What I Know for Sure After 39 Years of Being a Guide Dog Handler

August 5, 2012 · Posted in Aging Dogs, Guide Dogs · 1 Comment 

Guest blogger Katherine Schneider, Ph.D, Senior Psychologist Emerita, Counseling Service, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, and Author of “To the Left of Inspiration: Adventures in Living with Disabilities” has written this blog post for Working Like Dogs. You can find more of her musings at her blog: http://kathiecomments.wordpress.com.

Kathie and Fran

I’m heading off to train with my ninth Seeing Eye dog and that’s put me in a reflective mood. In a couple years I will have had a Seeing Eye dog for half the time the Seeing Eye has been in existence. That entitles me to be philosophical, right?

The first thing I know for certain is each working dog is a unique gift; no two alike! The first dog often changes one’s life so much that second dog suffers by comparison. After you realize that of course they’re different and have different strengths, you can still honor that first dog and go on to fully embrace number two, three, etc. Each dog does their job, but the fun and sometimes frustrating part is to figure out how to work with that individual dog so he/she shines.

Each of my working dogs has built my character in different ways. My first dog taught me to be positive instead of crabby when my expectations were not met. My soon to be retired dog showed such courage in telling me that she needed to retire by refusing to work when she thought she could not safely do so because of a vision problem, that I am in awe of her. Then there are the funny little things they do that show you they definitely do think. For example, I’ve taught each of my dogs the words “up” and “down” so when we go into a building they’ll find the stairs for me. As they reached middle age (about seven), each one started showing me the elevator instead of the stairs.

I’ve learned from retiring dogs that it’s never easy no matter how many times you do it, but you will get through it and you will love again. I grieve the decision to retire a dog, the actual retirement, and eventually the grief of the dog’s death. Like with any grief, rituals like a retirement party and writing a bio for the family who adopts the dog help. Coaching friends to treat it as seriously as they would a death or divorce may be necessary. A few empathic souls “get it” that working dogs are very different from pets and do the right things like listening and showing up to help with the transition or just bringing a dish, but I’m convinced more would if they realized this dog is my best friend, my eyes and my key to safe transportation.

I’m still learning from my dogs that you can be joyful in greeting each new day, quick to love and forgive, enjoy the little things like fresh water and a bowl of food and that a wagging tail wins a lot of friends. I wonder what I’ll learn from Young and Foolish.

Dealing with Your Dog’s Arthritis

June 26, 2012 · Posted in Aging Dogs · Comment 

As our working dogs age, arthritis can become a big issue. Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine’s “Dog Watch” reported on arthritis in Dogs recently. They tell us that just as millions of American people are dealing with arthritis, so are American dogs, with one-fifth of the 55 million dogs in the US affected by this disease.

What causes arthritis in dogs? Most dogs have osteoarthritis, and it can be caused by an inherited defect or traumatic injury to a joint. A common inherited malformation of a joint is hip dysplasia, where the ball and socket don’t fit together properly. Canine osteoarthritis can be in the stifles, shoulders, elbows and hips but even the joints in the spine can be affected.

It’s important to recognize arthritis as early as possible Dr. Marty Becker recently discussed this topic on ABC News.

How can you tell your dog might have arthritis? Look for stiffness, an altered gait, or a reduction in your dog’s activity. If your dog’s arthritis is more advanced, he or she may limp and if you try to manipulate the joint, it will have a restricted range of motion and might be painful for the dog. Older dogs are at more risk. Yet at whatever age, your dog might compensate for the onset of their arthritis, so it might be difficult to notice.

What can you do to help prevent arthritis? Obesity is a big risk factor. Experts agree that carrying extra weight puts more stress on the cartilage. Risk is not necessarily higher for particular breeds, but heavier breeds have a greater chance than miniature breeds.

How can you treat your dog’s arthritis? First you need to have a diagnosis to rule out other conditions. This might include a physical exam and various kinds of tests. The condition is not curable, but you can treat it with drugs, nutraceuticals and surgery. Physical therapy, massage, heat and acupuncture have also been found to be helpful. The goal of treatment is generally to reduce the pain associated with the disease.

Dr. Marty Becker also has a recent article on the VetStreet website about managing arthritis.

Arthritis in dogs is common. But by doing what you can to prevent the disease’s onset, being aware of the signs, getting a diagnosis as soon as possible, and working with your veterinarian to decide on appropriate treatment, you can help your dog have the best quality of life possible.

HBO Documentary on Dog Bereavement

May 2, 2011 · Posted in Aging Dogs · Comment 

As many of you know, I lost my retired service dog, Morgan, on March 12, 2011. It continues to be a painful process for me as I am striving to come to terms with his absence.

I thought it was ironic that I received a call today from documentary filmmaker Amanda Micheli’s representative. Amanda is an Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker who is currently working on an HBO documentary regarding dog bereavement.

Amanda recently lost her dog of many years and as a result of her loss, she has embarked on a new documentary film exploring the bonds we share with our dogs. The documentary focuses on pet loss and bereavement from the perspective of the special role and meaning dogs have for their human counterparts.

Amanda filmed with Betty Carmack’s pet loss group at the SPCA in San Francisco, and she is now looking to speak to people in other parts of the country who are facing end-of-life decisions for their long-time friends. She is particularly interested in talking with someone who is in the process of losing their working dog in order to explore this unique human-animal relationship.

I know firsthand what a sensitive issue this is but I thought I would share it with you and see if anyone might be interested. If you are, please contact me and I will put you in touch with Amanda’s representative.

Finding the Right Dogsitter is Critical for Retired Service Dog

January 18, 2011 · Posted in Aging Dogs, Doggie Healthcare · Comment 

One of the beauties of having a service dog is that your dog gets to go everywhere with you. That all changed when my service dog, Morgan, had to be retired. All of a sudden, I had to travel for work with my new service dog, Whistle, and Morgan was stuck at home with the cats.

Morgan has several health issues and he needs someone who is available to let him out regularly for toileting. He also has medical issues crop up unexpectedly, so he needs someone to keep an eye on him and to monitor his wellness.

As a result, I knew I had to find the right dogsitter to stay with him whenever we are traveling. As you probably know, this is no easy task. For years, we have had the same dogsitter, someone who is practically a member of our family. However, this year her other job caring for a woman who is elderly has become more intensive and she is no longer able to provide the level of dogsitting services that Morgan requires due to her commitment to this woman and her family.

So, I embarked on a quest to find another dog and housesitter that could provide Morgan with the care and companionship that he needed and deserved. I began by talking with friends who used dogsitters to seek referrals. I also checked the bulletin board at my vet’s office for business cards and people looking for dogsitting gigs.

I received several names and began contacting these individuals. First, I interviewed them on the telephone and discussed their experience and credentials. Next, I conducted a second interview with the top three candidates. I invited them into our home for a personal interview and to meet Morgan.

Each time we go on a trip, I leave explicit written instructions regarding Morgan’s daily routine, feeding, and medications. I reviewed this list with each candidate and discussed Morgan’s particular needs.

I also asked a variety of questions including:

  • Do they have a reliable vehicle that they could use to take Morgan to the vet if necessary?
  • Would they be spending each night in our home to care for Morgan?
  • Would they be able to take him for a short walk each day?
  • Could they understand his feeding and medication instructions? And, were they able to prepare his meals and maintain his daily routine?
  • How had they handled emergency situations in the past? What types of situations had they responded to with other clients?
  • Were they aware of our local Emergency Vet?
  • Would they be dogsitting for any other clients while we were away?
  • Did they have any animals of their own? And, if so, who was caring for them while they were dogsitting for Morgan?

These were just some of the questions that I discussed with each candidate.

The candidate that I eventually selected was very engaged. She actually had me complete an application and she interviewed me as intensely as I was interviewing her. I really appreciated her organization and seriousness regarding her dogsitting duties. Based on her questions, it was clear that she was experienced and passionate about the animals that were left in her care. She came to the interview on time and she was dressed professionally. She also questioned me about my vet, about taking Morgan out of our home for walks and emergency vet appointments, her expectations for payment, etc.

I was pleasantly surprised by her level of competence. When it came time for us to leave Morgan, I felt confident that she was up to the task and that he would be in good hands while we were away. I am happy to report that we are having a wonderful relationship with our new dogsitter and Morgan adores her.

On our last trip, she arrived as we were loading my van to leave for the airport. We said our good-byes and were off. I forgot something and we came back home for a brief moment. As I entered our family room, there she was, sitting on the couch with her laptop computer with Morgan nestled by her side. He appeared to be in utter bliss.

I was so overjoyed to see how much he truly enjoyed being with her and how comfortable the two appeared together. For me, having the right dogsitter has been critical to curb the guilt I feel each time I leave Morgan at home while Whistle and I go on another trip.

Paws With A Cause New Target Weight Policy

January 4, 2011 · Posted in Aging Dogs, Dog Food/Nutrition · 2 Comments 

To my chagrin, I am facing 2011 with an all too familiar New Year’s resolution to lose weight. Mind you, this is the same New Year’s resolution that I have proclaimed every year since I became a wheelchair user at age six. As a sedentary individual with a love for food, weight is always an ongoing issue for me.

As the old year ended this weekend and I pondered my New Year’s resolutions, I received a large brown envelope in the mail from my service dog provider agency, Paws With A Cause.

You can imagine my surprise when I perused the official correspondence from PAWS declaring that Whistle must be within HIS target weight or it could jeopardize his recertification process. PAWS requires each service dog team to renew its public access certification every 18-24 months throughout the working life of an assistance dog. Although during each recertification process, I have to report Whistle’s weight, this is the first time that PAWS has declared a target weight policy. This new policy states:

The health, well-being and longevity of your Assistance Dog are dependent on keeping your dog within its target weight. Even a slight increase in weight can dramatically impact the working life of your Assistance Dog! PAWS and your veterinarian will help you monitor this for the lifetime of your dog. Certification and recertification will include verification that your dog is within their approved weight range.

Certification/recertification will be delayed if your dog is 15-20% above its target weight. Certification along with your dog’s harnesses and ID card will be removed if your dog is 20% or more over their target weight.

Whistle’s target weight is 68 pounds. 15% over would be 78 pounds and 20% would be 82 pounds. Yikes, I guess this means that Whistle has a date with the scale at our vet’s office and he will be joining me with a New Year’s weight loss resolution of his own!

I know weight is a serious issue for all beings, including humans and canines. However, this is the first time, as far as I know, that my service dog agency has declared weight management as a policy much less instituted consequences for noncompliance with this policy.

If your dog is more than 15% over its target weight, please seek veterinary counsel in determining a safe weight reduction plan. Monthly weigh-ins must be initialed by a staff member at your veterinary hospital, and the veterinary staff should scan and email or fax this form to PAWS.

Whistle is definitely not the sleek 2-year-old golden/lab that arrived almost 4 years ago. He will be six years old on April 1, 2011 and I have noticed he is not as spry as he was a year ago. He has also gained a few pounds over the years. This new policy will definitely motivate me to be more cognizant of his weight which in turn, will hopefully help me to be more cognizant of my own weight loss issues. Whistle and I both have some serious work to do to reach and maintain our target weight goals in 2011!

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