Who Says You Can't Ride a Bike if You're Blind!
Stephen Kuusisto, Have Dog, Will Travel
For over 30 years, legally blind from birth, Stephen Kuusisto went about his daily business as if he had 20/20 vision. He even drove bikes and motorcycles. But his life changed dramatically when he met his first service dog, Corky. This dog assisted him and even taught him some valuable life lessons.
Being born in the fifties and being blind meant you were treated a little differently. Stephen's mother felt that if people really fully understood just how blind he was, he would have no place in society. He tells us it was her rural New England uninformed mode of thinking and that it pretty well colored the way she thought about disabilities. Even though he was blind, Stephen tells us if he put his nose on something really close, he might be able to see it with one eye. However, his family pretty much ignored the fact that he was blind and he was taught to deny it in order to "pass" as sighted. Surprisingly, Stephen tells us even today there are people with disabilities who don't get the kind of emotional support they need and they grow up not embracing it.
Stephen attended public school, rode a bike, and read books pressed right up against his nose. As an adult, he coped with his limited vision by becoming a professor in a small college town, memorizing routes for all of the places he needed to be. Then, at the age of 38, he was laid off. With no other job opportunities in his vicinity, he would have to travel to find work.
After 38 years of trying to pass himself off as a sighted person, he thought not only was he learning how to walk with a white cane and be a blind guy in the world, but he also liked dogs.
However, being raised as a sighted person made him incredibly adventurous to where this day he is still willing to do dare devil things. He's not a worrier of being in the world, which may have aided him when he decided to get a guide dog, because one of the things you do is learn how to work the dog in urban environments.
Stephen was in New York City with his first dog, Corky, plunging through New York traffic and having a good time. He learned to trust her and discovered that he could go any place he wanted. So that's the upside of it. The downside of his family's previous denial is that it takes you a long time to just decide, "Hey, I'm okay this way." He says it's not an unusual story because lots of people, whether they're gay, they grew up with alcoholics or whatever it is, it takes them a while to finally figure out they're good.
Growing up, Stephen's family always had Golden Retrievers. They were great companions and fun to have around. They'd lift your spirits by being playful and just loyal, terrific companion. He grew up knowing that dogs were just absolutely fabulous creatures. But one day he almost got run over in Ithaca, New York where he was then living at a college town. He was using a white cane to navigate, which is a one way that the blind can navigate. But the thing about the cane is it can't warn you if you step into the street and you haven't heard the traffic correctly.
One day he was almost struck by a Chevrolet and he's sitting on the sidewalk with a stranger who helped him. It then dawns on him that he had read somewhere that guide dogs are trained in this remarkable thing called, "Intelligent Disobedience," and that they will not let you step into harm's way, because dogs are smart. Guide dogs are not only selected because they're obedient, but because they can also think for themselves. They're independent. He said it was almost like the light bulb moment where it goes off over your head in a cartoon, where he just suddenly realized, "Oh yeah, a guide dog!"
Stephen explains that when you're training with a dog, you very quickly come to realize that this is an exceptionally smart animal and that it has your back. It has your best interest in mind and of course your job is to also have their best interest in mind. Together you become a six-legged creature. You become a really deeply bonded team.
His first guide dog Corky lived to be 13. She came from Guiding Eyes For The Blind, which is one of a dozen great guide dog schools in U.S. She was a very large female yellow Labrador who weighed 85 pounds. She was extremely fast. Part of the joke was that they couldn't find somebody fast enough to give her to. They had her a little while at the guide dog school, and since Stephen was also fast, they just took one look at him and knew immediately that they found Corky's match.
There's a section in the book where after he gets Corky, he goes to New York City with her just on a lark, on a whim, and they spend three days just going everywhere in New York just because they can. They go to a Mets game, Coney Island and even a jazz club. Stephen writes about how formerly in his life he hadn't felt that he had that kind of independence and freedom. And so pretty quickly he discovers with Corky that she's making him a bigger, more open, more flexible, more curious and more secure person.
Stephen is still very speedy and is on his fourth guide dog, also from the same school, another yellow Labrador named Caitlin. She is also extremely fast. They've all been speedy and Stephen's sighted friends can't keep up with him. In fact when they're out walking with him they tell him that will catch up with him on the next block!
These dogs typically work roughly seven years on average. They are usually around age two when you get them and they work until around age nine. When his previous guide dogs retired, Stephen made them all his family pets and then got a new guide dog, which is pretty customary.
However, if you're a blind person who doesn't have the kind of family dynamic and home where you can keep them as a family pet, you can return the dog to the guide dog school and they'll find it a home. Or, you can give it to a family friend or neighbor.
When writing his book, Have Dog Will Travel, Stephen tells us he joked with Simon and Schuster who published it. He told them it was Zen and the Art of Guide Dog Travel, like that old Robert Pirsig book from the sixties, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. He said it is not about motorcycles and in a way it's not just about guide dogs, but about learning to love your life, learning to admire and appreciate the wisdom of dogs. Learning to just discovering that you can go anywhere you want, anytime you want with a guide dog.
Stephen's book becomes about developing a kind of spiritual life, a more trusting, outgoing and even lovely life. That is why it's called a poet's journey. Not just because he began his writing career as a poet, but also because it's a poet's eye on what makes a dog a thrilling and wonderful companion. The book is really for everybody. It's not a book just about disability. It's for anybody who loves dogs.
Dizzy Old Dogs - Diagnosing Idiopathic Vestibular Disease -Dr. Debbie
I came running when I heard the crashing paw steps of my 12 year old Labrador, Magnum as he flopped and tumbled in a nervous frenzy. With head crooked to the right, Magnum's dizzy, wobbly movements resembled a carnival lover's exit from the tilt-a-whirl ride. His eyes darted back in forth in an uncontrollable movement. Many might assume Magnum suffered a stroke, and figured it was time to put the old guy to sleep. But fortunately there was hope - Magnum developed a typical case of Idiopathic Vestibular Disease.
What is Idiopathic Vestibular Disease?
Idiopathic Vestibular Disease, also known as Old Dog Vestibular Disease, is a condition commonly diagnosed in senior dogs, but also seen in cats. The term idiopathic basically means the cause is unknown. This condition affects the vestibular system and the pet's sense of balance, typically with a rapid onset of symptoms. In Magnum's case he literally was fine at the start of a television program, and was wobbly just one hour later.
Symptoms of Old Dog Vestibular Syndrome include a wobbly gait, head tilt, anxiety, panting, and an abnormal eye movement called nystagmus, a condition in which the eyes dart rapidly back-and-forth or up-and-down. In addition to mobility problems, the topsy-turvy sensation leads to nausea, vomiting, and an inability to eat or drink. Thankfully my sturdy stomached Labrador barely missed a meal during his bout.
The cause of idiopathic vestibular vestibular syndrome isn't completely known, but fortunately most dogs recovery from symptoms within 2 to 4 weeks. In some cases dogs may suffer from future bouts months to years later. Some dogs may retain a slight head tilt or unsteadiness at times.
What Can Be Done?
A veterinary examination is important to identify suspected cases of vestibular disease. Other possible causes of these symptoms could include an infectious or inflammatory condition, inner ear infection, cancer, or a brain vascular episode - a stroke-like episode. In order to rule out these potential causes, more detailed testing is needed and may include tests like a CT, MRI, and CSF tap.
There isn't a cure for a vestibular episode, and some pets recover without any treatment. But other animals require supportive care including anti-nausea medications, intravenous fluid therapy, hand feeding, and physical assistance to walk and protect from household hazards.
Caring for a frightened, disoriented, wobbly, nauseated dog can be difficult. My 80 pound Labrador needed physical support to get up, walk outside and required hand feeding at times. He couldn't be left home alone without risk of injury. And because of all the hoisting, blocking collisions with furniture, and guiding away from the depths of the pool, I injured my back during his rehab time. The reality is that home care of a small or toy breed with vestibular disease is much easier than the physical demands of a assisting a large or giant breed dog.
I have seen many a patient come to my veterinary office for euthanasia after developing similar vestibular symptoms. Some pet owners assume that the severe symptoms and rapid onset mean that there is no hope and euthanasia is the only choice. I'll admit that vestibular symptoms are scary and affected pets are tough to care for at home, but if given the tincture of time, many senior dogs will eventually improve. Perhaps Magnum's story will help other pet owner's opt to pursue treatment or testing, and give time a chance to heal.
Four weeks later and Magnum is back to playing with toys and energetically bounding on walks. He still retains a slight head tilt to the right, his badge of courage as I see it. I'm thankful for his recovery and adore his charming, lovable tilted perspective of the world.
Featured veterinarian known as "Dr. Debbie" on national pet radio program, Animal Radio. Ebook author of "Yorkshire Terriers: How to Be Your Dog's Best Friend"; "Pugs: How to Be Your Dog's Best Friend"; "Mini Schnauzers: How to Be Your Dog's Best Friend"; and "Shih Tzu: How to Be Your Dog's Best Friend." Dr. Debbie's books.
Animal Radio News - Lori Brooks
Mood-Altering Dugs For Pets
Every part of the pet care industry is growing these days and growing a lot, including the mental health portion of pet care. Most of us are aware of such problems as separation anxiety, compulsive behaviors, phobias and aggression in pets. And, as a result, many pets are being prescribed psychiatric medications. One study published last year found that 8-percent of dog owners and 6-percent of cat owners gave medications to their pets for anxiety, calming or mood purposes. Because about 60 million American households have dogs and 47 million homes have cats, it's believed that actually millions of American pets are taking medications for behavioral issues. Whether pets really need mood-altering drugs is still controversial, because it's not known how often these medications are used to truly care for pets and how often they are simply being used for the convenience of pet owners. There have been clinical trials that suggest antidepressants may help dogs suffering from separation anxiety or compulsive behaviors such as tail chasing. However, most of those studies also included behavioral therapies as part of the treatments for animals, not just medication alone. Some of those therapies are as simple as spending more time with pets, taking them outdoors and using training programs. Studies also suggest that dogs who are walked only a few times each week or whose owners spend less time at home, may be at greater risk for behavioral problems, such as excessive barking and destructiveness. Keep in mind that as with humans, giving psych drugs to pets isn't risk-free. Just as with humans, psychiatric medications for pets can have side effects, many the same as humans get, like nausea, weight loss or weight gain.
What It Takes to Be A True Therapy Pet
There was a recent article in the Parade magazine, where the author mentioned how he saw a cute therapy dog wearing a "therapy animal" vest and he asked the owner if he could pet the dog, because you are not supposed to pet animals who are working. The owner told him, "He's not really a therapy dog. I just put this on so I can take him into the store with me." This is happening more and more. People are abusing the system with their so-called therapy pets. Now even some airlines are requiring documentation for a therapy animal. So what does it take to have a legitimately trained therapy animal? As far as real therapy animals go, you can't just put a vest on your dog, cat or guinea pig and expect people to take you seriously. Therapy animals go through rigorous training to earn their title. The animal's handler has to go through training too, plus the animal itself has to pass a health screening. Here are some of the point-by-point items that Pet Partners uses when evaluating an animal and/or handler: Pet Partners therapy animals must meet the following criteria: Are at least one year old at the time of evaluation or six months old for rabbits, guinea pigs and rats. Have lived in the owner's home for at least six months or one year for birds. Must be reliably house-trained. Waste collection devices are not permitted, with the exception of flight suits for birds. Be currently vaccinated against rabies. Titers are not accepted in lieu of vaccination. May not be fed a raw meat diet. Have no history of aggression or seriously injuring either people or other animals. Demonstrate good basic obedience skills. Animals walking with a lead should walk on a loose leash, and respond reliably to common commands such as sit, down, stay, come and leave it. Welcome, not merely tolerate, interactions with strangers. Then, you as a successful handler must be able to: Read your pet's body language and recognize when their animal is stressed, anxious, concerned, over-stimulated or fatigued. Cue or redirect their animal without raising their voice, forcefully jerking on the leash or offering the animal food or toys. Guide the interactions of others with the animal in a professional and polite manner. Advocate for the safety and well-being of their animal at all times. It isn't just dogs that can be therapy animals. Pet Partners register nine species for therapy animal work. They are: dogs, cats, equines, rabbits, guinea pigs, llamas and alpacas, birds, miniature pigs and rats.
Dog Park Hijacked
The Tribeca Dog Park in New York was literally stolen, or hijacked, ten years ago by area residents who put a lock on the gate, began charging fees, banning non-member status mutts and enforcing its 22 rules with an iron fist and the city never noticed. The people with the pirated dog park installed a keypad lock on the gate and sent members a secret 4-digit passcode after they paid a $120 annual fee over Paypal on the group's website. The code was updated every few months. Now, the Parks Department is trying to reclaim the dog run for the public, but the members only group says the neglectful city forced their hand.
Man Shoots At Roommate Over Cat Hair on Couch
A 58-year-old Florida man has been arrested after he shot at his roommate because he was angry about cat hair being on the couch. The roommate told police that the cat-hair-hating-guy fired in his direction and said, "The next one's going to be you." Mr. Cat Hair Hater is being held without bond and is facing charges of robbery with a firearm, shooting into a dwelling, aggravated battery and aggravated assault.
Recreational Drugs And Alcohol Are Not For Pets
The Family Center for Recovery surveyed over 1,000 pet owners who admitted to seeing their pet ingest drugs or other substances. While cats are known for their curiosity, it was dogs that got into the most trouble, with 807 participants confessing to seeing their dog consume drugs or alcohol. That number was only 274 for cats. The survey found that alcohol is the substance accidentally consumed by the most pets, with 28-percent of pet parents admitting to watching their pets consume alcohol, and some going as far to say that they gave alcohol to their pet on purpose. The big problem with that is alcohol can cause serious harm to pets, often causing vomiting and diarrhea and in some cases difficulty breathing and even death. About 1 in 4 participants confessed they thought marijuana inhalation or consumption was safe for pets. Like alcohol, marijuana can cause serious health issues for your pet, especially if they consume it in large quantities. Aside from alcohol and marijuana, over-the-counter medication was the most frequent drug consumed by pets, often because a human left the medicine in a place they thought was out of the pets reach. And almost 10-percent of men and 5-percent women in this survey said they purposefully got their pet high on drugs so they could share the experience and nearly 8-percent of men and 4-percent of women said they gave their pet drugs or alcohol out of boredom.
Listen to the entire Podcast of this show (#962)