Dawn Ramsey remembers when Gittinger first spotted her.
Ramsey, of Shawnee, was among several people who were in a training facility for assistance dogs.
Over a two-week period, everyone was supposed to work with different dogs to determine which people and dogs worked well together.
During training, Ramsey could be on the other end of the room and say, “Sit” to the dog she was working with, and Gittinger would sit from across the room.
“He didn't pay any attention to anybody else,” Ramsey said. “He watched me constantly, and it was that way throughout his working life.”
Gittinger was Ramsey's first dog through the Canine Companions for Independence, a national nonprofit organization that breeds, raises and trains assistance dogs.
On Saturday, Ramsey organized a fundraiser at the Oklahoma City Boathouse District to raise money for the organization that has given her so much.
“They gave me my freedom and my independence,” Ramsey said. “I was becoming housebound. I didn't want to go any place ... I was very fearful of not being able to hear and being in a wheelchair, of being a victim, being a target of a crime. And I couldn't make myself go out.”
But after Ramsey took Gittinger home in 1991, that fear quickly evaporated. She traveled from California to Pennsylvania without worry. She had a new best friend to accompany her.
All Canine Companions' dogs and services are provided free of charge. The organization trains a few types of assistance dogs, including service dogs, hearing dogs, facility dogs and skilled companion dogs. The application process is available at www.cci.org.
Ramsey started losing her hearing in 1990. She had a car accident in 1984 and was in a wheelchair off and on until 2003 when she started using the wheelchair permanently.
She'll always remember Gittinger. There's something special about your first assistance dog, she said. He died in 2006 after almost 10 years of service and five years of retirement.
Ramsey's next dog, Nero, was a golden retriever-Labrador mix. He was “the ultimate gentleman.”
Ramsey and Nero would do presentations at schools, and then she would turn him loose to play with the kids.
“He would find the child in the room that needed a companion, and nine times out of 10, the child was autistic,” she said.
“Dogs know. There's just something about them that, they know who needs you and who doesn't.”
Penela, a 6-year-old yellow lab, is her third dog. Each day, Penela helps Ramsey hear things that she might miss. For example, every morning, Penela is there to serve as an alarm clock.
At the grocery store, Penela might grab an item that Ramsey can't reach.
“It gives you confidence, it gives you independence,” Ramsey said.
“I don't have to depend on another human being to do something for me. She goes in and out of stores with me ... and people at Walmart are amazed that she carries bags for me. She'll get stuff off of a shelf ... It's amazing the different things these dogs can do.”