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Life Through A Dog’s Eyes

Photos by Lions Foundation of Canada Guide Dogs
Most people wouldn’t think of a dog as being capable of holding down a full time job, but that is the life of a dog guide. Guide dogs provide vital services to those that need their help, and like many other jobs, there is a lot of training required. This is where training schools, like the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides (LFCDG) come in.

Melissa Eckersley, manager of communications for LFCDG, says that certain breeds of dog are chosen to be guides because of their temperament, eagerness to work and adaptability. “They can go from the foster families …to a trainer …to somebody who might need them one day, so…you want a dog that’s going to be able to go through all of those transitions,” she says. The most common breeds used for dog guides are Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers, though some standard and miniature poodles are trained as well.
When the selected dogs are eight-weeks-old, they are placed with foster families that care for them until their first birthdays. All the food and veterinary costs are covered by the training school, so the biggest challenge in being a foster family is the time commitment.
“The purpose of the foster family is [to help] the puppy to experience as many things as possible, so that once [the dog is] out in the working life, it’s seen it all, it’s done it all, and nothing really surprises them,” Eckersley explains. Though it can take a lot of time to properly socialize these puppies to many different environments, the hardest part can come when the puppy has to be returned to the school for training. “There are some tears when they have to come back, but [the foster families] are able to meet the client that this dog is going to help.” Once they have seen that their beloved pet will go on to help someone in need, Eckersley says that most families find it easier to give the dogs up.
After foster care comes the formalized training at schools. Here the dogs receive one-on-one training and are taught the specific skills they will need in order to help their future handler. Eckersley elaborates on the dogs’ rigorous training routine: “A trainer could have up to six dogs in their string and throughout the day they would rotate through those dogs, practicing exercises for about 15 minutes and then going back to the kennel and getting another dog. It’s the best way for the dog to learn the skills [without getting] bored or overtired too quickly.”
Training like this usually lasts for six to eight months, and for the last month the client is brought to live at the centre to complete the dog’s specific training and bond with their future guide.The LFCDG is not only the largest school in Canada, it is also the only one to train five different kinds of dog guides, including:
1) Canine Vision
These dogs assist the blind or visually impaired, helping the handler navigate the obstacles of daily life, like busy streets and stairs.
2) Hearing Ear
These guides lead their deaf or hard of hearing handlers to sounds around the house, like a ringing telephone or a crying baby.
3) Special Skills
These dogs are able to operate lights switches and open and close doors for their handlers who are medically or physically disabled.
4) Seizure Response
These pups assist those who have epilepsy, and will bark for help or activate an alert system when their handler has a seizure.
5) Autism Assistance
These dogs help Autistic children by providing companionship in high anxiety situations.
It’s easy to spot a guide dog by the special harness that they wear and it’s important to know that while they are wearing the harness, they are on duty. Despite your natural urges to run over and start petting, remember that the dog is working to ensure the safety of its handler. “Often the dog steals everyone’s attention. That’s wonderful, but the ones that are actually working do have a job to do and any kind of interaction with the public is distracting for dog and could be potentially putting the person in harm’s way,” Eckersley says.
If your need to pet the dog is just too strong, Eckersley says that you must ask the dog guide handler’s permission to touch the dog. “What the client’s going to do is remove the harness so the dog is no longer working,” she explains. With the harness removed, the dog is off duty, and knows he is allowed to interact with other people. At that point, you are free to pet the dog to your heart’s content.
Though many of us have seen dog guides at school or in the workplace, on the streets and even on public transportation, dog guides are allowed in many public places that people may not be aware of. This is especially true for those whose work takes place mainly outside of the home, like canine vision dog guides. According to Eckersley, these guides are even allowed on airplanes and in taxis, so don’t be surprised if you see dog guide in what seems like an unlikely place.
But it’s not just all work for a dog guide. Just like you, they can go home and relax after a long day. When they aren’t on duty, they are just like any other house pet. “There’s definitely opportunity for the dog to relax and be a dog, you know, play fetch in the backyard or whatever it may be,” Eckersley confirms. Even with a large amount of play time available to them, work doesn’t necessarily feel like work to these dogs. Because of the breeds chosen, according to Eckersley, “they’re more than eager to do what you are asking them to do because it’s fun, it’s a game.”
As time passes though, dog guides grow older and deserve their own retirement. “For the most part, a client will notice when the dog is slowing down,” Eckersley says. This generally happens when the dog is eight to ten years old, and at this point the dog is usually taken off duty. Often a family member or friend of the handler will adopt the dog so that it can continue to be a part of that person’s life. Though the general public can adopt retired dog guides, the waiting list can be quite long.
Like most charities, the economic recession has affected guide dog training schools, but thankfully, not enough to significantly disrupt the LFDGC’s efforts. The organization continues to put together 110 dog guide teams a year, a number which is growing. “We still see a great support for people with disabilities and dog guides,” Eckersley says.
But as always, these training schools can use your help. Being a foster family is a great way to help out if you live close enough to one of the training schools. You can also sponsor a team, which helps cover the costs of raising and training dog guides, since the clients receive the dogs at no cost.
There is also the annual Purina Walk for Dog Guides, which happens in as many as 200 communities across the country each year. “One hundred per cent of the proceeds from the walk go directly towards raising and training dog guides for people with disabilities,” Eckersley says. Mark your calendars for 2011; the walks usually take place in May. More information can be found at http://www.purinawalkfordogguides.com.
Dog guides help improve the lives of those with disabilities and should be celebrated for the service they provide in the community. Just make sure that they are off duty before you show them the appreciation they deserve!
By Allison Vorstenbosch


Ahead of the Pack: Interview with Sue Bird

By Sue Bird
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but even that substantial literary quota seems inadequate to describe the beauty that lies in Sue Bird’s photography, because she brings something entirely new to the realm of pet portraiture.

Based in Stittsville, Ontario, Sue puts 10 years of photojournalism experience to work for her furry photo subjects. The result? Spectacular editorialized pet portraiture that is moving, artistic and above all, real. Sue’s exquisite animal lifestyle photography has frequented the cover of Dogs in Canada Annual on several occasions and earned her many awards, as well as the adoration of the local pet community. And it’s easy to see why.
When asked how she arrived at this unorthodox career path, Sue simply replies, “It was Lucky.” Lucky the collie cross that is; a loyal companion who accompanied Sue to college and watched over the early years of her budding photojournalism career. “She was the best travel buddy. We would drive the 401 together,” reminisces Sue fondly. “She was a really great dog and made me laugh a lot. We became great friends and when she passed on I was devastated.”
By Sue Bird
That’s when Sue became inspired to turn her passion and aptitude for photography towards a new niche market – dogs and their people. Then in 2006, tired of grueling newspaper shift work and wishing to spend more time with her daughters, Sue started her own business, determined to capture the magical bond that exists between animal and owner in ways that had never been seen before.
Subtle symmetry, strong lines and captivating textures occupy Sue’s photographic style, bringing forth an organic image that embodies a story and plunges beneath the aesthetic of outer appearances. “There are sections of your life that you think back to and remember by an animal, because they are a big part of us,” says Sue. “So to document your dog’s life is really to document your own. It is important to me that I tell the story of a family and that particular dog in every shoot.” Whether its frolicking in a field, playing at the beach, walking with a Mountie in the snow or lounging around in their favourite chair, Sue never fails to deliver striking images of canines, felines and equines alike that warm the heart and wag the tail.
The fact that her photo subjects now run around energetically on four legs and rarely sit still does not bother Sue in the least. In fact, she seems to thrive on the unpredictability of her subjects, because as she says, they always offer something new for the camera to discover. “When I worked as a photojournalist for major dailies it was my job to go into a situation that was completely uncontrolled and come back with a cover page worthy image,” reveals Sue. “The same principle applies when I work with clients and their pets. No matter how unpredictable the situation may be, I walk away from it having captured the moment in some lovely and unusual ways.”
Personalized bereavement packages are another special aspect of Sue’s pet photography that puts her ahead of the pack. When an animal is coming to the end of their life or suddenly taken ill, Sue makes herself available for emergency sessions so that clients can capture the essence of their beloved pet before they go. “So often we think that we have more time,” reveals Sue knowingly. “It is a shock to come back from the vet realizing that you only have a few days or weeks left. People wish they had more photos, more memories to hang on to. I find bereavement sessions to be very therapeutic for the client, even though people often don’t want to talk about death and what is coming.”
It is the extra care and compassion exercised in all her work that is making Sue well known across the country. She conducts shoots regularly in and around the Ottawa area, Toronto, Montreal, Victoria and even parts of the United States. No matter what the situation or environment, Sue discovers something special about any pet’s personality and captures who they are forever in a photograph that becomes an instant family treasure. To see more of Sue’s work, visit http://www.photobysuebird.com.
By Laura L. Benn

October 2010 Pet of the Month!

At first sight, Mr. Charlie Marley, a two-year-old Maltese Poodle mix, looks more like a stuffed animal than a real pooch. But when his little tail starts to wag a mile a minute and he bounces all over the place to greet you, there can be no mistaking his liveliness! A true angel, Mr. Charlie Marley is as good as gold, having only one instance of chewing one shoe when he was three-months-old (just a baby!) His greatest past times in life include playing fetch, snuggling like there is no tomorrow and playing with his 25 plush toys from sunrise to sundown.
However, Charlie knows the importance of balancing play with work, having modeled various dog harnesses and won many photo contests. His photograph was even published in the Palm Beach Post and he has aspirations of breaking into Broadway some day! A ball of love, this tiny 5lb fellow has a huge heart and is willing to share it with everyone he meets.
Congratulations Charlie Marley! October 2010’s Pet of the Month!


NICKNAMES:
Monkey

PARENT:
Babs E. Keller

FAVOURITE GAME:
Tag! Tag! Tag! Chase me or let me chase you, it doesn’t matter! It’s all fun to me!

FAVOURITE TOY:
My stuffed animals — all 25 of them, because it’s impossible to choose! I also really like balls and will play fetch forever! (Seriously, I challenge you to keep throwing!)

FAVOURITE TREAT:
Dogswell ‘Happy Hips’ Chicken Breast Strips are delicious!

MOST MISCHIEVOUS MOMENT:
It’s more like a mischievous marathon, if I’m being honest. I like to try and throw my stuffed toys behind the couch, down the side of the couch or push them underneath the couch out of reach. Then I have no choice but to cry for Mom to come and help me get them out again! Don’t ask me why… I mean, can you explain your mischief?

BEST TRICK:
When I was three-months-old, Mom tied bells on a string to the front door knob, then whenever nature called, I called Mom by ringing the bell to go out! Everyone was really impressed!

FAVOURITE THING ABOUT FALL:
Easy! My birthday and Christmas will soon be here! Maybe I’ll get a new stuffed animal for my collection?

CATCH PHRASE: I’m just so lovable… and I love everyone!

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If you would like to nominate your pet friend for next month’s “Pet of the Month Contest,” please email submissions to info@pawsh-magazine.com

Best Dressed Halloween Pooch

What makes a sensational costume? It’s ingenuity? It’s originality? Or it’s overall ‘aw’ factor? We think it’s a bit of all three, which was brilliantly captured by Buster and Suki this Halloween! Check out the amazing Star Wars themed attire that these pooches hit the streets in. Darth Vadar and Yoda are headed your way! Cute, are not they?