A Tribute to My Leader Dog

Noella sits outdoors in athletic gear, smiling at the camera with her arms around Leader Dog Zeke, who sits in front of her

Zeke was so much more than a guide dog to me. He was my best friend. Please bear with me as I share my emotional tribute to Zeke.

Zeke shone from the inside out. He was always full of joy, happy to be a working dog and full of unconditional love. His effervescence touched the lives of everyone he met. Zeke encompassed lightheartedness and patience, always presenting in a calm, cool, and collective manner. His eyes penetrated positivity, affection with no limitations, and acceptance deep into the souls of those who met him. My genuine sadness perforates all aspects of my being.

After I received Zeke, my confidence grew in leaps and bounds. Prior to teaming up with Zeke I hadn’t recognised the extent of my anxiety maneuvering around with a cane. I had felt vulnerable. With Zeke, I soon actualized that I wasn’t going to fall down a hole, off a curb, or get hit by a car; in fact together, we could achieve the extraordinary. I hadn’t enjoyed venturing into the unknown previous to Zeke, but with him I was empowered, and therefore started actively seeking out opportunities. We must have ridden on thousands of buses, trains, and planes together and we travelled around the world. Zeke logged more airplane miles than the average human. We were a team, a partnership, an undeniable force.

Zeke lead me through many milestones. He accompanied me from beginning to end of my Master’s degree and never missed a class, providing support not only for me, but also my classmates. It was so liberating that I didn’t need anyone’s help at graduation to walk the stage bearing a smile of accomplishment, because I had Zeke guiding me. Zeke joined me on almost every component of my Paralympic journey; spending countless hours sitting at the side of a track watching me run in circles. Zeke accompanied me to many training camps and competitions. Zeke was there to happily greet me, without judgement, after every race; success or failure.

Zeke stood by side during my mother’s death. I cried for hours into his soft shoulder as he nuzzled and comforted. He cuddled with me when I was consumed with grief, and endlessly nagged if I didn’t get him out for his walk. Zeke got me out even when I felt like crawling up into a ball. Zeke helped me overcome fearful events, grieved with me, and offered consolation through all my lows; once again, without judgement. Zeke was central to all the impactful moments of my life.

When Zeke embarked into retirement he took on the job of mentoring our little bundle of joy, Scooter. He taught Scooter habits – bad and good, and nurtured him into a fine young pup. The two of them become the best of friends. Zeke embraced retirement, finding bliss in substantially more treats, access to the bed and couch, and just being a goofy playful dog. Although, not formally working Zeke remained protective of me and was still avidly cautious when we were out on walks together. Zeke was inevitably a part of me, and my heart has a huge void.

Zeke, your memory will always be with us and I know your spirit will continue to touch us all. You have left paw prints on my soul. I love you forever unconditionally. I miss you. Please be at peace and know you set an example for us on earth to love non-judgementally, embrace fear and opportunity, and be present for one another.

Zeke (April 28, 2005 – April 12, 2018)

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