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Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Postage Stamps of Dogs at Work
Issue date is January 20, 2012

In recognition of the many ways that working dogs contribute to human society, the United States Postal Service is issuing stamps featuring working dogs. This new set of four stamps illustrates some of the many important jobs that dogs do. The individuals portrayed are a guide dog, a dog who is tracking, a search and rescue dog and a therapy dog.

The “Dogs at Work” stamps are the work of artist John M. Thompson who created the original paintings and art director Howard E. Paine, who designed them. They are 65 cent stamps, which is the postage required to send a piece of first class mail weighing between one and two ounces.

Dog stamps have historically sold well, with the  “Adopt a Rescue Pet” set selling out quickly at many post office branches. A large number of the new stamps will likely be sold to collectors as well as to those of us who like dogs and appreciate being their friends, family members and coworkers.

Any dog-loving philatelists out there?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
K9 Crossing Guard
N.Y. dog helps children safely get to school

Kids in Greenwich, N.Y. have something to look forward to each day. When the children approach Main Street, on the way to school, Sophy, a German Shepherd-black Labrador mix, is there to greet them, along with volunteer crossing guard Clifford Mealy. Sophy has her own dog-sized “Stop” sign and leads the way as kids cross the busy street.

It makes me a little nervous to see an off leash dog so close to traffic. Even the best trained dogs can get spooked.

However, there's no doubt that Sophy puts a lot of smiles on kids' faces every day and encourages them to use the crosswalk. I certainly wish there was a dog to greet me back in my grade school days!

News: Guest Posts
Guide Dog Puppy-Raiser Asks, “A Year Already?”
Thirteen months and countless miles later

As I type this, we’re waiting for our flight home after a good but long week traveling. Caleb’s fast asleep at my feet, having grown very used to the San Francisco International Airport, and I have no worries about traveling with him. In fact, I’ve got no concerns about his ability to become a guide dog if that’s his chosen path.

Recently, I re-read each of the blogs I’ve written for this series. What I found most interesting was how the tone evolved. In the beginning, I saw these as progress reports but as the year progressed and we came to know Caleb, the story has become much more personal. Caleb’s personality and our relationship with him has shaped this series to be a lot more than progress reports. He’s part of our family; we love him and it will be hard to see him leave us. So far, he does not have an official recall date to formal training, but it’s looming like a great big rain cloud. How quickly a year has come and gone but, at least, we’ll be spending the holidays with Caleb!

I am a big fan of the holidays, and we’ve already had quite a few highlights this year. The biggest so far was our participation in the Guide Dogs for the Blind Festive Holiday Luncheon in San Francisco. In its 35th year, it’s a pretty big event, drawing approximately 700 attendees. To me, it marked the official start of the holiday season, and this year, Caleb and I were part of the program.

I had the honor of speaking on behalf of the puppy-raising community and sharing some puppy-raising wisdom with the attendees. I brought along a crew of friends and family to support me, and Caleb, as always, was my trusty sidekick on stage. I am not an experienced public speaker, so the prospect of all those faces staring at me was a little daunting. I focused on two goals: not crying and making the audience laugh. I did both, so we’ll count it as a success.

Here’s a snippet from my speech:

In one year, we accomplished a lot. Caleb has grown from a chunky 16-pound puppy to handsome 62-pound dog. He’s learned how to walk on a leash, potty on command, maintain good manners, keep calm under pressure and, most importantly, to trust me.

We’ve traveled on planes, BART, buses and boats. We’ve visited California, Montana, Washington and Idaho, stayed in downtown hotels and fishing lodges. We’ve gone to plays, movies, meetings and appointments, stores, offices and black tie events—all of which prepare Caleb for life as a working guide dog. At home, we play games of tug, go hiking, practice our obedience commands, take naps and enjoy endless belly rubs—all of which prepare Caleb for being the best companion.

We happened to run into the breeder custodians of Caleb’s mom while there, they were so proud to see one of their grand-pups on stage. He has become a great ambassador for the organization and its mission. All in all, it was a wonderful day and just one more opportunity to test Caleb’s socialization and obedience skills among all those people—not to mention the puppies!

Caleb is really ready for his next adventure. I cannot think of a situation or distraction that he cannot handle. I am excited and sad as we prepare for his next career move and our next puppy. In the meantime, we’ll just curl up in front of the fireplace and relax this holiday season.

Update: Military Dogs with PTSD
More dogs in war, more dogs suffering combat stress

Last March, several news stories reported on the mental and physical health costs U.S. military dogs were paying in the line of duty, including what behaviorists at the time mostly called “combat stress.” Now they're calling it canine PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and, according to a story in The New York Times, more than five percent of the approximately 650 military dogs deployed in combat are developing the condition.

The partnership between humans and dogs is a beautiful thing, but it’s upsetting to see our dedicated partners suffer in this way. If the Pentagon’s record on treating PTSD in veterans is any measure, I’m not hopeful for these poor pups.

News: Guest Posts
Guide Dog Puppy Raising Balances Work and Play
Plus, some serious off-leash challenges for Caleb

This is my favorite time of year; I love the changing of the season and how it changes our activities. The temperature drops, the leaves change colors and soup becomes a staple on the dinner table. The one negative I can find is the shorter day. It’s an adjustment for all of us. We go from weekends spent on the water to weekends hiking the amazing central Oregon wilderness, and as always Caleb partakes in the fun. While he gets plenty of exposure to the public and new experiences we try to balance all of this with fun activities. These not only build trust but make working more fun and rewarding.

With no shortage of places to explore, we’ve been spending a lot of time up in the mountains taking advantage of the less crowded trails before the snowpack arrives. Caleb clearly enjoys the change of pace and scenery. Some of the toughest challenges we face on our hikes are off-leash dogs. I will be the first to admit Noah, our pet dog never walked on a leash. He was trained to respond to verbal commands and could be counted on to listen no matter the circumstance. However, when we were approaching or approached by any dog we’d but him on a leash for the safety of everyone.

It’s a bit different with Caleb; he’s not allowed off leash in areas that are not fenced and more often than not we can count on an off-leash dog encounter no matter where we go. These provide us with two different challenges. The first being a good distraction exercise for Caleb to work through. Ignoring an off-leash dog can be tough even for the most reliable dog, so we work some training into our fun hikes.

The second and more concerning for all of us is the unknown and in some cases aggressive off-leash dogs. This can be particularly detrimental to a Guide Dog puppy and end a working career before it even starts. One negative experience can cause unrecoverable damage that stresses out a dog enough that he cannot regain the focus to work successfully. Dog attacks are the number one reason for early or sudden retirement of working Guide Dogs. Luckily, I can simply pick up Caleb and move away from any off-leash dog approaching us in a dominant or aggressive posture. Caleb still thinks he’s a lap dog and doesn’t mind a little pick-me-up now and again. As long as our adventure continues he’s a happy.

Playing and being a family member are just as important in Caleb’s training as socialization and public outings. At home, just like any pet dog, Caleb enjoys playing with toys, napping on any number of beds around the house and following our every move. He sleeps in our room and loves racing around the backyard with a toy in his mouth. It’s not all work for this Guide Dog puppy; we make sure to have plenty of fun. One of my favorite games to play with Caleb is tug. He loves it and when he does he gets quite animated and makes the strangest noises. We call him the Wookie because he sounds exactly like Chewbacca from Star Wars. It is one of the most hilarious traits about Caleb, and I hope his future partner finds it as funny as we do.

More and more we are preparing ourselves for Caleb’s recall. This week marked his final evaluation by our community field representative from Guide Dogs for the Blind. We spent time reviewing Caleb’s monthly reports and discussing all of the different things we’ve exposed him to. He’s right where he should be in training. His obedience is spot on, he’s been exposed to all sorts of people, places and things, all of which he takes in stride. He’s confident but cautious, at the end of the meeting it was determined Caleb’s got a few more months with us before his recall. Since he’s a little immature we’ll get to keep him for a bit longer than the average pup. Finally, I found the silver lining of those Golden Retriever genes, and am thankful for some extra time with this little pup of whom I’ve grown so fond.

Next month, Caleb and I will have the honor of speaking at the Guide Dogs for the Blind Festive Holiday Luncheon in San Francisco, stay tuned.

News: Guest Posts
From Rescued Pup to Hero Dog in Six Hours
Underweight and injured St. Bernard chases down burglar

A Saint Bernard rescued from an Ohio animal shelter turned into a crime-fighting hero less than six hours after he arrived at his new home.

The 114-pound Hercules—still recovering from injuries he received in a coyote attack—stopped a burglar trying to break into the home of his rescuers, Lee and Elizabeth Littler of Hillsboro, Ohio.

The crime-fighting canine sprang into action around 11:45 pm on November 9.

“My husband was letting Hercules out the back door when he heard him start to growl,” Elizabeth Littler told The Bark. “He had not done that before. Hercules then jumped through the screen door and leaped across our porch. That’s when my husband saw a guy’s head coming up our back stairwell.”

Hercules chased the burglar across the couple’s backyard and to their four-foot fence. “He got a bite out of the guy’s leg,” Elizabeth said of the burglar, who had already cut the phone and cable line to their house. “He ripped his pants and tried to tug him down. But the guy got away.”

Hillsboro Police Chief Nicholas Thompson applauded Hercules and his heroic efforts. “I think it’s great for him to take ownership of that home so quickly,” he said. “He’d only been with the family about six hours.”

The Littler’s originally planned to keep Hercules until he recovered from his injuries. “He was attacked by coyotes and some hunters found him in the woods,” Elizabeth said. “They thought he was dead until he lifted up his head. They took him to a vet, who patched him up. He then went to the Humane Society.”

Littler’s husband found Hercules by accident. “We had a friend who lost a Terrier and my husband went to the pound to look for him,” she said. “He saw Hercules there and learned he didn’t have much longer to live; he was days from being euthanized. My husband said we have to help him.

“Our original plan was to nurse him back to health and then give him to a rescue group or find him a good home,” she said of Hercules, who is still about 100-pounds underweight. “But now, he’s found a permanent home.”

Her husband echoed those sentiments in an interview with ABC news. “To have adopted a dog six hours before the incident and have him already defending you with that resolve, It’s amazing. If you show care and affection to your animals, they will return it.”

To return the favor to Hercules—and help save other dogs—the young couple now plans to start their own animal rescue group.

“All our other pets (dogs, cats, and an iguana) are rescues,” Elizabeth said. “We’re all for encouraging people to adopt.”

They’ve already set up a Facebook page about Hercules and said more information about their rescue group will be posted in the next few days.

Meanwhile, Hillsboro police continue to search for the burglar that Hercules chased away.  Chief Thompson, however, said they have no new leads in the case.

“I only wish that he (Hercules) would have been able to hold on to the guy long enough for my officers to arrive,” he said. “We’ve had several other calls in that neighborhood of prowlers in the late evening hours. There’s no doubt in my mind that was the same guy doing some of the other prowling.”

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Guide Dog Runs in Track Meets
A Golden Retriever gives high schooler the chance to run

Guide dogs have a special and important job. Not only do they help people with their day-to-day tasks, these working dogs give their people the gift of independence.

As a fellow runner, I was inspired by the story of Sami Stoner, the first high school athlete in Ohio to compete with a guide dog.

Sami began running on her school's cross-country team in eighth grade, but by the end of that year, she was diagnosed with Stargardt disease, which left her legally blind.

In order for Sami to run on the junior varsity cross-country team, one of her friends, Hannah Ticoras, initially ran alongside her in races. But
after Hannah graduated, Sami was worried that she wouldn't be able to compete. All that changed when a special guide dog entered her life.

Now, Chloe the Golden Retriever has picked up where Hannah left off and Sami continues to run in competitions with Chloe by her side. The guide dog watches out for roots and finds the clearest path for Sami to run.

For Sami, running with Chloe isn't about winning. In fact, she isn't allowed to place at track meets. For her, it's about being able to do something she loves and showing that having a disability isn't the end of the world. And for that, Sami is thankful for her loyal guide dog, Chloe.

News: Guest Posts
When a Seeing Eye Dog Gets Off Track
A near-accident and a broken foot lead to a career change for Harper

My third Seeing Eye dog is probably the smartest one I’ve ever worked with. Harper learned early on that drivers aren’t looking out for us. He knows we could get hurt out there. So he refuses to lead me far from home.

Harper wasn’t always this way. When we went out with our instructor during training last December, Seeing Eye staff were out and about in vehicles, intentionally cutting in front of us to simulate the behavior of drivers. Harper was excellent at these “traffic checks,” pulling me away from harm’s way, refusing to step into the street if he saw a vehicle coming towards us.

Back home last spring, one of Harper’s heroic traffic checks saved both our lives. He stopped at a busy intersection, I listened, heard the traffic going straight at our parallel, and commanded “forward!”

Harper was watching, though. He pulled us away from a turning vehicle with such force that I fell backward, cracking the back of my head on the concrete. The woman driving the vehicle told me later that she hadn't seen us.

After that, Harper started showing fear around traffic. A Seeing Eye instructor came out to give me tips on clicker training. Harper started to improve.

And then I broke my foot.

We held onto the hope that time off work might help Harper get his mojo back. That hope was lost after my foot healed. Before, a clicker and a treat would get him going, now Harper—a Labrador Retriever, mind you—is no longer motivated by treats.

The Seeing Eye sent a second instructor, and then a third. Together we determined city life has become too much for Harper. He’ll be moving in with friends in a leafy suburb of Chicago later this month, and then I’ll return to the Seeing Eye after Thanksgiving to be matched with a new partner.

I do not think of my gentle, sweet two-year-old yellow Lab as a failure. John Keane, manager of Instruction and Training at the Seeing Eye, agrees. “Look at it this way,” he told me. “Harper took a bullet for you, and for that, he gets an early retirement.”

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Apology to Girl, Service Dog Kicked Out of Store
Company also to give charitable donation

When 9-year-old Alison Ainsworth, who is autistic, and her service dog Levi were kicked out of an Edmonton Winners store the first time, the store responded with a $25 gift card. Asking her to leave because of her dog was against company policy. When the girl and her dog returned to the store months later to use that gift card, they were again told to get out.

This time, the store’s response was much bigger. Executives of the retail chain apologized and promised to educate each employee about the company policy, which is to allow service dogs into all of their stores. They also offered to donate $10,000 to a charity of Ainsworth’s choosing. Appropriately enough, the money will go towards training a service dog for another autistic child in Alberta.

The Ainsworths will not pursue a human rights complaint against the company as originally planned and hope that the incident and associated publicity will be beneficial in affecting attitudes about service dogs in the community.

News: Guest Posts
Service Dogs for Veterans Get a Paw Up
House passes pilot for training dogs, including shelter pups

We’ve been tracking the progress of efforts to pair service dogs with veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other post-deployment mental health conditions. We’ve cheered funding, training initiatives and research into the benefits. Slowly but surely the idea that dogs can provide major benefits to veterans is gaining traction in Washington.

Last week, the enterprise got a serious boost, when the House unanimously passed veterans’ health care legislation that included the Veterans Dog Training Therapy Act (H.R. 198). If passed by the Senate and signed into law by President Obama, the legislation will create a pilot program for training dogs as service dogs to assist veterans with disabilities.

“As a veteran, and an American, I am thrilled that this legislation has passed the House,” said Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., a Marine combat veteran who introduced the bill. “I urge my colleagues in the Senate to pass it without delay, so that it can be signed into law and allow us to begin providing assistance to our returning veterans.”

Already studies have demonstrated that a service dog can reduce symptoms for veterans suffering from PTSD. Caring for a pet can help reduce stress, depression and suicide rates. Service dogs can also help veterans by doing things like waking them from terrifying nightmares and alerting to signs of and helping ward off panic attacks.

Even better, the legislation directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to “consider dogs residing in animal shelters or foster homes for participation in the program.” Great news for homeless dogs and smart from a budget perspective, since purpose-bred dogs can cost as much as $50,000 each, according the Humane Society Legislative Fund.

OK Senate, now it’s your turn to do the right thing by veterans and dogs.

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