On February 20, 2007, Leader Dog #4609 laid her beautiful head down for a final rest. LD4609 was much more, so much more, than just a number in a book to many people. Most importantly, she was probably best known for being half of Larry Barker's amazing pair of German Shepherd ladies that so strongly shaped his dog-training career.

"Velvet" had an amazing life packed into nearly 14 years. Her litter was originally bred specifically to be donated to Leader Dogs, with the hope that Larry could raise and do the primary training on one, to return to them. Little did any of us realize what a journey would begin the day that Larry brought that little black bundle of fur home. She definitely had her moments growing up but she was so amazing that Larry, all of her extended family, and the breeder were keeping fingers crossed and hopes held high that she would be pulled for breeding stock after passing her final training at the school. She passed, and would have made a great Leader Dog, but was selected for their breeding program, and Larry was given the option of bringing her home to oversee the litters of puppies, which he gladly did. In the meantime, she was "his" to continue with her training. There was no option - Velvet returned to Larry.

Over the next several years, Velvet had 4 litters of puppies. She had gained such an outstanding reputation that there was an official "waiting list" of foster homes specifically requesting Velvet puppies to raise & return - she simply passed along nothing but the best to those 40+ puppies. Some of those puppies are still working as Leader Dogs while others have followed their mother's footsteps and are also breeding stock for Leader Dogs. For many years Larry scheduled all of his trips, seminars, and pretty much his life, around those litters of puppies.

During the next 10 years, Velvet & Larry also did so many other things that, sitting back now and trying to recall them all, it's difficult because so many memories crowd forward. She earned her AKC CGC, and her TT. She was "untrained" as a Leader Dog and earned her AKC CD. She was also one of the very few Leader Dogs to ever earn true working titles - Larry had her started in Schutzhund tracking when she was still a baby and she continued her Schutzhund work around pregnancies, obtaining her BH, her WH (a truly classic performance in nearly catching the decoy as he flew lateral over the fence to get away from her that it is still talked about), as well as her SchH I Obedience and SchH I Tracking titles. Tracking remained her strongest asset. She was an absolute screamer going on a track. She continued that enthusiasm when she & Larry took on and passed the challenging LETS Tracking Level I and Level II tests, certifying and recertifying with flying colors. We used to kid Larry that the reason she was so enthusiastic about her tracking was because she knew that there would always be Chicken McNuggets after a good track!

During her later years, particularly after Tara crossed the Rainbow Bridge, Velvet slowed down, becoming the grand lady of the Barker home, enjoying doing nothing more than lying around.

Her one unfailing trait, one that she intuitively started doing as a youngster and continued to the end was being the best "nurse" we could have ever asked for. Whenever you were hurting, or just plain not feeling well, Velvet would instinctively touch her nose to whatever was hurting, staying close by and checking on you until you felt better.

So, now it was her turn to be taken care of. She took her last breath surrounded by family and friends that loved and cared about her deeply, knowing that her health was declining and that it was time to let her go run a final track and find Tara.

Rest easy, big girl. Your passing has left a large hole that will take many pawprints to fill, but know that many of your kids are passing on your legacy.