Recently my husband Franz, Whistle, and I traveled to Craig Hospital in Denver, Colorado, for my annual physical and re-evaluation of my disability-related medical needs. I’ve been coming to Craig for over 10 years. They are consistently recognized as one of the top rehabilitation facilities in the country.
During my stays throughout the years, I have noticed one or two other assistance dogs beside Whistle. But during this visit, I have noticed a significant increase in the number of outpatients who are accompanied by an assistance dog.
In addition to service dogs, I also was excited to take a peek at the recreational calendar for the week to see what fun things were happening. Every day there was one or more different therapy dogs who were visiting both inpatients and outpatients. I met a lovely volunteer named Connie. She was accompanied by Heather, a former guide dog who had developed some health issues and had to be retired. Heather made a perfect therapy dog.
We also got to stop by and meet four-month-old, yellow lab Otis. Otis is a Canine Companions for Independence puppy in training. He was nestled under the desk of his puppyraiser and Craig employee, Jeni Exley.
There is also Emil, a yellow lab that works with his partner, Becki, in Follow-up Services. The first thing Whistle and I noticed was Emil’s luxurious bed that was in the patient waiting area.
Everywhere we’ve turned this week I’ve heard wheelchairs bustling through the hallways and the beautiful sound of collars jingling as service dogs and their human partners are busily traveling the Craig Hospital corridors. Thank goodness for innovative medical facilities like Craig that truly understand and support the role assistance dogs play in the independence of the patients they serve.
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.
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.
What a lucky dog! One-year-old guide dog in training Ricki spent her birthday at Disneyland in California, but took a break with her people, Matt and Amie Chapman, to talk to me and Whistle on the Working Like Dogs show recently.
Matt and Amie are producing a weekly video series on YouTube called Growing Up Guide Pup, which captures the lessons they’re teaching Ricki, and they told us how they got started with the video series. They’re not only experienced puppyraisers for Guide Dogs for the Blind, but Matt also is a video producer. They combined their interests in their successful video series.
I really respect Matt and Amie for all their hard work being puppyraisers, giving so much of their time to give guide dog puppies a solid foundation for their training. Their idea to start a video blog about puppyraising is unique, and they have lots of viewers on You Tube who seem to be fascinated and eagerly awaiting each week’s new episode.
The videos are produced to be accessible to those who are blind or have vision limitatations, with a simple format and voiceover narration explaining everything that’s happening.
Find out if you might be ready to be a puppy raiser as they share their experiences, the challenges and rewards. You can also hear more about how they raise puppies and how they created their video series on their Working Like Dogs show, episode #45.
To see Matt and Amie Chapman’s video series, go to the Guide Dog Maniac channel on You Tube. You can view the entire Growing Up Guide Pup series, including the episode where Ricki goes to Disneyland and the short special where she meets Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse.