OAKLAND -- Cheers and tears mingled in equal proportions at Holy Names University as the campus community said a fond farewell to its most popular member, who is retiring after a lifetime of devoted service.

"It's a bittersweet occasion," said Holy Names President William Hynes. "We're happy she's going to have such a happy retirement, but we're going to miss her terribly."

But the honoree isn't a professor, student or staffer. It's a dog named Madge.

For the past six years, Madge, a yellow Labrador retriever, has worked as a guide dog for Belo Cipriani, Holy Names' writer-in-residence, who was blinded six years ago in a horrible incident when he was badly beaten by people he had considered childhood friends.

Belo Cipriani speaks during a retirement ceremony for his guide dog Madge, an 8-year-old lab, in the Corrigan Courtyard at Holy Names University in
Belo Cipriani speaks during a retirement ceremony for his guide dog Madge, an 8-year-old lab, in the Corrigan Courtyard at Holy Names University in Oakland, Calif., on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013. The special service dog has been with Cipriani for six years and will be retiring at the end of August. Cipriani completed his graduate degree and served as Writer-in-Residence. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)

"After that betrayal, it took me a long time to trust again, but I was finally able to do it," he said. "And Madge's unconditional love had a lot to do with that."

Working out of Cipriani's office in the school library, Madge quickly became a favorite with students and staff, especially during finals week, when a wag of the tail and a lick on the face goes a long way toward easing exam jitters.

"Whenever you feel frazzled, she'll jump up and wag her tail and let you pet her," said senior Sarah Peralta, a psychology major. "It calms me down every time."

"She's been a loving companion for Belo and a year-round animal therapist for stressed-out students," added university librarian Karen Schneider. "If anybody has earned their retirement, it's Madge."


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She has also been a fixture at every commencement, fashionably decked out in her custom-made cap and gown. At the retirement ceremony, the humans munched hors d'oeuvres while Madge happily wolfed down her favorite snack -- Fuji apple slices -- and modeled one of her retirement presents: a scarf embroidered with the words "Retired Guide," a gift from Guide Dogs for the Blind volunteer Julie Burnet.

Other retirement gifts included her favorite chew toys and a Chuckit tennis ball launcher. Madge will spend her retirement on a 30-acre property owned by Cipriani's sister, Emily, in Minnesota.

"My whole family lives in Minnesota, but I chose my sister because Madge adores her," Cipriani said. "She jumps up in Emily's arms and likes to be carried around like a baby."

Madge also will be reunited with her BFF (Best Friend Forever), Emily's dog, Buddy, another yellow Labrador.

"They're absolutely inseparable," Cipriani said. "They love to wrestle and chase each other in the snow."

The next time he and Madge see each other will be December, when he travels to Minnesota for the holidays. And he'll have a new dog with him, which he will receive Sunday from Guide Dogs for the Blind.

"I've been wondering what the dynamic is going to be like when the new dog meets Buddy and Madge," he said. "It's going to be fun to have three Labs together, with all that bounciness."

But the new dog will have some big pawprints to fill.

"Madge knows every inch of this campus," Cipriani said. "And she knows me really well, too. Every time we pass by a pizza parlor, she stops because she knows I love pizza. It's going to take the new dog a while to learn stuff like that."

Reach Martin Snapp at catman@sunset.net.

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