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UConn Advance
March 14, 1997

Heldmann's love of dogs and volunteering
drives desire to help.

Dogs make great companions and loving additions to families. They also serve the community in police, fire and search-and-rescue missions.

This is the kind of volunteer service Tricia Heldmann, program publicity/marketing coordinator for the Connecticut Small Business Development Center, had in mind when she got involved with Connecticut Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation Inc. 20 years ago. Now she trains search-and-rescue dogs.

"It was something I've always wanted to do," Heldmann says.

Heldmann works with her fourth Fidelco dog, Geist, a 3-year-old German shepherd bred by the Bloomfield-based foundation that trains guide dogs. Geist came to Heldmann as his third career.

"Initially he had gone through the foster program where a family takes the puppy and raises it for guide work," Heldmann says. "Once he had grown, and somewhere during the time he should have been placed in guide-dog training, Fidelco tested him again and decided he wasn't suitable for guide-dog work," Heldmann says.

Then he was sent to the state police, faring well in training for agility and trailing suspects.

"But he is so overly friendly, his downfall with Fidelco as well, that the police couldn't make him into a protection type of dog," Heldmann says. "He likes to go up to everyone and hug and kiss them, and that's not what you want in a patrol dog." That's when Geist joined Heldmann, his third and final stop.

Geist is mainly training for air scenting, when a dog uses his keen sense of smell to find generic human scent. This differs from a bloodhound that can pick up a specific person's scent. Air scenting is mainly used for disaster and large woodland area searches.

Heldmann also keeps up Geist's training to find cadavers. The next step is to train Geist for water searches.

"I started with him doing runaways when the handler runs away from the dog and he has to find her. It's all a game with positive reinforcement and the reward at the end being praise and play time for motivation," Heldmann says.

Then the handler proceeds with longer and longer runaways. Next, the handler switches places and another subject runs from the dog. The dog gradually trains up to the task of a full area search, where neither the dog nor the trainer know who or where the subject is. Geist and Heldmann have made it through this first level of training.

"My next step is to try to get both of us tested and certified in first-level search and rescue for Connecticut wilderness or woodland areas," she says. "I hope to find Geist some certification for cadaver search as well. But I ultimately want to get him certified in all disciplines."

Training independently
Heldmann and Geist now train independently. Most search-and-rescue training can be done independently since only individual owners train their dogs. After both the dog and owner pass certification to work with police or fire personnel, the volunteer and dog will go on actual search missions.

Although Heldmann is not certified yet, she has volunteered to go on search-and-rescue missions without Geist. A pager alerts her with detailed messages about a current search.

In August 1995, Heldmann volunteered for a search in Goshen for a local man. The volunteers and dogs weren't called in until six days after he was reported missing. This was the first time a canine search-and-rescue team worked with Connecticut state police. They were successful in finding the body of the man who died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Heldmann's and Geist's training sessions in preparation for searches like this can last anywhere from one to six hours. She tries to train at least once a weekend and once, if not more, during the week.

So what makes a volunteer want to give so much time? "I've always had this strong desire to serve the community," she says. Heldmann's helping hand is evident by her work with the Connecticut Small Business Development Center, a program in the School of Business Admin- istration designed to assist small businesses in Connecticut.

Heldmann also has been on Fidelco's "Walk, Run, Ride" fund-raiser for 16 years and works closely with Fidelco to help place guide dogs with families and in other careers throughout the United States.

Heldmann came to UConn six years ago. She earned a bachelor's degree in art and a second degree in marketing from Central Connecticut State University.

Retirement is an uphill climb for this professor emeritus
by Bonnie Graber

Retirement means different things to different people. To Amerigo Farina, professor emeritus of psychology, semi-retirement means time to climb some of the most dangerous mountains in the world.

Eight years ago, at age 61, Farina decided to try mountain climbing for the first time. It's something he had always wanted to try. Earlier in life, the thought of climbing frightened him because he did not want to take the chance of getting killed.

"It took a mental revolution for me to do these things," he says. "I decided, 'Well, I have lived a good life and this is something I always wanted to do. If it kills me, well that won't be such a bad way to go.'"

So last summer, after many successful climbs since his golden-age starting point, Farina climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, the extinct volcano in Tanzania, Africa. He not only tackled the highest peak on the continent, he took the most difficult route to do it: the Machame Route, up the Western Breech, where climbers face blown-out craters and high cliffs.

Mount Kilimanjaro is 50 miles long by 25 miles wide at the base, roughly the size of Rhode Island. The summit has permanent glaciers at 19,340 feet above sea level.

The Kilimanjaro climb sounds a lot tougher than it really is, Farina says. "Kilimanjaro is not difficult," he says. "You have to go slowly anyway or else you get sick from the altitude. So it is a very gradual climb."

The mountain's terrain makes the trip interesting and worthwhile. "The mountain itself, if you look at it from the northern side, looks like a pile of dirt with little snow. But the southern side is beautiful," Farina says. "There, two tectonic plates come together, forming a classical volcano shape. On the shoulders of Mt. Kilimanjaro, there is the Shira Plateau, about 15,000 feet above sea level, which is a flat remnant of a former volcano originally the same height as Kilimanjaro."

For the first day of the eight-day climb, Farina's group trudged through a rain forest where four-wheel drive vehicles could not go. And since Kilimanjaro is a protected national park, the climbers had to walk through the jungle just to get to the park gate.

"That first day was very unpleasant, especially once we got to camp when it was already dark," Farina says. "We were spattered all over with mud, and our legs were particularly covered with mud. There was nowhere to wash, so I just took my socks off to clean off as much mud as I could and got into bed that way. To top it all off, we were on slanted terrain and I frequently woke up all crunched up at the bottom of the tent."

Exciting climb
The group -- Farina, Edward Fischer and Leonard Burns (two UConn Ph.D. alumni), three guides and seven porters - camped at 12,000 feet and the next day entered the volcanic area.

"At about that point you also get above the clouds which had caused all this moisture," Farina says. "It's like walking through a rain cloud. Then you can look down and see an ocean of clouds with some rocks sticking through here and there."

As they climbed higher and the air got thinner, Farina experienced some stomach discomfort. Burns, however, had worse altitude sickness and a serious headache. They both recovered the next day.

To help avoid sickness and aches, it is important to stay in shape for such serious climbs. To prepare for the climbs, Farina runs about two and a half miles three times a week and walks up and down the Memorial Stadium

steps five to ten times with light weights in his hands once or twice a week.

Farina moved to the Connecticut shore from Italy when he was 11. He earned his undergraduate degree from Yale University and his Ph.D. from Duke University, where he taught for three years before coming to UConn in 1961. He has retired from teaching but still acts as the associate head of psychology and director of graduate studies.

Farina began with his partners by climbing Mont Blanc in France. He also has climbed Mt. Rainier in Washington state, Mt. Elbrus in Russia and, in the winter, Mt. Washington in New Hampshire.

His experiences have included trekking expeditions through trails in Nepal, Tibet and Peru. This June he plans to climb Mt. Hood in Oregon."

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