July 2001

Dear Mom,
Well, I have some good news and I have some bad news.

First the bad news: Iím not going to be a Leader Dog. Despite my wonderful genes, Miss Jennie and Miss Amiís diligent socializing skills, and the hard work of the skilled people at Leader Dogs for the Blind, it looks like itís just not meant to be. I was ďcareer changedĒ at the end of last month.

Iím traffic shy, which is really crummy because I was doing so well in my other stuff. I had graduated to Basic 2 and got used to the harness real fast. I was doing a great job on my commands, and they were teaching me how to recognize elevations when I was walking so I could know what to do about curbs, potholes, and other stuff. I was even looking forward to learning about overhanging branches and other obstacles.

Turns out, no matter how well I do in other tasks, the traffic thing is really important. They canít have a Leader Dog who flinches when big cars and trucks go by. They did everything they could to help me, including switching trainers, but I guess thatís just me.

Anyway, if you think this is a shock for you, all the humans involved took it really hard. I heard that Miss Ami was a real mess. But, like everything else in life something else came along. Thatís the good news. Since I am such a great dog (everybody says how smart I am) I got to try out for another job, and I was accepted!

Now Iím training to be a ďPAWSĒ Dog. Thatís short for Paws With A Cause. They have their national headquarters here in Michigan and they place Assistance Dogs all over the country.

Leader Dogs for the Blind and Paws With A Cause send dogs back and forth all the time. I canít remember if I wrote and told you before, but we sometimes practiced in the same room when Miss Ami and I practiced at Leader Dogs.

A representative from PAWS picked me up at Leader Dog and I stayed at her house overnight and then she drove me to PAWS the next day.

Here I am in my trademark ďsideways sitĒ casually licking her kneecap while pretending to smile with my tongue out.

And here I am in my posing for the camera with my ďperky dogĒ look. See my ears up?

Iím at ďPAWSĒ now, and itís really cool. Weíre out in the country and itís beautiful. They even have a bunch of cats. This one guards the brochures in the office.

I live in the CEC. That stands for Canine Evaluation Center. Itís the building behind the main one. New dogs come here.

See my name with the yellow arrow? Iím right next to Daisie spelled with an ďie.Ē Weíre best friends. They call us ďthe daisies!Ē Weíre both yellow, but sheís a Golden, not a Lab.

This is the sign on the outside of my kennel. It has my name, the date I arrived, and that I came from Leader Dogs.

Inside, itís HUGE. I also have a little cot to sleep on and part of the floor is heated so Iíll be nice and cozy if it gets cold. I also have my own personal little door in back to go outside, and all us dogs get to play with each other a little bit each day.

I can smell farm stuff when I go outside toÖ hold on, they donít call it PARK, they call it BREAK. Itís short for ďtaking a break or something.Ē Different words; same idea. Humans are so funny, arenít they?

Anyway, they do a lot of things differently here, but that makes a lot of sense since Iím being trained for a different kind of job now. Paws With A Cause trains dogs to do two kinds of jobs. Depending on how well I learn which skills depends on what kind of dog Iíll end up being.

I could be a ďHearing DogĒ and alert my human to basic sounds like ringing telephones, crying babies, or doorbells. Iíll learn how to get their attention and bring them to the sound. All except for smoke detectors. Then I lead them outside to safety.

I could be a ďService DogĒ which is what most of the Paws dogs are. Then theyíd teach me how to do a bunch of cool things like turn lights on and off, and pick up stuff for my person and give it to them. I might also act as a brace to help my partner stand up or go up and down stairs. If Iím really good, I might be able to help people with seizures and push ďlife-alertsĒ to call for help or bring them the phone.

One of my new friends is Jake. Heís a PR dog. Thatís Public Relations. Heís cool. He belongs to Becky Canale who is the Client Services Coordinator, and he shows people all the neat stuff us PAWS dogs can do. Heís very photogenic. Actually, heís a big ham. (And I mean that in the nicest way, Mom, really.)

Hereís Jake getting the phone. It has a special handle on it so us dogs can pick it up and not accidentally answer the phone or call anybody. Unless they wanted to hear dog breathing or barking or something. I think we can slobber on the handle, but not on the buttons. Iíll have to find out for sure. You canít see the handle cause itís in Jakeís mouth.

Jake can also open doors, and heís really fast. Thatís why he looks a little blurry. He can do regular doors and even sliding doors.

When you get an Assistance Dog from PAWS they help you re-fit all your doorknobs so they can have a strap on them for us to grab onto. If thereís a strap on it, a PAWS dog can open OR close it. Yup, Iíll be learning how to do that too.

Even refrigerators! Jake is really good at this. Becky asked him to open the fridge and get her a bottle of water.

And he did! And then he pushed the door closed. (Iíve heard of some teenagers who canít do THAT!)

Jake can also turn light switches on and off. Here he looks a little bit like Miss Ami in her bifocals. (Tee he.)

The really cool part is that after I learn how to retrieve stuff and learn basic helping skills they give me a client. Thatís my very own human.

PAWS will train me for whatever my particular human needs. Theyíre all different. If I graduate, Iíll go right to the personís house live with them and start helping right away. A PAWS trainer will come to our house and finish training me in the actual place Iíll be working. Is that cool or what!

And since clientsí needs can change, my training will be updated all the time. Wonít that be exciting?!

Right now Iím in Phase One and Phase Two at the same time. Iím working on my basic obedience, and I kind of have to make up for some lost time. As a Leader Dog I wasnít supposed to ďfetchĒ things, even though snarffing Miss Amiís fabric was close. (Giving it back was the key, apparently.)

PAWS also trains with clickers and food rewards. You canít believe how fun this is. My trainer is Courtney and sheís wonderful. I love her a lot. When Courtney clicks Iím supposed to look at her and then she gives me a little treat to eat. Clickóeat! Like how hard is THAT! Over and over. What a concept! I love this place!

This is another dog being trained with a clicker. I canít remember the dogís name, but the human is Michele. She helps train me too. Sheís super.

So, Mom. I hope youíre not disappointed. I kind of was at first, you know, not being a Leader Dog. I was so psyched. I felt like I let everybody down. But then I got to thinking that this could be my true calling. Itís a lot different, but itís still about helping people and I know thatís what I want to do with my life.

I really like all the people here and the other dogs are great. Watching them work is so inspiring. Iím just starting to retrieve stuff now and I think Iíll get the hang of it.

My tails is wagging nearly all the time and I am really happy, so donít worry about me. I think about you a lot and I miss you, but Iím doing just fine and Iím really excited about the future.

Big licks and lots of love,

PS: Please take a look at the Paws With A Cause website so you can read about the cool things Iíll be doing. They are a fine organization and I canít wait to see what Miss Ami dreams up to help! Iíll write again soon.