Jean and Cole

CH & V-CH Kings Valley Select, Reg. Service Dog AWCA Award of Merit

The Most Versatile Collie

CH & V-CH Kings Valley Select: The Versatile Collie of the East... From the West

by Jean Levitt

(Reprinted from The Collie Review, March 1994)

"Cole", a registered Service Dog for the Disabled, came to New York from Oregon because, fortunately, I had a really bad day at Grand Central Station. It was August 23, 1991.

Nearly four years after a car crash in which I lost the use of my left arm and against the advice of my husband and son, I ventured out alone from my home in Westchester County to travel by train into New York City. It was the first time since the crash that I had attempted such an outing without someone to help me.

By the time I had taken a cab to the train... waited on the outside platform in the August heat--burdened by a brief case and my purse hanging from my good shoulder... endured the painful motion of my injured shoulder from the swaying hour-long train ride into Grand Central Station... and jostled through crowds of commuters the length of the platform into the terminal, I came to an obvious conclusion. In my present condition, I had made a BIG mistake attempting to make what was formerly a relatively easy trip.

Still resolute, I headed for the ticket booths to buy my return ticket. My left leg was totally numb from sitting so long, a residual problem from my injuries. My left foot scuffed along the floor as I walked.

While waiting in the ticket line, a rather unpleasant, ill-kept man who had obviously been living (and worse) in the same clothes for weeks kept bumping me. As I fumbled with my purse zipper and shoved a twenty dollar bill under the glass slot at the ticket window, my odorous friend moved in closer. Reaching past me, he rested his hand on the shelf at the ticket window just in time to grab for my change as it was shoved toward me.

I grabbed the paper money from him, scattering the coins all over the floor. He and I dived in unison to the floor to see who could pick up the most change the fastest. I managed to dump the contents of my purse onto the floor as well. Oblivious commuters cued up behind us and pushed ahead to the ticket window.

Jean and Cole ride the subway
Train Duty for Cole: He rests outward to watch and protect.

Still fumbling to stuff everything back into my purse and overheated from stress and the oppressive August heat, I headed for a juice stand to buy an orange juice. I asked the counter man to unscrew the lid on the bottle of juice. He informed me he was only allowed to sell it, not serve it. I explained I only had the use of one arm. He took the lid off and set the bottle on the counter. Again I fumbled in my purse for a dollar bill. A hand reached from behind me and stole my orange juice! I hadn't even had a drink of it. I was so angry at the disheveled young man, I grabbed the bottle from him as he was gulping down my juice and splashed my clothes in the process. He looked so startled and so pitiful, I reluctantly shoved the bottle back into his hand and ordered another one. The counter man, responding to my don't-even-think-about-giving-it-to-me-without-taking-off-the-lid look, presented it appropriately.

I took a swallow, warily eying my drinking partner and spilled more juice on the front of my clothes, encumbered by the straps of my brief case and purse which had both slipped off my shoulder and were hanging, dead weight, in the crook of my elbow. Hoisting the straps back onto my shoulder with an exaggerated lift of my good arm, I spilled more juice on the floor.

Walking across the expanse of the main floor, I headed for the marble staircase leading to the taxi stand. I was apprehensive about negotiating the stairs, and I was in extreme pain. Although I was wired an electronic pain interceptor, it needed to be turned up to compensate for the heightened level of pain. I couldn't get to the dial because it was under my clothes.

I was starting to black out. The enormous Grand Central Station ceiling with its painted stars was competing with the stars I was conjuring up in my distressed state. Hordes of people, rushing in all directions, brushed past me. I felt myself being pulled backwards. Really backwards. I snapped out of my dizziness and furiously swung around ready to do serious battle with a man well over six feet tall who was yanking on my purse, trying to get it off my shoulder. The purse straps tangled with the straps of my brief case, and the whole mess was dangling in the crook of my elbow again. Whether by instinct or design, I managed to splatter his face with orange juice. He was so surprised that he let go of my purse and ran in the opposite direction, disappearing in the crowd.

Somehow I made the appointment for which I had come into the city and took the train home. It had all been too much for me. Even though no one was home, I undressed and got into the shower to cry. I realized, for the first time since the crash, I really was disabled. I had been in denial for nearly four years. This was my first solo trip and I couldn't do it.

When I was a Rockette at Radio City, I lived in New York. I raised my son in New York. There wasn't anything I couldn't handle in the city. My photograph, bigger than life, along with all of the Rockettes in our famous red satin costumes with white fur hats and muffs, had been displayed at Grand Central Station at Christmas time. Now I couldn't even drink an orange juice there. It was all too much. Reality was in my face. I was vulnerable... a target for predators... and I despised the lost independence. Standing naked in the shower, I cried and cried--very unusual for me. The warm shower spray washed away the tears.

It must have been good for me, because an idea popped into my head during that shower that changed my life. I thought, if I had a dog with me I'd bet no one would bother me ... Maybe a dog could carry my things in a back pack ... Say, if I had a dog who was trained to pull a cart, I could get fire wood into the house and stay alone in Vermont ... I could even have my dog bring groceries into the house from the car ... I wonder if a dog could help me on stairs?...

I thought a whole lot of thoughts. A dog! That's it! A COLLIE!

I wrapped myself in a beach towel. Tracking water through the house, I headed for the phone and made the three most important calls of my life. I called the American Kennel Club to explain my situation and to ask if a Collie could be trained to back pack and pull a cart.

"Of course," was the reply. "You're talking about a Service Dog." The AKC gave me the number of the Secretary of the Collie Club of America. Carmen Leonard suggested I call Eva and Leslie Rappaport of Kings Valley Collies in Oregon. "They have a wonderful reputation for working collies, and they are very active with carting."

I had planned it all in the shower. My Collie would be my left arm and my best friend. We would always go everywhere together. In exchange for his efforts he would have the best I could provide. When he was too old to work he would retire in my care in complete luxury. A great or great-great-grandson of his would take over the work from him... for him.

Cole and Jean at the ticket window
With Cole by her side, no one ever bothers Jean at the Grand Central Station ticket counter now.

I called the Rappaports immediately while still wrapped only in a beach towel. We talked for a very long time. Finally Eva described, "a very special dog with exceptional temperament and unusually high intelligence". He was a breed champion with many working titles including the Advanced Carting title through the American Working Collie Association. There was only one hitch; he was not for sale. She explained they would never have considered selling him until my request.

"We would do it for him," she said, "so he could continue to learn and be useful and have a wonderful life enjoying a position of great importance out in the world." She continued, "He sleeps in my bed. His name is 'Cole'."

I have tried to honor the Rappaports' dream for him and to respect their very great sacrifice. Since coming to me, Cole has become the first Collie to be awarded the title of Versatility Champion by the American Working Collie Association. All of the advanced training the Rappaports gave him to qualify to be an Assistance Dog was coordinated with AWCA working titles, i.e., Service Dog, Walker Dog, Back Packing Dog, etc. He has represented Service Dogs all over the United States, giving demonstrations and participating in seminars on Assistance Dogs. He is a wonderful ambassador for Collies, and always a gentleman... whether it be accompanying me through a crowded airport and into the plane, appearing on the CBS Evening News, or escorting me through Grand Central Station.

He sleeps in my bed. His name is "Cole".


(Photos compliments of Barry Levitt)

(Personal acknowledgment to Carol Kalarchian)

Jean and Cole ready to board the subway

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