Sunday, June 6, 2010




Veteran's goal: Get guide dogs to others with PTSD
By William R. Levesque, Times Staff Writer In Print: Monday, June 7, 2010
Kathy Champion cuddles her Angel. Once withdrawn after several medical diagnoses, Champion now travels with Angel. They’ve been to the Grand Canyon and Space Camp.
“Angel may be my eyes, but she’s also my heart,” said Kathy Champion of her golden Labrador retriever mix. In the past, Angel has refused to leave Champion’s side.

GULFPORT — To Kathryn Champion, dogs were just pets. They didn't change lives. They couldn't talk to you or cry with you or laugh at the absurdity of life with you.
They certainly couldn't make you forget war.
That's what Champion, 45, of Gulfport believed after 27 years in the Army, including one horrific tour in Iraq. While she was serving as a lieutenant colonel in a civil affairs unit, five soldiers under her command died during that deployment.
After she got home in 2006, life was tough on her. Champion suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Then the worst news: A virus she contracted in Iraq was killing her optic nerves.
Champion was going blind.
Which brought her to Southeastern Guide Dogs in Palmetto early last year. Champion was severely depressed. She had withdrawn deeply into herself. Her Army career was finished. She thought a dog would be a nuisance in her disordered life.
"I didn't put much creed into a dog being man's best friend," she said.
In May 2009, Champion was introduced to a golden Labrador retriever mix who loved chasing squirrels and hated anyone touching her tail.
Her name was Angel.
• • •
At first, nothing worked right between Champion and Angel.
Southeastern provides its dogs and new owners with 26 days of training together. It is essential for the visually impaired students to understand the rhythms of their dog's life. Dozens of commands have to be learned.
Most importantly, Champion had to learn to trust her dog.
But Champion was flustered. She couldn't get Angel to do what she wanted. They weren't working as a team. Champion considered quitting. "I felt like a failure," she said.
The moment it all clicked was unexpected. Southeastern took Champion to a Tampa hotel. Champion was told to allow Angel to guide her down some stairs. Champion jokingly told her dog to find her a Starbucks.
They made it down those steps together without a stumble, Champion thinking a trainer was following in case she fell.
At the bottom, the trainer told her, "You did that by yourself."
• • •
The idea of flying made her sick with fear.
Champion's son, Bruce, wanted her to fly to Washington state, where he was stationed with the Army, so the pair could have a last visit before his deployment to Afghanistan.
It was false bravado when Champion got off the phone and looked to Angel and said, "Okay, buddy. We're going to get on that airplane and we're going to go see your brother."
The flight would be Champion's first big trip with Angel, just two weeks after their training ended.
The plane would be claustrophobic. People would stare at her. She might panic. "People don't understand what it's like to be scared all the time," she said.
A friend from Southeastern was allowed to walk on the plane in Tampa with Angel and Champion. But the terrifying moment came when the plane took off and Champion was alone with her dog.
If her heart raced too quickly, she reached down to touch Angel. By increments, Champion relaxed. She missed her connection in Chicago. A flight attendant found Champion in the empty plane. "Is this Seattle?" Champion asked.
Champion made it to Seattle a few hours late. And Angel met her brother.
• • •
Somewhere along the way, Angel became far more than a guide dog to Champion.
Champion started visiting the mall again. Crowds didn't bother her as much. And if she once feared people might stare at the blind woman with the guide dog, she discovered that Angel made people want to speak to her. They always asked about the dog.
Champion traveled with her dog to the Grand Canyon. She stayed at Space Camp in Alabama where both Champion and Angel were strapped into harnesses and lifted into the air to simulate weightlessness.
People laughed when they saw Angel suspended like a canine astronaut, her tail wagging.
Champion and Angel were the definition of inseparable. If Champion got too sick to take Angel for a walk, friends might arrive to take the dog out. But Angel would refuse to leave Champion's side.
At a recent visit to the dentist, the dentist had one request: Could Champion move Angel's head off her lap?
And whenever she got stressed, Champion talked to her dog as if she understood every word. "Angel knows everything about me," she said.
• • •
There is one more thing that Angel did for Champion.
Champion has started raising money for other veterans who need guide dogs. It costs $5,000 for someone to undergo the 26 days of training at Southeastern.
So every chance she gets, Champion speaks to whatever group will have her, asking folks to donate to Southeastern's "Paws for Patriots" program. So far, she has raised $15,000 — enough to train three veterans.
Her goal is to raise $2 million no matter how long it takes.
It's Champion's hope that trained dogs might be provided not just to blind veterans, but also to those with PTSD.
Champion isn't withdrawn anymore. She's once again engaged in life. "Angel has been her ticket back in," said Patsy French, a Southeastern spokeswoman.
Said Champion, "Angel shows me the kindness of humanity."
William R. Levesque can be reached at or (813) 226-3432.
>> fast facts
To contribute
Anyone interested in providing a donation to Southeastern Guide Dogs Inc., or learning more about the nonprofit, can call (941) 729-5665 or go online at[Last modified: Jun 06, 2010 09:59 PM] Click here for reuse options! Copyright 2010 St. Petersburg TimesClick here to post a comment
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There are 3 comments Oldest First Newest First Top Rated

JLC1503 wrote:
Kathy is a fine example of the recipients of guide dogs. I was fortunate to be at her graduation ceremony at SEGD. It's an incredible organization helping incredible people. Congratulations Kathy and Angel. If you've never had an opportunity, take the time to visit Southeast Guide Dogs. You'll be absolutely amazed. DGE John Carbaugh 35I. Lions Clubs International
Jun 6, 2010 7:57 PM
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hippychickdawn wrote:
Best of luck/wishes to the both of them.I have a 13yr.old niece thats legally blind,she has VERY little vision left in her left eye and her vision in her right eye has been gone for a couple years now. She was born a preemie(1 lb. 7oz.) and the cornea and retina have/is detaching. Surgeries wont work. Its just a matter of time till she will need a guide dog as well. She wants to pick out her own dog to have trained so they have been looking for her. It is definitely a trust relationship you have to have,(for each other) So I am happy to hear that everything worked out between Kathy and Angel. And what a perfect name also, Angel became her Angel.Dawn
Jun 6, 2010 10:55 PM
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voxyqt wrote:
Maybe she got something from those tattoos. SPT I'm SOOO SICK of you trotting out all the tattoo freaks and stories. Try a story about normal people for once. I'll guess without looking. Zayas. Nope. Levesque. Now about the same thing IMO living in the warren of reporters by sokol. I used to have respect for bill. That is changing. I'm sick of the southeast guide dog people who are, for the most part: MONSTERS. Don't lie. YOU ARE. You are monsters. I know too many of you. Abating your guilt at what you've done by trotting dogs around. Die a painful death, each of you.
Jun 6, 2010 11:45 PM

Blanks and Charges

Okay, tell me if this sounds mercenary. I'm leaving out names and identities for now, and even some words to protect those who frankly don't deserve protection but having never been a RAT (like some) I just don't feel good about spilling people's filthy sides of their lives onto the WWW...

However -- (you knew this was coming, right??) -- I'm willing to disclose same for a fee. In fact, I'm going to disclose some of this in a book which will definitely be for sale very soon but if you'd like to know if your name or some similar aspect that identifies your smarmy and illegal acts towards me and my family have been mentioned I'd be happy to negotiate a fee with you. For the record, save your pennies if I've known you longer than thirty years. Out of respect for you and your family I'll leave your names out. Out of respect for you and your family I have remained silent. Apparently this same respect was not inbred in you. That's a pity but you and yours are safe with me. The ones who took it upon themselves to do your bidding against an innocent family are wide open just like they've left MY family wide open. Herewith I refer to my extended family and network many of whom are currently suffering at your hands. Be on notice.

Bush McCain Huggy Bears 2008

Bush McCain Huggy Bears 2008
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A Nation in DISTRESS

A Nation in DISTRESS


In my living room watching;
but I am not laughing ....

..... risk something, take back what's yours
say something that you know they might attack you for
cause I'm sick of being treated like I have before ....
Meanwhile, the leader just talks away
Stuttering and mumbling for nightly news to replay
And the rest of the world watching at the end of the day

In their living room laughing like,

"what did he say?"

Fight the Good Fight

" .... courage is humankind's cardinal virtue, because ''it makes all other virtues possible."
Reverend William Sloane Coffin

......" And I dare you to ask for a lot, I dare you to hold fast to your ideals and to expound them as publicly and as fearlessly as Martin Luther King and Bill Coffin and Betty Friedan and those dozens of grandmothers arrested a few weeks ago for protesting the war in Iraq."

Francine du Plessix Gray


MainSTREAMMedia=Bush Propaganda Machine

vox dictionary
Never Mistake Kindness for Weakness
I prefer to be a dreamer among the humblest, with visions to be realized, than lord among those without dreams and desires. Kahlil Gibran
Every man dies.

Not every man really lives.

In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends...... Martin Luther King, Jr.

Vox Talk

Contrary to popular belief:

Patience is NOT a virtue.

It is concentrated strength.
"The pioneers of a warless world are the young men (and women) who refuse military service."

- Albert Einstein
"Only those who dare to fail miserably can achieve greatly" – Robert Kennedy
"Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation…want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters…. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will." Frederick Douglass, 1857
Tis nobler to lose honor to save the lives of men than it is to gain honor by taking them.

~David Borenstein

You cannot win a War on Terrorism. It’s like having a war on jealousy.

~David Cross

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Fight Child Protective Services False Accusations

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About Me

I was born a citizen of the world and have remained such but along with that: I'm a long time Tampa resident. Mixed bag at that as I've seen life here from nearly all angles and while somewhere in there I became slightly indoctrinated, I'm not too proud of the way people have taken over this city and run it with an iron fist for all but some. This city is working hard on creating just two classes. Thems and them dont's and they are working hard to shove some families down into the gutter for reasons known only to them. Some might be as petty as jealousy, some might be politically motivated, some might just be stupid and all are wrong. I want to believe we can get better but that would entail some stuff that I have no control over. I only can control myself and my reactions to what occurs.

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