work of dogs
News: Guest Posts
Gratitude and honor prompt participation
WASHINGTON — The 2013 Presidential Inaugural Parade played host to another inaugural event.
Santa Rosa, Calif. based Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) made their inaugural debut in the parade, which also marked the first time a dog organization participated.
According to CCI National Director of Marketing Jeanine Konopelski the mother of a Skilled Companion Team from Virginia was the catalyst for the organization’s involvement.
Carina Elgin said her daughter Caroline’s Service Dog, Sajen changed her life and she wanted to show her gratitude to CCI and provide a platform for people to learn about the organization.
The Labrador - Golden Retriever mix black dog was partnered with Caroline 9 years ago.
The now 19 year old has grown up with her 11-year-old dog. Cerebral Palsy has limited Caroline Elgin’s mobility and impaired her speech.
And through the years, Sajen has opened more than just threshold doors for his partner.
He opened the door to a world of opportunity through his unconditional love that bridged barriers to socialization and resulted in building Caroline’s self confidence and independence.
As a young girl with a young Service Dog, Caroline joined a 4H Dog Club.
Despite her limited verbal ability and restricted hand motion, Caroline was able to command Sajen as she took him through Rally Obedience and Agility Trials.
She and Sajen earned a rainbow of ribbons each year in the annual Virginia Dog Show. Though she paced her dog through the rings from her joystick controlled wheelchair, she never asked for any special consideration and competed on equal ground with the other 4H dog handlers.
But Sajen’s ability to help open the door for CCI participation in the 2013 Inaugural Parade is perhaps his biggest achievement to date.
“I was so proud to be walking with Sajen. He has been my best friend and helper for nine years and will be retiring soon, but it was so special to walk with him down Pennsylvania Ave.,” said Caroline Elgin. “ He trotted along and wagged his tail the whole time like he knew this was something special.”
The inaugural parade includes representatives from all 50 states. Though CCI didn’t have a representative from each state, they had participants that stretched from the Atlantic to Pacific coast and included all five CCI Regions.
All four types of CCI Dogs were represented, including Skilled Companion Teams, Hearing Dogs, Facility Dogs, and a CCI Wounded Veteran Initiative Service Dog.
Puppy raisers from around the country also marched in the parade. The youngest puppy in the parade was 4-month old Shyla who is being raised by the Slater family in Upperville, Va. Sajen was the oldest dog in the parade.
“It was amazing how good all the dogs, even the little puppies were, but they are CCI dogs and just really know how to behave,” said Caroline Elgin.
The puppies were wearing their yellow training vests and the graduate dogs were wearing their blue CCI vests. However their human counterparts were all dressed in matching yellow hats and jackets with the organization logo on the back.
Caroline Elgin said some people commented that the outfits made them look like bananas, “but they were warm.”
CCI introduced their balloon dog mascot “Independence” who rode on the parade float with some of the participants. The large yellow dog wore a blue CCI vest and collar.
Caroline Elgin said, “I thought the float was "Labrador able"!
Event though the teams had a long day, she said it was great to be with all the other CCI participants.
She noted that it was already dark as they headed up the street, but when they turned the corner towards the White House reviewing stand the parade route was flooded with bright lights.
Caroline Elgin was on the side of the float closest to the President’s reviewing stand
“Vice-President Biden got really excited when he saw us,” said Carline Elgin. “He knows about CCI and his face really lit up when he saw us. He gave us the “thumbs up”.
She said President Barack Obama was busy having his picture taken, but turned around and got a huge smile on his face and waved when he saw them.
With Sajen by her side, Caroline Elgin matured from a young girl into a young woman. She is a currently a second year Graphic and Web Design student at the Art Institute of Virginia-Dulles and designer at www.labradorabledesigns.com. Her company makes a donation to CCI for each item sold.
Though Sajen’s paws help in many ways, she used modern technology to provide her first hand account of their participation in the 57th Inaugural Parade.
The day after the parade Caroline Elgin and Sajen were both pretty tired, but she said, “It was so exciting to represent CCI and people with disabilities. It was history.”
CCI was one of about 60 applicants chosen from nearly 3,000 parade applicants. Even though CCI made history marching in the 57th Presidential Inaugural Parade, the dogs trained by CCI to assist persons with disabilities make history on an individual basis every day.
“We’re so grateful for this chance for the world to know about Canine Companions for Independence,” said Carina Elgin. “The volunteers are thrilled to show everyone that this opportunity is out there to help enrich the lives of people with disabilities. I want more people like my daughter Caroline to be able to have a dog change their lives.”
CCI was founded in 1975 by Dr. Bonita Bergin and is the largest non-profit provider of trained Service Dogs. They have five regional training centers in the United States and are recognized worldwide for the excellence of their dogs and programs.
CCI provides Service, Hearing, Facility, and Skilled Companion Team dogs free of charge to approved applicants.
For more information, visit cci.org or call 1-800-572-BARK.
News: Guest Posts
A New Dog-in-training Joins Up
October and November have been the most exciting months of 2012 for Dogs for Conservation. More than a year of hard work and patience have paid off and we now have some tangible things to show for it!
In October 2012 we had the wonderful opportunity to both save a life and acquire another great detection dog! Formerly known as Allie, now named "Terra" (as in "Terra Firma"), this female Border Collie was found as a stray and was looking at her last days before being euthanized at a Texas shelter. That was when Ruff Mutts Border Collie Rescue saved her life and realized she had potential to be a working dog! Debbie Schwagerman, Director of Ruff Mutts, wrote:
“Allie actually came from the Wichita Falls animal shelter. She was picked up as a stray and no one claimed her. In fact, even after she was available for adoption, no one adopted her and no other rescue stepped up for her. I agreed to take her at the last minute, and she was transported out to me in Terrell. I knew from the minute I met her she was born to DO something.”
Terra was then evaluated and temporarily fostered by Bob and Karen Deeds of Canine Connection in Fort Worth, TX where she was deemed a wonderful prospect for detection work!
Soon after that, we at Dogs for Conservation contacted Bob Deeds about any dogs he knew of that might work out for our program … and the rest is history!! Terra is currently being trained by our head trainer Tiffanie Turner to detect the highly endangered Houston Toad! Terra is the sweetest girl who gives the best doggy hugs I have ever seen!! She is crazy about her ball, and that has been the key to teaching her how to "learn to earn” … she did not even know how to sit when we got her!
While Terra sniffs out toads, Ranger has stepped up his training a notch and has finally been introduced to a target odor. Many months of preparation and fun have led up to this time, and so for Ranger it is just another game! He has been learning how to use his nose properly and efficiently, learning how scent behaves in different terrain and weather, and of course his obedience training continues every day as well. All of these are pieces to the puzzle that will ultimately have our “puppy” working well in the real world in 2013. It amazes me daily how much he enjoys what he is doing… I am so proud of him!
Until next time, feel free to visit us on our website or on our Facebook page for regular updates on Ranger and Terra’s progress!!
Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
Lending a Helping Paw
“He’d be perfect as a therapy dog — perfect. You just have to help me stop him from biting so much.”
I wish I could say I’m making this up, but yes, I did have a client who said that, and yes, he truly thought his dog could be a great therapy dog. My client had the best of intentions, but it took a while to convince him that his pathologically shy and potentially dangerous dog was no better suited to therapy work than I am to being a ballerina.
However, a multitude of dogs are just what the doctor ordered, and it makes my heart all warm and gooey to think of the great work they do. Currently, an estimated 30,000 teams of what are called therapy dogs and handlers are certified through Delta Pet Partners and Therapy Dogs International, and there is little doubt that they are enriching the lives of thousands of people across the country.
A good dog-and-handler team does a lot more than just make people feel fleetingly happy. True therapy dogs — dogs who participate in structured programs designed by health care professionals (Animal Assisted Therapy, or AAT) — can decrease pain, improve mobility, speed up post-surgery healing and even calm autistic children as well as increasing their social interactions. That’s a pretty impressive body of work, and it is just the short list. A larger number of dogs and handlers participate in what are called Animal Assisted Activities (AAA), in which teams visit hospitalized children and senior-center residents. The petting, tricks and furry companionship can stimulate the release of massive quantities of the world’s greatest drug, the neurohormone oxytocin.
Another benefit: AAT and AAA can be as good for the providers as the recipients. Take it from me — watching a senior citizen glow while petting your dog and talking about the special pup she owned 70 years ago is guaranteed to put you in a good mood that lasts for hours.
However, you need to leave your rose-colored glasses at home if you and your dog are involved in AAT or AAA (I’m just going to call it “therapy” from now on, as long as we all understand that I’m using the term loosely). Just because you love your dog doesn’t mean everyone in a nursing home will want to meet her. Plus, your dog may actually hate the work, even though it wraps you in your own haze of oxytocin. In addition, your beloved dog may come home with an antibiotic-resistant bacteria like MRSA, which is commonly found in health-care facilities.
In other words, there’s a lot to learn about doing this work in a way that is truly helpful to others, safe for everyone involved and, as importantly, enjoyable for your dog. In this article, I’ll be focusing on the dogs, because, well, they pretty much drive the system.
Here are some criteria to consider when asking if your dog is suitable for therapy work. The most important job qualification is that the dog loves people, absolutely and completely. That doesn’t mean your dog lights up when you come home, and tolerates visitors. I’ve seen and heard of numerous dogs in AAT who adored their guardians — but strangers? Not so much. I’ve also watched a dog and her guardian spend an entire “therapy” session communing with one another in a nursing home. That’s not therapy, that’s a woman petting her dog while others watch. It might be useful in some circumstances, but most often, the dog needs to voluntarily approach strangers, make eye contact with them and put forth an effort to get close to them.
It’s important to distinguish these dogs from dogs who merely tolerate strangers. Willie’s response to people walking toward the house is: “Oh look! There’s another one! Can you believe it?” I get the impression he thinks that people are as rare as huge, juicy beef bones, and he just can’t believe his luck — they keep turning up randomly when he least expects them. So while he’d fill the “loves everyone” bill, he’d, uh, most likely knock the senior citizen out of her wheelchair with his tail.
Which brings us to the difference between manners and personality. Willie is trained to greet people politely, but I can’t expect him to leave his personality in the crate. Therapy dogs need to be calm — dogs who don’t slap senior citizens with their tails or pull IVs out of patients’ arms. The level of acceptable activity can vary depending on where and when the dog is working, but a calm demeanor goes beyond good training.
People who most benefit from a dose of oxytocin are often frail or otherwise physically compromised, and the dogs they interact with can’t emote all over them, forcing them to protect their face or their shoulder or their new hip. This is one reason so many dogs do well when they are older, even though they may have flunked the certification test when they were younger. If your dog was dismissed as too active to work in the Children’s Hospital when he was three, you might want to try again when he’s eight or 10, after he’s slowed down and is a little calmer about life in general.
Besides being physically calm, dogs need to be emotionally calm. That means they don’t go all pancake-eyed when someone grabs their head, or panic if a metal tray is dropped behind them. Essentially, a good therapy dog needs to behave in ways that most dogs don’t: unfazed when a child hugs them a little too hard before you can intervene, unreactive when the Alzheimer patient tries to grab their ears and screams when you step in. Can some nervous dogs be conditioned to be comfortable when “life happens”? Yes, they can; I know of several dogs who were originally terrified of strangers and ended up as great therapy dogs. But that’s the exception, not the rule. It’s a fool’s errand to try to make a reactive dog into a good therapy dog while he’s in treatment himself, and it’s not safe or respectful to anyone to try to make a “regular” dog into a one-in-a-million one.
This is a problem I’ve seen a bit too often: guardians whose dogs may have good reasons for being cautious or nippy, but who still insist that “it’s not the dog’s fault, and if everyone would just learn to be appropriate around dogs, he’d be perfect.” That’s pretty much the point here: people won’t be perfect, guaranteed. In the normal run of things, they never are, and in the case of therapy, they often will be worse. The children will be crazed to finally see a dog like the one they have at home and won’t understand why they can’t hug Maxi so hard that Maxi can’t breathe. Some seniors will sit quietly stroking Chief, but others will get a death grip on the sides of his head and kiss his lips before you can stop them.
For everyone’s sake, including your own, you don’t want Maxi and Chief to be dogs that just barely tolerate this kind of treatment. Those dogs may be “fine” (i.e., they don’t bite) the first time or two, but they might not be the third or fourth. Even if they don’t object, forcing them to tolerate this sort of behavior could be considered abusive. You need a dog who really, truly doesn’t care if he’s hugged or his tail is pulled. Those dogs are out there, but they are less common than many of us like to think.
Willie, for example, would be overstimulated in a room full of children, but might eventually be a great dog for a senior facility. Some dogs adore kids, but would be nervous around wheelchairs and walkers. Thus, your first job is to find out which program is a good fit for your dog. If you’re involved with a group like Delta Pet Partners or TDI, the organization will help you identify an appropriate venue after your dog has been certified.
Once you’re at your work site, your task is to present your dog to others and then back off enough to encourage connections. However, you need to stay alert, on watch for potentially inappropriate interactions. Most importantly, you need to be an expert at reading your dog. If I’ve heard “Oh, he’s fine,” about a stiff-bodied, closed-mouthed, wrinkled-brow dog once, I’ve heard it a gazillion times. Not long ago, a woman sent me a video of her and her dog doing AAT in a hospital setting. The children were in heaven, petting and stroking and chattering like starlings over the dog. The guardian was beaming, and raved to me about how much her dog loved the work. Except that’s not what her dog’s body language suggested. He looked patently miserable, with a stiff body, his mouth closed and his head turned away from the children. His human was so overwhelmed with oxytocin herself that she couldn’t see that her dog was extremely uncomfortable.
Job one, then, for guardians, is to become brilliant at interpreting visual signals of discomfort in their dog, and learning to act on them immediately. That’s not always so easy to do; many of us have seen a suspicious look on our dog’s face and dismissed it. “Oh, but he’s always loved coming here.” But maybe that was then, and this is now. Therapy work can be the highlight of a dog’s week, but it can also be stressful, and it’s common for dogs to enjoy it for a few years and then be ready for retirement.
What’s most important is to learn to read your dog objectively, and to do so every minute of every interaction. If you’re participating in AAT with your dog, you are the responsible member of a working team, and need to watch and evaluate the patient, the surroundings and your dog. If you don’t come home a little tired, you’re probably not doing your job.
Argh! This sounds like a lot. It is if you do it right, that’s true. However, many people say it’s the most rewarding thing they’ve ever done with their dog. I don’t want these cautions to discourage anyone from doing AAT or AAA with their dog. This can be important and wonderful work — good for you, good for your dog and good for people desperate for the same glow we get when we cuddle with our own dogs at night. Spreading the wealth is a beautiful thing — but it needs to be done with knowledge and foresight so that it’s a win/win/win for everyone. Let’s hear it for oxytocin all around!
News: Guest Posts
Being able to travel to amazing and interesting places is a real blessing in my life that I am grateful for every single day. I recently returned from a month in southern Africa… for me it was like returning home since I lived in South Africa for five years. My husband, Mike, is South African, and he works there most of the year, so my four year old daughter and I usually go at least once a year to see him and to see other family and friends.
This particular trip was not only to visit family though, I ended up spending about ten days visiting with other people and organizations who use “Conservation K9’s” for wildlife conservation. Wildlife is one of the greatest natural resources that Africa has, and tourism is a real economic boost as well as a good reason to protect the incredible diversity found there.
Take the cheetah, for example. Who doesn’t love cheetahs! They are gorgeous, athletic, and alluring creatures! But they are also in great danger. I was lucky enough to spend a week at the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) in Namibia, where I was able to spend time with cheetahs and the dogs that are helping them. The mission of CCF is stated as:
“To be the internationally recognized centre of excellence in the conservation of cheetahs and their ecosystems. CCF will work with all stakeholders to develop best practices in research, education, and land use to benefit all species, including people.”
In trying to accomplish this, CCF does many things. They rescue, raise, rehabilitate, and often release cheetahs when possible. The real importance of their work though is in trying to help local livestock farmers strike a harmonious balance with the cheetahs and other wildlife that share the habitat. One way they do this is by raising Livestock Guardian Dogs.
Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGD’s), such as the Anatolian Shepherds and Kangals that CCF breeds, are a very effective way to protect livestock where there are large predators. In Namibia, farmers can suffer losses from cheetahs and other large predators that still roam wild. CCF breeds these special dogs and gives them to farmers who need them so that cheetahs will not suffer the consequences.
I spent some time with a litter of four week old LGD puppies that were surrounded by CCF’s own herd of goats. The puppies are raised with livestock, and human attention and cuddling is minimized so that the dogs bond with the livestock rather than people. Once the dogs are ready they live full time with the herds they protect, and they love their job!
While at CCF I also got to meet four other special dogs, the cheetah scat detections dogs! These four dogs and their dedicated human team members spend their days in the field looking for cheetah scat, which is then processed by CCF’s in house genetics lab where so much information can be extracted from one sample. Cheetahs suffer from some genetic problems as a result of their declining populations, and the scat can also relay which individual it came from, what sex it is, stress levels, pregnancy, diet, etc.
These dogs can be very valuable because they speed up what can be a very time consuming process looking for a “needle in a haystack”, especially since cheetahs have such huge home ranges.
I had a great time at CCF meeting the dogs and many of the cheetahs that are non-releasable. Namibia is an amazing country, and I highly recommend it as a travel destination… and of course CCF is open to visitors and is an incredible experience!!
Towards the end of my Africa trip I traveled to Johannesburg, South Africa and attended a workshop dedicated to the use of detection dogs for wildlife conservation. It was here that I had the pleasure of meeting many wonderful people and dogs. I was finally able to meet two very special people in person that I had only conversed with via emails.
Rox Brummer from Green Dogs Conservation was a key participant in the workshop and had so much to share with all of us. Rox and her team are based in South Africa, and have done so much already with dogs including cheetah scat and kill detection as well as a bird control dog for an international airport in South Africa.
The other key speaker at the workshop was Megan Parker from Working Dogs for Conservation, based in Montana. Megan and her team have done much of the pioneering work using dogs for wildlife work. Their past projects span many continents and countries, and she had so much experience and wisdom to share with the group. I also got to meet one of Megan’s dogs, Pepin, a very handsome Belgian Malinois that has been trained to detect many different things in his working career.
This workshop proved an invaluable use of my time, as it was a very unique opportunity to pick the brains of several people who are the most knowledgeable and experienced in this unique field. I thank them all immensely for their time and dedication.
My trip was a success, both personally and professionally. Best of all I came home to happy and healthy dogs who had been so well cared for in my absence. There is no replacement for a great dog-sitter, and I have the best! Ranger was thrilled to see me again and ready to get to work. He is showing so much potential these days… I can’t wait for you to see him next month!
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
No tools can do what she can
It really should come as no surprise that a dog can be trained to find bones. In fact, it’s hard to think of a job better suited to them. Yet, Migaloo the Black Lab is believed by her guardians to be the first dog who has been specifically trained to find buried human bones at archaeological sites. Trained cadaver dogs have previously discovered human bones that were nearly 200 years old, though they were not specifically trained to do so.
Migaloo was trained to alert to skeletal remains with the use of a 250-year old human skeleton on loan from a museum. It took six months of training, field trials and search tests to turn her into an archaeologist. Now Migaloo can do what no humans can do, even with the assistance of radar, magnetic technology and help from historical records. She can find ancient humans bones with high reliability due to their distinct odor. It’s unclear what that odor is and many people are surprised that there is a specific odor. Perhaps that’s why some people didn’t think dogs would succeed in this sort of work.
But Migaloo has succeeded, finding human bones over 600 years old that she was able to detect at a depth of two meters. Her job is to work at sacred Aboriginal sites in Australia finding skeletal remains. Her knowledge can be used either to find places to excavate or to find and protect burial sites. Perhaps soon there will be other dogs working at sites around the world at sites of ancient civilizations.
Migaloo is rewarded for her work not with a bone of her own, but with a game of fetch.
News: Guest Posts
It sure is HOT in Texas right now, and it’s not helping that Conservation Puppy-in-Training Ranger is on FIRE!! My little boy is growing up, and his potential is also growing in leaps and bounds. It is very important that our dogs are acclimated to the heat and humidity here in Texas, as it will be very useful later on when they are working in the field and make them less susceptible to heat related problems.
We take a lot of precautions to make sure our dogs are never at risk for heatstroke. Working during the heat of the day is nearly impossible for any length of time, so training right now is limited to mornings and evenings. Water is available at al times of course and here on the farm where Ranger is growing up there are several ponds that he is able to cool off in. We also started using these fantastic Swamp Coolers that Backcountry K9 generously donated to us (along with some life jackets!) which are nice to have on hand if necessary. The risks are very real for both people and animals, and all pet owners need to be extra careful right now.
Older animals do not tolerate the heat like their younger counterparts do, and in my household our oldest canine friend started going downhill these last few months. If you remember my very first blog, we lost one of our old Pointers, Kammo, in April, which left us with Purdy the geriatric Pointer-mix, Riley the Golden Retriever, Tank the Frenchie and of course, Ranger. Well, after saying for many years that Purdy was like the Energizer Bunny, she finally started to show her 15 years of age. She also developed a heart condition in the last month, and despite every effort to medicate, feed, and spoil, it was time for us to say goodbye to our Matriarch.
Many of you will sympathize with me and have had to say goodbye to a beloved animal or person. We knew we had only days left with Miss Purdy, and we tried to keep her comfortable and I took her on as many walks as her frail body could take. She always loved walking and swimming in the ponds, but more recently she started having problems swimming and had nearly drowned several times. By now she was content to just lie by the waters edge, her eyes having lost much of the sparkle they always had.
On Saturday morning we woke up and realized it was time to help Purdy cross the Rainbow Bridge. My husband, daughter and I all said our goodbyes, and I held her head and stroked her beautiful black fur while she fell asleep for the last time. It was probably the hardest thing I have ever had to do, but there was never any doubt that it was the right time.
Purdy was born in South Africa and spent her glory days chasing monkeys and antelope through the forests. Her ashes will be traveling with me to South Africa in September, where my husband plans to sprinkle them in the same forest she used to run in.
My trip to South Africa for the whole month of September will be full of adventures. I will be visiting the highly esteemed Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia to see their Livestock Guardian Dog Program as well as some new cheetah scat detection dogs they have just acquired! I also hope to visit with Green Dogs Conservation based in South Africa to meet their Livestock Guardian Dogs and Conservation K9’s that are being trained for so many valuable jobs related to Wildlife Conservation… plus they have PUPPIES right now.)
My next blog will be full of great photos and adventures from my Africa trip, and I cannot wait to tell you all about it. In the meantime, please take some time to “like” us and share this wonderful cause on Facebook or check out our Website… we appreciate everyone’s support so far, particularly our wonderful sponsors and donors. This was a great month for us and we got some great gear for the dogs.
EzyDog donated us some awesome harnesses that will be great for working the dogs in the field. We also had a beautiful commissioned portrait of Conservation K9 “Bea” donated to us by Melissa King from Pawblo Picasso (great name right!) that we plan on using for various fundraising efforts! You can see the painting and read Melissa’s blog HERE.
Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
An SAR call to action
In the wake of a disaster, the first critical task is to find survivors. To accomplish this, we turn to dogs for help. Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, mudslides, terrorist attacks—search and rescue teams are on the spot and on the job until the last person is found.
The nonprofit National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (SDF) estimates that the nation needs more than 400 Advanced Certified canine search teams to adequately respond to disasters. But today, there are just 180 teams, and experienced pairs are retiring every year. To help narrow this gap, SDF has secured 122 acres in Santa Paula, Calif., on which it plans to build the first national training center of its kind in the country. Over the next three years, SDF plans to raise $15 million, which will be used to purchase the land, construct the facility and establish a maintenance endowment. The center will also allow SDF to consolidate its kennels, search-training sites and offices in one location.
Founded in 1995 by retired schoolteacher Wilma Melville, SDF’s mission is to “produce the most highly trained DHS/FEMA Advanced Certified canine disaster search teams in the nation.” To accomplish this mission, the organization accepts donations of dogs from individuals and rescues dogs from shelters, trains them, and partners them with firefighters and other first responders. Both the canines and the training are provided at no cost to the departments. Completing the loop, SDF also makes a commitment to the lifetime care of every dog it accepts into the program, regardless of whether or not the dog completes the training; once rescued, these dogs never need to be rescued again.
For more about their programs and to make a donation to this or another SDF project, visit their website or phone 888.459.4376.
News: Guest Posts
Without being able to drive, I’ve always thought that blind people and our guide dogs—especially those of us who live in big cities—must walk more than the average person-and-dog team does.
A new wellness program at my workplace gave me a chance to prove it. I work part time at Easter Seals Headquarters in downtown Chicago, and in June they started a six-week “Walk For U, Go The Extra Mile” challenge. Every employee received a free pedometer to keep track of our progress for six weeks, and those of us who met the daily goal of 7,000 steps per day—a distance of 3.5 miles—throughout the entire six weeks would be entered into a drawing to win a six-month fitness club membership.
The human resources department realized I wouldn’t be able to read the number of steps I’d taken each day on my own, so they ordered a special talking pedometer for me—it said my results out loud. And so, I was on my way to prove my theory.
The list of requirements for people applying to train with a Seeing Eye dog says candidates need to be able to walk one or two miles a day. When you live in a city you can’t simply open a sliding glass patio door to let your guide dog out. When my Seeing Eye dog Whitney (a two-year-old Golden Retriever/Labrador Retriever cross) needs to “empty,” I take her down the street, around the corner and to her favorite tree. That’s 1,000 steps per trip, and that trip takes place at least four times a day. And for the rest of the day, well, running errands in a city is like using one big treadmill. Add the safety shortcuts Whitney and I take across busy city streets (rather than deal with traffic, we go down the subway stairs on one side of busy streets, traverse underneath, then come up the stairs on the other side) well, every El station is a StairMaster.The first two weeks of our experiment included one week of 100-degree temperatures in Chicago. We stayed inside with our air conditioner on more than usual, but hey, a girls gotta go. Even in that hot weather Whitney and I averaged 9,871 steps a day, and our steps per day increased when temperatures cooled down the next week.
Just when I’d started planning which new equipment Whitney and I would try out when we won the free health club membership grand prize from the Go The Extra Mile challenge, I pressed the button to hear the number of steps I’d taken so far that day, and, nothing. My talking pedometer stopped talking. I shook the thing and pressed the button. Nothing. I turned it upside-down and rightside-up again. Nothing. I stuck it in a bag of rice for a day. Nothing.
And so, what happened with the challenge? Well, human resources offered to buy me a new talking pedometer, but I told them not to bother. I have a new theory now: blind people and our guide dogs—especially those of us who live in big cities—walk so many steps that a talking pedometer can’t keep up with us.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Disability not a deal breaker
I just finished watching Oscar Pistorius of South Africa qualify for the semifinals in the Olympics 400m race. Nicknamed the Blade Runner because of the shape of the prosthetic legs he wears for racing, Pistorius is the first double amputee to compete in the Olympic Games. He reminds us all that disabilities need not inhibit success and that the joy of having a purpose is not limited to the able-bodied.
Today must be my own personal “disabilities awareness day” because when I took a break from watching the Olympics, I read a story about Pirate the Papillon, a one-eyed dog who is in training to become a service dog. Though one of his eyes failed to open, his guardian recognized that he was special, and looked into the possibility of Pirate becoming a service dog. Pirate is in the initial phases of the process now, learning to be comfortable in all kinds of situations with a wide variety of people and being trained to do basic skills. Within the year, he will receive specific training, perhaps as a hearing dog or as an alert dog for someone with epilepsy or diabetes.
Pirate is so much more than a one-eyed dog. He is a dog with a lovely temperament who is going to make the life of his lucky human companion so much better and so much easier. I’ll bet that’s true of a great many dogs with a disability. Do you have one whose story you’d like to share?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
More veterans are turning to canines to cope with PTSD
More and more returning veterans are turning to dogs to help cope with post traumatic stress disorder. Last week, the Senate passed a bill (HR 1627) that would require the Veterans Affairs Department is open their housing facilities to veterans with service dogs. The current version restricts assess to canines trained by certain accredited organizations. While these animals are becoming more accepted, there are still many hurdles to face in getting full recognition.
There are three types of dogs that provide care to people with mental health illnesses. The first are psychiatric service dogs, canines that are trained to assist through specific tasks, such as creating physical space during an anxiety attack or calming handlers having a bad nightmare. The second are emotional support dogs that more generally comfort people with disabilities. And the third are therapy dogs that visit hospitals and nursing homes. The Americans with Disabilities Act does not protect the last category and these animals can’t be taken into restaurants or stores that don’t normally allow pets.
However, the laws protecting service animals can be abused. Some people have psychiatrists sign letters for non-legitimate reasons or use fake certification web sites in order to being their pets along with them. Unfortunately this makes it harder for people with real service dogs to be taken seriously. This is partly why HR 1627 has a certification requirement.
Phony working canines aren’t the only complications. While airlines and other transportation services have to accommodate service animals, this can make it difficult for people with pet allergies to travel.
Another factor, which I had never thought about, is concern for the dogs’ well being. Some believe that service dogs could be emotionally harmed when paired with a depressed or anxious person. Any pet lover knows that animals pick up on our feelings, so I can see how this can be an issue. I would love to see research done in this area.
But for those who rely on psychiatric service dogs, these animals are indispensible, and they could not imagine a world without their trusted furry partners.
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