It’s a crazy time of the sports year….
Hoops starting. Football underway. World Series in full swing.
And soon, a slew of accolades and awards to be announced.
In baseball, a new World Champion – either the Texas Rangers or San Francisco Giants.
Plus individual performance awards a la Cy Young … Rookie of the Year…. MVP.
As in Most Valuable Player.
It’s life on sport’s grand stage.
And then there are other MVPs…
Those who quietly do their work everyday.
Unsung heroes who only bring their “A Game”.
Who get the job done without fanfare.
And today, far, far away in a much, much different stage…
Miles from the bright spotlights and stadiums … along a quiet road in the heart of Montecito-hood … on a spectacular, sun-drenched Sunday afternoon…within the gated confines of lavish homes … pristine lawns, lush landscapes and gardens … with nary a bicycle or kid in sight…
Today, Birnam Wood is an amazingly beautiful enclave “gone to the dogs” …
As in Guide Dogs for the Blind — for those scoring at home.
Today’s fundraiser is to help their mission in supply sight to those who can’t see.
Take it from Morgan Watkins … President & CEO of Guide Dogs for the Blind – a 501 c3 non-profit organization with operations based in San Rafael, California and Boring, Oregon.
Right by his side is his faithful companion, Will, a Golden Retriever.
Watkins is blind.
“Nice to see you today,” he sez in his booming voice to the 200 attendees sitting in white wooden folding chairs inside the grand Birnam Wood clubhouse.
He shares snippets of this life … his childhood with sight … eye disease that gradually took his vision, ultimately while in college … experiences of using a cane … how life changed for the better with his first guide dog.
“Having a guide dog gave me more freedom. People started seeing me more for my abilities,” he said.
After a successful business career in Texas, Watkins accepted the reins at the Guide Dogs helm and is having the time of his life – learning everything from the ground floor up, even cleaning kennels. It’s easy to see his passion in helping others lead productive lives.
“It costs $65,000 to raise a guide dog. We do not receive any government funding. We rely strictly on donations and financial gifts. We never charge a dime to blind person who needs a guide dog and we appreciate your support,” he sez.
And its money well spent if you ask Santa Barbara native, Adelaide Ortega – who is sitting in the audience with Caraway – her trusted guide dog.
When Ortega was age 40, she got up one morning to get her young old son ready for school and had double vision. An eye doctor thought it was a virus and would clear up in a few days.
Instead, it got worse.
By the time she got to a specialist at Stanford, she completely lost the vision in her left eye and can tell the difference between night and day in her right.
“I had a very rare disease – one in a million. I was so depressed that I didn’t leave the house for nine months,” she said.
Finally, her father then dropped her off at the Braille Institute.
“It saved my life,” Ortega sez. “I had to re learn everything – dressing, cooking, shopping….”
She used a cane for 12 years since she thought a guide dog “would be too much work.”
But, then at Guide Dog School, the most amazing thing…
“The freedom I felt when I first held onto the dog’s harness was an unbelievable high. To feel the air breezing by. It was total trust. It totally changed my life,” she sez.
She’s never looked back…
Ortega now in her early 60’s has had four guide dogs over the years.
“You get very attached to them. They are your life,” she adds, as Caraway rests by her feet.
According to Karen Ingalls, Chair of Friends of Guide Dogs for the Blind for the Tri-Counties, there are 15 guide dog teams and 22 guide dog puppies in the area.
Including people like Jill Atamian Hall, a puppy raiser for the last 10 years.
“We have the puppies from eight weeks to about 16 to 18 months. We teach them house manners, basic obedience and socialization. What I do is a most rewarding experience that fills my heart in giving back to others,” she offers.
“Plus, we get a puppy every two years,” she added with a smile.
And these furry rookies, like Will and Tobias, along with more seasoned pros, a la Rivers, Mathers and Caraway – are everywhere today at Birnam Wood.
All were treated by the rock star performance of a real superstar – Betty White, Acting Icon who spoke fondly of her long-time association with Guide Dogs for the Blind and of her own friend, Pontiac, a ‘career-change’ dog who received guide training but never made it to the big leagues.
And at age “88 and three-quarters” – Betty still can hit it out of the park!
And one thing that is crystal clear to all in audience – whether sighted or not – on this Fall Classic Day: MVP really stands for Most Valuable Pups…