The Golden Giver
Osborne, Kansas

Time for me! Armani, a four-year old Golden Retriever, knows exactly what time it is. She jumps up on the couch and rolls on her back. Sherri Bertrandís 10-year old son knows exactly what to do. Immediately, he starts to rub Armaniís soft underbelly. 

Thereís a lot of giggling and hugging as the dog indulges in a young boyís love. And well she should! Armani is a certified therapy dog. Her entire day is spent in Sherriís classroom loving seven, eight and nine year old special education students. And the kids love her right back.

When Sherri learned that one of the school principals had a therapy dog for his own autistic child, Sherri jumped at the chance to petition the school board for a therapy dog for her class.

And when she did, Sherri never asked for money to get the dog. She simply asked for the boardís support. And even though there were some objections, she finally got a majority vote. Now all she had to do was buy the dog.

As a single mom with three kids and an ex-husband 18 months behind in child support payments, it was not an easy task. But Sherri knew the kids in her classroom would greatly benefit from having a therapy dog. As children with disabilities, these kids had seen more than their fair share of taunting and heartlessness.

But in her classroom, they could stretch their talents and abilities without fear of reprisal. They were not mentally impaired children struggling to cope with a world that didnít understand them. They were just kids in school, dealing with all the universal childhood stuff. Who liked who the most, and why isnít it me? Why do we have to do math? When is recess?

A dedicated teacher, Sherri Bertrand was determined to open up a whole new world to her classroom kids. She scraped together the money and got the dog.

Enter Armani. Just 14 months old when she started her job, Armani was a huge hit.

The kids gravitated to her like a magnet. And Armani, accepting and loving, gently embraced them. She never sees what these kids canít do. Nor does she see the fear that some children have of her. Armani simply breezes into the classroom and waits.

And her influence is profound. Children get what they need from her. Armani helps them confront the emotional obstacles that keep them from grasping their true potential. And that includes a terror of dogs. One little boy was so terrified of dogs he wouldnít come near Armani.

How did Armani respond? She waited as she always does. Eventually, this young boy ventured outside his fear to see what all the fuss was about. What he found was a kind, gentle dog. He has come to love her just as much as the rest of the class does.

For Armani, it was just another day in the classroom Ö doing what she loves. Armani has no understanding how extraordinary her presence is.

The Golden Retriever is so attuned to her kids that she senses when one of them is having a bad day. Softly, she walks to the studentís desk and lays her head in their lap, reassuring and loving. Itís like sheís saying, ďItís okay. Youíll be just fine.Ē

Whether itís fear or anger, Armani shows kids they are capable of far more than they let themselves believe. Her very presence helps these kids learn self-control, patience and self-confidence.

But in October of last year, Sherri became concerned when she found a lump on Armaniís back. She took the dog to her vet, where they removed it without a biopsy. Then, in February, the lump came back. This time it was biopsied. It was cancerous, a soft tissue sarcoma. But the vetís news was still extraordinarily good. Armaniís survival rate was 90% with 16-18 radiation treatments over a four-week period.

Sherriís relief was enormous. Armaniís work was too important to lose her to anything, much less cancer. So while Sherri was grateful for the encouraging news, another huge question loomed. How could she pay for Armaniís treatments? Thatís when she and her class sprang into action. They hosted bake sales, and the kids voluntarily brought in their own money to help Armani. They love her that much!

But it just wasnít enough. Sherri frantically searched the Internet for help. She contacted non-profit after non-profit hoping that at least one organization would step forward. From an exhaustive search only one raised an enthusiastic hand. The Mosby Foundation was immediately moved by her plight.

We sprang into action, sponsoring a fundraiser on Armaniís behalf. Fliers were circulated as well as an email plea. The response was overwhelming. Within just a few days of opening our fundraiser, we got a call from the Golden Retriever Rescue, Education And Training organization (GRREAT).

They, too, were moved by Armaniís story and volunteered a generous donation that would pay for the remaining surgery balance. We were thrilled! To date, the Armani fundraiser produced the largest number of donations in our history. Carole Adams, our president and founder, had this to say, ď I can say in no uncertain terms that we have never had such an outpouring of support for any other dog weíve tried to raise money for.Ē

Armani could get the treatment she needed to continue her very important work. The kids were happy, and we were ecstatic. But then we received a call from Sherri saying that her son had found another lump on Armaniís shoulder.

Acting on her vetís advice, Sherri took the dog to the Kansas State University of Veterinary Medicine for further examination. Thatís when all of us got blindsided. In addition to the mass on her shoulder, the vets also found Armani had multiple small pulmonary nodules.

The disease had progressed at lightning speed, and there was nothing anyone could do to save this golden giver. Sherri was devastated. ďI feel lost,Ē she told us. ďI just wish this would all go away.Ē

The kids didnít yet know the seriousness of her disease. Armani had been kept at home during her 10-day recovery period from the biopsy. Yet, over and over again, they asked for her. ďWhen is Armani coming back? We want her to come back soon.Ē

Sherri was dazed. Just a few weeks earlier, her dog was given a 90% chance of recovery. Now, Armani had a mass in her lung. And the lump on her shoulder had grown to 6 x 4 x 2.  How could she watch as the dog she loved so much was slipping away right in front of her eyes?

Sadly, Armani made her final appearance for the kids in Sherriís classroom. As you can imagine, it was an emotional event. The kids hovered around her to say their goodbyes to the dog that had opened their hearts like flowers.

But even at the end of her life, Armani is still teaching her kids about life. Sheís showing them that yes, all good things do come to an end, whether weíre ready or not. But hereís the important part: carry the power of what youíve learned forever in your heart; and never, ever be afraid to pass it on to someone who needs it.

At home, Sherri watches as her beloved Armani slows down. ďIt's been a very hard few days,Ē she told us.  In a rush of emotion, Sherri said, ďI keep crying every time I think of Armani and the way too short amount of time we have left with her, and the things I need to do to be prepared for the end.  Öhow am I going to handle making that decision to let her go ...... and walking in that school on the first day next fall probably without her ..... and all the memories that make me smile and cry?Ē

Although the kids understand in their heads that Armani hasnít long to live, it will be real when, early in this fall, Sherri will most likely walk through her classroom door alone. Thatís when the void will deepen and sadness will drape over the children once again.

Armaniís life, her labor of love, has touched us deeply here at The Mosby Foundation. We want to do something for such an incredible dog. First, we sent out an email alerting all donors to Armaniís recovery of the sad news. We told them we would return their donation, if they so desired. No one wanted the money back.

However, we did return GRREATís very generous donation because it was no longer needed for Armaniís surgery.

And still, we had a small amount of money left over. Thatís when we asked ourselves, what could we do to honor the spirit of such a caring dog? In four short years on earth, Armani had gently coaxed courage and confidence into the hearts of her classroom kids. But she had also been a huge source of comfort for Sherri and her family.

Finally, The Mosby Foundation decided to open a memorial in Armaniís name. The money that was left over will become the seed money for The Armani Memorial Cancer Fund once this wonderful dog leaves us. The memorial fund will specifically help dogs battling cancer. If you would like to donate to the Armani Cancer Fund just note it on your check. You will be helping to further Armaniís generous nature by doing so.

Armani opened the hearts of children who needed her so much. Thatís why we want that spirit to be remembered, even while the Golden Giver is busy forever touching the hearts of children in the Great Beyond.

Update: On July 9, 2010, Sherri had Armani put down. Even though she and her son knew the end was coming, they didnít expect it so fast. Armani is now at peace. Sheís pain-free and happy. Most likely, sheís hanging out with Mosby and a whole bunch of kids.

The hard part is for those who loved Armani. Sherri and her son are devastated. Their lives will never be the same. But how could it be otherwise? The Golden Giver touched their hearts. And if thereís one thing Armani taught them, it was, pass the love on. We know they will. 

All donations to this fund will be used to help dogs battle canine cancer.

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