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Bond with companion dog inspires lasting legacy

Bernice Hoffman had a special bond with her dog, Winston.

Afflicted with multiple sclerosis, Mrs. Hoffman acquired Winston through the Ohio-based Assistance Dogs of America, which trained the dog especially for her.

Winston would walk by her side and steady her, recalled her husband, Bernard, of Stuart, Fla. "He could push the button on an automatic door to open it," Mr. Hoffman said. "If she dropped something on the floor, he would pick it up.

"He was her companion. She adored him."

After his wife of 46 years passed away in 2004 at age 69, Mr. Hoffman wanted to do something to honor her memory. An unexpected windfall helped do just that.

Last fall, Bernice Hoffman's name turned up in the paper, on the Massachusetts secretary of state's unclaimed money list. "God bless my wife, I didn't know what she made or where she put her money," Mr. Hoffman said. "She had a retirement fund of $25,000 I didn't even know about."

Thanks to the "rainy day account," a new research fund now has been established by Mr. Hoffman in his late wife's memory at The Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine.

The Bernice Hoffman Endowed Fund for Animal Health Research supports clinical studies into the treatment of diseases in dogs and cats. "I'm hoping they'll find some cures to help the animals," Mr. Hoffman said. "She would have liked that."

A plaque commemorating the gift will hang by a lab at the Henry and Lois Foster Hospital for Small Animals on the Grafton campus.

"There is very little grant funding available to advance our understanding of disease in companion animals," said Dr. John Berg, chair of the department of Clinical Sciences at the Cummings School. "With this gift, Tufts clinicians will be able to validate new diagnostic and therapeutic protocols. The Hoffman Endowment has the potential to help animals everywhere."

Winston is now six. He has received additional training to assist Mr. Hoffman, who turns 79 in December, and suffers from osteoarthritis. "If I drop a pen or pencil, he slobbers all over it and picks it up for me," said Mr. Hoffman. "When I go to the market or the mall, he walks beside me."

Mr. Hoffman said the fund is a tribute not only to his wife and to Winston, but also to a beloved previous pet, a German Shepherd named Harry. "And all future dogs," his daughter-in-law added.