By Connie Miller
Special to the Leader
When it comes to gifts, it seems like family members often don’t know what to give each other.
That’s why folks end up with closets full of stuff that usually never sees the light of day until it’s time for a yard sale or a trip to the Salvation Army store.
But sometimes a family member nails it and finds that perfect something – something meaningful, something special, something useful.
That’s what happened to Ginger Guindon, a Brandon Twp. resident who’s been active and involved in the Oxford community for years.
Her sister, Vickie Dryer, obtained and trained a service dog named Layka to protect and assist her as she works hard every day to live her life in the shadow of Lupus.
“I didn’t know how much I needed Layka,” Guindon said. “Now, I can’t even imagine my daily life without her.”
“I have trained a lot of dogs in many different situations, but (the relationship between) Ginger and Layka is especially gratifying (for) me,” said Dryer, a professional canine handler and trainer with Lupo Canine in Port Cloud, Florida. “I am thrilled.”
Guindon was diagnosed with the chronic inflammatory disease in 1987. At that time, doctors told her she had only 10 to 15 years to live.
With Lupus, the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues and organs. Lupus causes widespread pain, seizures and weakness.
Lupus is a genetic, hereditary disease. In Guindon’s case, the disease has never skipped a generation on her mother’s side. Guindon’s young granddaughter was recently diagnosed with it.
Last year, Guindon’s doctor suggested that perhaps this was the time to look into obtaining a service dog.
However, Guidon and her husband, Michael, were not in a position financially, or through insurance, to avail themselves of this necessity.
Fully-trained service dogs can cost $15,000 to $20,000, according to Dryer.
Fortunately, Guindon has a sister in the business. Dryer was just starting to work with Layka, a German Shepherd with a Czechoslovakian bloodline.
Named for a military canine hero that was seriously injured while on active duty in May 2013, Layka has been trained to bond with Guindon and assist her in all aspects of her life, including reaction to and protection during seizures.
She is also trained to offer Guindon support while walking, climbing stairs and carrying packages and groceries.
A visit to Florida was arranged last November for Guindon and Layka to meet. An instant bond was formed and Layka’s training began.
“It was as though Layka sensed that Ginger needed her,” Dryer said.
In dealing with her Lupus and other physical conditions, Guindon has never slowed down. She simply adjusts her life to continue with her many activities.
Asking for help of any kind is simply not in Guindon’s nature.
“I have Lupus. Lupus doesn’t have me,” she said.
That attitude changed when she met Layka and realized how much this dog’s help could enhance her life.
“Although I loved her immediately, I still didn’t get it,” Guindon explained. “Then, we were outside, and I was having trouble with a knee injury. I stumbled (on) the steps and instinctively reached for her . . . She was right there to help me. That was the ‘magic moment’ and I knew what she would mean in my life.”
“She (goes) with me everywhere,” Guindon continued. “We have done escalators, revolving doors, doctor and vet visits. When she is faced with something new, she takes a deep breath and steps forward with me.”
“I talk with Ginger almost every day. I am thrilled with how far they have come already,” Dryer said. “They work and progress in every situation and that is exactly what we want.”
Layka’s training will be an on-going thing. Dryer explained it “will continue and change as she adjusts to Ginger’s needs.”
“When Layka is ‘in harness’ she is all business and gives me so much confidence,” Guindon noted. “When the harness comes off, she is a fun puppy – running, exploring . . . even playing with our neighbor’s pet duck, Norman. She is a joy.”
“It is such a wonderful life for a dog,” Dryer noted.
Words cannot express how deeply moved Guindon was by Dryer’s loving and generous gesture. “To have someone give me a gift like this (means) so much . . . (It allows) me (to) continue to work, volunteer and be involved with my church,” she said. “My sister is, and always has been, a blessing to me. I am beyond grateful.”