Holiday Appreciation For My Bahamian Friends
By Davis Hawn
Dec 16, 2013 - 2:35:57 PM


Season’s Greetings in the Bahamas

Roughly 8 years ago I was a victim of an assault and consequently suffered from depression. I isolated, stayed drunk, and considered ways to end my misery. I was alone except for a puppy that I reluctantly rescued from my stolen truck later recovered in a junkyard.

As a young dog, Booster kept pulling me back to people thereby impeding my ability to isolate. When I injured my leg he took my socks off my feet and gave them to me. He learned to open the refrigerator and bring me water. One day I had an epiphany and realized all he’d done for me. I promised him that whenever I travelled I would always take one day out to share what he did for me…saved my life! A Google search of Davis Hawn Booster will evidence that I kept my promise to Booster.  I researched canines and learned of Assistance Dogs, the umbrella term that includes Service Dogs for the mobility impaired. I trained under Dr. Bonita Bergin the originator of the service dog concept. In her 60’s she mortgaged her life to found a college to teach humans about dogs. I proudly enrolled in Bergin University of Canine Studies to obtain a Master’s degree in Canine Life Sciences. It is the only canine oriented, accredited, degree granting college in the world. Students have come from 20 countries as far away as Iran.

Five years ago when I started to rebuild my life I took a cruise with my dog and ended up touring Island Seas Resort in Freeport. The management assured me that if I bought a timeshare I could have my service dog Booster by my side. They honored their promise and I now consider Island Seas my home away from home.

Bahamians welcomed me into schools, churches, television studios and newspapers…and most importantly into their hearts! I wrote letters to two Bahamian Prime Ministers championing the need for a law to enable the disabled. They are published on the web. I gained confidence and learned to speak in public.

I worked with the gracious Sheila Culmer who was the President of the Bahamas National Council for Disabilities. In partnership we strived to bring attention to the needs of the disabled. At a council meeting I met a blind Bahamian who had attended college in the U.S. His best friend was his Guide Dog that helped him navigate the pathways of life while providing emotional support. When he returned to his native Bahamas he had to leave his best friend behind. Bahamian society was not prepared to accept his partnership with a Guide Dog. He might not be welcomed into hotels, restaurants, and public venues accompanied by his best friend. His Guide Dog would be a hindrance rather than a helper. He also realized that the profundity of stray island roaming dogs might attack his Guide Dog. His blindness would have prevented him from protecting his best friend.

Five years have elapsed and today you have a Bahamas Disability law empowering the disabled. You have an animal cruelty law to protect your beloved Potcakes. The Bahamas Humane Society has feverously worked to educate the public while getting the strays off the streets and into adoptive homes in the Bahamas and the U.S. I am so happy for all of those whose lives will be positively impacted by the much needed legislation! You have an airline that helped “us” travel in the Bahamas and to Cuba. Because of Booster and a compassionate Bahamasair pilot, Bahamasair amended its operations manual to allow Assistance Dogs on all of their flights. The disabled are now able to travel to, and around the Bahamas, as well as other countries that Bahamasair services. Dollars of the disabled are flying into the Bahamas.

This week Booster and I walked into a grocery store with a blind friend and her guide dog. Five years ago we were greeted with questions, now we are greeted with welcomes. A blind man from Canada partnered with a guide dog greeted us in the straw market and his wife said “someone has gone into the schools here explaining assistance dogs”. Booster and I smiled! Taxi drivers that once shunned us now “get it” and transport us without hesitation.

Bahamians value education. I presented a novel concept of dogs helping mankind to an educated populace. Today I wish to thank the Bahamian people for trusting me and giving me the opportunity to share my life and my most valuable asset, Booster. I also appreciate acceptance of the disabled and their needs whether it is an Assistance Dog, a wheel chair ramp, or a law. You have made tremendous strides and you should all be so proud.

Further, Bahamians helped fostered better International Relations. My Bergin University Master’s thesis was that canines are a social lubricant...a bridge to bring people together. That canine lubricant saved my life once. I wanted to test my hypothesis under a most difficult circumstance. My Project Fidelity envisioned flying into Cuba as an American with my beloved Booster to further share my love of dogs, the disabled, and our neighbors to the south. My dream was realized when we were greeted with respect and love throughout our visit to Cuba. We even ended up on live Cuban educational television perhaps the only Americans to do so! I could not have gotten into Cuba without the help of Bahamians and Bahamasair.

Last summer Bergin University and I partnered to give a scholarship to Cubannative Beatriz “LABRADOR” De La Osa. Her amazing relationship with dogs coupledwith people skills won our hearts and admiration. She returned to Havana with two Golden Retriever puppies slated to be the first Cuban trained Service Dogs.

Please see: Diplomatic Service Dog Opens Doors in Cuba and Fetches Cuban StudentI encourage you to hear Beatriz’s enthusiasm expressed during our interview on National Public Radio.

In a few days, Booster and I will return to Havana with the help of Bahamasair to further Project Fidelity. We will join Beatriz and myriad Cuban professionals who welcomed the American with the dog not so long ago. Leaders of AINCI for the blind, ACLAFIM for the physically impaired, and the President of ANIPLANT, the group for Cuban animal welfare will come together. They will join school teachers, veterinarians, dog lovers, and officials at party to announce the intention to apply for a license to open the first Assistance Dog training facility in Cuba. At their insistence it will be named The Booster Center in honor of the dog that saved my life and introduced me to the world.

Equally amazing is the fact that Booster was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma cancer last January. He had 3 weeks to live. I sent out copies of his CT scan explaining that Booster and I have travelled the world together to educate and love. If Booster could talk he would say “take my life and learn more.” I enclosed a copy of Cuban children in the classroom hugging Booster.

A neuro- researcher affiliated with the University of Minnesota called and offered to help. She developed the first anti- squamous cell carcinoma vaccine in the world for a canine. This was after the University of Florida operated and performed Radiation Therapy. Today Booster is a cancer survivor and his experience may bode well for humans in the future! Even a dog has karma.

I have to conclude that God put Booster into my life for a reason. He is the product of God’s will, education, and Bahamian acceptance. Miraculously, he is alive and able to visit his Cuban friends to see what he started not so long ago. I also think God brought me to the Bahamas. With Bahamian help I have kept my word to Booster far beyond my wildest dream. I wish to thank all Bahamians as I take your love into Cuba and partner it with Cuban love as they announce the intention to open The Booster Center.

My next dream? Cuba is world renown for excellence in medicine. They give tuition free scholarships to students from around the world (and the USA) to become doctors. I dream that Cuba will one day export “Doctor Dogs” to help the disabled. Perhaps I may have the honor of having a Cuban trained Service Dog as Booster’s successor. That would help mend my tattered heart when he crosses the Rainbow Bridge to heaven. I think he will receive a pat on the head from the one who matters the most! Today’s dreams are tomorrow’s realities. With Bahamian help I feel like Walt Disney as dreams really do come true!

Booster and I wish to thank all Bahamians at this time of the holiday season…from the bottom of “our” hearts!

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