me a Kleenex."
Then, she'd tee up the ball.
When he played golf alone, she'd retrieve balls from sand traps and collect them from the driving range.
But she did something more important than chores or tricks for Dennis Walters: She made it hurt less that he can't walk.
"In my life, it's so easy to get down because of some stupid little thing, " says Walters, 47. "But just to look at Mulligan would make you smile. No matter what happened, she'd make me feel better."
She was as close to him as his sister, Barbara Herman, who travels with him, and his parents, Florence and Arthur "Bucky" Walters, who share his home.
Walters figured he'd lose Mulligan in time to old age. But last fall, she died in a freak accident on the golf course.
It was the second time that Walters lost something precious doing what he loves most -- playing golf -- and it plunged him into the darkest depression of his life.
Got the bug as a kid
As a kid, Dennis Walters would pass the links near the family's New Jersey home and gaze, awestruck, at the graceful trajectory of golf balls in flight.
The summer he was 12, he had to decide between getting serious about baseball or golf. Golf won.
He became good enough to win a golf scholarship to North Texas State University, which he led to its fourth consecutive Missouri Valley Conference championship. The same year, he finished 11th in the U.S. Golf Association Amateur Championship.
He spent 1973 playing tournaments in South Africa and "mini-tour" events in the United States.
Then, one afternoon in October 1974, he was rolling down a gravelly slope on a New Jersey course in a three-wheeled golf cart. The brakes failed. The cart flipped, slamming Walters to the ground. A friend came running.
Walters told him he couldn't feel his legs. He was 24.
There had been little doubt that Walters was headed toward a career in pro golf. Now, though, there was little doubt that he'd never get there.
Overwhelmed by rage, he yearned to kick something, which wasn't possible any more. That angered him even more.
"So one time, I punched a hole right through a wall in the house, " he says. "I thought, 'I better not do this' -- not because of the wall, but because all I had was my arms and hands."
Many days, "I would just stay in bed, " he remembers. "Then, I said I'd like to get a dog": Muffin.
"It was love at first sight, " says Jo-Anne Roman, operations director at the Broward Humane Society shelter, where Walters has endowed an adoption room in Muffin's memory. "She fit right into Dennis' lap."
Back on course
Walters also got back on the golf course, "the one place I could go and feel decent, " he says. "It gave me a way to get out of the house and physically and mentally work on something."
But it was frustrating to hit balls on the driving range from a wheelchair. He was bemoaning this one day in a bar, when someone hit on a solution: The next day, Walters found his golf-cart seat had been replaced with a swiveling bar-stool chair.
He swivels sideways, straps a harness around his hips, plants his braced legs several feet apart on the grass and hits, from a vertical stance, one flawless drive after another, some as far as 230 yards. Sometimes, he does it blindfolded.
He putts one-handed, leaning with the other on a crutch.
In the February issue of PGA Magazine, Wayne Warms, the pro at the Due Process Stable Golf Course in Colt's Neck, N.J., analyzed Walters' swing in a frame-by-frame photo sequence. "Dennis has a classic setup from the waist up, " Warms wrote. "Notice his beautiful grip, relaxed arms and shoulders, and his hand position in relation to both the ball and his head."
Even after he'd figured out how to hit from the cart, Walters still couldn't imagine making a living in golf. But he kept cooking up tricks and honing his act until one day he realize he had something to sell: "personality, show business, entertainment, motivation and golf."
By 1980, he was getting paid to do his act. Now, he gives 80 to 90 performances a year, traveling the country in a customized van, earning well into six figures.
During the show, he hits three balls in a line with a "3 iron" -- three clubheads welded together. He hits with shafts made of fishing rods and rubber hosing. He whacks a ball out from under a raw egg, and the egg drops to the grass, unbroken.
"Dennis Walters beats his handicap every time he plays, " say the announcers who introduce him.
In 1977, the Golf Writers of America gave Walters its Ben Hogan award, to honor his comeback. He became the fifth honorary lifetime member of the Professional Golfers Association of America, with Gary Player, Bob Hope, Gerald Ford and former PGA legal counsel Lloyd Lambert.
At youth clinics, he tells kids that they can learn "valuable life lessons playing golf: playing by the rules. Getting along with others. Budgeting your time. Working toward a goal."
He knows he's become an inspiration to other disabled golfers. "There's always someone at a show in a wheelchair, or who has a brother, a sister, a friend who'd like to play as I do. When something like this happens, one of the last things you figure you'd be able to do is play golf. It's not the most important thing, unless it's important to you."
That's one reason why Yamaha's golf-cart division recruited him to appear at trade shows and dealer meetings, says Mike Muetzel, the division's national sales manager.
"The difference between Dennis and everyone else is that with his show, you get golf combined with an inspirational message that goes a lot deeper than a commercial endorsement. Because of his natural ability to communicate and his tenaciousness in overcoming [his disability], we wanted to be associated with him."
A kids' clinic
Last Oct. 19, Walters was holding a kids' clinic at Walt Disney World. Mulligan was decked out in Minnie Mouse ears, hamming it up for 500 people.
She was sitting about 15 feet away from Walters as he set up for the show's final trick: ball after ball, hit rapid-fire.
The last ball is a special one that trails colored smoke. Everyone always oohs and aahs.
Walters was in mid-swing when Mulligan bolted toward him.
To this day, says Barbara Herman, "Every time I close my eyes, I can hear the sound of her head hitting the club."
An ambulance rushed Mulligan to an emergency veterinary clinic. She hung on for two days, hooked to life support. Finally, Walters couldn't stand it anymore, and he took her in his arms and kissed her goodbye.
He still can't figure out what happened.
"The only thing I can think of was she must have been scared by something, " he says, "and she was trying to run to me."
The accident remains a hideous blur that's still tough for him to talk about. "I feel like I've had my share of bad stuff, but this was absolutely the worst. I felt like I had a cement block on my chest ever since. I felt ill physically. I couldn't sleep for two months. I'll never get over this."
It isn't necessary to draw the obvious parallel for him; Walters sees it. "It's like any kind of true love: Once you have it, you can't live without it, and that's how I feel about these dogs."
For the first time in his life, he didn't want to play golf. "That's what made it worse than my accident. The last place I wanted to be was the golf course. I'd go out, hit 10 balls and say, 'I just don't enjoy doing this.' "
But Herman wouldn't let him cancel his upcoming shows. "You're a professional, " she'd tell him. "You have to do it."
A new dog
Walters dreaded the prospect of searching for a new dog. But he made himself do it, again scouring shelters all over the state.
In early December, a woman named Bobbye McGarry called from the Broward-based group Pets in Distress, convinced she had what he wanted.
"She brings him over, " Walters remembers. "He's dressed up with a bandanna. I'm sitting in the chair. He jumps up and starts licking my face. I said, 'Sign him up.' "
Then, reality set in. Here was a 7-month-old puppy abandoned after who knows what kind of treatment. He had vastly more energy than concentration, and never saw a shoelace he didn't want to untie.
"Sit" and "stay" meant about as much to him as the Gettysburg Address.
"He was a buzz bomb, " says Miami dog trainer Phil Hoelcher, who boarded Hogan for intensive obedience training.
Then, he turned him over to Tracy Tenner of Fort Lauderdale's Better Behavior Inc., who started teaching him tricks.
Walters has been, by turns, impatient, despondent and hopeful about the training, about his ability to bond with the dog and eventually perform with him.
"He's not the type to sit and cuddle, " Walters lamented, early on. "He's a boy."
But all that has changed. The longer Hogan stayed at "boot camp" -- Hoelcher's house -- the more he and Walters seemed to miss each other.
"He knows I'm his dad, " says Walters, nuzzling Hogan, who squirms in his lap. "And he's my little boy."
Dennis is now looking for a new partner: male or female, 20-25 pounds, must be very smart and have the same terrier-mix look as the previous dogs. Dennis is a big fan of shelter rescues and will be canvassing shelters in the 70 cities where he'll be performing for the perfect dog. If anyone has a lead, email email@example.com.
My profound sympathies go out to Dennis, who is one of the world's nicest guys.
MIAMI, May 12, 2008) … In an effort to better care for the pets and for the safety of Miami-Dade residents, Chapter V of the Miami-Dade County Code pertaining to animals has been revised,
updated and put into effect.
îîThe re-writing process was a collaborative project that involved members of our community, pet rescue organizations, Animal Services and other concerned animal welfare advocates,'' said Dr. Sara Pizano, Director of Miami-Dade Animal Services. "We urge residents to read the new Chapter V to learn about their responsibilities as pet owners and pet businesses as well as their rights.''
Below is an outline of updates and revisions of Chapter V of the Miami-Dade County Code:
-Dogs, cats, and ferrets must be vaccinated against the rabies virus beginning at 4 months of age, and they must be revaccinated as directed by the vaccine manufacturer (typically, every 1 or 3
years). (Section 5-6).
-Dogs must be licensed every year and must wear their tags at all times. (Section 5-7).
-Four dogs are allowed to live on residential property that is less than one acre, six dogs on 1-2 acres, and eight dogs on 2 acres or more. Keeping more than those numbers of dogs on residential property requires a Kennel license (Sections 5-1 and 5-13).
-Dogs are not permitted to roam free off your private property. They must be leashed at all times. (Section 5-20).
-If you breed pets, you must have a Hobby Breeder or Kennel license. (Sections 5-1 and 5-13).
-If you sell pets, you must have a Hobby Breeder or Pet Dealer license (Section 5-10).
-If you sell pets, they must be microchipped and registered to the new owner and must be sold with an original official certificate of veterinary inspection. (Section 5-10).
-To transport a pet in the back of a pick up truck, it must be in a secured carrier. See Section 5-15 for other requirements.
-Dogs in heat must be confined (Section 5-20.1).
-The acquisition or keeping of Pit Bull dogs is prohibited in Miami-Dade County (Section 5-17.6).
-Depriving an animal of food, water, or adequate shelter is an act of animal cruelty (Section 5-4).
-It is unlawful to allow a dog to commit any nuisance (defecation and/or urination) on sidewalk of public street or buildings used in common by the public. (Section 5-20).
A complete copy of Chapter V can be obtained on Miami-Dade Animal Services' website at http://www.miamidade.gov/animals/.
As some of you know, my "real'' Miami Herald identity is obit writer, and in that role, I'll be gone for a bit...to the Society of Professional Obituary Writers conference in Portland, OR. You talk about a festive group! First night, we're having drinks at an old funeral home that's been converted into a restaurant/bar. This is very cool for an obit writer (even if "normal'' people think it's creepy). Anyway, blogging will be spotty for about a week.
That's the title of a sweet little essay that a volunteer named Jennifer wrote about her experience volunteering at the Miami-Dade County animal shelter. Read it and smile:
"Working at the shelter is the hardest thing I’ve ever done and it took a few months for me to learn how to approach the experience so I could truly make a difference without my heart breaking. I found peace when I realized that dogs possess the amazing ability to live fully in the moment - they aren’t thinking at all about what’s going to happen later or worried about tomorrow or next week. They simply take in the experience of the moment; they are present for their current reality and enjoy every bit of goodness that comes their way. Thus, to the extent we are able to give 100% of ourself during the few minutes we spend with each one, we can truly make their lives better!
When I arrive at the shelter on every volunteer day, I take a deep breath and walk in excited to meet the dogs I’ll spend my morning with. I walk by their cages and say a bright “hello, guys!” I’m happy to see them, ready for a fun day, and I tell them so. All dogs need love, care, affection, enthusiasm and joy, and some also need a little reassurance, a good brushing, a warm blanket, fresh water, a clean cage, to chase a ball, or simply to be talked to.
As I open each cage I am aware that for those few minutes this doggie is as precious to me as my own. I seek out the dogs who seem the most needy and I try to spend time with as many dogs as I can during the few hours I’m there. I do my best to understand exactly what each one needs. My goal is to be fully present in every moment I spend with each dog so that it is a wonderful, loving, joyous experience – for both of us!''