The other Side of the Pit Bull

Pit Bulls, one of the most-feared, most stereotyped breeds in the United States. The problem is that people do things to these dogs to make them fit the stereotype. For example, they are mistreated and abused, trained to fight, and we wonder why there are Pit Bulls that are nasty. It’s not false. Stereotypes stem from somewhere, and you hear all the time that Pit Bulls are the ones that attack people the most. I’m not going to say Pit Bulls are the nicest dogs in the world because no breed is the nicest dog in the world. Okay, perhaps golden retrievers are at the top of the list. Either way, I’m not going to tear down or build up the stereotypes, but what I am going to do is tell you about the true Pit Bull. Because personality is probably the most interesting thing to hear about, I will tell you about the general personality of a Pit Bull. Keep in mind while reading this that, while this may be the general personality of a Pit Bull, each dog is his or her own individual and should be treated as such. So, let’s begin.

First of all, did you know that the Pit Bull is actually a mix of different Bulldog breeds? We tend to believe that the Pit Bull is its own breed along with calling other bull dogs Pit Bulls when they might not actually be Pit Bulls. Just like guide dogs from the Seeing Eye can be called Seeing Eye dogs, it would be wrong to say that guide dogs from other schools are Seeing Eye dogs. The term Seeing Eye dog has been majorly overused, just as the name Pit Bull has been. Because Pit Bulls can be a mix of different bulldogs, size can vary; however, they all have a stocky build. They have a long lifespan and can live between the ages of 12-14 years. This is because these dogs are usually healthy, playful, energetic, and athletic. So, now that you know a little more about the physical characteristics, let’s talk about the personality of a Pit Bull.

First, the pit bull is very muscular and strong. However, it has a gentle and docile way about itself. This gentle side of them makes them good companions for families with children. Some may find this surprising as not only the general public but also the media makes these dogs look vicious. These pit bulls can be described as a clown, always making his or her owner laugh. They enjoy being very silly. However, just because this dog is loyal, obedient, and willing to please, it is important to recognize that a Pit Bull is not for everyone.

Pit Bulls are strong-willed and require a strong-willed person to care for them. Pit Bulls aim to please their masters, and if handled, trained, and socialized appropriately, they will be wonderful companions. Socialization and training is key in the success of having a well-behaved Pit Bull. These dogs have a strong prey drive that often influences them to chase things smaller than them such as other dogs. Therefore, Pit Bulls tend to not be very friendly with other dogs. Because Pit Bulls tend to not like other dogs, it is important to teach them obedience skills and keep them on leash and under control when around other dogs. Also, it is never a good idea to leave a Pit Bull alone with a child it does not know. There is a reason why these aggressive characteristics tend to show up in the Pit Bull.

Pit Bulls have a very interesting history. The breed was created due to the mix breeding of different terriers and bulldogs in the early 19th century in Scotland, Ireland, and England. These dogs were trained in the sport of bull and bear baiting in which they would attack a larger animal until the animal was defeated. Perhaps this is why Pit Bulls seem to be a “never give up” type of dog. However, when this was banned, the sport of dog fighting was adopted. Immigrants then brought these dogs with them from Europe to North America. The goal of many Pit Bull Rescues is to change the life of a Pit Bull around. Rescues want to make these Pit Bulls companions for people. While the Pit Bull is gaining a popular companion pet status, this is a difficult goal to accomplish because of the many stereotypes about these dogs.

For example, a Pit Bull owner who lives in an apartment may have a difficult time convincing their landlord and neighbors that they have a good dog. In fact, many apartment managers will not allow you to have a Pit Bull or will not let you rent an apartment from them. Insurance companies are also turning away Pit Bull owners. It’s definitely going to take time for people to understand that Pit Bulls deserve just as much love as other dogs. Hopefully people will soon realize the good side of the Pit Bull.

Watch these hilarious Pit Bull videos.


The Cause for Paws Boutique

Do you enjoy shopping? Or, maybe you just have so many clothes in your closet that just don’t fit anymore. Well, how about going to the Cause for Paws Boutique? Earlier this week, I went over to the clothing store to do an interview with the owner. See, the Cause for Paws Boutique isn’t just a clothing store. It is a special clothing store. Let me tell you why.

The minute I walked into the store, I was greeted not only by the owner of the store but also a really sweet dog that was excited to see Joba and I. I immediately felt that this would be a fun environment to work and shop. With the nice people, friendly dogs, and soft music playing in the background, I could find myself considering this place a home away from home. But what is so special about the Cause for Paws Boutique? Well, first of all, this is a clothing store that donates proceeds to animal organizations in Lincoln. Some of the organizations include Nebraska No Kill Canine Rescue, the Cat House, the Humane Society, and yes, Lincoln Animal Ambassadors. The owner and founder, Adair Sue Smith Sturgis, was willing to fill me in about the history of the store and why she chose to open a clothing store to help animals.

Cause for Paws began in 2008. It later moved and is now located at 2445 South 48th Street here in Lincoln. The goal of the organization is to not only help animals but also people. For one thing, people can buy clothes they can easily afford, and we’re talking top-notch clothes that have been generously donated from other people. And then, that money goes to different animal organizations. At one time, the Cause for Paws Boutique helped people by paying for the pet food or the vet bill. But thanks to Lincoln Animal Ambassadors, now people have another source where they can get pet food—the pet food bank. However, Lincoln Animal Ambassadors might not be able to do this without help from other places such as Cause for Paws. Now you may be wondering, why a clothing store?

When I asked the owner this question, she said that a clothing store would be easier than just having people donate money. Instead, they had something to purchase. Again, it benefits both the organization and the person buying the clothes. Not only do animal organizations benefit from the money, but a Cause for Paws Boutique customer leaves with quality merchandise and a smile on their face. Cause for Paws makes people feel special as workers establish relationships with customers. Cause for Paws is a strong advocate for animals, and they would like to see a change for animals in many different ways.

First, they would love to see the closing of puppy mills. Cause for Paws believes we should hold animals in the highest esteem. After all, they do so much for us. And finally, seeing dogs and cats find loving homes is one of the organization’s biggest desires. If this is something you also desire, take a day to go shopping at the Cause for Paws Boutique.

Find Cause for Paws Online: Cause for Paws

Risks and Benefits of Dog Parks

It’s a nice and warm spring day. The sun is shining, the birds are singing their lovely songs, and you are thinking of fun activities for you and your dog to do. You could go on a walk, but you’ve already done that today. Well, how about go to the park? The dog park, that is. Today, I want to talk about the dog park. As most things, the dog park has both risks and benefits. So, let’s get those risks out of the way. Why shouldn’t you take your dog to a dog park?

First of all, not all dogs belong at a dog park. Some dogs become stressed if they are not used to playing with other dogs or having dogs come up to them wanting to play. Fights can break out at dog parks if either a dog is afraid or feels threatened by another one who is just trying to play with him. With these fights, injury can occur. Because a dog park is a place for dogs to play off leash, a dog who does not have good recall and does not come to you when you call him should not be at a dog park. Also, in some states, the dog flu is going around and is spread by dogs being in contact with one another. Evidently, it is contagious just like the human flu. However, even though there are several risks to dog parks, a dog park can actually have benefits.

The dog park is a place for an owner and a dog to play fetch with a Frisbee or tennis ball or for dogs to run around and chase one another. This exercise is very beneficial not only for you as a dog owner but also for your dog. I know that, for guide dogs, work can stress them out, so playing with other dogs can decrease stress. I personally have never taken my dog to a dog park before, but I will explain more about that a little later in this post. This time in a dog park can be very fun for both you and your dog, increasing your bond. Along with that, dogs have time to socialize, and other dog owners can socialize with each other, perhaps making new friends.

So, now that we’ve talked about the risks and benefits of dog parks, let’s talk about how you should decide if a dog park is right for you and your furry friend. There are a few deciding factors. First of all, as I promised earlier, I’m going to talk about why I have never taken either of my dogs to a dog park. Seeing Eye recommends we keep our guide dogs away from dog parks. They do not believe a dog park is a good environment for guide dogs because there are those occasional doggy disagreements. A guide dog getting injured would be detrimental to a working team. However, it is my personal belief that this can easily be avoided. So, here are some things to help a dog have a fun time at a dog park. Any dog who goes to a dog park should be well-socialized and okay with both dogs and people. If you have a dog that loves other dogs, I’m sure he or she will absolutely love the dog park. However, those dogs that become easily stressed out by being surrounded by other dogs would not do well in this type of environment and should stay away for the safety of all dogs and people. Lastly, simply use common sense. If you know your dog could benefit from his time in the dog park, definitely consider it. But, if you know your dog would not be okay with it, it is not a good idea to even attempt it. A dog park is not a place to teach a dog socialization as socialization with people and other dogs should have taken place when the dog was a puppy. The dog park is for those dogs who are already socialized and well-mannered around other dogs. Also, if you decide to take your dog to a dog park, always monitor your dog. Is he getting along with others? What is his body language telling you? Is he acting nervous? All of this should be taken into consideration.

I know that Joba would love to go to the dog park. He wouldn’t be able to leave the other dogs alone. Or, maybe it’s that I would love to go to the dog park. I think he would be okay, but because I like to follow the rules, I have never taken him there because Seeing Eye said it’s not a good idea. So, to be on the safe side, perhaps I’ll just find particular dogs who can be Joba’s playmates. I want to conclude by saying that, if your dog is not a dog park dog, that’s okay. Not all dogs enjoy that environment. They are just like some people who do not enjoy large crowds. It just means that your dog finds other ways to entertain him or herself. So, on that warm spring day, considering all of the risks and benefits and deciding what is best for your companion, perhaps you will consider a dog park.

Additional Resources:

A Collection of Memories

Life with a guide dog is almost always filled with adventure. I could sit here and write about plenty of fun times we’ve had, times when we’ve had to work through a problem, and yet other times when our day wasn’t so great. I want to have fun today and give you a collection of fun and silly memories with both of my guide dogs. So, let’s begin.

My family and I would always joke that I should become a greeter in a store because Errol would gladly take me up to anyone, and he did. We would be walking, and suddenly he’d see someone he thought might be interesting to visit. Of course, this didn’t just happen in stores. This happened at school, at church, and even at the bus stop. I call this one of my embarrassing moments. I walked into the bus shelter with Errol, and he stopped at the usual bench we sit on. However, he didn’t move far enough down, and when I backed up to sit down, I suddenly realized I was almost going to sit on someone’s lap. Talk about humiliating. I apologized and moved down the bench a little ways. I suppose that experience taught me to follow my dog’s head with my hand to make sure he is really pointing at an empty seat.

Just out of curiosity, how many of you have been embarrassed by your pet at one time? This happened to me both in Walmart and in the mall. First of all, while I was still in independent living training, a friend and I decided to go shopping at the mall for our travel class. Well, I was far enough in my training that the travel instructor said I could take my dog with me instead of my cane. That afternoon, Errol, my friend, and I arrived at the mall. While we were walking towards a store, someone stopped us. They explained that my puppy had just did his business on the floor, but she said not to worry about it because someone was cleaning it up. Well, Errol had a habit of going to the bathroom and moving at the same time, so I had no idea he had done that. The second time he did that was about a year later in Walmart. Both of these embarrassing situations are ones I look back on and laugh.

Now that we’ve talked about Errol, let’s talk about Joba. Joba is a very different working dog than Errol was. He loves to work, and he hardly ever gives me any trouble. The funny and silly stories about him usually happened when he was not working. Do you ever notice your pet acting almost exactly like a human? Joba did this on one particular evening. My sister and I were watching a movie. After the movie was over, I walked over to the couch and nearly jumped ten feet in the air. There was someone or something on the couch, and it was very soft and furry. Of course, it was my dog, but why was he on the couch? Honestly, I don’t know where he picked that habit up. I have had him for almost two years, and he had usually only jumped up there if someone was sitting on it because he wanted to sit in their lap. However, this particular evening, he was laying on his side with a blanket under his head like a pillow. I don’t know why, but it looked so funny, and I thought he looked like a person lying there. A few days later, there was a thunder storm. Joba jumped up there again, pulled the blanket off the back of the couch and folded it under his head like a pillow. I suppose it was a protecting thing. Maybe he felt safer. Either way, it was very adorable.

Another thing you should know about Joba is that he is very vocal. I like to get him riled up because he starts whining and carrying on. When it is time for his evening meal, I will ask him: “Joba, is it feed time”? He will then start jumping up and down and whimpering. My sister and I call him our little drama puppy.

Of course, we called Errol that too because of his fear of the dryer. Joba doesn’t like the vacuum, but he is perfectly fine with the dryer. Errol, on the other hand, would hear it and press his body against me, looking up at me and panting. We think the reason he didn’t like it was because it would randomly buzz, and it was a very loud buzz that could easily startle someone if they weren’t expecting it. He was fine with loud noises as long as they keep going, but if a noise erupts intermittently, it frightened him.

Both of my dogs have had different quirks, and both of them have given me different challenges. Aside from that, they both have provided me with so many wonderful days and fun memories. I know I will always keep these memories, both silly and fun, in my mind forever.

Our Veterinarian Heroes

It’s that time of year again. You get the notification in the mail stating that your dog or cat is due for his vaccinations and shots. Along with that, there is the occasional illness that needs a cure. And, who better to help than our wonderful veterinarians. I remember as a child wanting to become a veterinarian. I used to have this play doctor’s equipment, but instead of pretending to be a doctor for people, I would put my stuffed animals on a table and pretend to give them shots. As a child, I didn’t realize the effort and sacrifice it takes to do the work of a veterinarian.

I have high respect for veterinarians. Not only do they spend extensive time in school, but they are often sacrificing their personal time to be on call for those pet emergencies. These veterinarians are confident and love what they do, and they have a passion for animals. They often have the hard job of breaking the news to a pet owner that their dog is ill or that their cat has to be put to sleep. These are not easy tasks to handle, and after much consideration, I realized that I probably could not endure the rigors of being a veterinarian. Besides, I really don’t like biology and genetics. Not my favorite classes. I’m not going to sit here and pretend to know and understand the work of a veterinarian, but I want to talk about some of the facts regarding a veterinarian’s job. I have been reading a book from a perspective of a young graduate right out of veterinary school. Hopefully from this blog, you will be able to better understand all of the work and time this career path takes.

First of all, why do veterinarians become vets in the first place? I think most of us would say that they want to follow this career path because they love animals. But really, how many of us think about the fact that a veterinarian not only has to gain knowledge about animals but also has to learn people skills? How does a veterinarian handle all of those pet owners who just do not understand exactly what vets do? They have to get used to complaining owners saying that, ever since the dog got that shot, he is sick. I think it is pretty safe to say that veterinarians deal with this type of thing on a daily basis. Veterinarians also have a great responsibility.

If an animal is in the care of a vet, the vet must do everything to keep that pet as comfortable as possible. From this compilation of stories written in this book by the new veterinarian, he had a dog escape the clinic before the surgery even happened. Now, I don’t know about you, but that would make me a nervous wreck if I was in charge of a dog and lost him. I honestly don’t know what I would do. However, veterinarians are placed into many different situations that require them to work under pressure even if they are not sure exactly what to do. Along with that, the work of a veterinarian can be emotionally draining.

Sometimes it’s nice having an 8-5 job. You come home, make dinner, and plop in your recliner or couch to watch TV. You may have faced many trials at your job that day, but you are glad to leave it behind you and wait to deal with it tomorrow. Now, in some cases, this may be true for a veterinarian, but consider the fact that emergencies arise and things don’t work out. Doctors of any type, whether it be a doctor who operates on humans or a veterinarian, must figure out a way to separate their personal life from their professional life. I’m sure this is sometimes hard to do. There is so much we don’t know about work, time, and strength that is required of a veterinarian. These doctors could probably tell you a lot more about their job that you might find fascinating and interesting. I know I would.

To me, these veterinarians are heroes, and I thank them for their hard work. Who else can we depend on? So, next time you take your pet to the clinic for her shots, remember to thank that wonderful veterinarian for being willing to work so hard in order to keep our pets happy and healthy.

How to Deal with Aggressive Characteristics

I smile every time I think of Jack. That sweet, fluffy Shih Tzu puppy came to live with our family when I was six years old. That first night, he kept us awake crying and scared because he missed his mother. But Jack had a problem that we didn’t notice until a few months after we got him. I remember that night, walking up to him after he had just had a bath. He was lying on a towel, and when I reached down to hug him, he growled and nipped my hand. I cried, not really because it hurt, but because my parents were considering getting rid of him because he bit me.

We did not get rid of him. In fact, we had him until he was eight years old. Throughout his life, he was a very interesting dog. He loved when I would sit beside him and pet him, but if I would attempt to pick him up, he would snap at me. He was never crazy about children and would often growl at my little cousin who wanted to play with him. Then suddenly, things changed. I guess the change was gradual, but I didn’t notice it right away. He became friendlier. Usually people say that if a dog is aggressive, his problems only get worse. For Jack, it was the opposite. Jack hated being held, but suddenly he began jumping up on the porch swing to sit in my lap. He never wanted to be lifted off the ground, but my sister was picking him up without being snapped at. He didn’t like children, but suddenly he began playing with my little cousin whom he used to growl at. So, what happened? I honestly have no idea. Perhaps it had to do with the new dog we got. Maybe Jack saw us picking her up, playing with her, and holding her. Jack decided that he liked that.

The question that came to mind was, why was he aggressive in the first place? We were always loving with him. I played with him, we took him for walks, and he was well-fed. That meant there had to be some sort of underlying feeling that made him act that way. Today, I want to look at some reasons why a dog might become aggressive and if there is any way to change this behavior.

You hear about dog attacks all the time. There are plenty of stories about dogs chasing children on bikes, joggers, or skateboarders. Dogs have also been known to turn on their own family. Let’s look at some reasons why a dog might be aggressive. Some dogs are aggressive because that’s all they know. Perhaps, for example, a dog lived in an abusive home. The abuse might put in the dog’s mind that everyone is out to hurt him, therefore he will act out in order to protect himself. Fear is probably one of the main reasons for aggression, but aggression can also stem from medical issues. If, for example, a dog is experiencing aggression along with loss of hair, increased body weight, and lethargy, he may be experiencing the symptoms of hypothyroidism. Seizures and tumors on the brain that can cause rapid mood change in a dog can also include aggression. For these types of issues, assistance from a veterinarian is necessary. Aggression can also be genetic for those who selected the aggressive characteristic when breeding. There are several different types of aggression. Some of these include fear-motivated, protective, territorial, predatory, and frustration aggression. Below is a short description of each type.

Fear-motivated aggression is likely to occur when a dog feels threatened. For example, when I wanted to pick Jack up, evidently he felt threatened by me putting my arms around him and lifting him off the ground, therefore he would snap at me. Protective aggression occurs when, for example, a mother is protecting her pups. This is not to be confused with territorial aggression in which a dog will act aggressively to guard their home or specific space. Within this is resource guarding. If a dog snaps at you for touching her bowl while she is eating, she is guarding her food resource. Predatory aggression happens when a dog has a hunting drive which may result in him chasing small animals or even children. And finally, frustration aggression is when a dog becomes aggressive when not allowed to do something he or she wants to do. For example, frustration aggression occurs when an owner holds onto the collar of a dog who wants to get somewhere but the owner won’t let him or her do so. It can also occur when a dog is being forced inside a kennel and doesn’t want to go in. All of these types of aggressions can be problematic, but if you have the time, there are things you can do to help your dog to stop this behavior.

Consulting a trainer that specializes in rehabilitation or behavioral training is the best route to take. Keep in mind, however, that aggression is not an easy thing to fix. It is known to be the worst type of behavior a dog can exhibit. Before you choose to get professional help from a behaviorist, be sure to have a checkup with a veterinarian to make sure there are no medical issues that could be causing the aggression. Finally, there is some hope. Aggression can be reduced and even eliminated with the right training. This is especially true for those dogs who thrive on praise and rewards. For example, a dog who is rewarded when not biting someone who sticks their hand in the dog dish may stop biting for good because of the praise or treat. Still, it is important to always pay attention because a dog who has previously been aggressive but has not shown aggressive signs in a long time may resort to his or her aggressive behavior when under a lot of stress. And, just one more tip. It is easier to prevent aggression than cure it. If you have a puppy, make sure to socialize him or her with other dogs and people. Aggression is not a fun behavior to deal with and can be detrimental. However, don’t lose hope. There are always techniques to handle and effectively alter those aggressive characteristics.


From Puppy Mills to Happy Homes

Puppies. Who doesn’t love little, cuddly and fluffy balls of fur? Sometimes I wish that puppies could just stay as puppies, but they never do. And, what happens to puppies who grow up in puppy mills? To understand this, it is necessary to have some brief info about puppy mills.

Picture a place where hundreds of adult dogs and puppies are crowded into wire cages that are barely big enough for them to move around. On top of that, these dogs have no available food, water, or shelter. And, in worse case scenarios, dead puppies are inside cages with ones that are still alive. Along with that, these places usually smell very bad due to the lack of cleaning dog waste out of the cages. Yes, these dogs live in their waste. This is a description of an extreme puppy mill. Sadly, these puppy mill dogs live a life full of suffering. They are treated as money-making objects. They breed and survive, and that’s about it. Some of them don’t even survive. Then, if the dog is unable to breed anymore, they are taken out and disposed of. What, then, is the behavior of a dog raised in a puppy mill?

Skittish is the best way to describe them. A YouTube video showed an adult chocolate lab who wouldn’t sit still. She spun around in circles nonstop, unsure of where to put her feet. This is because she was used to the wire floor of her cage, and the flat surface of a table or floor caused her to be fearful. Many puppy mills use those wire floors for their cages in hopes that urine and feces will fall through so the cages do not have to be cleaned. However, this doesn’t work. Anyway, could you imagine a dog being fearful of a flat surface? Along with being unsure of their surroundings, these dogs are not used to being handled by humans. When I say handling, I mean that no one handled them in a loving and caring way before. These puppy mill dogs are naturally going to be anxious as they were kept in kennels with no way to get rid of their energy. Antsy is another perfect way to describe them. But aside from behavioral issues, let’s talk about the health problems.

The chocolate lab previously talked about had two other sisters. All three of these dogs had issues with one of their eyes. Veterinarians suggested it had something to do with a birth defect due to the lack of knowledge about reputable breeding in these puppy mills. Damage can be done to a dog’s feet due to the wire flooring of the kennels. Dogs can attract flees and heartworms, parasites that are common to both dogs and cats. Truthfully, any disease can occur or be found in these dogs within such unclean, filthy environments.

However, there is hope. Rescues are pulling these dogs from these detrimental homes and rehabilitating them. Many dogs are able to be rehabilitated enough to be adopted by people who love and care for them. One employee who happened to be working at a puppy mill noticed the mistreatment of the dogs, and she wanted to see each and every dog in that place find a home where the dog would be held and petted. They should be sitting on the couch with their owner, watching TV, she said, and sleep peacefully in a comfortable bed. Many of these dogs have to be socialized as they are not used to being with humans, but once they are socialized, they seem to always want to be with a person, one rescue team member stated. It’s almost like they are afraid to be alone. They have been living a lonely life, and now that they have the chance to live with a human, they want to take advantage of the life they deserve.

How can you recognize a dog from a puppy mill? First, if you go to a pet store, those puppies can come from puppy mills. Actually, a majority if not all of them come from puppy mills. As a result, these dogs once they get to someone’s home may have health and behavioral problems. So, you want a puppy and not an adult dog. Well, this is understandable. We love puppies. So, if you are choosing not to adopt a dog from a shelter, be sure to do plenty of research. You want to find a reputable breeder. A reputable breeder will not allow you or anyone from the public just to come and take a puppy home. They will most likely interview you and your family to find out how good you are with dogs and if you have an environment that allows you to properly care for a dog. Also, they will be able to answer any genetic questions you have about their puppies. In fact, any reputable breeder will answer any and all questions you have. They will be honest about the potential problems of the particular breed they are raising. They will be happy to discuss with you the specific needs of that breed. And finally, money is probably the least important for them as their dogs they breed are high priority.

Dog and animal rescues are great places to find the right dog for you. Plus, maybe these rescues will have puppies to adopt. Remember that some of these rescues may have removed some of the dogs from puppy mills, but be assured that those particular rescues are doing everything they can to prepare the dog for adoption. For some dogs, this preparation takes longer as it may have been possible for a particular dog to have a traumatic experience at some point of their puppy mill life. Still, these rescues want all of these dogs to find good families who will show them the unconditional love that so many other dogs and humans share. It is important that rescues are able to transition these dogs from puppy mills to happy homes. Note: This is a very lengthy video and may obtain some things that are hard to watch. Use discretion.

Successful Guide Dog Owners

Guide dog owners like me who are still at least somewhat inexperienced have so much to learn from those older, more experienced guide dog owners. I am on a Seeing Eye graduate’s email list in which graduates both young and old, and both first-time and long-time guide dog users share are many experiences with one another. Along with that, we tell stories about our dogs, whether it be humorous or serious. We have good discussions about specific guide dog topics, and graduates can ask questions. The rest of us will do our best to answer them. I personally wish I would have had this list when working with my first guide because there is just so much encouragement. Those of us who are using our first or second dog can look up to those who have been using guide dogs for almost 60 years. These graduates who have attended the Seeing Eye since the 1960’s or 70’s have been with the Seeing Eye through all of the changes, and Seeing Eye has had many of those. From renovations to the campus and kennels, to new instructors, to new training techniques, these successful guide dog owners have seen and experienced it all.

Along with this wonderful list, Seeing Eye keeps graduates and the general public aware of everything going on at Seeing Eye. I always find their newsletters and guide magazines very encouraging. Today, I want to take some stories out of a few of the magazines to show you how a guide dog has greatly contributed to the success of a guide dog user.

First is a woman who has been a guide dog user since 1970. There is a program for blind individuals in which books, whether it be textbooks, novels, or poems, are available in Braille or audio format for blind people to read or listen to. Magazines are also available for download on this website. This long-time guide dog user became the director of this program which is called National Library Service. This director states that, while she can get around perfectly fine with a cane, she feels more free, more relaxed, and less stressed when traveling with a dog. Currently, she is using her 7th dog and has already gone to many different cities and even moved from a small suburban area to a big city in which there is plenty of activity.

Another successful guide dog owner has been using guide dogs since 1960. From black labs to German shepherds, she is using her seventh dog. Her dogs have helped her manage moving to new areas, from Washington D.C. to New Jersey, for example. She has gone from being a teacher, to an analyst, then a paralegal in Orlando Florida, and finally a retiree. But do you think she stopped there? No, not at all. She not only donates to the Seeing Eye but also helps other charities involving animals and people alike. She strongly believes in getting involved in society, and she has had a guide dog by her side through all of it.

And finally, I want to talk about the president and CEO of Seeing Eye, James Cutch. As the president of the Seeing Eye, he is also a graduate. He became the President and CEO in September of 2006. Before he started working as President and CEO of the Seeing Eye, he worked in technology services and computers. He was responsible for evaluating new and emerging programs and including them in company services. From 1976 to 1979, he served as a professor in computer science at West Virginia University. Not only that, but he also took part in the puppy raising program, so he knows and understands the work and sacrifice it takes for puppy raisers to do what they do. And finally, he has had 8 Seeing Eye dogs.

Hearing these amazing stories always inspires me to look forward to each day using my Seeing Eye dog. Along with that, I am encouraged by their stories and success. While I’m sure all of these experienced guide dog users would tell anyone who asked them that they’ve had their difficulties and trials with guide dogs, they would also say that choosing to use a guide dog is the best decision they have ever made. I hope that, as I get older and continue to choose to travel with guide dogs, I will become experienced. And, if I am experienced, I can share what I know with those who are just beginning. Sometimes the first dog is always the hardest, but I have already gathered so much information not only through my own experiences but also from hearing stories of these successful guide dog owners. I don’t know if I will ever travel the world, and I know I won’t become a computer science professor, but wherever I decide to go with my life, I know I will always have a guide dog by my side.

Animal Communities

Did you know that we have more in common with animals than we think we do? There are several similarities. For example, animals can feel sad or happy just like we can. They have basic needs for food, shelter, and love and companionship just like we do. However, there is one thing we tend to overlook. Many animals live in groups. Just like we have families, animals have families too and often live with one another their entire life. There are, in fact, six different species that live in groups. Today, I’m going to cover only three of them. I will talk about lions, wolves, and elephants. Keep in mind that there is always the occasional lion, elephant, or wolf that lives on their own, but a majority of them live and hunt together. Let’s begin by talking about the lion.

I probably don’t need to describe to you what a lion looks like. You’ve seen them on TV or in zoos. So, I want to focus on the community of lions rather than the scary, nightmarish roar of a lion. A lion pack, called a pride, is usually made up of 15 members, a majority of them consisting of females and their young. Either one or a small group of males will join the pride for a short time until another one takes over. While males are territorial, the females do most of the hunting at night. They work together in teams. When you think of the resting period for a group of lions, picture a large group of fluffy, big cats snuggled together purring and rubbing heads. Lions are social cats that enjoy good fellowship with one another. Another social animal is an elephant.

I remember riding an elephant at a circus one day. I couldn’t believe how large it was, and the trunk reminded me of something leafy like a plant. But elephants were not really meant to be in a circus. In fact, they are meant to live together. An African elephant family group is made up of 8-10 individuals with older females taking up the leader position. On the other hand, Asian elephant groups tend to average at about 4-8 members. While male elephants (bulls) live on their own, females and their young (cows), similar to the lion, live together in what is called a heard. Normally, all of the elephants are related. Of course, there is the occasional elephant that is not related that joins a family. While most of the elephant family is female, young males stay with the mother and group until they are driven out when they reach sexual maturity. Elephants teach and nurture one another, and while females tend to be more nurturing, males are more competitive, teaching other bulls how to hunt and fight. Along with being social animals, elephants are intelligent. I know that, when I think of elephants, I think of animals with good memory. Perhaps you’ve heard this, but elephants mourn the loss of another elephant.

And finally, let’s talk about the wolf. Wolves are feared by humans, and because of this, we tend to destroy them because they do kill domestic animals. However, as we kill them off, they continue to grow more and more extinct. While they are feared, wolves do not normally attack humans unless they are hungry due to lack of prey. They live and hunt in packs of 6-10. There is a hierarchy in this group with a dominant male and a female not far behind in dominance. Normally, the dominant couple are the only ones allowed to breed while other adult wolves are known as babysitters for the pups. They often take care of them by bringing food for them or staying behind while others hunt. Wolves have different types of howls, and each howl represents something else. A howl of a lone wolf may be a howl signaling the rest of its pack members. There is also a howl that members from different packs will use to send a territorial message to the other pack. Plus, wolves are like domestic dogs. When one howls, the rest of them join in.

Lions, elephants, and wolves all live social lives. This proves that animals care about family just as much as humans do. I guess it is the basic need for affiliation, need to fit in and to survive. So, next time you think of these animals, perhaps you will think of a close-knit family.

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.