Oregon State Bar Bulletin — OCTOBER 2007
Profiles in the Law
The Other End of the Leash:
Akin Blitz Brings Pet Therapy to the Hurting and Fragile

By Cliff Collins

Pet therapy team Akin Blitz and Annie
comforting Laura, a resident at Providence Child Center.

Respect for the human-canine bond was ingrained in C. Akin Blitz early in life. His mother "loved animals more than people," he says, and his great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather were veterinarians.

A labor and employment lawyer in Portland, Blitz has learned the immense value of bringing dogs to people exposed to trauma or suffering. He has put in many hours as a volunteer participating with his 14-year-old bearded collie, Annie, as an animal assisted therapy team.

The pair began volunteering about seven years ago when one of Blitz’s sons was in surgery at Providence Portland Medical Center. An official with the Providence Child Center asked if Blitz would consider certifying Annie to become a therapy dog. The pair became credentialed through both the Delta Society and Dove Lewis Animal Emergency Hospital, and have been at it ever since.

Animal assisted therapy is becoming more common in hospitals, nursing homes and police stations because of its proven benefit for healing the emotionally and physically wounded.

Blitz saw the impact soon after he began volunteering. Children who had been unresponsive and physically or emotionally traumatized were quickly receptive to the dog’s presence.

He remembers one "crying, red-faced" girl when the team had first started visiting patients. She was in pain and upset, and the nurse told Blitz, "Don’t bring the dog in." But the girl’s parents overruled the nurse and let Blitz and Annie enter. Within 15 minutes, the child’s vital signs had improved, and she stopped weeping.

Over the years he and Annie have been visiting Providence and Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, Blitz has observed such scenes repeatedly, and the salutary effect animals can have on patients of all ages: they smile, they become more relaxed, and they often are able to focus on the dog and not on their plight.

"The impact that regular visits have, the benefit of the connection, is powerful," he says. "You can see it."

Island beginnings
Blitz was born in Honolulu and lived there through the fifth grade. His paternal grandfather founded what became Blitz Weinhard Brewing Co., and Blitz’s father was an Army officer, stationed in the Pacific theater.

"I learned to swim before I could walk, took horseback lessons at the polo field … in Waikiki, (and) camped and spear-fished at night at Hanauma Bay," recalls Blitz, who then completed high school years in the San Francisco Bay area.

Rather than face the draft with a high lottery number of 13 in 1968, Blitz joined the Marines. He received basic officer training during college at Willamette University.

Blitz calls law enforcement his "first passion," and his associations with police began at an early age. During high school, he helped Hillsborough, Calif., police officers train police dogs. During college, he worked nights as a dispatcher for the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, then graduated from the reserve academy and worked as an officer for the sheriff and for the city of Silverton.

For the past 20 years he has been legal counsel to both the Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police and the Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association. He remains a special deputy and legal adviser to the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, where he now is leading the creation of a volunteer unit of six crisis-response canine teams. He and Annie also work with the Hillsboro Police Department.

Blitz obtained his law degree from Lewis & Clark College, then served at the headquarters of the Marine Corps and Office of the Navy Judge Advocate General in Washington, D.C., where he took a master of laws degree at Georgetown University, in labor and employment law. After finishing active duty, Blitz entered the reserve as commanding officer at the Eugene Navy and Marine Corps Reserve Center, while serving as an associate at Cass Scott Woods & Smith in Eugene.

Learning labor law
Blitz worked in the Oregon Dept. of Justice’s labor and employment section and then moved to Portland and spent 15 years as a partner at what is now Lane Powell. He has been a shareholder with Bullard Smith Jernstedt Wilson since 1998, where he is on the road a great deal of the time, representing public and private employers throughout Oregon and Washington in labor relations, employment and risk management.

"Learning to practice labor law at the beginning of my career working with Bill Lubersky, Garry Bullard, Dick Carney, Dave Morthland and Sid Galton was a privilege probably without equal," Blitz says. "Each of them … modeled and exemplified the characteristics of an effective negotiator and labor lawyer, placing a premium on maintaining cordial dialogue and relationships."

Blitz has been named to Who’s Who in America and Oregon Super Lawyers. A Rotarian for over 20 years, Blitz also has been active in the Boy Scouts, both as an adult leader and as an Eagle Scout in his youth. He has joined the board of Oregon Humane Society. In recent years his emphasis increasingly has been on being "on the other end of the leash" as part of a therapy team with his dog.

Blitz says Annie used to see all of the patients in Providence Child Center, but as she has gotten older, the team focuses its approximate twice-a-month Providence visits on two or three medically fragile children who have established a relationship with the dog.

These and many other patients "over the years have clearly benefited from Annie’s presence," he says.

Annie was recognized for her work by the Oregon Veterinary Medical Association, which inducted her into its Oregon Animal Hall of Fame. She also travels regularly with Blitz to courthouses and labor negotiations, flying beneath the seat in front of him on Horizon Airlines, or riding in the back deck of Blitz’s Saab station wagon.

Many "clients insist that she come," he claims. "When I’m in the office, she is there with me." Blitz’s and Annie’s hospital "rounds" can last two hours, sometimes visiting at the request of the patients or their doctors, and he says it is time well spent.

"Giving back to the community is very important to me," says Blitz. "I get as much out of this as I put into it. It’s a very rewarding and valuable volunteer opportunity."

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Cliff Collins is a Portland-area freelance writer and a frequent contributor to the
Bulletin.

2007 Cliff Collins


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