Where I live, one pool remains open the day after the city pools close for the summer so we take our dogs swimming for the day. It’s the annual “Pooch Plunge” and a ton of fun!
If you have never been to a city pool filled with dogs you need to try it some time – it was an adventure! I loved the fact that everyone was engaged with their animals. Cell phones were only used to take photos! People wanted to share how much fun they were having and how awesome their dogs were!
The pool gave away tennis ballsand there were plenty to go around. Some dogs made no secret of their desire to have at least two or three balls in their mouth at one time!
As one dog was getting ready to jump in another dog was holding on for dear life! The dog in the middle of the pool was uncertain in the water and it took her most of the day to learn that she could swim. I’m not sure who felt a greater sense of accomplishment – the dog or her handlers! Once the dog figured out how to swim on her own she was a swimming machine!
It sure looks like this dog is trying to decide whether or not to take the plunge! In the meantime she decided a drink was a good idea. Oh so cute.
Did you know that you can teach a dog to get out of the pool using the ladder? Pretty impressive! This dog was in the deep end and showed no hesitation as she climbed up and out of the pool. Her routine was to take a lap, get out, shake off and then jump in again! If this dog isn’t already enrolled in an agility class I hope they get her enrolled soon.
What do you think? Are these dogs using telepathy to move the ball closer so they don’t have to jump in? I wonder if we put a thought bubble over their heads if it would read something like ” get over here you @#%! ball” or maybe “I’m gonna have to dunk you” or maybe it’s more like “go ahead, stay you where you are, make my day. You know I want to pounce on you and dunk you!” We’ll never know for sure. I enjoyed watching these dogs as they decided how to get the ball that’s for sure!
Meanwhile at the other end of the pool bunches of dogs and people hang out together.
You can’t tell how big the dog is from the photo – it is a Newfie – one of the larger dogs at the pool.
And the littlest dog – a Yorkie… it took him about 10 paddles to cover 1 glide of the Newfie’s! Seriously this little dog could swim a thousand miles a minute. He zipped in and out, around and through all the big dogs. He had a heart of gold and wanted to keep up with all the big dogs.
Dance like no one is watching… I love this picture. It’s hard to see all of the dogs in this photo, but there are at least 4. The spray station was a lot of fun and the dogs loved playing chase games through the “rain” drops! The little girl danced with such joy.
I couldn’t resist putting in a photo of Jade working in the water. Whether our dogs are swimming for fun or working in the water it is important that we remember whatever we do with our dogs, everyone should enjoy it. Jade would have enjoyed the Pooch Plunge, but I would not have been able to keep an eye on her and help others at the same time – that breaks my rule of take care of your animal first. Don’t worry, Jade gets to go swimming even if she didn’t go to the Pooch Plunge.
What I loved most about the Pooch Plunge was everyone was so happy. The joy people had when their dogs were swimming was evident to everyone present. When their dog learned how to swim they glowed with joy.
My goal in the coming weeks is to find a new trick to teach each of my dogs. I want to find something that brings joy to both my dogs and those around them. What about you? Will you me and find a new skill that makes you and your dogs happy?
This post is dedicated to my sister’s dog, J.J. the Zen dog. (6 Dec 1999-12 April 2015).
My sister said it best: “just as our lives were immeasurably enriched by JJ’s presence, we are heartbroken by his loss. We loved him deeply and with all our hearts. He was such a gentleman of a dog, so smart and kind. We will miss you JJ, thank you for being a part of our lives.”
My friend shared these comforting words with me when one of my own dogs passed away: “the sorrow you feel is only matched by the love you shared.” Perhaps others can find them comfort in them too.
It is hard to find the words to ease the pain we feel when a dog dies. Part of what dogs are about is joyful living, which is why we should continue to celebrate their life and remember all the joy they brought us. Maybe this post will bring a few memories back to life and honor JJ’s spirit.
Since my sister is a philosopher maybe she wanted to see if Plato was right when he stated that “A dog has the soul of a philosopher.”JJ taught her there are many reasons to love a dog…
“Because of the dog’s joyfulness, our own is increased. It is no small gift.” ― Mary Oliver
He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog. You are his life, his love, his leader. He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of his heart. You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion. ― Author Unknown
“A dog teaches a boy fidelity, perseverance, and to turn around three times before lying down.” ― Robert Benchley
“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.” ― Roger A. Caras
“A dog will teach you unconditional love. If you can have that in your life, things won’t be too bad.”— Robert Wagner
“A good dog deserves a good home.”― Proverb
The next series of photos are JJ’s “canine family” photos. I’m including all three photos because I love the fact that these dogs gather so closely together to pose for the camera. The third photo I took when I was up for a visit . It is of JJ, Murphy and Maya. We had a great time walking through the woods on a fall afternoon.
“Humankind is drawn to dogs because they are so like ourselves—bumbling, affectionate, confused, easily disappointed, eager to be amused, grateful for kindness and the least attention.” ― Patricia B. McConnell
“I think we are drawn to dogs because they are the uninhibited creatures we might be if we weren’t certain we knew better.” ― George Bird Evans
All animals except man know that the ultimate of life is to enjoy it. ― Samuel Butler
“Dogs are minor angels, … They love unconditionally, forgive immediately, are the truest of friends, willing to do anything that makes us happy, etcetera.” ― Jonathan Carroll
“Dogs, however, leave paw prints on our lives and our souls, which are as unique as fingerprints in every way.” ― Ashly Lorenzana
“All knowledge, the totality of all questions and answers, is contained in the dog.” ― Franz Kafka
“The one absolutely unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous, is his dog. ” ― Samuel Coleridge
“Golden retrievers … in spite of being dogs, they think they are also human, and nearly every human they meet is judged to have the potential to be a boon companion who might, at many moment, cry, “Let’s go!” and lead them on a great adventure.” ― Dean Koontz
“Dogs are … wonderful. Truly. To know them and be with them is an experience that transcends – a way to understand the joyfulness of living and devotion.” ― Gary Paulsen
“The fidelity of a dog is a precious gift, demanding no less moral responsibilities than the friendship of a human being. The bond with a true dog is as lasting as the ties of this earth ever can be.” ― Konrad Lorenz
“We are shaped and fashioned by what we love” ― Goethe
“The only creatures that are evolved enough to convey pure love are dogs and infants.” ― Johnny Depp
Over the past year there were times when it was just the girls – Murphy and my sister….
“The average dog has one request to all humankind. Love me.” ― Helen Exley
“Dogs have given us their absolute all. We are the center of their universe. We are the focus of their love and faith and trust. They serve us in return for scraps. It is without a doubt the best deal man has ever made. ” ― Roger A. Caras
“We long for an affection altogether ignorant of our faults. Heaven has accorded this to us in the uncritical canine attachment.” ― George Eliot
“Dogs’ lives are too short. Their only fault, really.” ― Agnes Sligh Turnbull
“Properly trained, a man can be dog’s best friend.” ― Corey Ford
“He took my heart and ran with it, and I hope he’s running still, fast and strong, a piece of my heart bound up with his forever” ― Patricia McConnell
“Goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes. Because for those who love with heart and soul there is no such thing as separation.” ―Rumi
“We humans may be brilliant and we may be special, but we are still connected to the rest of life. No one reminds us of this better than our dogs. Perhaps the human condition will always include attempts to remind ourselves that we are separate from the rest of the natural world. We are different from other animals; it’s undeniably true. But while acknowledging that, we must acknowledge another truth, the truth that we are also the same. That is what dogs and their emotions give us– a connection. A connection to life on earth, to all that binds and cradles us, lest we begin to feel too alone. Dogs are our bridge– our connection wo who we really are, and most tellingly, who we want to be. When we call them home to us, it’as as if we are calling for home itself. And that’ll do, dogs. That’ll do.” ― Patricia B. McConnell
Below are links to a few other pages that continue to tell the love story of our dogs. These pages show how we love dogs beyond measure and then share our heartbreak when our dogs die. They remind us to cherish every moment – even those times when we are up all night with a sick or worried dog. These pages remind us that we wouldn’t trade a moment for anything and if we could we would love to spend just one more day with our furry friends… because dogs really are the best kind of friends to have.
JJ – thank you for being a part of my sister’s family and a part of my life too. We miss you and will love you forever.
EB White“She Doesn’t Answer the Phone” – this is the letter that he wrote about his dog Minnie http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/02/she-doesnt-answer-phone.html
This post is dedicated to Charlie, my blind beagle, who was my pet partner for about 8 years.
When we arrive at a facility sometimes we don’t know who will benefit most from our visit. It may be a patient, a friend, or it might be a staff member.
This post focuses on our hospital visits. Most of the patients we see are on the hematology/oncology unit. Some patients may have just learned that they have cancer while others may be end-stage cancer patients. When we enter a room there might be just the patient or there could be a room full of people. The patient might have received good or bad news that day. Maybe the patient had some treatments that were particularly hard. Or, maybe she is thinking about her husband and young children and how she may not get to see her kids grow up. When we enter the room it takes Charlie seconds to know if the patient needs him to snuggle, play, be serious, or be silly. My job is to watch and follow Charlie’s body language.
Over the years my pet partners have trained the staff to bring them their favorite treats! Charlie started the tradition when the nurses would open IV bags and he begged. The nurses didn’t understand why he was begging when all they were doing was replacing an IV bag so I explained he probably thought they were unwrapping a cheese stick! Honestly, Charlie’s super power is his nose. He had to know that there was no food involved so he was playing the nurses big time. It didn’t matter to the nurses – they caved and brought him treats! When he did tricks and shared his joy with the nurses during our shift at the end of the day he brought much needed levity to the nurses before they went home to their families.
It is easy for me to forget just how magical Charlie is when he works as a therapy dog. I’m not immune to his wonders and I don’t have a shield up to his magical, mystical powers… it’s just that, he’s my Char-Char who snuggles with me on the sofa at night.
In my mind he is like any other dog which is why he is also my Char-Char the dog chases bunnies in the early morning or doesn’t come inside until he is covered in mud!
There is no doubt that Charlie is a special dog. He gives people hope when they have given up. Charlie inspires people to persevere on their path for healing. Charlie touches a person’s heart in places where others have had a hard time reaching. Everything he does is with love, laughter and joy. He does these things even though his world is a dark place which is why he amazes everyone he meets.
I salute my Char-Char whether he is cheering on a nurse, a patient, a family member or he is creating mischief at home. I know that Charlie has a very special gift. I am thankful every day that he is a part of my life.
The following is a story that shows how deeply therapy dogs touch a person’s life.
Jade and I were at the veterinarian because she needed some routine testing. One of our favorite nurses from the hospital came out of the ICU. It took a second for her to realize Jade was right there in the waiting room. As soon as she realized she was looking at Jade a slow smile formed on her face. Her smile started in heart and went to her eyes. She came over and gave Jade a huge hug. By touching and hugging Jade her mood brightened and her sadness seemed to float away. When she learned that Charlie was in the car she was happy! Her mood changed from sad to happy in a matter of a couple of minutes by seeing Jade and knowing that Charlie was nearby. At long last she could introduce these very special dogs to her husband for the first time. Both dogs made her feel better on a day when her cat was recovering from a very complex surgical procedure.
You see, our dogs aren’t just therapy dogs during visits inside of the hospital, school, prison, or wherever it is that we visit. Once our dogs become a therapy dog, they are always a therapy dog no matter where they are or what they are doing. It doesn’t matter if they are wearing a vest that says “Therapy Dog On Duty” or not… to the person who knows our dog as a therapy dog, our dog is always on duty!
Our dogs gladly do their job of relieving stress, lowering blood pressure, making people smile, and basically just sharing the burden of the day. The list of what these amazing dogs do for people is endless. When I first became a Pet Partner with Charlie I knew that people were inspired by him and remembered him, but I didn’t realize just how much he meant to them and their recovery until we had been visiting for about 3 years. The patient was in a hospital rehab unit for spinal cord injuries.We typically see the patients once since they only are there a few weeks at the most.
As we entered the patient’s room I didn’t know that Charlie had a fan. We were greeted with a TON of happiness because the patient and their family remembered Charlie. During our visit they shared with me all the joy he brought them before and wanted to know all the things that he had done since they last saw him!
The level of detail that they went into of our visit humbled me. We spent 15 minutes with them years before but the patient and their family remembered everything about our visit. Charlie was a turning point in their care. They could relate to Charlie and the struggles he had overcome in life. After meeting Charlie the patient decided that “if Charlie can do it, I can do it!” Charlie provided hope and the ability for the patient to persevere in their healing. Oh how happy that made me to hear!!
Over the years I’ve met quite a few people where Charlie has had a similar impact on their life by spending just a few minutes with them. Every time I hear a “Charlie Story” I am amazed and humbled by the impact one little dog can have on another person. One woman swears she owes her life to Charlie because he knew there was something wrong with her foot (at the time she didn’t know it, but her foot had gout, turned septic and needed to be amputated shortly after she met Charlie). Another woman adopted a blind dog in Charlie’s honor. I know there are many other stories and ways that Charlie has touched people’s lives but I don’t usually hear from people after we visit. It is enough for me to know that we make a difference.
Note: this post is adapted from a previous post. The posts about Charlie and therapy work were some of the most highly visited posts so I thought I would try get a few of them back up on the blog. As an update, Charlie is retired these days. He is almost 11 years old and has worked most of his life. He does “visit”with people when we go for walks through Duke Gardens but he no longer goes on official visits.
Social Media has a ton of different types of quizzes – anything from who you were in a previous life to what type of dog breed you might be. All of these quizzes made me wonder about what famous character (as in movie/film/cartoon/tv, etc.) my dogs might be.
There will be a series of these posts that will feature one dog per post so you can get some insight into each dog and why I chose that character for my dog. Each dog will have at least two characters assigned to them because we have so many different facets to our personalities and the same is true for our dogs. It would be a disservice to assign only one character per dog.
Ella is without a doubt Mrs. Gladys Kravitz from Bewitched. As a reminder, Mrs. Kravitz was extremely nosy, frequently peeking through curtains and sometimes her excessive nosiness got her in trouble. Does this description remind you of your dog? It describes Ella to a “T!” Ella loves to look out the windows, she knows everyone in the neighborhood, and where they are at all times. Ella sounds the alert when someone is on the move or if something suspicious.
My house has floor to ceiling windows which means Ella is in puppy dog heaven! Before she arrived we had a peaceful home. Rarely did you hear our dogs bark. After she arrived there was barking all the time. A leaf fell and she barked! That kind of arrousal isn’t good for anyone. How do you reduce the level of barking without destroying a dog’s spirit? Do all the windows have to be blacked out all the time? Window film is a magical and wonderful thing! Ella can still see out but not as much as she did before. I swear she pouted when I put it up, but now she is fine with it – she looks through the leaves! But she barks only once in a while and most importantly, the barking only lasts 30 seconds or less instead of 5 minutes or longer.
The other cool thing about the window film is that it is a) removable and b) prevents damage to my blinds. You might wonder how the film could prevent damage to my blinds, but the day before I installed the film I left the blinds down when I went to work. Heavy sigh. Ella was Mrs. Kravitz and had to see outside. It didn’t matter to her that there were blinds in the way of her view. Let’s just say that the blinds have seen better days and I learned a valuable lesson.
Ella has another side to her personality – it is not in juxtaposition to Mrs. Kravitz but works with it. Unlike Mrs. Kravitz, Ella is loved by everyone because Ella has a pure heart, is very beautiful, and has a need to protect everyone.
Ella’s other character is Gracie Hart from Miss Congeniality. According to the Urban Dictionary Miss Congeniality is: 1) a friendly, social person. The center of attention, gets along with everyone. Usually an attractive person as well. 2)the person named most fun in a beauty pageant.
Ella joined our clan in July and fit in right away. Ella accepted Charlie and his blindness without hesitation. It was apparent that Ella trusted Charlie even when he was socially awkward. Ella grew up in a home that was filled with other Cavaliers so when she met Jade she saw a giant beastie of a dog. It didn’t take long for Jade to ease Ella’s fears about her. Ella soon decided that Jade wasn’t scary at all and that Jade hung the moon!
Teaching Ella the basics Ella arrived knowing how to walk extremely well on a leash and how to stay, but sit and down were new concepts. If there were thought bubbles over Ella’s head at times I swear they would read “isn’t it enough to be beautiful?” or “you want me to do what?” Ella is one of the sweetest and most loving dogs you will ever meet, but learning new skills takes time and creativity on my part. It has been fun to go back to the basics with Ella.
Do you see how hard Ella concentrates? I haven’t had a dog that thought this hard to get something right in a long time!
It has been fun has been watching Jade teach Ella. Jade is very patient with Ella especially during training moments. If you’ve ever met Jade you know that patience doesn’t come naturally to her! Words like “overly enthusiastic” or “extremely joyful” or even “baby Godzilla” have been used to describe Jade. Patient … nope… not a word that typically fits her profile. So, why do you think she is being patient with Ella?
Jade is teaching Ella and is self-handicapping. Jade can be very sweet and loving when she knows that a person, or a dog, is in need. Jade is patient with Ella because somehow she knows that Ella needs help learning basic cues like sit, down, and leave it. It is cool to watch her teach Ella.
Play is an important part of learning One of the many wonderful things about dogs is they use play to teach and learn. When Ella met Jade and Charlie she was shy around both of them. She became friends with Charlie first and loves to snuggle with him. It took a little longer before she was completely comfortable around Jade and even longer until she was willing to play with Jade. These are appropriate activities with each dog because Jade loves to play and Charlie loves to snuggle.
It took about about three months of Ella living with us for the next story to happen. Every dog, every home will be different – the key is to be patient and let your new dog find their own comfort zone so that they can find their joy.
Jade selected the smallest fleece rope toy that she had and took it to the overstuffed chair in our living room so she could let the rope dangle from her mouth over the edge of the chair. Jade looked at Ella to make sure that Ella was watching her. Jade got up and very slowly paced around the living room – back and forth – right by Ella… each time Jade passed Ella she got closer. Sometimes Jade would let the rope gently touch Ella but she didn’t let Ella take the rope. Every now and then Jade returned to the chair and waited a few seconds before resuming her walk around the room.
Each time resumed her walk she increased her speed. Eventually Jade started tossing the rope up in the air and catching it… Ella got interested in chasing Jade when the rope was being tossed! Ella didn’t try to take the rope, she just chased Jade. The game continued for a while like this… Jade pacing, swinging the rope and/or tossing it up and catching it with Ella chasing Jade. Don’t blink… Jade let Ella catch the rope! Within a few minutes Jade had Ella tugging on the rope and even had Ella grabbing the rope right up by Jade’s mouth to tug. And I mean tug hard! Ella was tugging!!
I was so happy to see this – why? Because this was the same girl that thought Jade was scary. Jade was patient and knew what was needed to let Ella be her friend. Jade taught Ella how to play with her. Jade self-handicapped so that Ella could learn that she was safe, that she was a friend who could be trusted. We all need friends like Jade in the world.
Jade and Ella continue to play and have increased their games to include other toys. To let you know how comfortable Ella is in our home, Ella has even stalked Jade! Jade seems to like being stalked by Ella because she takes her paw and just puts it on Ella like “you’ve got to be kidding.” That is when Ella takes the toy and runs! Ella has a few places she can hide out, but Jade knows where to find her. It has become their game. It is good. It means Ella feels safe.
Since this post is about play I want to share one more thing. Ella has been “retrieving” with Jade when Jade practices for her competitions or just for fun. Ella has only been willing to tag the ball or dummy. She does run with Jade to get the ball or dummy and to bring it back – she has not brought the item back. The other day she picked up the ball! I was so excited!
It is important to share the joy in play because if nothing else, play should be fun!
So… How do your dogs play together? How do you play with your dogs?
What do you do for fun with your dogs? My dogs enjoy many of the same things, but each one has their own favorite thing to do. Jade loves to swim and run. Jade is the dog swimming in the header photo of this blog. In that photo she is swimming in the rain. Nothing will stop Jade from swimming if there is water nearby. Charlie loves to follow his nose and he loves to share his joy with people. Ella, well, I am not sure I want to admit this, but she likes to tickle me! Other than that she likes to look beautiful (who knew that was a thing), whatever Jade is doing, and snuggling! Oh, and Ella does not like to swim – not one teeny, tiny bit!
I was at a conference in Coronado, California . The hotel was right on the beach which was nice. It didn’t take me long to discover that one end of the beach was used by Navy Seals and the other end was a dog park. You can guess which end of the beach I spent most of my time.
There is something about the beach that makes you just want to have fun. The same is true for dogs. Some loved getting into the water and running in the waves, others only wanted to run on the beach and avoided getting wet.
People liked taking their dogs for a walk along the edge of the water. All dogs were off leash and they followed certain off leash etiquette:
dogs stayed within their sight;
dogs must be under voice control: this means dogs come when called so their person can either put a leash on their dog or the dog stayed with their person if there is a potentially dangerous situation;
dogs may not disturb other dogs, people, or wildlife;
all waste must be picked up and removed from beach.
Since everyone followed these rules people didn’t worry what other dogs were doing. They knew that the other dogs on the beach were okay and would not bother their dog. If dogs said “hello” to each other it was friendly and didn’t last long. Mostly, the dogs stayed close to their person.
Dogs loved running free on the sand. People were attentive to their dogs. I loved it that people let the dogs decide what was fun. Some dogs only wanted to run and play on the beach. You can tell that these dogs clearly loved being on the beach. I wouldn’t take this joy from them – not in a million years!
Some dogs wanted to be in the water. Common theme: all of these dogs loved to play! The dogs were having fun whether they ran on the beach or they played in the water.
This next group of dogs wanted to chase balls, frisbees, whatever they could – not just on the sand, but they wanted to retrieve these items from the ocean!
It is great that this dog had some self-control while he waited for the frisbee to be thrown… If I put a thought bubble over the dog’s head it might read “throw it already!”
While he had self control he knew the trajectory and could anticipate where it would fly so he could catch it mid-air! I bet the thought bubble here would be “really, that’s all you got!” I loved watching this dog. After he caught the frisbee he ran into the waves with it. Was that a victory dance? Or was it his way of pretending that was where the frisbee was headed… we will never know. It was just fun to see this dog’s joy as he played the game.
After he ran into the ocean with the frisbee he brought it back…..
When he was done with the victory dance he came back toward his people, dropped the frisbee and laid down beside it. It is a good idea to embrace the different play style of each dog. How does your dog play the game of retrieve? How does your dog play other games?
There was a little Jack Russell Mix that was a bundle of energy. He tried to be very patient while waiting for the ball to be thrown. Once it was tossed he would bolt for the ball like a horse that was let out of the starting gate during a race! He was a ton of fun to watch too.
This picture is fun because it gives you an idea of where the dog park was in relation to the hotel. The conference hotel was the building with the big red roof in the background – about a mile away. The lady did throw the ball for her dog.
And he bounded after it! Oh the joy. He was such a delight – he had no fear of the waves!
Look for the tail in the middle of the photo and you’ll find the dog. His back is almost level with the depth of the water as he searches for his ball. He doesn’t give up though and is rewarded …
Success! He found his ball and brought it back. This little guy didn’t dally. He was in a hurry to retrieve his ball, bring it back, and play again!
A parting thought. Wherever we are, whatever we do – have fun. Dance, laugh, play. Share your joy. Live life without fear – as much as you can. I happened to get a picture that I love that reminds me of how we all have joy to share wherever we go!
Share the joy
Enjoy each moment
Live fear free as much as possible
There are no words to express the loss that dog training community feels as we try to understand the world without Dr. Sophia Yin. For some of us it is important to understand how or why Dr. Yin died and as we learn those details we may feel even more confused about what happened. How could someone who had so much to offer, the respect and admiration of so many, take their own life?
The thing is no matter how hard we try we can’t ever really walk in another person’s shoes. We can guess, but we don’t really know what that person is feeling. All we can do now is to be the best friend, sister, mother, daughter, brother, etc.. that we can be. The message that Dr. Yin sent over and over again keeps running through my head: let’s help dogs live in a fear free world. My hope is that each one of us will take a few extra minutes each day to help each other live in a fear free world too. It really doesn’t take much to help someone, but doing nothing isn’t an option. Help your friends and loved ones. Help a stranger. Let’s practice being fear free and help make the world a safer place for everyone.
Often how we see ourselves is very different from how others sees us. It can be hard to imagine how someone that we think is amazing, talented, etc may not see themselves the same way we do.
If we were to meet today and I described to you how you look it is a safe bet that my description would not match the way you describe yourself. Why? Because all too often we don’t see the beauty within ourselves. Quite simply we are too critical of ourselves. We give breaks and understanding to others, but are not so kind to ourselves.
The Huffington Post did a wonderful story about “The Beauty Within” that clearly shows us that we don’t see ourselves the way that others see us. Listen to the descriptions that the strangers give of the people they meet. People said things like “nice eyes that light up” but when the person described herself she said “I have a big forehead.” Watch the video and you will see how important it is that we need to be kinder to ourselves. The message is clear – we need to be kind to ourselves and find the beauty within. The beauty is there and others see it – we need to see it too.
There is an interesting Ted Talk “The power of vulnerability” by Brené Brown. This was challenging talk for me to watch and yet very enlightening. It is important for us to remember that we are worthy and that it is okay to be vulnerable. Here is what I took away from the talk:
People who feel worthy know that are loved and that they belong – this is a truth for them – there is no doubt.
They have a sense of courage
They are compassionate to themselves
They are authentic
They embrace vulnerability (versus fear it)
In this talk Brené Brown takes us through her research to explain the importance of loving with our whole heart even though there are no guarantees. At the end she encourages us to “practice gratitude and joy.”
As I write this I am surrounded by my dogs. Literally. Ella is perched (but asleep) on the back of the sofa, Charlie is sleeping on one side of me and Jade is on the other – I’m surrounding by a doggie cocoon of warmth and love. As I look around I am reminded how freely dogs give us their hearts. When I come home I am always greeted by a mad mess of dogs – they are so excited to see me. You would think I’d left them forever – not just gone to check the mail! Of course I get the same greeting when I’m gone for hours. Dogs practice gratitude and joy every moment of every day. It is a lesson that many of us need to be reminded of from time to time.
Back to Sophia Yin, on a personal note, I will always be grateful to her and her work. In particular I am thankful for the illustrations that she created with Lili Chin. I loved it that she distributed the illustrations for free so that many people could learn about so many different things with their dogs. Dr Yin’s illustrations sparked my interest in collaborating with Lili. The truth of it is that we may never know how we touch another person’s life.
The result of the influence that she had on my life is that last year I received a grant to develop educational materials and illustrations for animal assisted interventions. I have been working with Lili Chin to create the illustrations which I hope to publish in the near future. I might have chosen Lili to my illustrator without seeing the work she did for Dr. Yin, but maybe not. I am sorry that I never got the opportunity to tell Dr. Yin how her work helped me and in turn will help others.
Many of us owe a host of gratitude to Dr. Yin for so many reasons. I would like to thank her for working so hard to make the world a place where dogs didn’t have to live in fear.
My wish for everyone today is that you do something that helps another being live their life fear free …it only takes a moment to make a difference.
Have you ever met a dog that seems to be a therapy dog even though he isn’t wearing a therapy vest? You know the dogs I’m talking about – they give us the right emotion at the moment we need it most. If we are sad, they know if we need to laugh versus snuggle. If we are happy they know how we like celebrate – do we like to do the happy dance, or a sing a goofy song? Whatever your special expression of joy is – these dogs know it. These dogs share some of our most intense moments and they do it with grace. Let’s face it there are a lot of people who don’t get this right. It really is amazing that dogs help us with our emotions when humans often have a hard time with it.
It may come as no surprise then, that while Charlie and Jade are retired as my Pet Partners they still are helping people. I believe that they have a deep need to be connected to humans – much more so than your average dog does. Yes, they are very bonded to me, but they like being in contact with others as well.
One of our favorite activities is to go for walks through the Duke Gardens . In case you aren’t familiar with the Gardens the Huffington Post put the gardens on their list of “insanely beautiful places to visit.” I mention this because the gardens get a LOT of visitors! From weddings to school children to Duke students to people in the community – there are a wide range of visitors that come through the gardens every year.
While your town may not have a park that is on Huffington Posts “insanely beautiful places” to visit, there are plenty of awesome places in every town to visit. Look around your town and find an interesting spot to visit with your dog – it is worth the effort!
My friend Nancy Bernstein joined us on a recent walk to document through photography a few of our interactions.
Ella is learning how to be a therapy dog by modeling Jade’s behavior. She is learning the best ways to meet and greet people. Ella is also learning how to remain calm when many people want her attention at the same time. This visitor is a pet sitter/dog walker who was visiting family in North Carolina. You can’t see that there are about 4-5 other people watching, laughing, and telling jokes as we are taking pictures. This photo is great because Kimberly is touching both Ella and Jade!! She was so happy to get to have some one-on-one time with dogs! Her family was teasing her the entire time we were taking photos! They loved that she found some dogs that she could spend some time with during their walk and on her trip! In case you are wondering the dogs are panting because it was hot outside when we took the photos.
If you are wondering where I might be – I am by the stone wall just outside of the photograph. Charlie was with us as well and I was walking him. We are not on an official visit – we are walking our dogs – and our dogs are able to bring joy and happiness to others. What a wonderful way to spend part of an afternoon!
As we continue on our walk and see some freshmen who are missing their dogs from home…
It looks like Jade and Ella may not be enjoying the interaction, but that wasn’t true. We made the mistake of posing underneath a persimmon tree that was dropping fruit and the dogs really wanted to eat the persimmons! The students thought this was really funny and enjoyed having the chance to get to know both Jade and Ella.
The really nice thing about going on walks like this is that no one expects your dogs to be “perfect” so there is no pressure. You can leave at any point in time. Jade LOVES being outside so these walks are a great way for her to share her special gifts.
A little farther down the path we met another student, a senior studying evolutionary biology/anthropology. She fell in love with the dogs. Jade liked chatting with her and Ella fell in love with her boots! You can’t see Ella in this photo because she is tucked behind Jade with her head inside the boots!
The common theme in these photos – joy.
We discovered that when we shared why we were taking photos of the dogs with random people in the park they were very happy to participate in the project. My goal was for you, the reader, to know what our walks are like on any given day. I want everyone to know how much joy “retired” dogs bring people. These are not planned visits and they bring joy to both dogs and humans.
I want to say thank you to the people who took time from their walk through the Duke Gardens to participate in this project! I’d also like to thank my friend and photographer Nancy Bernstein. Nancy graciously went on a walk with me so that we could capture and share these moments with everyone.
What is it like to live with a blind dog? If you’ve met Charlie he makes life as a blind dog look pretty easy. If you found your way to this page my guess is that you have questions about ways to help your blind dog or maybe prepare for life as your dog goes blind. Here are some a few helpful tips that I’ve learned from Charlie, my blind dog, over the years.
First and foremost, it is important for you to know that Charlie is a happy dog. Being happy is what makes people love him. People forget that he is blind because he is happy. Being blind is not synonymous with living a sad, frightened life.
Often people’s concerns about their dog being blind is tied to their own fear of not being able to see. It can be hard for us to imagine being happy in a world of darkness. Charlie helped me overcome my fear of being blind (which is good since my grandmother was blind). I know that if I were to be blind my world might be a little more challenging, but my life would not be sad.
The key is that I’ve treated Charlie like he was any other dog. Perhaps that’s because my grandmother was blind and she made it clear that she while she was blind that didn’t mean she was couldn’t take care of herself. Sure, she needed you to tell her where food was placed on her dinner plate, or where things were located when we went somewhere new, but that is not the same as treating her like a second-class citizen. Trust me, if she thought you were treating her as a disabled person you were in for a tongue lashing that you would never forget! She expected the same amount of respect you would give any other grown up. She had just as much dignity that any other grownup. Thanks to my grandma it is no surprise that when Charlie came into my life I applied the life-lessons she taught me about blindness to dog training. You know what? It worked. Today Charlie is an inspiration to so many people.
My basic philosophy is this: I treat Charlie the same as my other dogs – with trust and respect. In return Charlie trusts and respects me as well as the world the around him. Do I modify Charlie’s training? I do modify some things, but my training philosophy is that we should always modify training to best the needs of the dog. Charlie has had some terrific accomplishments. He received his CGC (Canine Good Citizen) when he was 2 years old and has been my registered pet partner (with Delta Society and now Pet Partners) since he was 3 years old. He has been nominated twice for the AKC ACE Award in the Therapy Category and has the AKC Therapy Dog title.
Here are some insights that I’ve learned from talking to people who are blind and working with a lot of visually impaired/blind dogs.
Scent not vision is the most important sense for dogs. Many people have a hard time understanding and sometimes accepting this fact, because sight is our most important sense. The fact remains that we are not really capable of understanding the full extent to which a dog can sniff out things. Many dogs are lazy about using their nose and we have to remind them so if you have a newly blind dog don’t worry if he doesn’t find his food bowl right away – he will, be patient.
It helps to have a sense of humor….
In reality Charlie wasn’t responsible for this – a foster dog created the mess, it was a great photo op though!
While we are talking about senses hearing is important as well. However, sounds can be overwhelming especially in crowded places. Think about it – have you ever been driven down a long stretch of highway and ended up in the middle of nowhere? You are flipping through radio stations trying to find a radio station/song (before there was all the fancy types of radio) and the most you can find is mostly static… oh then wait – you can barely hear a country music station (you know the ones!) and probably a Willie Nelson song! The song is really faint, but you recognize it and because you recognize it you find some comfort. You leave the station on with the hope that the signal will get stronger. This song is your beacon and helps you stay awake as you drive down that road. You are wondering – how is this relevant to your blind dog. Imagine being blind. You are in a busy place and all the sounds you are like the static on the radio. What can you do to help your dog find you in those busy places? How can you be that country song on the radio station? Well, I wear little tiny bells in the form of a bracelet. I call them my “Charlie Bells.” They are fun and cheery and help Charlie know where I am when we are out and about. A charm bracelet could be just as effective.
When Charlie was a puppy and until he was about 4-5 years old I wore “Charlie Bells” all the time. Now I only wear them when we go on therapy visits or if we will be in a busy place. (Note, I happen to be touching Jade in this photo, not Charlie – didn’t want you to think Charlie had something weird going on with his fur!) In case you are wondering, I have a crafty side to me – I made the “Charlie Bells
Some other helpful tips: Use surfaces to your advantage. A blind dog uses the pads of his paws to feel the surface to give him a clue as to his location.
Outside ivy is the ground cover in the woods with a pine straw path. There is a transitional area between the woods and the grass where there is a combination of pine straw and mulch. As you get closer to the house there is a brick path before the cement sidewalk that leads to the back door. The sidewalk is right next to the house. If we didn’t have these different surfaces Charlie might be running around in the backyard at full speed and hit the sidewalk and not be able to stop in time which would result in a hard whack into the house – OUCH! Actually this happened when he was a little puppy (sorry guy).
Changing surfaces provides information so Charlie knows where he is and when he needs to turn or slow down. This is very helpful information for a blind dog. The best part is that it helps Charlie be independent and gives Charlie confidence. These are good things.
This brick path runs straight for a bit and then makes a turn and runs parallel to the house. In this photo Charlie is training with Abby, our Portuguese Water Dog.
Inside the house we use surfaces too- rubber backed bath mats are really helpful. instead of putting them in front of a doorway I put them next to the wall beside the door so that Charlie doesn’t run into the wall.
Charlie has been blind since birth so teaching him to “go to mat” was a little more challenging than it has been for me to teach other dogs. Until recently Charlie had two favorite mats in his life. He had one mat until he was about 8 years old (he still has it). At 8 he got a memory foam mat. He loves the memory foam so much that refuses to go back to his old flat mat – silly boy! Charlie’s newest mat is microfiber and very fluffy. He in in mat heaven! If you haven’t used a microfiber mat you need to get one – they are great for dogs!
Charlie loves his mat and always goes to mat when he is uncertain about life. It is important to have a safety zone – a place where no one else is allowed to bother a blind dog
insert photo Charlie waiting for his dinner bowl
insert photo Yum – happy things happen on the mat!
When Charlie was a puppy his favorite safety zone was the laundry room when he but once he learned how to go up AND down the stairs it changed to the middle of the stairs. For the longest time I was at a loss for why he thought the middle of the stairs would be a safe place. Then I talked to a several blind friends who explained to me the importance of vertical surfaces. It just so happens that my staircase has the most vertical surfaces to his body mass in the entire house. When he is scared he doesn’t want to budge from the stairs instead I sit there and talk to him until he is ready to move on his own.
To help you understand why vertical surfaces are important to your blind dog try this exercise. Close your eyes. Imagine being in the middle of a very large room and there is nothing that you can touch – no chair, sofa, person. You have nothing to touch or help you navigate to find your way to the door. All around the walls of the room are people and they are talking – some rather loudly. They might even be giving you instructions about which way to turn and how far to move. But what is your point of reference? Things can come at you from all directions – go right, go left, turn around, and go back – it is a very vulnerable feeling when you get conflicting information and you can’t see. You know that if you can get to a wall – or a sofa – or a chair (big stuffed chair that is very stable) then you will be safe. Because you will have a point of reference and you can figure out which direction to go.
Here is video of Charlie doing one of his favorite activities
Did you notice I had on Charlie bells! Also, my treat pouch is up high (attached to my shirt instead of my waist) because if I had it on my waist he would steal the treats out of my pouch – he is a thief!
I would like to thank, on behalf of Charlie the three dogs that have had the biggest influence in his life.
Sophie, our Dalmatian, taught him everything he knows about body language and how to fit into the world.
Abby, a Portuguese Water Dog, came to live with us after Sophie passed away. Abby’s most import job was to be Charlie’s guide in the world.
Currently Charlie’s buddy is Jade who is also a Portuguese Water Dog. Jade joined our crew to be a therapy dog, but when Abby passed away about a year and a half ago she stepped up to the role of helping Charlie navigate the world.
If you would like to hear Chris Downey speak on his experience about sudden blindness I would recommend the TED Talk Design With The Blind In Mind. It will give you a whole new perspective about being blind.
According to Ambrose Bierce “the most affectionate creature in the world is a wet dog. ” Jade, my Portuguese Water dog, has such a deep seated love for water that it seems like she can’t imagine anyone not loving water as much as she does. What that means is when she is wet she thinks you want to be wet too!
Jade and I had an agreement that the next sunny weekend she would get to go to her favorite swimming hole. The pond belongs to a friend of ours and is well hidden. However, a hidden pond doesn’t slow down a determined water dog. The first time we visited my friend’s home I wasn’t sure if Jade would notice the pond because it is so well hidden from view. I knew better than to worry, but you know…
To put the picture in perspective, the grasses are about six feet tall. If you are thinking that this looks too messy for a dog to go swimming you haven’t met Portuguese Water Dogs. This breed lives for the water! They seek out puddles on walks. They create their own ponds in the backyard. The list goes on and on for ways they create water holes. To give you an idea Jade and Charlie can go out together Charlie – a low rider – can come home dry and clean, Jade comes home muddy, wet, and stinky. I don’t even want to know where she found the wet mess.
I’ve learned that it would take a whole lot more than tall grasses, tress and some mud to stop a determined Portie from getting to the water so she could have a daily swim! The first time we visited my friend Jade carried her dummy from the car into the water, swam out to the middle of the pond and back as if to say “Mom, this is what we are supposed to do – are YOU ready?” In other words Jade considers these obstacles part of the fun. Now when she knows that is where we are going she carries her dummy from the house to the car and doesn’t let go until her first swim is done!
As Jade comes out of this very tricky area I am pleased that she has a solid hold on her dummy. Otherwise we could be going through a lot of dummies! However, Jade LOVES her dummy and there is no way she is giving it up. If by chance she did drop it she would pick it right back up. If it went under water guess what? She would dive for it!
You can see just how challenging this area of the pond is for humans. Unless I am concerned for my dog’s safety there is no way I’m getting in that water! Yuck. I love to swim, but I like sand and beaches – yeah, I’m a bit of a sissy and like to be pampered at times. Jade, on the other hand, is not a sissy! She is in doggie heaven when she gets to go swimming in this pond!
Jade has been trained to come to a “front” when delivering the dummy to hand. In the above photo she knows she should be right in front of me but she isn’t ready to hand over the dummy. She also knows that we are just playing and not in training mode. Since she is in play mode she takes a sideways glance at me to see if she can get away with running off with her dummy or if she should hand it over. She decides to hand it over and moves to the front position. When Jade presents me with her dummy I take it and toss it into the pond. The game begins again!
I don’t consider the obstacles part of the fun! In fact I bring extra dummies in case I get one stuck in the tree! I am happy if I can clear the grasses and hit the deep waters when I throw Jade’s dummy. Jade doesn’t care where the dummy lands because she loves searching for it! If, by chance the dummy is in the tree Jade will bark at it to let me know where to find it. Mostly the process looks like this:
Handler tosses dummy
Dog swims out
Dog brings dummy back to shore
Dog presents dummy to the handler’s hand
Sometimes Jade is very creative in the way she comes to shore. In true PWD tradition she likes to find alternate routes. This particular path is an interesting one because there is no way I could fit through there! She loves find these paths though… see if you can find her in the tall grasses below!
Jade bursts out in a flash – watch for the yellow of her harness! Notice she doesn’t let go of her dummy!!
Living with dogs I’ve come to learn that it is all about “expecting the unexpected.” A lesson my father tried to teach me from the time I was a little girl. I remember always wondering how I could expect the unexpected. I still wonder at that. I think Jade (and other dogs I’ve had) have been trying to help me learn how to do that.
Jade loves to play and run and have fun!
She is great at making up her very own games and entertaining herself given the opportunity. At the end of our time at the pond Jade knows that she gets to have some extra time to just run. Of course running wouldn’t be as much fun without her dummy so I toss her dummy out a bunch for her which does two things. First it keeps Jade happy because she is still retrieving and second I can direct the direction of Jade’s path.
A few words of warning: the game of retrieve is a self-rewarding game. When you combine swimming and retrieving Jade is in a state of bliss! What this means for a handler is that you need to know when to end the game before she gets too tired. There are some breeds – like Portuguese Water Dogs – that will work until they drop – literally. If this is your dog you need to know how to tell your dog that the game is over. Back to Jade’s fun!
Jade is one very wet and happy dog when she comes out of the pond! You can tell, that is one happy face! That is what our time at the pond is all about – play, fun, and building a stronger relationship. While we are at it Jade is getting some great exercise and building her skills for water work too.
Jade running in the field with her dummy
You can see just how muddy Jade got in the pond! You can also see how Jade seems to be strutting around with her dummy. There is joy, bliss, and happiness exuded here.
Who could ask for more than this?
Jade says, maybe two dummies, but that might be a bit greedy!
I hope you enjoyed the swim through muddy waters and Jade’s run through the field. She says if you are ever in the area she will be happy to play a game of retrieve with you. And, if you are near a pond (or other body of water) she will happily get you all wet!