Doctor Sophia Yin’s – The Do’s And the Don’ts When Playing with Dogs

Is your dog working?

Can I pet your dog?

Does he bite?

These are questions I’m asked almost every day.

If a person interferes with a service dog or dog guide while the dog is working, the distraction can make it unsafe for the dog to perform properly. To reach out and pet a working dog could possibly result is injury to handler, dog or both.

The standard protocol while the dog is working is that nobody but the handler touches the dog. Not all handlers strictly adhere to that. The best thing to do is ask the handler. This tends to be relaxed when the dog is not working, indicated when the dog is out of harness or not wearing its vest.

Service dogs are often well socialized to handle touching by children and adults. The preferable thing is for parents to teach children to not reach out to pet any dog.  A random pet, pat or poke may be all it takes to irritate some canines.

The following dos and don’ts are appropriate to people who interact with their pet dog or with a working dog on or off duty.

Pet Project recently posted an article by Dr. Sophia Yin, How Kids Should and Should Not Interact with Dogs.

Yin identified four dos for children when interacting with a pet dog:

1. Play fetch with the dog. “Fetch where the dog willingly. That is fun for dogs who love to retrieve.”

2. Use tricks and treats to reward good behavior

3. Exercise the dogs.

4. Play games with your dog.

Yin stated, “Adults should ensure that the dog has lots of positive associations with the kids. The kids can regularly give food rewards for the dog’s calm, polite behavior, such as automatic sits. Even if the child is generally well-behaved and the dog very tolerant, it’s essential for all interactions to be supervised. Accidents can happen in a split second.”

During play time, my off-duty service dog Frisco had a high tolerance for children. Toddlers would fall or climb on him. While running and playing, he was extra-careful to not plow into the children. In the almost 15 years I had Frisco, he never harmed a child or an adult.

Frisco wasn’t as tolerant during his senior years. A toddler at a 4th of July parade zeroed in on him. As the child came closer, Frisco got up and walked to me for his safe zone. As I soothed and comforted him, he became tense  At times like that, I asked parents to hold onto their child or move on as my dog let me know he did not want interaction.

Yin’s what not to do list:

1. Don’t interfere with a dog while the dog is eating.

2. Don’t hit the dog with any kind of play toy. Some toys are made of rope, rubber or hard plastic. A hard toy like these can injure the dog.

3. Do not stare into the eyes of a dog or stick your face in the dog’s face.  

4.  Do not corner a dog.

5. Do not, even in play, hit or kick a dog. 

6. Don’t climb on or invade the personal space of a dog.

7. Don’t scream or yell at a dog.

8. The body language of a dog will indicate whether or not to pet or hug the dog.

Yin said, “Follow these simple dos and don’ts and everyone will be safer and happier. . . . The key is to teach both the dog and the children to be polite. Make sure your children interact with your dog the same way you want them to interact with you.”

Thoughts? Questions? Please share them here.

Clarence can be reached at

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Uneasy Truce Over End of State Shut Down: What the Future May Hold For Handlers and Helper Animals on Buses

If Metropolitan Council raises fares and cuts service on Metro Transit buses, what does the future hold?

There are no statistics available on how many handlers of service animals use door-to-door and fixed route transit. Though there is some mention about the effect cuts in transit will have on the elderly and on people with disabilities, I didn’t get the sense elected officials really understand the significance of their actions. The state budget compromise will negatively affect the independent living options of many people with disabilities.

Severe cuts are coming. During the state government shut down, the Metropolitan Council posted — “Transit passengers could see higher fares and significantly reduced service if a state budget settlement includes cuts to state funding for transit.”

The Pioneer Press reported “The transportation finance bill that Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed in May was poised to eliminate $109 million, or 85 percent, from the transit funding originating from the state’s general fund, enough to leave council officials contemplating fare increases of 25 cents or more, layoffs in the hundreds and significant route and service reductions. In all, the mass transit system could shrink by about 25 percent, idling 200 Metro Transit buses or more.”

Now that the not so great government shut down seems to have ended, what next? Gov. Mark Dayton is not the only Minnesotan who is disappointed with the results of the compromise.

What are the long-term effects of this so called compromise, when it comes to transit service for handlers and their service animals? Legislative leaders describe the compromise as an “imperfect situation.” How will this affect us?

Will handlers and service animals be stranded during the days or nights on hot summers and cold winters? How would a service animal safely guide a handler several blocks or more when the heat index is 90 degrees or higher? Or on snow-covered sidewalks? 

I wonder how handlers of service animals in urban and rural areas will get to and from appointments and work. My dog guide had to guide me to and from appointments during the 2004 bus strike. I couldn’t afford to take taxi cabs everywhere.

I am fortunate to be able to work from my home computer. Yet barriers like road construction and inadequate bus service isolate me. Transit service cuts mean people who depend on service animals and public transit will have a tougher time getting safely to and from work

More information on transit service cuts will be posted by Metro Transit by July 29. The Metropolitan Council, as of July 5 will accept public statements via phone, fax, TTY, e-mail and/or regular mail. The comment period ends at 5 p.m. on August 29..

  • Phone and record comments on the Metropolitan Council’s Public Comment Line at 651-602-1500.
  • Fax comments to the Data Center at 651-602-1464.
  • TTY your comments to the Data Center at 651-291-0904.
  • Email:
  • Regular mail written comments to the Metropolitan Council Data Center

390 N. Robert St., St. Paul, 55101

The Metropolitan Council will also hold seven public meetings about possible changes to door-to-door and fixed route transit, starting August 8  Check for the date of the hearing nearest your home or work. The schedule includes information about transit service to some of the sites. Others are in downtown areas currently served by several routes.

The meeting schedule is subject to change. Contact the Metropolitan Council at about questions/changes with the above cited schedule.

Thoughts?  Questions? Please share them here.

Clarence can be reached at

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Surfing A New Cyber Space Site For Pets (Service Animals Like To Shop Too)

Does your service animal ever get a day off? People often ask me if my dog guide ever has play time.

Do service animals like monkeys, cats and pygmy horses have fun?

Colleen Taylor just introduced, a new Amazon website for people and pets.

Taylor said, “The team behind has made a new e-commerce site aimed at the other baby in the American household: the family pet.”

Taylor’s comparison of a special animal in our home to that of a baby reflects how many of us feel about four-legged friends.

As a dog guide handler, I learned quickly that a service dog needs to have lots of play time. I give my off-duty dog guide a lot of time to just be a dog.

The harness comes off. The leash is removed. Telly romps around with a toy hanging from his mouth as he plays in my fenced in back yard. He needs to let go of that pent-up energy and stress from dodging motorized and pedestrian traffic as well as sidewalk barriers like tables, chairs and other animals.

My dog guide kept us both safe. At the end of a working day, I like to have fun. So why not the same for my hard working service dog?

As a dog guide handler since 1995, I know more about dogs then other service animals. Be it a pygmy horse, monkey or cat, all need time away from the harness or the work.

Frisco, my first dog guide, was often with me during my visits to the local pet store.  My current dog guide Telly also enjoys the pet store. His nose effortlessly finds the most cherished chew toy of his choice.

Dogs and horses like apples.  I cut up apples into chewable chunks for my dog. Do handlers of pygmy horses do the same?

Pygmy horses like to bob for apples in shallow pools of water. My dog Telly may enjoy that kind of fun as well.

Would a small horse or large dog have the same kind of fun bobbing for apple pieces or the whole apple?

My dog guide takes me through grocery stores, clothing stores and pet shops.  Wouldn’t it be much easier on my feet to tour a virtual reality store with all of these products?

Instead of going through one store after another, now I let my fingers shop from one dot-com to the next. Nice.’s offerings will go way beyond dog treats. The site will launch with more than 10,000 products for dogs, cats, birds, fish, reptiles and other small animals. The offerings will include mass and specialty branded food, litter, toys, vitamins and medicine, grooming supplies, clothing and accessories.”

My dog may enjoy products mailed to our home. Still, there is something to enjoy of watching my dog guide in a pet store.

Oh, can I have that rubber ring?

Oh wait; I want that tug toy too.

I need a new raincoat for the periodic Minnesota downpours.

I’m sure that if my dog Telly had his choice, I could easily fill up a cart with all of the toys and stuff he’d select.

What does the animal in your house do for fun? Please share your comments and questions here.

Clarence can be reached at

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Pygmy horses used as guides for the blind

Pygmy horses are trained and used as guides by blind and visually impaired people. To get a pygmy horse, trainees must successfully complete an in-depth training from a certified guide horse training program.

The Guide Horse Foundation (GHF) fills that need, relying on the skills of people who demonstrated a long history of knowledge and experience in horse training. To develop a knowledge base about how to train service assistance horses, the GHF turned to dog guide training programs.

The GHF worked closely with handlers and experienced dog guide users as well as orientation and mobility specialists.

Janet and Don Burleson conducted a nationwide feasibility study and were overwhelmed with requests by blind people to start a guide horse training program. In 1999 marked the beginning of the GHF program.

According to the foundation, there are many compelling reasons to use horses as guide animal. “In nature, horses have been shown to possess a natural guide instinct. When another horse goes blind in a herd, a sighted horse accepts responsibility for the welfare of the blind horse and guides it with the herd.”

According to the GHF, “The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guarantees the right of any service animal to use public transportation. With proper training, a guide horse can be trained to enter taxis, busses and subways.” Horses can climb stairs and use escalators.

Most horses have excellent vision, making them good guides. Because their eyes are on the sides of their heads, horses have a range of nearly 350 degrees. Horses also have excellent night vision. The range in weight of a pygmy horse is from 50 to 100 pounds and smaller than 26 inches tall, not significantly different in size of the average dog guide.

Guide horses are provided to handlers free of charge. The foundation relies on volunteers to train and deliver trained guide horses.

Horses initially get used to the harness and learn start and stop commands, then learn to avoid obstacles, to recognize potential dangers and not react to distractions. The objective is to create an effective working team.

Only certified handlers are allowed to use a guide horse. At home area training, the horse-handler team is evaluated in that environment. The trainer determines if the team can successfully negotiate regular travel and the trainer conducts follow-up visits as needed.  Guide horses are incorrectly referred to as miniature horses. Miniature horses are a particular breed of horse.

Use of horses has risks, guide horses may be injured by aggressive unleashed large dogs so, like dog guides, off-duty horses are best kept in a fenced enclosure

My wife and I came across a guide horse in 2001 as we passed through the airport in Charleston, S.C. My dog guide Frisco noticed the guide horse, but he kept his focus – just like the horse did.

Another type of helper horse is the emotional support horse, Handlers must show proof from a recognized mental health professional to use such a horse. The request for proof by an airline of this type of horse helper is much more rigorous then what is required of people with other disabilities who use a guide horse.

You can find more info about the Guide Horse Foundation at their website  or by calling them at (252) 431-0050.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on pygmy horses and guide horses. Feel free to share your comments and questions here.   

Clarence can be reached at

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Airport screening and service animals

Is the security scrutiny at airports of service animals the same before and after 9/11?

Fellow passengers seemed to be quickly sent on their way while my dogs and I had to undergo more lengthy screening.  I was afraid we’d miss our flights. We never did.

Before 9/11, I could walk through the metal detector with shoes on. I could have more than 2 ounces of liquid in my possession.

After 9/11, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) staff said — Remove your shoes. Bottles of pop were discarded.

Revised airport security policy requires only up to two ounces of liquid in carry-on bags. 

What is this liquid?  It is dog ear cleaner. The container exceeds the limit and was confiscated by the TSA.

My carry-on luggage, shoes, belt and fanny pack quickly passed through the electronic security scanning/conveyer screening system. Screening of my dog guides and me took much longer.

Can I pat you down? I was asked. A handheld scanner moved up one side of my body and then the other. Next, I was patted down as I stood with outstretched arms.  After that, I was requested to sit down and lift my legs for the TSA to determine I was not hiding something in my pants or socks.

Can I pat down your dog guide?  That question was sometimes followed by – will your dog react if I touch him?

No, he will let you touch him without an aggressive reaction.

Between 1995 and 2002, my first dog guide Frisco was with my wife and I on at least nine flights. Frisco was scrutinized pretty carefully even prior to 9/11. Did airport security carefully screen Frisco out of fear he may have been carrying drugs?

My second dog guide Telly came to Minnesota in 2004.  He guided me safely on and off at least 13 flights.

The security screening was lengthy. Yet, I did it regardless of inconvenience because I’d rather comply with safety regulations.

I had to sometimes educate TSA about proper protocol between dog guide and handler.

Sir, let me hold your dog while you pass through the metal detector. No. My dog guide had to stay with me.

Why does your dog guide have to stay with you? 

I can go through the metal detector before or after my dog, but only the handler can have hold of the dog guide leash.

Frisco or Telly would sometimes go through the metal detector before me. At other times, I’d pass through before my dog guide.  Security didn’t challenge my request and the need to keep hold of the leash.

Telly was with me on a recent round trip flight to Ohio. The journey through the Minneapolis and Columbus airports was smooth and quick.  What was different about this June 2011 round trip flight?

I stepped through the metal detector while holding on to Telly’s leash.

You’re okay.  Now, bring your dog through.

Telly’s collar activated the detector. That was expected.

Neither of us was pulled aside to be patted-down.

One reason for our quicker clearance may have been due to the new full body X-ray scanner. A device like that would recognize anything that was a security risk.

What had taken longer was the repeated screening of two cans of Spam. The TSA removed the cans from a gift box in my carry-on. I’m not sure why and I did not ask the TSA about why he repeatedly put my Spam through the conveyor screening device.

Once my dog guide was cleared, one of the security team would inevitably ask to pet the dog. Typically, the dog guide isn’t to be touched while in harness by anybody other then the handler.

I am confident that the infrequent pet by airport security will not affect the performance of my dog guide. The security team always treated us politely and professionally and in allowing them to pet my dog guide I was hopefully ensuring the same polite, professional treatment to my fellow dog guide users.

We’d love to hear your thoughts. What stories do you have about TSA and your service animal ?

Clarence can be reached at

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Healthy Foods for Canine Helpers

What do you feed your service animal? That question is sometimes followed with, can I give your dog some food?

I was on my way to work. My dog guide Frisco had stopped again, but I didn’t know why. A lady stopped me as I was about to cross the Nicollet Mall. Sir, your dog eliminated with a bloody discharge.

I jumped on the next southbound bus and took Frisco to his veterinarian. The diagnosis was that I had a very sick dog. Somebody had fed my dog food, maybe a cookie, that made him deathly ill.

The veterinarian prescribed a weeklong combination of Imodium and antibiotics. Frisco went on a day-long bland diet and then gradually ate his usual food.

How will I give him his pills? Hold the top muzzle with one hand, and pry the lower jaw open with the other hand that held the pill. Then, I would have to place the pill as far into the back part of my dog guide’s jaw as possible. The procedure worked very well and I never had any problem giving my dog guides a pill using that technique. Once the pill was administered, I had to hold the muzzle shut until I could feel him swallow the pill. Another technique was to blow on the nostrils or rub my finger across my dog guide’s lips to stimulate him to lick. He’d have to swallow when he licked. The veterinarian also suggested, that I could put the pills in bread or cheese. That never worked as my dogs ate the bread and cheese and spit out the pills.

The first three days were touch and go. I had to withhold his regular food the first day after the veterinarian visit. The next day, I fed him plain rice. By the third day, I slowly reintroduced Frisco to his regular food.  

The veterinarian said Frisco needed fluids but he refused water. To encourage him to drink, I mixed chicken and meat-flavored bullion cubes into his water. It worked. I added flavored water with his rice too.

Frisco made a full recovery and I learned something something new, Frisco liked rice. I also learned he liked fruits and vegetables too. His favorites were baby carrots and chopped apples. All became part of his regular diet.

Frisco lived until he was almost 15 years old.

People I meet ask if they can give my current dog guide Telly some food. I always decline the offer with the explanation of how potentially harmful that could be for my dog digestion.

On occasion, somebody may slip Telly food.  If I catch them in the act, they are stopped and given some free education.

Telly is usually in good health. When he has a bad day or two, he is fasted. Starting the next day, his meal is either potatoes or rice. I mix his regular food in the afternoon meal or begin that part on the third day. The veterinarian said potatoes are gentler for dogs’ digestion than rice.

My dog guide eats a dry dog food that contains no animal by-products. I supplement his morning and afternoon meal with potatoes, apples, rice, carrots or an occasional hardboiled egg. Sometimes I’ll combine some or all of these in his food.  

Service dogs give unconditionally and keep the handler safe. Keeping my dogs on a high quality diet is one of many ways I show my appreciation to my canine helper.

We’d love to hear your thoughts. What stories do you have about people, other then you, who feed your service animal?

Clarence can be reached at


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Driver Orders Dog Guide To Ride In Taxi Trunk

In order to ride in a Denver (Colorado) Union Taxi Cooperative Cab, the driver told Judy Brown she had to put her dog guide Alberto in the trunk of his car.

Denver media picked up on the story.. Said Brown, “I never hear my dog whine or crying. Ever. Ever. I knew it was terribly wrong.”

Brown told Denver Connection that she didn’t challenge the driver because she was late for an appointment. Brown could have climbed into the cab with Alberto. She could have then educated the driver or contacted the cab company manager and any state department that advocates for the rights of assistance dogs and handlers. Colorado law allows for use of guide, service and hearing dogs on “airplanes, motor vehicles, railroad trains, motor buses, streetcars, boats, or taxis.”

The law also states that nobody can interfere with “any assistance dog accompanying a person when that dog is being controlled by or wearing a harness normally used for dogs accompanying or leading persons with disabilities.” Interference can include a person, firm or corporation that tries to deny or deprive a person with disabilities of his or her rights.

Did the cab driver interfere with the handler’s use of a dog guide?

To put any dog in the trunk of a vehicle is unsafe for the dog as well as handler, with the restricted air flow and risk of suffocation. Denver Connection writer Mark Stewart said the trunk was a closed trunk. Were there air holes in the trunk of that cab? How long of a cab ride was it? To put a dog in the trunk of a cab and drive across town is a life-threatening situation.

Is Brown at fault for agreeing to put her dog guide in the trunk? Is the driver at fault? Are both equally at fault?

The company website stated, “Union Taxi Cooperative is available when you need us to make sure that you get where you need to go. Our drivers know the area inside and out, and will always give you prompt, polite, friendly service. We value our customers and do everything in our power to make sure that your ride with us is as comfortable as it is timely and safe.”

Was the UTC cab driver “polite”? Did that driver make Brown’s ride with him “comfortable”, “timely” and “safe”?

Colorado’s Attorney General’s Office and Public Utilities Commission (PUC) can fine cab drivers. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) complaints go to the Attorney General’s office. the cab driver was suspended and fined, but not fire because he is a partial owner of the cab company.

If a cab driver requested a dog guide handler to put his/her dog in the trunk of a cab, would you do it? That has never happened to me, but I’ve had my share of problems with cab drivers in the plus-12 years I have used dog guides. One incident happened a few years ago. A cab driver pulled up in front of the grocery store where I was waiting. When he saw my dog, he began to pull away as I walked toward his vehicle. A bus buddy saw the drama unfold and he and two other Good Samaritans blocked the cab. We educated the driver on the spot. He got back in the cab and drove my dog guide and me to my home.

The Colorado driver was fined by the state. That makes this case a public matter. As a public matter, the name of the driver can be released but that hasn’t happened. Should the name be published?  What should happen to Brown and her dog guide Alberto?

We’d love to hear your thoughts.  Leave your comments here, as this is a public matter that should be discussed.  What should happen in regard to Brown and her guide dog?

Clarence can be reached at  

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Service Cats: Feline Fur Balls Save Lives

Did you know there are service cats that alert their owners about a pending seizure? Did you know cats help people who are experiencing depression? 

These cats are sometimes regarded as “angel cats” and still others regard them as “service cats.” Service cats alert the person in the onset of a seizure.

Florida writer Theresa Campbell pointed that out in an article about Kathy McDonald and Dusty. McDonald lived with seizures since her teenage years.  Dusty, a Persian breed of cat, alerts McDonald prior to her having a seizure. 

Trained to walk on a leash, the cat wears a badge and accompanies McDonald everywhere.”

Dale the cat was the topic of an article in the Mainstream, an Arizona paper. Dale alerted his owner about her pending seizure.  “He’d be fine around the house and then all the sudden he’d go crazy just tearing the place apart . . . With no training what so ever, Dale was alerting (his owner) of oncoming seizures. He did this for nine years.” Lil Bit took over as seizure alert cat after Dale died. Like Dale, Lil Bit had no formal training to be a seizure alert cat, both knew what to do.

Cats have the reputation to be extremely independent, self absorbed and to sleep a lot. I had two cats, Elvira and Simon for 12 years. They took on the role as helper cats when I sank into bouts of depression. The death of my mother devastated me. During my many days of sadness, Elvira and Simon sensed that and would not leave me alone. I don’t know how I’d had made it had it not been for my cats.

Simon and Elvira also helped me a lot during graduate school.  I had little to no money at the time. Elvira demanded my attention when I was deep in thought.  She had the ability to break through to me while I was in deep concentration with a class project or work assignment.

I was provided with a computer and magnification software from Minnesota State Services for the Blind (SSB). Even with screen magnification, reading continued to be extremely difficult for me. Elvira would often walk across my keyboard and mess up my work. This was perhaps her way to have told me to not take my tasks too seriously.

My cats kept my mind off of my hunger on days when I could not afford to buy food or there was no food for me in the house.

While in graduate school, I was asked to direct a nonprofit. My mother’s death, coupled with tension and anxiety and all of my responsibilities, overwhelmed me at times. My cats seem to know that. They would cuddle up to me, purr and fall asleep on my lap or chest. They would not leave me alone when I felt the worst. I’m not sure what I did for them, but they did much for me.

Simon took on the helper cat role after Elvira’s death. At age 12 he quickly befriended my new service dog Frisco. There was no hissing and growling between this old cat and young dog. Within two days of meeting each other, Simon and Frisco were best of buddies.

I was deeply saddened over Elvira’s death in 1992 and Simon’s death in 1996. They were more then pets. Elvira and Simon helped me to focus on the lighter and fun side of life.

Cats have a remarkable ability to know exactly when to spring into action and help.

Elvira, Simon, Dusty, Dale and Lil Bit made life better and safer for their owners. They filled an important nitch as cats that took care of their owners.

We’d love to hear your thoughts.  Leave your comments here, as we’d love to see if anyone else has had the fortune of service cat too! 

Clarence can be reached at

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Dogs Give Unconditionally: The Journey to Adopt Disabled Military Working Dogs, Part Two

Military working dogs that were disabled or grew old were not usually adopted by their handlers or the public until recent changes were made. Current programs may allow for the adoption of these dogs. These programs have changed over the years.  In 2010, the Lackland Air Force Base 341st Training Squadron (TRS) began to train combat teams that included Marines and specially trained service dogs for tracking and behavior recognition. 

The dogs were trained to follow a human quarry. The handlers now have the legal option to adopt their four legged partners.  If the handler has the space and the resources, why not?

Resources are essential. The Department of Defense doesn’t provide financial coverage for the veterinarian care of adopted military working dogs. The person who adopts these dogs has to cover all veterinarian costs for that former military service animal. That is different from retired dogs through Guide Dogs for the Blind. Dogs that were trained by that program are given up to $250 annually for routine veterinarian care for the entire life of the dog. Should the Department of Defense do the same for its retired or disabled dogs?

My dogs were dog guides for the blind. Both were trained by Guide Dogs for the Blind, California and Oregon campuses, 1995 and 2004. Like the military trained team of handler and dog I also bonded quickly with my dogs and them with me.  That bonding is powerful, as indicated in the stories recounted in last week’s blog post.

I had many wonderful years with my first dog guide, who was retired in 2004. I likewise enjoy playing and working with my current dog that is now in the prime of his life.

When I had to put down my first dog guide, Frisco, I made that difficult decision when it was clear to me he was ready to go. He was in far too much pain the last week of his life. The veterinarian told me it was time for Frisco to exit and I sadly agreed. As I carried Frisco’s nearly fifteen year old body across our front lawn one more time on that warm May 7th day in 2008, a steady flow of tears rolled down my face. Regardless of how terrible I felt at the time, I made sure he had a last journey across the soft grass he often played on, ran on and rested during his lifetime. I received his ashes a week later, and the golden urn that holds Frisco’s ashes has a permanent place at our home.

We were a team for more than 10 years. In that time, we established mutual trust.

I imagine the same for the handlers of any military working dog. The option to adopt is a good and necessary thing for both the retired service animal and handler. That connection is lifelong. Sure, these are dogs, but they are incredibly remarkable dogs. There is something unique and special that develops between handler and dog. 

I adopted my first dog guide and will do likewise with my second. The option to adopt a dog guide helps the dog to remain in the only home the dog knows after graduation from any formal training program. 

The option to adopt a military dog is also important, helpful and healing for military trained handler and dog because of such a strong bond between the two living beings. When that sad day comes for the dog to exit this life, the remains of the dog should have a respectful place to rest, be it in an urn or grave. These dogs deserve at least a good life while working and retired as well as a place to rest after death because of all the years of loyal service.

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The Journey to Adopt Disabled Military Working Dogs

…I will quietly listen to you And pass no judgment.  Nor will your spoken words be repeated.  I will remain ever silent, ever vigilant, ever loyal.  And when our time together is done and you move on in the world, remember me with kind thoughts and tales.  For a time we were unbeatable, nothing passed among us undetected.  If we should ever meet again on another field I will gladly take up your fight.”

(The life of a police dog, author unknown). 

Police dogs that become disabled or grow too old for active duty usually retire to home life with their human partners. But military working dogs that became disabled or grew old were not usually adopted by their handlers. When the tour of duty was over for a military canine handler, the canine partner was often left behind.

The service dog was sometimes matched up with another handler. However, the process to adopt the dog by the handler who bonded with the dog was not an option.

Dogs that no longer worked or grew old and disabled after years of service during wartime operations were often euthanized when retired. That was common practice prior to and following the Vietnam War.

During the Vietnam War, Airman 2nd Class Robert Thorneburg and a sentry dog named Nemo made history. Thorneburg was Nemo’s second handler.  Nemo was the first service dog to be put back to work after he was injured in the line of duty.  In 1967, Nemo’s injuries ultimately led to him becoming the first sentry dog to be retired. He lived until 1972.

Despite to have been shot in the head and blinded in one eye, Nemo continued to engage the enemy. After he was wounded, Nemo climbed on top of his wounded handler and would not let anybody come close to Thorneburg.   Eventually both were separated, treated and recovered from their wounds.

Did Nemo bond with his handler?The U.S. Department of Defense had the authority to determine whether or not the dog was considered to be an asset. In the past, the judgment that a dog was no longer an asset often resulted in the euthanization of the dog.

Dogs retired or disabled were returned to Lackland Air Force Base, the Military Working Dog Agency, in San Antonio,. for an uncertain future.  In 2000, that changed with the enactment of the Robby Law, in honor of a military dog named Robby. House Resolution 5314, the draft bill introduced by Congressman Roscoe Bartlett, was adopted and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in November 2000.  Despite repeated efforts by Robby’s handler to adopt him, Robby was euthanized.

Though the law didn’t save Robby, this tragedy has led to some positive changes in the adoption of disabled or retired military service animals.

The Department of Defense, because of Robby’s Law, now allows for the adoption of military dogs.. The adoption priority process is first to former handlers, then to law enforcement, and lastly to families who want to adopt one of these special dogs..

People who adopt these dogs must have the skills, ability and financial resources to handle and care for their adopted dogs. Concerns were raised as to how dogs trained to attack people would not exhibit such behavior to adopted handlers. These handlers who may not have been the initial handler of the adopted dog underwent training to learn how to work and play with such dogs.

Read more about military dogs next week.

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