By Michelle Meehan Schrader
When Ronea Diekemper was down with a cold, her four-legged nursemaid – a rescued Australian shepherd mix named Gideon – bounded over to her bedside every time she coughed.
“He was worried about me,” Ronea, 37, of Belleville, recalled. “When I got up to eat, he followed me into the kitchen. He was being quiet. Just keeping an eye on me.”
Till being quiet was no longer an option. “A few minutes into my meal, I started choking. I couldn’t cough. I couldn’t breathe. There was no way I could talk. That’s when Gideon went crazy.”
Sensing his master was in trouble, the 80-pound pooch began barking and howling at the top of his lungs. The racket prompted a woman in a nearby apartment to check on Ronea – an act that likely saved her life.
“My neighbor performed the Heimlich maneuver on me,” Ronea said. “But she never would have known to help me if it hadn’t been for Gideon. Someone at church told me that, when translated, the name Gideon means ‘Man of Valor.’ It fits him to a tee.”
As does his new life with Ronea. Rescued by BAHS from St. Clair County Animal Control last spring, Gideon tested heartworm positive and had to undergo treatment to save his life. A BAHS volunteer, Ronea offered to foster the dog, bringing him home to convalesce.
“I suffer from PTSD, depression and major anxiety disorder,” Ronea explained, “and my therapist suggested I volunteer at the shelter as part of my therapy. It’s hard for me to trust people. But not animals. I’ve always loved animals.
“Then I fostered Gideon and within two days of him being here, I knew he had the gifts to help me with my disabilities. He seems to know exactly when an anxiety attack, or a flashback or a night terror is going to happen. He jumps up and gives me a Gideon-type hug. Or he’ll lick my face and paw at me.”
Though her apartment complex doesn’t allow dogs, an exception was made for Gideon, who presently is taking classes to earn service dog certification.
On a recent fall afternoon, the heroic pooch laid on Ronea’s living room floor, next to two laundry baskets overflowing with dog toys. He chewed on a purple sock monkey, stretching out his hind legs in what Ronea calls “his frog position.”
“He makes me feel better just being around him,” she said, proudly patting his furry grey head.
“I helped save him but then he helped save me. It’s really a question of who rescued whom.”
Ronea Diekemper poses with her hero, Gideon.