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A Man and His Dog

Shutterstock / Stupina Kseniia

A Man and His Dog

On National Dog Day, we celebrate a special relationship between an advocate for people with disabilities and the service dog who gave him help and love.

Mark Karner and Elu (Image via Chicago Sun-Times)
Mark Karner and Elu
(Image via Chicago Sun-Times)

Not many people were able to see Mark Karner’s face, obscured as it was 24/7 by a breathing mask. First paralyzed by polio, then further impaired by scoliosis, diabetes, congestive heart failure and glaucoma, Karner didn’t have the freedom that comes with mobility and the ability to take care of oneself.

The 60-year-old died June 9 in Chicago. Sun-Times writer Maureen O’Donnell captured the brave and poignant details of his life in her story about Karner.

Occasionally, Karner’s longtime companion, Adrianne Olejnik, got a peek at his lively blue eyes when she would lift off the mask to see his face. And so, finally, did his other companion, Elu, a Great Pyrenees-Dalmation who had been dumped along the highway before being trained as a service dog.

Elu didn’t come face-to-face with her master until one time last year when Karner was in the ER. Karner called her “Baby girl” and she came closer, tail wagging. It was the first time they made real eye contact. And, like Olejnik, who has multiple sclerosis, Elu continued to delight with each sighting.

Karner was a strong advocate for people with disabilities and worked at the Progress Center for Independent Living where he helped others with disabilities become more independent. “He’s probably gotten over 500 people out of nursing homes and back into their homes, back into the real community,” Larry Biondi, advocacy coordinator at the Progress Center, told O’Donnell.

You can’t ask for a much more meaningful legacy than that.

Susan Soper is the author of ObitKit®, A Guide to Celebrating Your Life. A lifelong journalist, she has written for Newsday and CNN, and was Features Editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she launched a series called "Living with Grief."