If the measure of a man is based upon what he leaves behind, then Dan Backer was truly a great man. Dan shared so much of himself while he was with us, that many more stories exist than I can possible share here. Our community was a far better place because Dan lived in it.
Dan was surely surprised to stumble upon Paws & Effect, learning about us through a trainer at Rover’s Ranch. He wasn’t sure what it entailed or even whether he wanted to be involved, but in true Dan character, he figured it wouldn’t hurt to try becoming a Pet Partner. Jesse had never trained for dog agility, but she proved to be a natural, working with Dan for more than two years at ChildServe. Over the course of the last few years, Dan became a ribbon-winning dog handler, a confident trainer and more capable than even he thought he could become.
At one of the seminars he attended with us, Dan was pretty convinced that everything Kathy Sdao discussed was beyond his capacity to apply – and nobody was more surprised to learn that he could successfully change a cue for a dog’s behavior. Hence, “jump” became “cow” so that Jesse could be the “cow that jumped over the moon.” The ability to change a cue for a behavior became integral at ChildServe, especially when a particular child couldn’t say a certain thing or move a certain way. Dan could modify the cue to something the child could perform and then encourage a child to continue to work with Jesse. I clearly recall a little boy who lost both of his parents in a car accident and the injuries he suffered in the same incident. How hard that little boy worked to hold a treat and give it to Jesse. And the smile that followed was unusual which made us cherish it all the more. Dan managed to turn the speech/physical/occupational therapy sessions that we fondly call “agility” into a spectator sport for that little boy. His grandfather brought him in every week to watch Dan work with the child to whom he was assigned.
Not many volunteers will hear that it is more fun to spend time with them and their dog doing agility than it is to go to Disneyworld (take that Make-A-Wish!) So popular was Jesse that she had the honor of taking professional photographs for senior photos with the young lady she worked for weekly at ChildServe. Dan was not immune from the things we witness at ChildServe and he often commented on how difficult it was to watch another person’s condition deteriorate. He cherished the fun they had together each Thursday, driving 45 minutes each way to participate at ChildServe.
Dan brought a nice perspective to our cause and even some tools. Our second Pet Partner evaluation was held one fateful Saturday morning during torrential rains and deafening claps thunder of a storm that refused to move on through. The lights went out and the evaluations were in jeopardy. Individuals had driven from Burlington, Iowa City and Cedar Rapids as far as four hours of white knuckle driving. Dan ran home, grabbed his generator, extension cords and enough fuel to get us through the day. Dan lit the place up. Without Dan and his mechanical know how saved the day.
We are so fortunate to have many photos of Dan and Jesse together. For the second time in just a few months we are grieving the loss of a friend. While we couldn’t be more fortunate to have such wonderful people in our lives, we wish that we were given more time to enjoy their friendship.