Errol’s Story

You know those things that are really hard to face, and you are just unsure of how to face them? Sometimes, I feel that way when I talk about Errol. Yes, I’ve talked to you all about Errol on occasion, but most of the time, I talk about Joba. However, today, I want to share Errol’s story with you. It’s not an easy story, and it’s definitely not one that I like to write. I still have a very vivid memory of him, the good times, the bad. And unfortunately, the night he left me is very clear in my mind as well. I will talk about that dark time in my life, but I want to start at the beginning of Errol’s story.

Errol, a beautiful black lab with an adorable face and big brown eyes, was born October 27, 2005 in the kennels of the Seeing Eye in Morristown, New Jersey. I do not know who his parents were, but as he grew to be eight weeks old and was old enough to leave his mother, he moved to a family’s home in Pennsylvania. This family had a little boy with Down syndrome. Because of this, Errol attended many Special Olympics games and was conditioned through that experience to adore children. His love of children never went away, and I am sure he loved that little boy to pieces. After about a year, Errol went back to training at the school and made it into the program. However, he was not immediately placed with a guide dog user as they were trying to find a perfect match. Then, I came along.

Because he wasn’t placed right after finishing his training, he was already two and a half when I met him. Most of the dogs are one and a half when they are placed. I knew there was something special about Errol, but being only a teenager, I didn’t cherish it like I should have. I expected so much from him, and I never failed to let him know when he wasn’t working up to my standards. But Errol always wanted to please me. If he knew he was wrong, you could tell by the look in his face. When he did the right things, oh wow did that tail wag.

Errol was such a cheery dog. He would play with or talk to anyone, and the person he most adored was my mother. She could always make him talk. The sound, his talking, was very unique. It was sort of a low groan mixed with a whine or whimper, but if she would tell him to talk to her, that was the sound he made. I think some of his favorite things to do was go for leisurely walks without the harness and play ball in our fenced-in backyard. The thing he loved most was children. If there was ever a child nearby, he would start walking faster and try to get to where the child was. His relationship with other dogs was interesting as he was always interested initially in them but would then ignore or growl at them if they kept coming closer. Maybe he wasn’t always crazy about other dogs, but he was very affectionate with people.

I don’t want to say that Errol never wanted to work. His work overall was fabulous, but it was the initial thought of work that would often lead him to hide from the harness. He was a very slow walker, and even though this sometimes irritated me, it made me feel safe knowing that he was a very cautious dog. I think the things that he did the best on were street crossings and stopping at the edge of a curb or step in order for me to put my foot out there and find where to walk before giving him the command. He listened to commands well, but once he had a route in mind, that’s where he wanted to go. No one would change his mind. I guess you could say he had a stubborn streak.

In the year of 2012 was when things with Errol got interesting. It was around this time, in the middle of the summer of 2012, when he would sometimes decide not to eat his food. Now, if you have a lab, you know that they will eat anything, no questions asked. Errol was no different. He was excited when it was time to eat, and he gobbled his food right down. However, he suddenly decided he wasn’t going to eat. And then, the next day or even the next meal time, he was perfectly fine and would eat like normal. I have to say that, throughout his entire life, Errol had major stomach issues in which he would often keep me up all night cleaning up vomit. Seriously, it was like having a kid with the flu.

However, in the winter of 2012 was when his health problems increased. We found this lump or spot on his leg. We didn’t know what it was, and sometimes it would bleed. In October was when it got really bad, and I had to keep it rapped for a few days and hope it wouldn’t bleed while we were at school. When we took him to the vet, I was unable to go with him. I had a convention to attend, and I was in school. This left the responsibility up to my dad. My dad said that the vet looked at the lump and said it could be skin cancer. Errol came back to Lincoln with me that week, and we had no end of trouble with that leg which was constantly bleeding and needing to be rapped again because Errol had managed to get it loose. The next week, Errol stayed in Milford with my parents to have that spot on his leg removed. I didn’t realize there was anything truly wrong with him until I arrived home that next Friday night.

I didn’t understand why my parents were so quiet and upset. When we got home, Errol walked over to greet me. I sat down on the floor to pet him because that’s what he loved, and that’s when my mom started to explain the seriousness of Errol’s situation. He had cancer. I already knew that. But hadn’t the vet said they could just remove the spot and he’d be fine? At least, that’s what I remembered. But when the vet went to lift Errol onto the table, he noticed bruising where he had lifted him up. That’s when he knew. Errol was bleeding internally. I can still remember the words. “He’s sick, Charli. He’s very sick”.

I wanted to deny it. No, he was fine. He would be. My vet was good. He could make my puppy well again. So, I held out hope. However, the following Tuesday, November 6, day of elections, I made the decision to put my beloved Errol to sleep. Things simply were not improving for my baby. The vet said that we could keep him on the steroids he was on and he would look at him on Thursday. Or, we could take him down to Kansas and have a $3000 blood transfusion. I wanted to try and save him so bad, but I kept asking, what if it didn’t work? What if we spend all that money only to have him get better for a while and then slip right back to where he was? Plus, he was already seven. I had already decided in my mind that he would be done working. And then there was the fact that he was getting to the point where his breathing became labored, and he wouldn’t take his pills or eat any food. He was slowly fading from me, and worst of all, I wondered, was he suffering? I decided that putting my precious guide dog to rest was the best thing for him.

I remember sitting in the car, Errol between my sister and I as our family drove to the Seward Animal Hospital. We were all crying are eyes out, calling family members and friends and telling them that Errol had to be put to sleep. And I, I just kept petting him, stroking his fur. That’s when I felt it. It may have been my imagination, but Errol’s chest seemed to be rising and falling rapidly, almost as if he was crying too.

Leaving him there at the vet after hugging him and telling him that he was a great dog was the hardest thing I have ever had to do, and nothing, no hugs or words of encouragement, could take away that physical ache I felt in my chest. It was as if Errol ripped a piece of my heart out and took it with him when he left. I felt so empty, so lost without him. Errol wasn’t coming back, and while I knew this from the moment we left the vet, it took a while for it to set in. But that’s when the story begins to get better. No, Errol didn’t rise up from his grave and come back to me. But I finally realized that I just had to go back and get another dog, and in June of 2013, precious Joba, four paws, licking tongue, and wagging tail came bounding happily into my life. No, he didn’t replace Errol. No one could ever replace Errol, and no third dog is ever going to replace Joba. However, Joba’s presence in my life helped me heal from the pain of losing Errol. I believe that’s why God gave me Joba, to help me move on, and to help remember the wonderful Errol for the dog he was. Now, Errol is hopefully playing happily with other dogs. He was joined last September by Princess Pearl, our 10-year-old Shih Tzu, so now they have each other. I will always cherish the time I had with Errol and thank God for the 4 and a half years we worked together as a team.


Let’s Hit the Trails: Equine Therapy

Charli Saltzman

I loved spending time at my friend’s house. Often times, we would spend those warm summer afternoons watching movies, riding the three wheeler, or jumping on the trampoline, but what I loved most was being able to ride her horse. I would ride as she would lead. Riding horses is one of the most wonderful feelings I’ve ever had. I love to feel the slight bounce in the saddle, the soft main, and the powerful stride of the horse as we rode in the pasture. Even though I grew up in town, I often consider myself a farm girl, and probably one of my biggest wishes is to live on a ranch with horses. Or, at the very least, perhaps I could take riding lessons.

Turns out I’m not the only one who feels this way. Equine therapy is becoming more common. To explain this, equine therapy enhances a person’s emotional state via the care, grooming, and riding of horses. This therapy has been known to help people with depression, self-esteem, confidence, and independence. It also teaches a great deal of trust and the proper way to behave around a horse. Horses are smart. If you are nervous around the horse, the horse you are working with is going to be nervous as well. Those who participate in this therapy learn to lead the horse from the side rather than in front or behind it. They learn grooming, tacking, and riding techniques. Adaptive Sports Center (ASC), an organization who uses horseback riding for those with physical, mental, and cognitive disabilities, even have some of their riders participate in horse shows. They are taught things such as barrel racing, trails, and pole bending, to name a few. Not only is this therapy mentally healthy, it also brings about an improvement in physical health as well.

For those with muscle difficulties or balance issues, horseback riding can work those muscles to make them stronger. Not only that, but being outside in the fresh air is always healthy. Horseback riding can increase metabolism and improve posture. It mimics the walking sensation, forcing those muscles that do not normally work to be exercised and strengthened. The organizations that include this type of therapy also provides ramps or platforms for riders so they are able to mount the horse easier. Along with teaching behavior around horses, how to control horses, and how to lead them, horseback riding itself is considered exercise.

We talked about how horseback riding is physically healthy, so let’s talk now about how it improves cognitive skills. I mentioned earlier that this type of therapy can assist in increasing self-esteem and confidence, but let’s talk about ways this is accomplished. First of all, people are taught to set goals. This may include, for example, training to be in a horse show. The first thing that will happen is that the person will establish some sort of goal, and the trainers will adjust the therapy to fit that goal. For example, someone who has a goal to become more independent and confident can take pride in the fact that they just controlled a huge, 2000 pound animal. If this can be accomplished, than certainly other things can be accomplished. The point is that they met their goal. Also, games are set up, and horses are taught to participate in these games. These animals have to be trained to get used to specific noises or equipment such as wheel chairs. Normally, for example, it is never okay to scream around a horse because it is easy to startle them. And, while these behaviors are taught to riders, the horses have been trained to participate in many different types of activities.

Horses are wonderful animals, and like dogs and cats, they are used as therapeutic animals. No wonder people love riding horses so much. For me, riding is a privilege as I don’t remember the last time I rode a horse, but all of my experiences with riding horses have been fabulous. There is this feeling of freedom and independence that goes along with horseback riding. It is interesting to see what researchers will find out about horseback riding in the future. Until then, let’s hit the trails and enjoy the wonderful feeling of horseback riding.


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How to Know When to Retire a Guide Dog

Now that you know a little about guide dog retirement, I want to take you through the process of knowing when it is appropriate for a person to retire his or her guide dog. There can be several reasons why a blind person must definitely consider retirement. Some of these reasons include behavioral problems, health risks, and work-related problems. Let’s talk about some behavioral problems that could result in the necessary retirement of a guide dog.

Some dogs will work for a time but then develop behavioral problems. One such incident happened to a Seeing Eye graduate. I will post a link to her story at the end of this blog. She had a dog that became aggressive not only with her but also with other people. As you may know, this sort of temperament is problematic when it comes to guide work because, first of all, a guide dog must be well-behaved in public and, while they aren’t to be visiting other people while working, they should have a friendly or at the least reserved manner. Sometimes in these cases, even if it has only been 2-3 years that a guide dog has been working, it is necessary to retire a dog who begins to act aggressively. While there are other behavioral issues, the next reason to retire a dog still has somewhat to do with behavior.

There are also work-related issues that might lead to a dog’s retirement. One work-related issue is the dog’s unwillingness to work. This may be clear when the dog tries to duck away from the harness, has a hard time waking up in order to stand up and walk again, or can’t work for long periods of time. A guide dog can also have the enthusiasm and desire to work but may become unable to work after a short time, for example, becoming exhausted after only walking a couple of blocks. Another thing that is problematic is if a dog refuses to cross streets or, even worse, stops walking right in the middle of the street. Being distracted in the street is another huge issue that should probably result in retirement. And finally, if the dog is easily startled or terrified by something to the point that he or she can’t even work out of fear, this could be a deciding factor in choosing to retire the dog. It is important to keep in mind that some of these behaviors, with training, can be corrected. However, when a guide dog owner does everything to help the dog get over this behavior, yet the behavior still persists, it is time to consider a new guide dog.

Other reasons to retire a dog is due to health reasons. I had a friend whose dog suffered from kidney disease. This dog was only allowed to work for five years before the dog was retired. Also, as I mentioned in a previous post, things like hip dysplasia, eye problems with dogs, and seizures may bring about an inability to work. And finally, let’s cover one more reason for retiring a guide dog.

As a general rule, most dogs work from the ages of 8-12. And, while some retire sooner than that, aging is another reason why a dog should just retire. Perhaps there is nothing wrong with the dog, but as the dog is getting older, he or she is slowing down. That, and guide dog owners want their dogs to have a nice retirement.

When to decide to retire a dog is never easy. One graduate stated in an article that, at first, we want to blame ourselves for our dog’s poor performance because we don’t want to admit the truth that the dog has had a great working life but needs to be done with his or her job. When deciding to retire a guide dog, a guide dog owner must ask these questions. Before I list the questions, I must mention that these questions come from an article written by Michele Drolet, a Seeing Eye graduate. So, the credit of these questions goes to the author of this article. Anyway, let’s return to the questions. First, is the dog meeting the needs of the guide dog owner? Second, is it becoming necessary for the owner to make special accommodations for the dog? Third, does the dog show signs of hesitation when performing daily working tasks? Along with that, is a guide dog owner having to encourage the dog to work such as pushing forward on the harness handle to get the dog to walk faster? And finally, probably the most important, is the owner being fair to the dog? I think it is safe to say that guide dog owners feel a sense of denial when they first notice changes to their dogs working performances. The dog may have good days that lift the spirits of the owner, but then these days can head in a downward spiral leaving the owner feeling overwhelmingly sad and distraught.

Because I never want to end a post on a sad note, I want to say that there is hope. Believe me, I need to know this just as much as other owners do. One thing that I think all guide dog owners should know is that retirement is only the beginning. Let me say that one more time. Retirement is only the beginning of something greater. For many, while it is an end of the current partnership, it is the beginning of a new partnership that will be filled with new and exciting experiences. While I will be the first to say how much I hate change, even I realize that a change can bring about a better life.

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Retiring a Guide Dog

Guide dog owners love to talk about their dogs. We are happy to fill you in about the rules of working dogs, talk to you about our dog’s personality, and discuss with you about how wonderful they are in general. However, there is one subject we don’t much like to talk about. Retirement. Now I know what you’re thinking. Retirement is a wonderful thing. Retirement reminds you that you’ve worked hard all your life, and now it’s time to hopefully enjoy the benefits. Of course, for some of those who have retired, they don’t stop working. Instead, they continue to give back to the community via volunteering or doing whatever they can to help. So yes, retirement is a positive thing, though it is not something we guide dog owners want to think about when it comes to our dogs.

This is one thing pet owners do not have to be concerned about. Sure, your pet gets older, and maybe they start slowing down. However, you still play with them and cuddle them. Nothing is really different. For guide dog owners, it’s much different. These dogs are our partners. Oh yes, if we so desire, we can still keep them and treat them like we always treated them when at home, spoiling them rotten. However, when a guide dog is retired, this means you have to say goodbye to your dog as a partner and allow him or her to live the rest of their life free from work. Of course, saying goodbye to that partnership, to the familiar pull of the harness handle that you become so used to, isn’t the only difficult thing about guide dog retirement.

Maybe you are the type of person that takes your dogs for a lot of walks. Let’s say that, one day, you decide to go without him. Could you imagine his face? His expression would probably turn from excitement when you are putting on your shoes, to a shocked expression when you open the door without grabbing his leash to put it on him, and finally, that sad, dejected look as you leave him behind. Honestly, it’s no different from how a guide dog acts. These puppies love to work. It’s what they were trained to do. Joba gets very sad if I happen to leave him home alone. It doesn’t make sense. He’s thinking, I’m your eyes, your guide. Why are you leaving me? A guide dog is not going to understand why his owner is not allowing him to work anymore, and that will be probably the hardest part of retiring a guide dog. Also, following the retirement, there are choices a blind person must make for their dog.

What is going to be best for the dog? Many guide dog owners return to the Seeing Eye to get another guide, so what is going to happen to the retired guide? First, a blind person has to consider the challenge of having both a retired dog and a new working dog in the house together. You may think that guide dogs are little angels, but they can get into fights like every other dog. They can also get jealous. If a blind person knows that his or her dog will be fine with having a new dog in the house, they may decide to keep their retired guide. Or, if they know for a fact that their retired dog will not be accepting of the new guide, it is time to decide that maybe finding a new home for their retired guide is the best option. Either that, or they can decide to wait and get a new guide after their retired guide has passed away. None of these options are easy, especially on a guide dog owner. If the owner decides to keep the retired guide while going to get a new guide, they may run into issues such as the retired dog being upset that the new dog is taking over the job that should still be, in his opinion, his job. Also, maybe the new working dog will be frustrated because you have to split your bonding time between both him and the retired dog. While this can be a difficult challenge, it is very possible, and many owners will tell you they do it all the time. It also varies between dogs. Some owners, while previously having kept their retired dog, may decide not to do that with the next dog they retire. It really depends on the dogs.

So, let’s say that a blind person decides they are going to find their retired guide a new home. They decide this because they want to focus all of their attention on learning to bond with their new partner. What can this person who decides to find a new home do to successfully find the perfect place? There are a couple of options. First, if a person has another friend or family member who knows and adores the dog, he or she can ask them if they would want to keep him or her. Now, keep in mind that the Seeing Eye does not allow a person to sell their dog to anyone. In fact, it’s in the contract. So, the friend or family member would receive the dog for free but would then be responsible for the care of the dog such as providing medical treatment costs and food for the dog. It would no longer be the responsibility of the previous owner. However, if a blind person doesn’t know of anyone who would willingly take the dog, the Seeing Eye would find a home for him or her. I don’t know if this is true for all schools. I know that, for some schools, a person never actually owns the dog and is required to return the dog to the school following retirement. However, let’s say now that a person decides to keep the retired guide while at the same time going back to get another working dog.

As I mentioned before, there may be issues that would have to be overcome, or maybe there will be no issues at all. Whatever the case may be, in order for the retired dog to still feel like he or she has value, it is important to keep giving the dog that sort of attention. This can be accomplished by taking time to walk the retired guide. Perhaps, for example, the retired guide has no visual problems. Technically, you could put the harness on and walk a simple route. However, maybe it wouldn’t be as long because the dog would wear out easily, and that’s why a person had to retire him. Allowing a retired guide to do something productive will keep the dog from feeling depressed. A guide dog owner must realize that this would probably be extra work for him or her because they would have to take the time to also work their new guide. A person choosing to go this route would have to find that perfect balance. Also, I know at least one owner who walks their current guide in harness while having the retired guide on a leash walking on his other side. This is doable, but the working guide would really have to be able to pay very close attention to the owner. This may be difficult if the current guide dog is very new. Still, it’s not entirely impossible.

I guess the important thing to realize is that, no matter how a guide dog owner decides to retire his or her dog, they must have their retired guide’s best interest at heart and figure out what will be most beneficial for all involved. Retiring a guide dog isn’t easy, but schools such as the Seeing Eye are always there to aid an owner in successfully retiring his or her guide dog.

The Sensory Safari

Charli Saltzman

I mentioned in a previous post about how I love to be able to know what things look like by feeling it. For example, I know what a dog looks like because I’ve touched plenty of them before, but what about a bear? Sure, I have an image in my head of what a bear looks like. It’s probably big and hairy with sharp teeth and claws. When I was little, I’m pretty sure I thought a bear was just like the teddy bears I had at home. I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t attempt to walk up to a real bear at a zoo. Not sure how it would have reacted if I would have tried to hug it. Pretty sure I wouldn’t be here today if that was the case. Anyway, while I had an image of lions and bears in my mind, I didn’t know what they looked like.

When I was still in school, my Braille teacher would take a group of us up to Lincoln Children’s Zoo for the fabulous Sensory Safari event. The purpose of this event was to allow blind children to touch furs, stuffed and mounted animals, and claws to get an idea of what a particular animal looked like. Each year, I looked forward to this event. First, it meant we could get out of school, second, because I got to take my lunch and have a picnic at the zoo with my friends rather than sitting in a stuffy cafeteria, and finally, because I loved animals. Usually, they had the petting zoo open as well, so we did get a chance to pet the goats and llamas. I think the best thing, though, is being able to see what a fox looked like and to feel buffalo skin and pelts. There was also a huge, mounted bear, and I remember taking my picture with my hand in the bear’s mouth. Sadly, I don’t think I have that picture here otherwise I’d post it.

This sensory safari experience made the zoo fun. Sometimes when I went to the zoo, I would get bored because I’d just stand there. However, you don’t get bored at the sensory safari. There is always something to touch, some sort of noise to listen to, and you keep busy the entire day. I always have fun memories of attending this event and thank my Braille teacher for taking the time to drive us up there. Thank you to Lincoln Children’s Zoo for allowing this event to take place. Now, with the sensory safari, blind children can see what their sighted peers see. They won’t have to guess because this event gave them this information. And also, thank you to all that volunteered and helped out. Those volunteers are very much appreciated by those of us in attendance. The sensory safari is a great place to learn new things and be educated about wild animals. I know I learned a lot.

Funny Animal Experiences

Charli Saltzman

I think we could all use a laugh, and I’ve got the perfect story to tell you. It involves a camel, baby kangaroos, a donkey, and a miniature horse. Okay, let’s start at the beginning. One summer, my family and I traveled to Arkansas for a Saltzman family reunion. The reunion was held at a camp ground, and the road leading out to it was very bumpy. Unfortunately, the road managed to put a hole in one of our tires. So, the next day, my family and I drove to town to get it fixed, and on our way back, we saw this animal safari. As we drove by, we saw some loose animals. I don’t remember the types of animals that were loose, but I think there were some deer walking around. Further up the road, we saw pens that contained animals, and a person was able to get out of their car and just walk up to them. I was excited because I love animals. However, what followed was not what I expected.

The first pen contained baby kangaroos. There was a bucket of feed beside us, so my sister and I each took a handful of feed and laughed as finger-like paws reached for the food in our hands. It was so adorable. After the cute little kangaroos, we moved onto the camel. However, the camel kept making this strange growling sound, and we were afraid it was going to spit at us. So, we moved away from that. The funny thing was, the camel kept following us along the fence line, and to me, it sounded like it was chasing us. I was holding onto my dad’s elbow as I didn’t have a guide dog yet, and as we were walking, Dad put me closest to the fence. It was making me nervous because it sounded like the camel was right beside me. So to this day, I tell people that I’ve been chased by a camel before.

And then, there were the donkeys. Have any of you been bit by a donkey? I have. I was just reaching my hand through to touch it, and it bit me on the wrist. And the miniature horse was no different. It nipped at me as well. I didn’t know what was going on. Were all of the animals after me? Did I do something to offend them? Whenever I recall that silly experience at that particular safari, I always say I was chased by a camel, bit by a donkey, and nipped at by a horse. It was attack Charli day in the world of the animals I guess. Or, perhaps the animals just have a sense of humor. I’m always looking back on that day and laughing about the events. It was another one of those fun family events. Plus, I actually got to feel a kangaroo. This type of thing is always special to me. If I can’t see it, I like to be able to touch it. This isn’t always possible for many zoo animals, so I guess that’s why this experience, while both humorous and maybe a little nerve wracking, was amazing.

I think this was the place we drove through.

Using Specific Breeds for Guide Dogs

Charli Saltzman

Everyone has their favorite dogs. Some people like smaller dogs while other prefer big breeds. Whatever dog you like, there are both physical characteristics and personality traits that you like about that breed. Now that we’ve talked about the negative health problems with the three main dogs used as guide dogs in the previous post, I want to talk about the positive traits and the reasons why these breeds are chosen. We will also talk about boxers and standard poodles as Seeing Eye will use these breeds for people who are allergic to dogs. So, let’s begin by talking about the Labrador retrievers.

As you probably know, labs have wonderful personalities. They are friendly with people, especially children. Often, you will find that these dogs are wonderful family dogs. Guide dog schools will use these breeds because of their intelligence. They are easy to train, and they adapt well to change.

Golden retrievers are similar. These dogs are great family dogs, and they often receive complements about how beautiful they are. They tend to be playful, enjoying the game of fetch. They were originally trained for hunting water fowl and retrieving them. They are energetic outdoors but wonderful house pets. If they’ve had enough energy burnt off, they will be ready to relax. Goldens are known for their loyalty and their fabulous ability to welcome strangers with a happy whimper and a wagging tail. Again, these dogs are very easy to train and make wonderful guide dogs.

German shepherds tend to have extremely different qualities from labs and goldens. They are great herding dogs. If you want a watch or guard dog, these dogs will do the job. They can be protective as they tend to attach themselves to one person but can be great family dogs by protecting the children and if they are socialized as puppies. Shepherds are intelligent and able to successfully be trained as guide dogs and police dogs.

These are the three common dog breeds, and even though they have fabulous, positive personality traits, there are disadvantages to each dog breed. Labs and retrievers, while wonderful at adapting to new people and forming new bonds, are very friendly dogs. They can tend to get easily distracted and often need that extra obedience to keep them focused on you. However, their intelligence and loyalty makes them wonderful guides. You just have to watch them in social situations. German shepherds, while great workers, have a hard time bonding to new people. For example, many of the shepherds in class will whine for a few days when they are introduced to their new owner, especially when they see their previous instructor across the room. Hmm, maybe we should take them to LAA’s “Wine and Howl” so they could get all of that whining out of their system. Once these shepherds become attached to their new owner, the working partnership is bound to be excellent as the shepherd will be extremely loyal to his or her blind owner. It is said that German shepherds tend to be more vocal. This is probably true, but I’ll tell you, Joba is extremely vocal, whining about everything, and he is a yellow lab. Also, shepherds tend to be more picky with food while labs and goldens will eat just about anything.

I mentioned earlier that boxers and poodles are sometimes used. This is because they are hypoallergenic dogs. This means that a person with a dog allergy who really wants a guide dog can have one. I don’t know if other schools use boxers like the Seeing Eye does, but I know that others use poodles. Let’s look at some of the characteristics of poodles and boxers, starting with the poodle.

First of all, forget the idea that poodles are not intelligent. They are. Along with that, these dogs are extremely energetic. They are great for guide work as simple obedience training is not enough. They need mentally stimulating things to do such as jumping through obstacle courses, swimming, playing and retrieving, and brisk walking. Or, guide work would probably do the trick to make these dogs happy. These dogs have a peaceable temperament. They range from friendly to reserved which is good for guide work as they will probably be around a lot of people. However, this could be a problem for some poodles. Excessive and loud stimulation of the senses may overwhelm a poodle to the point that they can get physically sick. Poodles do not like stressful situations or loud noises or voices. A poodle would not be a good guide dog match for someone who enjoys loud parties. Of course, a guide dog shouldn’t really be present at a loud party in my opinion. Poodles often tend to suffer from loneliness and separation anxiety, and if they get bored due to lack of exercise, they may express their boredom through destruction of objects in your yard or house.

And finally, what makes a boxer a good guide dog breed, and what are some disadvantages? Boxers may be known as clowns. They are generally happy dogs who need mental and physical stimulation. They also have a basic need to be next to their family and/or owner. Sometimes they consider themselves lap dogs as they will often cuddle as close to you as possible. These dogs are often used in rescue work or protection, but Seeing Eye often uses female boxers for guiding. Like the poodle, boxers need that stimulation and need to be exercised. They are alert and ready to learn which makes them extremely trainable. Boxers should never be left alone for a long period of time, and they especially should not be outdoor dogs as they are unable to withstand the cold or the heat. Also, like most big dogs, they tend to drool a lot. And finally, they are gentle and patient with children.

All of these dogs make wonderful guide dogs, each of them having their own little quirks. Some, like the German shepherd and the poodle, are more reserved while others, such as labs, goldens, and boxers, tend to enjoy life and be happy and friendly dogs. Each breed has a specific quality that makes them great for working. However, it is important to recognize that each individual dog, just like people, have their own personalities. While labs are generally very friendly, there can be labs who are also timid. While German shepherds tend not to be overly affectionate, some of them are just big sweet babies. All of these traits are important for guide dog schools to consider when breeding a dog for this type of working lifestyle.

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Diseases Specific to Certain Dog Breeds

Have you ever wondered why guide dog schools use specific breeds for guiding? For example, maybe you’ve wondered why no one has ever used a St. Bernard or Great Dane. Well, one reason for this is because of the size of those dogs. Plus, the bigger the dog, the shorter lifespan they have. Great Danes usually only live to be nine years old. While schools don’t normally use dogs such as Great Danes or St. Bernards, the Seeing Eye does use the occasional boxer or standard poodle for those allergic to dogs. However, the most common breeds used are Labradors, both black, yellow, and chocolate, golden retrievers, and lab and golden crosses. Many schools are shying away from using German shepherds, but the Seeing Eye still trains them. Labs, goldens, and shepherds are all wonderful breeds because they have great personalities and they are smart. However, there are specific diseases for these dogs that can limit their ability to work.

Let’s begin with the Labrador retrievers. Most of these diseases seem to be inherited. There are three main dysplasias which include hip, elbow, and retinal. All of these dysplasias could be problematic for working labs which may require a guide dog user to retire them early. There are other diseases that occur but are less devastating than the ones previously listed. Some of these include Cataracts, Corneal dystrophy, hemophilia, and idiopathic epilepsy. Because of their floppy ears, moisture tends to gather resulting in ear infection. Cleaning their ears frequently will help with this. It is also very easy for a lab to become overweight. To avoid this, watch what your lab eats, and make sure he or she gets plenty of exercise. Labs who are overweight can experience a worsening of hip dysplasia. There is also a health problem for that lab that loves water. This is called swim tail in which the tail becomes swollen and soar. This occurs in a dog who is constantly swimming in the water, using their tails as rudders. This is not too serious, and rest will usually take the swelling of the tail down. A veterinarian may also prescribe anti-inflammatory medication to help decrease the swelling and possible discomfort to your lab. While labs have diseases that may be specific to their breeds, German shepherds have diseases as well.

Similar to the labs, German shepherds have a tendency to develop hip dysplasia. Breeders are working to decrease this reputation. Hip dysplasia can cause pain for the dog and can also bring about arthritis. It can be managed by medications or by a very expensive hip replacement. However, the most devastating disease for this dog is degenerative myelopathy which is a neurological disorder similar to multiple sclerosis in humans. Slowly, the dog’s hind quarters begin to fail, and a German shepherd may be unable to move on his or her own. While it is untreatable, being aware of how your dog is feeling is important in slowing this process down. German shepherds can also suffer from heart disease such as heart murmurs, enlarged hearts, and valve diseases, but this wide variety is also common to other large breeds. It is also important to understand the temperament of a German shepherd because one who is aggressive or extremely shy can be a danger.

Now, let’s talk about the golden retriever. Health problems for this breed can include elbow dysplasia, hypothyroidism, seizures, and eye disorders. They can also be prone to skin problems and mass tumors. Because of this, veterinarians may encourage checkups of the thyroid and heart. And, like the other two breeds, hip dysplasia is also common in the golden retriever.

Labs, German shepherds, and goldens have a lifespan of between 9-13 years. Even though these breeds have these specific problems, a lot of them are genetic. This is why schools such as the Seeing Eye breed their own dogs. They do not accept donated dogs from shelters because they would be unaware of a health defect in the dog which could hinder the dog’s ability to successfully guide a blind individual. One more thing. If you have a dog of this breed, it is important to read more information about the health problems listed above. I wasn’t very clear on all of the health risks, and some of those terms are too technical for me to understand. Below, I will provide sources to which you can find this information.

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For goldens, see:

For labs, see:

For German shepherds, see:

Wild Bunnies

Charli Saltzman

One warm Saturday afternoon while my sister and I were outside, we suddenly heard this squealing, squeaky sound. It sort of sounded like a squeaky toy, and I thought that my neighbor’s kids were playing with something. Then, I heard my dad calling me to come here and look what he found. When I approached him, he was holding a very tiny bunny in his hand. It had been caught under the bush, and Dad picked it up because he wanted me to see it. I remember holding the little baby bunny. It was so tiny, and I immediately wondered where its mother was. My dad found an open cardboard box, and we stuck the little bunny in there. I sat on the porch with it for a while, and I so badly wanted to keep it. My cousins had had rabbits for years, so why couldn’t I keep this one.

After a while, I remember going in the house and going directly to the computer. I decided to research rabbits on the internet and see what I could come up with. I wondered how to properly care for them. From what I found on the internet, these bunnies are hard to care for. Below are a few things I found online about bunnies recently. Oh, and by the way, we did not keep the bunny. The minute we let him go, he hopped away, probably into the pasture behind our house. Anyway, here is some information I found.

Wild baby cottontail rabbits are the hardest to raise. Now, I’m not sure if the bunny we found was a cottontail rabbit or not, but this is good information for you to have. First, they may not last very long if they are away from their mother who provides them with the necessary milk to survive. It is very easy to overfeed these young bunnies. Cow’s milk is not a good source and is not as thick as rabbit’s milk. It also doesn’t contain the mother’s antibodies that rabbit’s milk contains to protect against infections. Giving the bunny too much milk is not good, and feeding it too infrequently can cause the bunny to become hungry and nurse a lot when you finally do feed it. Also, trauma can really stress them out. Just because you are able to handle them doesn’t mean they are not afraid. If you do take a wild baby bunny in, you have to have a temperature that is appropriate for them. This appropriate temperature can vary. You want it to be warm but not hot. Cooler is a little better for a bunny who has grown thick fur because, if you have a soft nest for it, the bunny may just burrow down in the nest to keep warm. Finally, raising a baby bunny takes up a lot of time, so if you already know you are busy, you will not have time to take care of the bunny. In order to take care of these bunnies, you have to act like the bunny’s mother, providing the appropriate bacteria the bunny needs. There are formulas you can feed the bunny. Another thing to consider is this question: is this bunny really an orphan.

Too often, we assume that, if a bunny is by itself, it must be an orphan. This is not always the case. Mother rabbits only stay close to their babies to nurse them. They may come back at night and be gone during the day. If you see a nest with bunnies, or you see a single bunny buried in brush, leave it alone because, most likely, the mother is somewhere close by. The only time you should move it is if there are dogs and cats around. As you probably know, dogs and cats tend to prey on rabbits.

Keeping a wild bunny as a pet is unlikely. It is often necessary to only raise them to prepare them to live in the wild again. If you are unsure how to do this, take the bunny to a wildlife rehabilitation center that specializes in these bunnies. Personally, I’m glad we decided to release that bunny back to where it belonged. I hope it found its mother and was able to survive.

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The Green Iguana

Charli Saltzman

Do we have any reptile lovers on here? If so, this post is for you. You hear all the time about adopting a dog, cat, or bird, but how many times do you hear about adopting an iguana? It is something I don’t know much about, but here are some fun facts for you. First, the Green Iguana is an herbivore that can grow up to 5-7 feet. They are known as the largest lizards in the Americas as they can also grow up to 11-18 pounds. These animals have sharp claws and a powerful tale that wards off predators. Some of them will eat insects, but most of the time they feed on vegetation. They live near water sources but can also climb trees. They are stout and quick, splashing into the water if threatened by a predator. These reptiles can live up to 20 years. However, when removed from their natural habitat, they may die within a year. This is where the problem arises.

These iguanas are the most popular pet lizards in the United States, even though they are very difficult to care for. Part of it has to do with how huge they are. Second, a person would have to have plenty of vegetation around. Sweet potatoes would work fine. And finally, these lizards may not survive away from the wild. Many people who own these lizards turn them over to rescue groups or just let them loose. Their natural habitat is the rain forest, so leaving them there would be the best for them. Still, because of the constant destruction of the rain forests, steps are being taken to move this threatened species to safety.

Permits are being obtained to move these iguanas to different locations. Several have been exported from the rain forest and imported into the United States. Once these animals are in the United States, it is legal for anyone to purchase them. A second step is the formation of captive farming. This type of farming breeds these lizards for pets. Unfortunately the gene pool is decreasing as the green iguana is being mass produced. Their traits or phenotypes are becoming more similar as a result. So, are we helping this species with the steps we are taking to preserve them? Or, would they be better off in the rain forest where they can eat their vegetation, rest and hunt in social groups as they do, and continue using their fabulous swimming skills? Only time will tell.

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