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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 FacebookRalphie on Instagram Follow him to learn about puppy mills and also see his very cute photos!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 https://www.leaderdog.org/donate/. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sherman is the sweetest Belgian Malinois I have ever met. He is currently in the care of American Belgian Malinois Rescue (ABMR) and will likely spend his remaining years in their care as well. The rescue found him in a shelter in Florida where he was likely found as a stray before he made his way to the pound.
Before they could pull him from the shelter, they needed to secure a foster to take him in. Little did Sherman know, that would send him on a trip across several states and into a completely different climate. The foster available to take him was in Grand Ledge, MI….. but before he could make the trip, he needed to get well enough to travel. You see, Sherman is heartworm positive, he has a grade 4 heart murmur, an enlarged spleen and when he was pulled from the shelter he was ~20 pounds underweight. His initial Florida foster was able to put some weight on him and get him well enough to travel to his permanent foster in Michigan, but unfortunately they were unable to do any treatment for the heartworm. Sherman’s compounded health issues make him ineligible for heartworm treatment which also lowers his life expectancy.
Let’s talk about
that for a minute…..There’s heartworm PREVENTATIVE and heartworm TREATMENT for
those who don’t know. The heartworm preventative is something you give your dog
monthly to prevent them from contracting heartworm. The actual treatment once
they have heartworm is a different medicine and much more complicated.
The heartworm, once contracted,
live primarily in the right side of the heart, and in the nearby large blood
vessels. The female worms produce large numbers of immature heartworms which
circulate in the blood.
The microfilaria (baby heartworms) are ingested by a mosquito biting an infected dog. After living in the mosquito, the microfilaria is injected into another dog when the mosquito feeds. It takes about six months for the heartworm to reach adulthood after infecting the dog. If you have your dog on heartworm preventative, it is very unlikely the microfilaria will survive and therefore preventing the disease.
If heartworm is not prevented, a great deal of damage can occur before any obvious signs of heartworm are even noticed. Delayed treatment may result in heart failure and/or permanent damage to the liver, lungs, and kidneys with eventual death.
Treatment for heartworm disease consists of a series of injections, based on the dogs weight, that will kill off the adult worms. The dog may be required to stay in a hospital for several days after the injections as reactions to the medication are extremely common and range in severity. Dogs receiving treatment also need to be kept on crate rest to prevent the dead worms from breaking off and causing heart attacks, strokes and could also float to the lungs and cause damage.
Back to Sherman, he is not able to receive the treatment for heartworm because he is already in bad shape and the actual treatment may be too much for him where he may not survive the injection. ABMR is taking the approach to “prevent” new microfilaria by giving him monthly heartworm preventative in hopes it will prolong his life and stop the progression of heartworm disease.
Because of his severe health issues, Sherman will not be able to be adopted out and is considered a hospice foster dog in the care of the rescue. He will live out his senior life in the care of ABMR and his foster mom, Robin.
Since arriving in Michigan, Sherman’s foster noticed his fur was thin and equipped him with a couple of jackets and boots to keep him warm in the harsh Michigan winter climate. He’s gained another 10 pounds in Robin’s care and has gained considerable energy. She says he is sweet as sugar and perfectly content to just sleep most of the time on one of the five big dog beds that litter her floor. He is totally unassuming and doesn’t ask for much.
Along with his laundry list of ailments, his ears have a bunch of little hematomas in them and don’t stand up anymore so he doesn’t always look like a normal Malinois, but he doesn’t seem to care. Sherman also has arthritis.
Now that he is also on medications for arthritis, he is feeling so much better and is reported to even “trot” around the yard. The medications and a happy home have absolutely improved his quality of life.
This leads me to another side commentary…. Senior dogs. Whether they are dropped off at the shelter, left with rescues or just released into the world, there are some individuals, that instead of seeking better care for their senior dogs, they let them go- into the responsibilities of others. These dogs are most of the time perfectly wonderful dogs with nothing wrong other than their joints hurting them a little and their bodies moving a little slower. While these senior dogs could have more health issues than this, regardless of their health status, these animals need to find care within rescues and for these rescues it is usually allowing them to live out their lives in foster care.
For these rescues, this means sometimes extensive medical treatment and costs that they will not recoup without donations. These senior dogs are able to live their golden years in amazing care and the rescues foot the entire bill.
For those in Michigan, I want to highlight a couple rescues I know of that take in senior dogs with the anticipation they will not leave their care….
Silver Muzzle Cottage – rescue and hospice for homeless senior dogs.
3785 Rice Rd NW, Rapid City, MI 49676 (231) 264-8408
I’m always asked about how much I love my job and I won’t disagree, it’s a great job to have. If you love animals, it’s an amazing job. While spending my days with people’s pets is amazing, there are other aspects to this work that make it even more phenomenal.
I volunteer. A lot. AND I LOVE IT.
Through this volunteer work, I’m able to meet so many amazing people that work for little to no pay and they do it either to help animals or help people through animals and pets. I spent a little bit of time with one of these groups and I can’t get them out of my mind.
Dan with the Canine Advocacy Program (CAP) met me at the Oakland County District Court Building in Troy, MI to introduce me to two working dogs that he has helped to train. These dogs, through the program he helped to create, are trained to assist child victims who are being called as witnesses to testify. Are you crying yet? I’ll mail you some tissue. After meeting this bunch, I had to stop at Costco and stock up on my lifetime supply of Kleenex just to get me through the photo edits.
While CAP has dogs in Metro-Detroit, Dan explained to me he has 30 dogs working all over the state of Michigan including two in the Upper Peninsula. He has trained 35 dogs and would love to expand the program and send more pups out to courtrooms that allow dog advocates.
We were able to meet in Troy, MI at the Oakland County 52-4 District Court in the courtroom of the Honorable Kirsten Nielsen Hartig. Judge Hartig allows these type of canine programs in her court and is an incredibly enthusiastic dog lover.
While these children are prepping for their testimony, someone from CAP introduces them to “their” dog for the day and gives them instructions on how this pup will assist them through the process. They are given some time to get to know the dog and instantaneously a bond is formed. The canine advocate then accompanies the youth to the witness stand and sits with them to ease their anxiety and any tension they may have. This is especially important for those kids that are confronting abusers and perpetrators that have in some way hurt them.
All of the dogs entering into this program are from Leader Dogs for the Blind in Rochester Hills. The dogs that were not selected for assisting blind humans at Leader Dogs are typically found other homes and potentially positions that would still have them “working” like they are with CAP.
I wanted to share with you the amazing things humans are doing with the assistance of our pet friends to not only help others, but especially to help those that are the most vulnerable…. children.
If you would like to learn more about this Non-Profit, please visit their website at https://www.capmich.org. They are accepting donations to further assist in expanding and training new dogs.