"My life's journey started with a beautiful yellow Lab and a wooden flute. I feel so fortunate to have a journey that involves giving back to others. The Lab's name was Mr. Raferty," said June Ulrey, of Bella Vista, AR; (Her friends call her JB.)
And as for the flute… well, despite having an Apache and Irish heritage, it took her around eight years to get more than a squeak and a squawk out of it. But that didn't stop her. Today she composes Native American flute music, and recently produced a CD titled Spirits of the Heart. (Listen in at myspace.com/spiritsoftheheart.)
Now that Mr. Raferty has retired to continue his journey as a pet in the home of a loving family, she is accompanied to her performances by her second Guide Dog, Abe (pictured).
"I miss Mr. Raferty," she said, "But I'm so happy for him now. Love has no boundaries. Although it was hard to make a transition to a new dog, day by day, Abe and I bonded closer and closer and our trust in each other grew. Soon, I was able to start really walking with Abe, farther away from home with confidence. My love for Abe is very strong, and we do everything together."
"Everything" includes sharing a stage in front of an audience. In addition to accompanying JB to flute performances, he also joins her on stage when she clogs. "Abe has been a big part of our clogging group's dance performances. In the middle of the show, I bring him out on stage ask him, 'If you think the audience likes what we've done so far and we did a good job, could I please have a high five?' Well, normally Abe just gives me the high five with his paw, but occasionally he pretends we could have done better and of course we plead with him. Abe is always a big hit with the audience."
"This spring, my dear friends Ray and Cheryl gifted Abe and me a two week vacation to Arizona where I could explore heritage at the White Mountain Apache Reservation. At the dude ranch, Abe went nose to nose with the horses. At Mesa Verde, I was able to touch a cave dwelling within the cliffs. Abe and I walked by the volcanic rock of Sunset Crater in Sedona that erupted thousands of years BC. We learned about the region's connection to Kokopelli, usually depicted as a humpbacked flute player, a fertility deity, a trickster and representative of the spirit of music. Kokopelli has been my mascot for some time, and I included him on the cover of my CD (along with the photo of me with Mr. Raferty)."
"Abe and I have played on stage in Branson, MO; for churches, for the VFW and a local care facility and we've been interviewed on television," she said. "None of this would have been possible if not for the support of everyone out there. I thank all my friends and my family, my dogs and my God for giving me this opportunity to share my journey with others."