Guide Dog Awareness Month – September Part 3

I wanted to round out the month with a highlight of a recipient of a Leader Dog. Lisa graciously allowed me to meet her at her home and photograph her with her Leader Dog, Lucian. My time with Lisa was one of my most educational moments and made me take a step back and respect those with disabilities and their ability to adapt. Lisa was a very humble teacher. I had so many questions and she was willing to answer all my questions.

LD Lucian with his human, Lisa.

When I am taking photographs of people, I normally ask people to mirror me and “stand like this” and sometimes “cross your arms like this”. While I wasn’t trying to create posed images with her, it was still so very important to give her direction and make sure she knew what I was asking of her and where I was. Through my communication, she was able to “see” what I was doing. I explained to her as I was taking pictures so she knew what I was photographing. “Lisa, I am now taking close up photos of Lucian laying on the ground in his harness next to you.”

Lucian relaxing in his backyard.

Before Lucian put his harness on, we were able to go out in his yard and play fetch. Lucian has a lot of down time when he is home. He isn’t working all the time and mostly only when he and Lisa are out in unknow spaces. When home, he has a large backyard where he is able to run and play and chase after toys. Lisa knows her home space from memory and is able to navigate pretty well…. during this time, Lucian is able to relax.

Lucian with all four paws off the ground and running to fetch his rope toy!

Once the harness goes on though, Lucian knows he is responsible for his human. From here, he knows to watch her and take caution where she goes. Lisa is able to grab his harness and put it on through touch and memory of where everything is.

Lisa is also able to do most of the work herself when headed out of the home. It’s Lucian that watches for traffic and obstacles and helps her navigate around them when she doesn’t know where things are.

Lucian looking up to Lisa waiting for instruction on where they are going.

In observing Lisa and Lucian, I realized they mostly communicate through touch, grip and movement. Lisa will occasionally talk to Lucian, but it is in little movements that he stops her or directs her around a parked car and keeps her from walking into the street when traffic is coming. These little discrete movements are the balance between the Leader Dog and the human. This non-verbal communication is how they work together to help Lisa to move around.

Lucian guiding Lisa down their front walkway.

When I was out with Lisa and Lucian, it was amazing to see the two of them work together. Maybe it was my imagination, maybe not, but it seemed as though Lucian stood a little taller. It was as if he looks forward to “working” and doing his job. Don’t get me wrong, we had a lot of fun running in the back yard, but the harness and protecting Lisa gives him purpose.

Photo courtesy of Leader Dogs for the Blind – Lucian as a puppy.

I want to share photos of Lucian from Leader Dogs for the Blind. Between puppy raisers and trainers and all the lovely people at Leader Dog, you are able to see how invested all the volunteers and employees are in the success of these dogs and the work they do. Leader Dog representatives often keep in touch with all the clients and check in on them often to make sure they are doing well and working well with their Leader Dog.

Photo courtesy of Leader Dogs for the Blind- Puppy Raiser Cheryl Sacretes with Lucian when he was a puppy.

September – Puppy Mill Awareness Month

I’m sad that we have to talk about this as it is still a problem. I wish people would understand the problems of puppy mills and backyard breeders and the huge trauma they cause for these animals. When you “purchase” a puppy or kitten from a pet store (and it is not from a rescue)…. it is likely a puppy mill or backyard breeder where these animals are coming from.

Ralphie- formerly sold as a Jack Russell Terrier to a family out of state, was relinquished to a kill-shelter and was saved by rescue. He is not a JRT. He was from a puppy mill.

I want to clarify, I am not against breeders that are responsible about breeding and do their research. I do believe there are so many responsible people that breed dogs for agility, showing and for working dogs, and it is not fair to lump them into this group. I have photographed so many pure bred animals and the owners and handlers of these dogs do their research and make sure these pets are healthy and well and have the right temperament to carry on through generations. This is so very different from puppy mill breeding.

Puppy Mills are usually on large properties in secluded areas where not many people are able to view the operations. With that said, it is also possible they are right in the middle of a city as well, in the basements of homes. It is scary to think about the kind of life these animals endure in their first few months and the trauma they go through before being sold off.

Here are some stats to think about……. (estimations from Puppy Mill Project)

There are an estimated 10K puppy mills in operation throughout the United States

Over 2 Millions puppies are bred in puppy mills every year

Every year 1.2 Million dogs are euthanized in shelters.

Approximately 500+ pet stores are selling dogs from puppy mills.

PLEASE PLEASE! Do NOT buy a puppy from a pet store. Rescue a dog from a non-profit instead! If you want a pure bred dog, please do your research and ask for references! Make sure you’ve found a dog that was cared for and is happy & healthy!

There is a group called Bailing out Benji that is working to expose known puppy mills. They have a wealth of information on their website and have done the research. They have a map listing states and the number of puppy mills per state. If you click on your home state, you can see per county how many puppy mills are active as well. They also have a database of known puppy mills and list yearly the largest in operation. Before getting a dog/puppy, I urge you to check out their work and understand the information they are presenting. It could save so many lives.

A huge shout out to our friend Ralphie and his Human, Erica. They are both doing their part to educate on puppy mills and the importance of not purchasing a dog from a pet store. Ralphie has his own FB and Instagram…. Ralphie on Facebook Ralphie on Instagram Follow him to learn about puppy mills and also see his very cute photos!

September – Guide Dog Awareness Month (Part 2)

Continuing on from our last post about guide dog awareness….. I wanted to showcase one particular group – Leader Dogs for the Blind out of Rochester, MI. They graciously allowed me to observe a puppy raiser meeting as well as their more formal training of their dogs. Once the dogs have been with a puppy raiser for a year or so, they move back to Leader Dog HQ for more serious training with the staff at Leader Dog and when they graduate training, they are placed with someone needing a guide dog.

Golden Retriever puppy from a puppy raiser meeting in Chesterfield, MI.

If you didn’t catch part 1, you can get caught up here. I dove into the basics of working dogs and what a guide dog is. It is important to understand these differences especially when you see a working dog out in public. Please read their harness signs/patches carefully to know what is appropriate handling of their dogs. If you see a therapy dog, there is a good chance the handler will not mind you petting the dogs, but if the dog is a guide dog from Leader Dogs for the Blind or a search and rescue dog, it is very likely petting or interacting with the dog is prohibited.

Labrador Retriever puppy at a puppy raiser meeting looking to handler for guidance.

My first question was where do they get their dogs? Their group does their own breeding and their dogs range from Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers to German Shepherd Dogs and sometimes a mix of those breeds depending on the temperament they want to cultivate in their guide dogs. The breed isn’t as important as much as the health and personality of the dog. Leader Dog needs their guide dogs to be trainable and non-reactive. From the whelping process to puppy raisers, most of the people raising these dogs are all volunteer. After puppies are born, approximately 10% of these puppies are unable to proceed as a Leader Dog due to health concerns. This is called a “career change”. Any dogs that do not move forward as a Leader Dog are adopted out and career changed. If you have any interest in adopting a Leader Dog, get in touch with them ASAP! They have a long waiting list.

After the puppies go through training and living with a puppy raiser, they are then turned back over to Leader Dogs for the Blind in Rochester for more extensive and formal training. As a puppy they wear bandanas or a fabric vest, but once they are in formal training, they are upgraded to a leather harness. When the LD is wearing the leather harness they are officially “working”.

Leader Dogs for the Blind has a very rigorous training regimen for their dogs. It is of the utmost importance to go through this training and to make sure the dogs pass. If at any time a Leader Dog does protect their training handler it could mean danger for a blind handler once they receive the dog. The clients receiving these dogs are at varying levels of blindness and it is the dogs job to keep them safe and out of danger. They are essentially the eyes for these handlers.

LDB instructor practicing a stop with a van in Rochester, MI. The dogs are trained to keep the clients from stepping out into traffic if it is present.

I have witnessed first hand the training they receive and the dogs love the job and like “working”. Leader Dog uses positive reinforcement to train and it is an excellent way to make the training enjoyable for the dog and instructor. The dogs in harness know they are working. Once the harness comes off, they are on break and are either “parking” (going potty) or able to relax or play. I think there is a common misconception that these dogs are always working, and never get to have a break, but that is not the case. There is plenty of down time for these dogs to relax and enjoy life.

Lucian chillin’ in his yard waiting for a ball toss. Lucian is a German Shepherd that lives with a client and is trained to go with her in a car or on a bus whenever she needs assistance.

Once a Leader Dog gradates and is handed off to a client, Leader Dogs for the Blind remains in touch with them and continues to make sure they are doing well with the dog and that dog is a good fit for the home. I was happy to see that once a dog goes to placement with a home, there are so many people within the Leader Dog community who follow-up and remain friends with all the clients. Between the volunteers that whelp, puppy raisers and the employees that are involved in the training, all of these dogs are a big part of their lives and remain in their hearts. It is always nice to get updates from the handlers on how the dogs are doing.

Leader Dogs for the Blind is a 501 (C) (3) non-profit. They are funded through donations made directly to their organization as well as the Lions Clubs. The Lions Club are a major part of the organization and are very invested not just financially but emotionally to the work Leader Dogs for the Blind does. They are proud of the organization they started and how it has grown over the years.

They could not do the work they do without donations from the public. If you want to assist them in helping the blind community, you are able to make donations on their website at This group of humans are incredible and I admire the work they do. The volunteers and staff put in so much time and energy to make sure every Leader Dog is successful.

Lucian out of harness and having fun playing fetch in his yard.

September – Guide Dog Awareness Month (PART 1) The Basics

September is National Guide Dog Awareness Month and is an opportunity for you to show your appreciation for all the working dogs helping those that have disabilities. This is a time to celebrate all the hard working trainers and volunteers that are putting dogs through training and schooling to be ready to keep people safe. They put so much time into working with guide dogs just to have them leave to help those that are blind.

Lucian and his Handler, Lisa. (Flint, MI) Lucian is a Leader Dog/Guide Dog.

Before we dig into the guide dog bit (and more specifically we will be talking about Leader Dogs for the Blind out of Rochester, MI in a three part series), there are some clarifications we feel we need to make. There is so much misinformation on what a guide dog is, or even sometimes called service dog, but there are also other types of service dogs and also therapy dogs. These are not necessarily all the same thing. It would be easy to be confused…. but it is so very important to understand the difference especially if you see them out in public.

Caius and his Puppy Raiser, Cheryl, with Leader Dogs for the Blind. (Chesterfield, MI)

For this first part, I want to give you some background on the different types of working dogs.

Guide Dogs- These dogs are specially trained to assist those that are blind. They are trained to be with their human/handler and assist them in there everyday activities while out in the world. They are trained to keep the human from walking out into traffic and also navigate around obstacles.

Service Dogs- help those in wheelchairs or who are otherwise physically limited. They may open doors or cabinets, fetch things their handler can’t reach, and carry items for their handler. There are service dogs that are trained to recognize seizures and will stand guard over their handler during a seizure or go for help.

Search and Rescue Dogs – From missing persons cases to natural disasters, dogs have been an integral part in finding people in extreme and dangerous situations.  Search and rescue (SAR) dogs can either use a scent in the air or the scent of a specific object to find who/what they are looking for.  They can be used in many different situations, including disasters, cadaver searches, drowning situations, and avalanches. Typical SAR dogs will be scent hounds like Bloodhounds and Beagles.

George, Belgian Malinois with American Belgian Malinois Rescue. (Grand Ledge, MI)

Explosive Detection Dogs – These canine HEROES work with the police, Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and military to locate dangerous materials.  The dogs go through an intense training (sometimes years) to learn how to locate and identify a wide variety of explosives and to alert their handlers of its presence. Breeds that excel in this kind of work include German Shepard Dogs (GSD) and Belgian Malinois Dogs.

Kitt & Pearl and their Human – OFc Knight (Rochester, MI)

Therapy Dogs – These are are dogs who go with their owners to volunteer in settings such as schools, hospitals, and nursing homes. They provide comfort and relaxation. There is extensive training for certification for these types of dogs to make sure they are well behaved and non-reactive. Their goal is to assist in calming and relaxing people.

Lance & Alicia – Certified Therapy Dogs (Greyhounds) in Grand Blanc, MI
Gus – Certified Therapy Dog with Go Team Therapy Dogs. (Troy, MI)

Cancer/Disease Detection Dogs – Just like explosive sniffing dogs, there are some that assist in sniffing out disease to help detect it early or even detect when someone may be going into a diabetic situation. Cancer cells and other diseases within the human body give off different odors than regular cells and they change the way a person’s breath or body smells– a dog’s keen nose can tell the difference.

Wow, yeah….. that’s a lot of information I know. There are so many working dogs out there that I didn’t even list here. Some that detect allergens in schools as well as dogs that herd livestock and animals. It is important to be clear though, not all working dogs are guide dogs. A Leader Dog or guide dog which we will be elaborating on this month are specifically for those that are blind and to assist them in the world and help navigate obstacles.

Stay tuned for Part 2! We will be discussing the phases of training as well as the time that goes into making GUIDE DOGS available to people that need them.

September – Responsible Dog Ownership Month

Ahhh, another reason do celebrate our dogs! September is Responsible Dog Ownership Month…. and this is a great time (with more time at home) to look into ways to be better and more responsible dog owners.

First, let’s talk about what being a responsible dog owner is about. This means keeping your dog healthy and happy as well as properly groomed and in a safe place. Here are ways you can do that-

EXERCISE! One huge thing you can do for your pooches is get them enough exercise! Depending on the size of your dog will determine how much walking and outdoor play they may need. If you have a Siberian Husky for instance, it is so important to walk your dogs several miles per day to keep them happy and calm. They need the exercise and opportunity to expend their energy. If you have a small terrier or a small companion dog, it’s more likely they only need short walks and less time for exercise. Knowing what your dog needs is so important and getting the appropriate exercise is vital in their longevity.

HEALTH & WELLNESS! It is so important to get your dog into your veterinary office regularly. Keeping up with vaccinations is so important too. Helping them prevent disease and disease spread keeps them living a healthier and potentially longer life. Keeping your dog on the proper dose of heart worm preventative not only helps your dog, but helps other neighboring dogs as well by keeping the spread down. While we know our dogs pretty well, it is important to get them a regular veterinary exam so they are able to get their weight checked and be looked over for any anomaly’s.

SOCIALIZATION! With the increase of dog parks and pet groups that do pet outings, there is no reason to not get your dog out there and socialized with other doggos. There are so many parks in Michigan, while some do charge a fee, there are some with no fee whatsoever. There are several websites you are able to search for dog parks near you. LINK You must have your dog up-to-date on their vaccinations to be able to enter most dog parks.

TRAINING! While most of us are working from home or spending more time at home due to Covid-19, there are many more opportunities to take a little time everyday to train our dogs. There are also so many businesses that you can drop your dog off too that will do the training for you! Honestly though, training could be as little or a lot of time as you’d like it to be, but any efforts in working with your dog will benefit them.

TRAVEL! Yes! I said it! I know….. most of us are not travelling right now… but if you are, there are places you can take your dogs! There are so many dog friendly cities in the United States alone that have dog bowls outside their establishments as well as treat buckets to snag a bone from for your fido. There is an app and associated website call Bring Fido where you can find all sorts of places that are pet friendly… whether it is a day trip or week long vacation, find dog friendly establishments here!

Happy National Wildlife Day (September 4)

National Wildlife Day is an opportunity to step outside…… take a deep breathe and appreciate what surrounds us in the nature. Not just animals, but insects and plants as well.

I know I’m a pet photographer and love animals as our loving companions, but I think it is important to highlight National Wildlife Day for so many reasons. Animals, and not just as our pets, serve so many purposes for the earth. It is important to recognize and respect their existence.

It is increasingly common for species to become stressed and endangered or even extinct more quickly now than ever before. The Center for Biological Diversity wrote an article on human population growth and its correlation to the increase in extinction. LINK

When I ponder the human impact on wildlife and also what we call the “circle of life”, I’m concerned over the possibility of the harm we as humans have caused. Because of our increase in urban sprawl and decimating crop land and forests to do so, we deplete the habitat for which our wildlife can thrive. It is important to preserve land for wildlife to be able to continue to exist. Their existence continues to benefit us even when we don’t know it.

Consider this…… I’m sure you’ve read or saw on social media that opossums are incredible with eating and consuming lots of ticks… well, it’s true! The National Wildlife Federation wrote about their ability to groom themselves and consume 95% of the ticks on their bodies as well as on the ground. LINK By having the wonderful opossum consume these disease carrying insects, it helps reduce the population of ticks and and by default helping to curb the spread of diseases like Lyme Disease. So, please be careful with our wonderful wildlife and our earth. It is a delicate balance.