Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Meet Guide Dog, Panzy

Dogs have helped guide people who are blind or visually impaired for many years. I found several people who are "puppy raisers" or people who volunteer to be foster families for puppies but I decided to approach The Seeing Eye in Morristown, New Jersey to find a guide dog and his partner for the Guide Dog Heroes  book. Living in close proximity to such a great resource I was able to tour their facility where they offered me access to their library and they even let a photographer take some great photos of guide dogs and their partners in action on the streets of Morristown.

ISBN 978-0-7660-3198-2
I never had the opportunity to meet Izzy and his guide dog Panzy in person during the writing of this book. Izzy was busy at school so we did the initial interview over the phone and then followed up with emails. Izzy explained that his email program reads aloud to him since he can't read from the computer. During school visits I explain to children how Izzy never had a guide dog until he went to college and found it difficult to get around both on campus and in his dorm room. When Izzy told me all the different ways Panzy helped him to lead a more independent life it touched my heart. He told me how Panzy helped him to ride the right train so he didn't have to rely on other people take him back and forth to school or work. My favorite story he told me was the time he took Panzy to class with the most boring teacher ever and even Panzy didn't want to stay he was so bored. Izzy made me laugh and cry with his stories.

All of the dogs featured in this series are heroes in their own special way. I'm grateful that I had the opportunity to speak with so many incredible people who have either changed people's lives by their passion for their work with dogs or have had their lives changed by a dog. A very wise person who knew little about this project told me I needed to go out and meet the dogs. She suggested I go to the dog show to speak with dog handlers. I realized later that maybe going to the dog show wasn't exactly right but perhaps her words  about meeting the dogs and their handlers was what I needed to take away from our conversation. It not only brought something special to each one of these books but it forever changed the way I view dogs.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Meet Therapy Dog, Tuxedo

Therapy dogs bring positive changes by visiting people. They often visit assisted-living centers and hospitals. Many libraries and schools use therapy dogs for their reading programs. Kids love to read to dogs and dogs love to listen!

Tuxedo is a Portuguese water dog, the same breed as the Obama's dog. I never heard of this breed until I met Tuxedo and his handler Melanie.I met Melanie and her mom through a friend who thought that they would be a good fit for my Therapy Dog Heroes book.They turned out to be perfect. Tuxedo was a very friendly and gentle dog. He kept sticking his head in my pocketbook that was on the floor and I couldn't understand why until I realized I had a bag of cough drops that he must have been able to smell. We look some pictures before we headed out to the assisted-living center where Melanie, her mom, and Tuxedo often visited. That's Tuxedo on the cover of the book!

ISBN 978-0-7660-3200-2
We spent an hour at the center visiting with people who anxiously came down the hallway into one of the dining rooms when we told them we were looking for people to be in pictures for a book. There was no lack of participation that's for sure and Tuxedo seemed to enjoy the attention. There was a time when most nursing homes would not allow animals to visit. That has changed, thanks to published research about the benefits of therapy dogs.

If  you have a dog that is calm, gentle, and especially friendly, you might consider training him as a therapy dog. Therapy dogs can be any breed. Before your dog can perform therapy work, he must be properly socialized and trained to receive certification and he should be checked over by a vet to make sure he's in good health.

Here's a picture my daugher's dog who lives with us provides us therapy all the time! He's a shih-poo, a shih-tzu/poodle mix and is often mistaken for a Portuguese water dog puppy.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Meet Service Dog Hero, Kazi

ISBN: 978-0-7660-3199-9

     Service dogs are trained to help make people who have physical disabilities live's easier.Service dog, Kazi does just that. He picks up dropped keys, pulls out pots from lower cabinets, and even opens the refrigerator door. When I was greeted by Jacqueline and her beautiful four-year-old golden retriever,Kazi wasn't wearing his working vest so I was able to pet him. After Jacqueline and I spoke for a while about how Kazi helps her to live a more independent life, it was time for Kazi to show me what he could do. Once Jacqueline strapped on Kazi's working vest, I wasn't allowed to pet him or talk to him. Jacqueline explained how this would distract him from doing his job. When I speak to children about service dogs I share the message that you should never approach a dog that is wearing a service vest because they are doing a job. Distracting a working dog of any kind could result in an injury to his handler. It is, however, okay to talk to the dog's handler. 
     In the Service Dog Heroes book I was able to include quotes from my interview with Dr. Bonnie Bergin who founded Canine Campanions for Independence, the first service dog program. Her program trained and assisted in the placement of service dogs for people with physical disabilities. I was amazed to find out that it was donkeys she saw being used in Turkey to help people walk and guide dogs being used in the United States that gave her the idea to train dogs to perform service work. In 1991, Dr. Bergin founded the Assistant Dog Institute at the Bergin University of Canine Studies in Santa Rosa, California. It is here where people learn to breed, train, and place service dogs with physically disabled people. Dr. Bergin continues her work today at the University and hopes that her students will discover new ways to improve on the amazing work she has already done.  
     Of all the interviews I conducted for this series, I have to say, Dr. Bergin's impacted me the most. I believe the events that led Dr. Bergin on the path to do the work she does were not coincidences, but that they were meant to be so people with physical disabilities would have the chance to live more independent lives. 
     I recently learned that the Service Dog Heroes book has been nominated as a finalist for the 2011 SCBWI Crystal Kite Member Choice Award. My hope is that this nomination will bring more attention and support to service dog programs and that this book will help educate young readers about service dogs.