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"Hey, Dude!"

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Longtime assistance-dog raisers in Sanford find the perfect tribute to a departed friend

When Cathy and Marty Fischer’s dear friend Dave Warde died unexpectedly in 2018, the devastated couple wanted to pay special tribute to the man they had known for 25 years. The sweet idea they came up with involves four paws, a wagging tail, and a desire to help others.

The Fischers are longtime puppy raisers for Canine Companions for Independence, a nonprofit organization that breeds, raises, and trains assistance dogs for people with disabilities. Dave and his wife, Robin, had always admired the Fischers for their volunteerism and dedication to the organization’s pups and its mission.

“Dave used to kid around that he wanted to come back in his next life as a Fischer dog because they’re so loved, and they have it made with Cathy and Marty,” says Robin, who lives in Longwood. “It takes a very selfless, caring person to do what they do.”

In a sense, Dave’s joking reincarnation wish is coming true. Canine Companions volunteers who raise $10,000 or more at DogFest – the organization’s signature national event – are given naming rights to a puppy, and the Fischers seized on that opportunity.

“We decided what better way to honor and memorialize Dave than raising enough money to name a dog in his memory,” says Cathy, adding that Team Fischer collected $14,000 for the cause.

But that’s not where the Sanford couple’s tribute to Dave ends. Many volunteers are content to raise the money and name a pup, but not Cathy and Marty. They also chose to raise the dog, too, their 10th puppy-in-training for Canine Companions.
When it came to picking the perfect moniker for the dog, the Fischers left that decision up to Robin and Dave’s family. Three names were in contention: Dave, Warde, and Dude. After some debate, Dude won out and was given the required seal of approval by Canine Companions.

“The reason we picked Dude is because it’s kind of a household word for us,” Robin explains. “It’s the essence of Dave, and it’s just what he called everybody. He didn’t call me Robin; he called me Dude. Dude, in our house, was and still is a term of endearment.”

Before the Fischers could take on the responsibility of raising Dude, they needed to wrap things up with their ninth puppy-in-training. Dude’s arrival was also delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, but he finally made his way to the Fischers’ Lake Forest home in late April, when he was two months old. The male black Labrador retriever puppy is a first for the Fischers because all their others have been girls.

“Marty is happy to finally have another boy in the house,” quips Robin, an animal lover who has a cat and a black Lab dog of her own.

Dude Perfect
The unbreakable bond between the Wardes and the Fischers dates back to 1993 when Dave and Robin moved into the Longwood neighborhood where Marty and Cathy lived at the time.

“From that point on, we became best friends and have always stayed connected,” Cathy says. “We became family, really.”
Then, on August 22, 2018, Dave died at the age of 51 from a massive heart attack, shattering the lives of Robin and their children, Miranda and Jaiden. Dave and Robin had been high-school sweethearts, meeting in 1981 during their freshman year at their school in Connecticut.

“Dave has been a part of my life since I was 14,” says Robin. “We went to different colleges in different states so that we could grow as individuals, but we always knew we would end up back together. We married on July 4, 1993, and the theme of our wedding was, ‘What Took You So Long?’ He was an amazing friend, husband, and father.”

A talented graphic designer and art director, Dave was also a respected youth baseball coach. An athlete himself when he was younger, Dave coached Jaiden’s Babe Ruth and travel ball teams for about 10 years. Miranda and Jaiden both graduated from Lake Mary High School, where she was on the girls’ weightlifting team and he played on the baseball team. Now, Jaiden plays baseball at Flagler College and is majoring in sports management, and Miranda recently graduated from Florida State University with a bachelor’s degree in studio art.

The Fischers and Dave’s family think he would have loved Dude and the sentimental gesture that Marty and Cathy have made in his memory. The couple will keep Dude for about 20 months, during which time they will socialize the pup and teach him 30 assistance-dog commands. Then, they will give him back to Canine Companions, where he will be professionally trained and will learn advanced commands.

“Dude is very smart and focused,” says Cathy, who received the organization’s national volunteer of the year award in 2018. “He’s learning his commands very quickly and has adapted really well into our home and definitely with the training.”

For now, the pup is earmarked as a potential breeder dog, which means he could eventually sire a bunch of little Dudes and Dudettes. Canine Companions assistance dogs, valued at $50,000, are free to their recipients, which include veterans, children, and adults with disabilities.

The Fischers and Robin see a few similarities between Dave and Dude – some of which are rather amusing. For starters, the dog snores (which Dave was guilty of doing), and he loves peanut butter (a staple in the Warde household).

“Maybe we’re grasping and looking for some glimmer, but I see a lot of Dave’s traits in Dude,” Robin says. “Dude is very calm and laid-back, but when he plays, he plays hard. He is a good listener. He is loyal to those he loves. And his favorite pastime is playing ball and hanging at home with the family.”

With a smile, Cathy adds, “There are times when you look at Dude and you’re like, ‘Is that really Dave in there?’”

For more details about Canine Companions and its assistance dogs, visit CCI.org.

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