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Saturday, April 29, 2017

Vinny the Great!

Vinny was born into greatness.  Born from two merle parents, it was soon apparent that he could not see or hear.  The veterinarian was consulted about what to do - after all, what was a blind and deaf puppy worth? But one of the vet techs knew about Debbie and her experience with double merles.  A couple phone calls later, and Debbie had arranged to go pick up the special puppy.

Vinny was 8 weeks of pure Collie adorableness.  And even in that moment, he began his role as educator.  Debbie and Vinny explained to the breeder why he had been born blind and deaf.  The breeder had not been aware of this danger, and was grateful to know how to prevent this from happening in the future and was very relieved that Vinny would be safe.

Vinny has gracefully evolved into his role as ambassador for the humane society where he accompanies Debbie to work every day.  His many fans come to visit him, and he uses his special-ness to educate others about the dangers of breeding merle to merle, and about adoption.  He is a strong ambassador for blind and deaf dogs and that they are capable of living full and happy lives.  Through social media and a teaching blog, plus many videos, he is paving the way for other differently-abled dogs to be adopted and trained.

Vinny also spreads joy through visiting people in the community.  Young people are drawn to him and relate to his differences.  He teaches them acceptance and compassion.  When visiting with a group of Scouts, one girl said with disgust, "Eww, his eyes look different.  They look weird."  Very quickly, another said, "He doesn't know they look that way, and he is perfectly happy.  We should be too."  When Debbie looked closely, she realized the girl that had answered had a difference of her own and had related quickly to Vinny's differences.  These comments led to wonderful discussions of differences and acceptance.

The senior population have also been inspired by Vinny, who shows such happiness even though he can't see or hear, just as they are beginning to lose these senses themselves and are wondering what life will hold for them now.  One woman told Vinny that she was going blind, but seeing him and how happy he was made her guess that it was all going to be OK.  She thanked him and together they shared a private moment.

Vinny is a typical puppy - lively, playful, and yes, even a bit full of mischief at times!  But when he's visiting, all of that fades away and he shows calmness and understanding way beyond his age.  Although he can't see or hear, he finds a way to position his body next to someone with limited mobility so they can reach to pet him, and he gently puts his head under their hand.

This special dog and his person together spread joy, laughter, smiles, hope and inspiration.  Debbie teaches Vinny using mostly touch cues.  She touches various parts of his body in different ways to communicate her requests to him.  He knows basic obedience and manners, as well as many different tricks.  As a matter of fact, Vinny has already earned his Novice Trick Dog title and is working toward higher levels.  He loves to learn new things and is taught strictly through positive reinforcement methods.

Vinny also gathers lots of information about his environment by scent and by feeling vibrations.  He recognizes air currents when a door opens.  He can quickly  map out a new area when he goes somewhere new.  He loves to travel and has already traveled to several different states with his partner Debbie.  Vinny plays with the other dogs in the house and loves to play with toys of all kinds!  He gets lots of time to enjoy being a puppy, and he brings much joy and many smiles to Debbie daily.

Vinny's reach into the community and the world is already significant and will only continue to expand as he gains experience in his new role.  He and Debbie are amazing partners in advocating for rescue, adoption, responsible breeding, and the joys of differently-abled dogs.  They spread messages to everyone about compassion, acceptance and being kind to others - all things that the world needs so much of right now.  It is their hope that by spreading ripples in their own little corner of the world, that those ripples will continue to spread into something magnificent that blankets the world with love.

(The above was Vinny's nomination for the Collie Club of America's Shining Star Award.  Congratulations to Vinny and the other winners of this year's award!)

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Presentation at ASSA National

Treasure, Vinny and I had a wonderful time visiting Purina Farms and the ASSA National Specialty. There were Shelties everywhere!  Vinny was also happy that there were some other Collies making an appearance here and there as well.  This was our first time to Purina Farms, and we hope to be able to go again.

We were there to do a presentation about double merles.  Topics discussed included:
What causes double merle
What can be done to educate so we can prevent it
How to screen and educate adopters
Tips for foster homes
How to train dogs that may be blind, deaf, or both
Equipment that may be useful
And, the many myths surrounding double merles and blind and/or deaf dogs

Thanks Barbara Edelberg for the photo

Friday, April 21, 2017

Treasure's Travels (and Vinny's too!)

My beautiful Treasure and Vinny accompanied me this past weekend on an adventure!  Treasure and I are very accustomed to traveling together, and Vinny has traveled with us a few times during his puppyhood, but he had many firsts during this trip.  I am so very proud of how he responded to all the new experiences!  I wondered how he would do - visiting a museum, going to a large dog show, and staying in a hotel.

Our first challenge was learning to navigate together through the Museum of the Dog - Treasure in her stroller and Vinny learning to walk beside it and keep his toes out from under the wheels!  This was the first time Vinny would be walking with the stroller.  After only a couple times of walking in front of the stroller and tangling his leash, and a few times of his toes getting bumped by stroller wheels, Vinny said, "Piece of cake, Mom!"  He walked like a pro.  

Both dogs were a bit puzzled by the numerous dog statues that smelled a little strange.  I couldn't help but wonder what my other dogs would have thought, since they can see and some of the statues were large and even a little scary looking!  Of course, Treasure and Vinny are both blind and deaf, so they didn't know what the statues looked like, but they spent a lot of time sniffing them and trying to figure out what kind of dogs they were!  

I didn't think about the fact that Vinny had never been on an elevator before until we were about to step onto the one in the museum.  He went into it easy enough, with no hesitation, but as the elevator began to move downward and the floor moved down under his feet, he looked at the floor with a puzzled look.  I was pleased to see that he wasn't very concerned about it - probably due to all the work we do with moving surfaces.  Going up didn't produce the same puzzlement.  He acted just like a pro.  

When we got to the hotel later, there was once more where he pondered the elevator moving downward, but after that, he didn't even seem to notice anymore.  He checked out the hotel room when we arrived, just like he had been doing it all his life.  Very confident, sniffing every corner and all the furniture, finding his water bowl, playing with his toys.  He did take more trips to come check in with me than Treasure did, wanting to make sure I was OK, no doubt.  

And, while Treasure fell quickly asleep next to me, Vinny continued to check on me all throughout the night.   He would sleep for a bit and then come up to poke me with his nose to be sure of where I was.  I guess he didn't want me to be scared in a new place.  That was very thoughtful of him!  

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Eye to Eye

Fear.  We all experience it.  We all allow it in some way to affect our behavior and our choices.  Sometimes we face our fears and sometimes we run from them.  The same is true of our dogs.

This past weekend I was reminded just how much we fear what is unfamiliar to us.  Hmmm ... we're not that much different in that respect to our dogs.  It can often cause issues for us when our dogs react with fear to something new they are encountering.  That's why we try so hard to socialize our dogs and expose them in a happy way to all the things we can think of when they are young.  This will reduce the number of things they may find unusual and scary.  

My heart was truly touched, and I want to share a story with you, about a person I met this past weekend. After hearing me talk about Treasure, a woman commented to me hesitantly that she had never seen a dog without eyes before.  When I asked her if she'd like to have a closer look at Treasure's eyes, she quickly said yes.  

But when I lifted Treasure so the woman could see her face, my heart sank.  I saw this woman quickly turn her face away as her eyes filled with tears.  Try as she might, she couldn't make herself look at Treasure's face.  She tried again and again, but each time she turned away crying.  She told me that Treasure's eyes scared her.  But she didn't want to be afraid.  She was afraid because this was something so different from anything she had known before.  

I wanted so much to reassure her.  To let her know that this wasn't such a scary thing.  But as we all know, fear is very personal.  Just because we say it's OK, doesn't mean the person (or dog) will suddenly not be afraid anymore.  I did reassure her that Treasure wasn't in any pain, and I told her about the special care I give Treasure to keep her eyes clean and pain free.  

My heart went out to this woman.  She wanted to understand and feel comfortable.  Yet her fear held her back.  It was then I realized that she had not yet actually met and interacted with Treasure.  She had only looked at her.  When I asked if she would like to meet Treasure, she was very eager to do so.  

It only took a moment before this woman was holding Treasure in her arms against her chest.  I stepped back and just quietly watched while Treasure worked her magic.  The tears faded away quickly and were overtaken by a huge and joyful smile which stuck around a while!  And guess what?  All of that woman's fear faded away too.  She was able to now look at Treasure with a smile on her face and understanding in her heart.  

The story itself is heartwarming.  I experience stories like this often when Treasure works her magic.  But this story left me with a new perspective of fear.  I told you about this woman's fear, but what the story is really about is her courage to see past that fear.  Her courage to come to an understanding.  Once we have an understanding of something, it is no longer different and scary.  Then the fear can leave and compassion can arrive.  

It also caused me to think about the similarities between us and our dogs and how we experience fear of things and others that are different.  Why do we continue to be afraid of those who are different than us?  Is it because we allow our fear to hold us at a distance so we don't ever become familiar with those differences?  I learned something amazing from that woman.  Her willingness to learn about something she feared broadened her life experiences and made her a new friend.  I hope the next time I feel fear or uncertainty about someone's difference, that I can make a similar choice.  Thank you, my new friend, for this lesson from the heart!