In honor of Valentine’s Day, a day dedicated to those we love, I would like to share an illustration about Human Animal Interactions. Every day I am in awe of the way dogs inspire us to be better humans. I have no words to fully express all the feelings that dogs inspire, but am fortunate to have created an illustration (with a lot of help) that captures how much we love our dogs – even dogs we may have just met. My hope is that some day we will be able to love as freely and show joy with the same abandon as our dogs do. Until then, I will continue to try and follow my dog’s model of love and friendship. The illustration below is a summary of the my research. The illustrations come from a variety of photographs and is a reminder of all the wonderful ways that dogs enhance our lives.
Thank you to Lili Chin for all the fabulous work she does!
Funding for this illustration was made possible by the Josiah Charles Memorial Foundation Endowment Fund
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live with a blind dog? Charlie was only a puppy when I was told that he needed both of his eyes removed. I worried that I wouldn’t know how to read his facial expressions. Trust me, I was worried for no reason! Charlie is one of the most expressive dogs I’ve ever met.
Charlie was at the North Carolina State University in this photo. He was a participant in a research study. After he completed the study I met some of the research team that reviewed the photos from the project. These members of the team were not present during the testing. They told me that he was so happy which made his smile so big that his eyes were shut! I laughed and said “Yup, that’s my Charlie! He shares unimaginable joy everywhere he goes. But, his smile didn’t shut his eyes. His eyes are sewn shut because he eyes were removed due to complications from blindness…” The professor said he learned that after he reviewed the photos of Charlie, but it wasn’t the his first impression of the dog. I find this interesting because it often happens when Charlie meets new people.
Let me introduce you to puppy Charlie. When I learned he was losing his eyes I thought of the Velveteen Rabbit. In case you don’t the story there is a quote that reminds me of Charlie.
Charlie is very Real and incredibly beautiful. He is resilient and doesn’t easily break. He has taught me much over the years. He sees with his heart and soul. When people meet him they know that he sees them even though he has no eyes. It is a wonderful thing.
It took two different procedures to remove both eyes because there were complications after the first procedure. Charlie was a trooper and in this photo he is on the road to recovery after the surgery. You can tell he was a little wary here as the photo portrays one of Charlie’s more serious moments. This serious pup grew up to be very joyful.
Look at his face – my goodness! He is one of the most expressive dogs I know. Well, he is a beagle and isn’t shy about letting you know what he is feeling! In the photo Charlie is about 10 years old and is sharing his unimaginable joy. I am so thankful for his joy.
One of Charlie’s favorite things to do is the “Snoopy Dance!” Yup – up on his back legs … he stands to dance and he smiles a big goofy smile the entire time … it is a sight to behold when a dog with no eyes is dancing on two feet and laughing at the same time. He knows he will earn some sort of fabulous reward for this trick.
Charlie’s head tilt … everyone adores the head tilt. This is Charlie’s camera pose. If you say “Charlie, 1-2-3” he will stop, sit (or lay down) and tilt his head. You need to take the photo on 2, but keep counting to 3. Thank you Kristy for teaching Charlie this trick! Charlie was my active Pet Partner for 8 years and had a lot of photos taken during that time. The camera pose trick served us well. This is Charlie’s official Pets At Duke photo – thank you Diane Lewis Photography for this and many other amazing photos!
Don’t be fooled – the boy can get down and dirty. Somehow I think he is part duck because he almost never is muddy. However, one day he came inside so full of mud. He seemed so proud of himself for being so muddy, that I had to document his muddiness! Notice the ears – they are flipped back. I think the flipped back ears help him cool off, but they can also be a sign of arousal…
How did I ever think that a dog with no eyes would have a face that didn’t have expressions? Between his eyebrows, mouth, and ears there is a ton of information! (the flipped back ear in this case is arousal)
After a hard day’s work even Charlie gets tired and needs to go to bed! This photo is from his early years. You can tell he is younger because his face has ticking showing so he was between 1 and 2 years old.
One of Charlie’s favorite things – to sit on my lap and help me work. I find this photo fascinating because it is like Charlie is watching himself on the computer… only how can he? The photo demonstrates why people ask me “are you sure he isn’t faking being blind?” I know, the dog has no eyes, nothing connected to his optic nerve and yet people want to know if he is faking it… I’m tempted to ask them “what color is George Washington’s white horse?” Yes, he is blind … he just doesn’t need his eyes to see.
Charlie may be getting older but he doesn’t let that slow him down. He doesn’t let a little thing like the weather slow him down. If there was a thought bubble over his head it might be something like “what, you think a little snow is going to stop me? I’m blind. I might older, but I can still get around… I like snow. Let me play. Stop taking my picture already!” You need a Jersey or maybe Brooklyn accent in there too. And did you notice… head tilt…. what do you think – does he always tilt his head the same direction?
Happiness!! More of Charlie’s unimaginable joy.
We all need unimaginable joy in our lives.
Charlie is on the beach. His head is lifted into the wind, feeling the breeze and smelling all the things that a beagle can smell. Sheer bliss… He might not be showing unimaginable joy in the form of the Snoopy Dance or giving you a goofy grin… but this face, this is his bliss face. He loves the beach. I’m not sure if it is because he likes the water (he does) or if it is because he likes the variety of stinky smells! He loves smelling dead fish, all things about birds, people cooking out. You name it he can identify the smells. He can tell you exactly where it is coming from and more importantly where he might snag a tasty treat! If you happen to go to the beach with Charlie – you had better safeguard your burgers!
Charlie with a chin over Ella … Charlie and Ella are best buds and snuggle together all the time. The fact that they are looking in different directions could be that each dog finds different things distracting. This photo was taken on the main traffic circle at Duke on a Sunday morning. There were several cars that kept driving around the traffic circle watching as I took a series of photos which I found distracting. I can only imagine what the dogs thought! Charlie “watched” the cars go round and round!
Charlie still has the smile… and unimaginable joy… and can make you feel special just by being near you. I still get requests for visits with him, but he is retired and has earned the right to be a couch potato, prowl for critters in the back yard, open all the kitchen cabinet doors (and climb inside) and howl at strange sounds.
Charlie’s parting thoughts are for you to find your own unimaginable joy. The list below are some of things that are Charlie’s happiness which is why he wants you to know that you should feel free to add whatever it is that makes you feel unimaginable joy.
It was an honor to give a TEDx Talk in Lizard Creek North Carolina. I was thrilled to be part of the day because the theme was “Shaping the Unseen.” If you aren’t familiar with my dog Charlie, let me introduce you – Charlie is my blind beagle and was my Pet Partner for over 8 years. Much of the work I do with animals is about shaping and since Charlie is blind all the work we do is “unseen.” I hope you take a few minutes and enjoy the TEDx talk – the video is embedded below.
Learning to See With The Heart: Brian Tarallo of Lizard Brain Solutions created illustrations for each talk. It was inspiring to watch Brian work as he captured the essence of each talk. I was happy that Brain was able to capture the heart of my talk in such a beautiful and wonderful way. Plus, I think Charlie would love knowing that he is illustrated as a super-cool hero dog that wears ray-bans!
It was a great honor to be one of the speakers at the Lizard Creek TEDx event. A special thanks goes to Randi and Kathy Dikeman who coordinated the event! There are some great pictures and all the bios of the speakers are listed on the Facebook page for the event.
Celebrate who you are
Trust and believe in yourself
Leave doubt behind
Engage others in your dreams
When you do these things, you will discover anything is possible.
Again, thank you to all who made the TEDx Lizard Creek event possible!
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.
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.