Ex-mayor’s best friend and guide dies at 11


News staff writer

February 22, 2006

Sunday was a sad day for Ken Jernstedt, when his longtime canine companion and safekeeper, Driscoll, collapsed and died as they arrived home from church.

Alice Knowles, who drives the Valley Christian Church van, said that the 11-year-old guide dog, who has been with Jernstedt for nearly 10 years, was acting a little unusual on the trip home.

“He just sat there with his head in my lap,” she said. “Ken thought that was strange because usually he’s the only one Driscoll will do that to.”

When they arrived at Jernstedt’s home, Driscoll didn’t want to move.

“We had to help him out of the van,” Knowles said. “Once we set him down, he seemed to be having trouble with his back leg, and turned around for a minute or two and then just collapsed.”

Jernstedt called the vet, but Driscoll was already gone before the vet arrived.

The loss is acute for Jernstedt, who has been quoted as saying that he would not take his eyesight back if it meant he would have to give up his dog.

The bond between them was formed almost the instant they met, in April, 1996. Jernstedt had been accepted into a 28-day residential training program at Guide Dogs for the Blind, in Boring, Ore. He was paired with Driscoll on the third day of the program.

“There was no question about that feeling of compatibility,” he told the Hood River News in May 1996. “They call that bonding.”

File photo by Christian Knight

Driscoll guides Jernstedt across a dangerous intersection on the Heights in 2004.

Jernstedt and Driscoll worked together, along with eight other human/canine pairings, from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. daily during the month-long training program. Part of the time was spent in class and the rest doing “field work” out on the streets of nearby Gresham. The only break came Sunday afternoons, when visitors were allowed on campus from 1-4 p.m.

After 28 days of nonstop training, students, dogs, raisers, friends and families came together in an emotional graduation ceremony. The raisers (who receive the dogs as puppies and care for them — and bond with them — until they are old enough to be trained as guide dogs) joined the students on the stage and formally presented them with their new guides.

“The raiser gets the dog for the last time, and sees it for the first time,” Jernstedt told the News in 1996. “It’s a tearjerker.”

Susan Garrett Crowley visited the Jernstedts three weeks after Driscoll arrived. She was greeted at the door by “an elaborate display of acrobatics and a well-chewed rubber bone.”

“For a moment,” she wrote in her Hood River News story, “he is all golden puppy, prancing and teasing and offering to share his bone, maybe. Then Jernstedt picks up the leather harness, and the puppy disappears as though vaporized. Driscoll is instantly all sober business, standing quietly as his master straps the harness into place.”

In the 10 years Driscoll has been in service, he has accompanied Jernstedt to many important events, including the dedication of the Ken Jernstedt Airfield in September 2001; the 2002 Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade, where the partners rode on the 45-foot Guide Dogs for the Blind float; and Jernstedt’s 2003 induction into the Oregon Aviation Hall of Honor at Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville.

At the latter, Jernstedt said that Driscoll garnered the most attention.

“Everyone likes my dog so some of it gets rubbed off on me,” Jernstedt told the News’ RaeLynn Ricarte. “He’s the most popular one at most of the places I go.”

Jernstedt has known for some time that Driscoll was at the end of his guide dog career, but he couldn’t see bringing a replacement into the home while he was still alive.

“Ken just didn’t think that was right,” Alice Knowles said.

But now, she said, he has put in a request for another dog from Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Still, Driscoll is going to be a hard act to follow.

“Everyone thinks they’ve got the best dog, but I KNOW I have!” he said when he first brought Driscoll home in 1996. And after nearly 10 years of loyal service, Driscoll proved him right.

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