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Every dog is unique

Olivia Sielaff

They all have their own personalities, favorite pieces of furniture, selective taste buds, etc. Our dogs greet us every time we come home and are always ready to play. But more importantly dogs have a special part in our lives and other's lives as well. Ellen is one of those dogs.

My family and I raised Ellen for Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Part of the preparation for raising a Guiding Eyes puppy is that you have to "puppy-sit" other dogs that are already in the program. We had puppy-sat a few dogs after attending some classes, and then were matched with a Labrador that had just been born but was too young to leave it's mother. While we were preparing for our dog, we had the opportunity to puppy-sit Ellen in November of 2006. It turned out that Ellen's raiser could no longer take care of her, and consequently he asked us if we would like to take her through her training. We remember when Ellen's raiser had asked us this, and Ellen looked up at us with her big puppy eyes and we couldn't resist. After completing paper work and family interviews, we were ready for a Guiding Eyes dog. We extended Ellen's "sleep-over" to a couple more months. Little did we know what Ellen had in store for us.

Ellen was as cute as a button and we loved all of the puppy things she did. She would tease our Border Collie, Lady, romp around, chew sticks, chase butterflies, and do all the things puppies enjoy. But we remembered that we weren't just raising a pet, we were raising a Guiding Eyes dog. Even though all the puppy things Ellen did were cute, we had to start teaching her the basics to being a good guide dog.

Once a week, my mom, little brother, and I would take Ellen to puppy class. It was much like obedience school for dogs except the standards were a bit higher than "sit", "lay down", and "heel". All Guiding Eyes dogs must learn what will be expected of them when they are placed with a blind person. They need to be taught several commands besides the obvious ones. For instance, the dogs are taught to walk on the left side of their trainer without charging ahead or lagging behind; they need to pay attention to what they are told to do, not what they want to do; they must stop at a curb and sit; also, the dogs need to know how to steer their blind owner out of the way of obstructing objects.

Ellen seemed promising with the way she was learning all the commands. Whenever she did something we told her to do, Ellen would get a treat (one piece of kibble). If she did something unacceptable we had to look her in the eye and tell her in a firm voice that she wasn't supposed to do that. Of course there were many times when Ellen simply wouldn't do what she was told. No matter what we bribed Ellen with, she had already made up her mind not to listen. Ellen had attitude and she knew it.

But we had to try our best to convince Ellen in some way what she needed to do. First we always carried treats with us, even around the house, hoping that maybe the temptation of food would make her listen. If Ellen would get ahead of us while we were walking her, we would coax her back with a treat. That didn't work for very long because we ended up giving her so many pieces of kibble that she wasn't sticking to her "diet", and she relied so much on the treats that she wasn't really focused on the commands. So instead of rewarding her every time with a treat, we would keep her guessing by giving her a piece once in a while. But sometimes even treats wouldn't make her listen, and we had to resort to other plans of action for all the tricks she had waiting for us.

Ellen thoroughly enjoyed stealing things. What ever you can think of - she took it. Dog toys, laundry (especially socks), pens, scissors, paper, books, dog bowls, crystal coasters, hair brushes, eye glasses, soap, candles, collectable dolls, etc. Also, whenever Ellen stole something she loved to make a game of it. For instance, when we would catch her with the laundry basket, she would turn around to look at us and then run around the dining room table with us chasing after her. She didn't get very far with the basket, but if she stole socks than it was a bit harder to catch her. Also, stealing shoes was one of Ellen's specialties.

The second we took our eyes off of her she had a shoe, or two, in her mouth. After countless games of chasing her around the dining room table, we decided to trick her the next time she tried to steal a shoe. We filled a soda can with coins and tied it to a conspicuous looking shoe and hid the can behind the shoe. The first time Ellenbolted off with the shoe she was surprised at all the racket the soda can made. We quickly took the shoe away from her and set the trap again. The second time she stole the shoe, Ellen wasn't fooled and went right for the can. She started chewing it and thought it was a great new toy. Obviously there was nothing else we could do except hide our shoes from Ellen.

Also, Ellen had very fine tastes when it came to stealing food. She would take the usual sandwich, cookie, candy wrapper, but she decided to try some finer foods. After eating a hole through a cherry pie, Ellen then went on to stealing an entire roast off the counter. Probably the most daring she had been was at my grandparents' house when she knocked over a wine bottle, uncorked it, and drank away. We had to keep a closer eye on her after that.

One of the recommendations of the Guiding Eyes leaders, in order to keep Ellen out of trouble, was to "tie" her to a piece of furniture in a high-traffic room. We started off by using a long leash tied to a chair in the kitchen, but that wasn't smart because Ellen could still jump on the counters and twist herself around the table and through the chairs so that it was impossible to untangle her. We then used a shorter leash tied to a chair, but Ellen wasn't so little anymore, and she easily dragged the chair all over the kitchen. Next, Ellen was tied to the kitchen table's leg, but even that didn't work. If she tried, Ellen could jerk the table inch by inch to get to another room where there was something more interesting. Our last resort, which seemed like an excellent idea, was to tie Ellen to the refrigerator. This kept her restricted for quite a while, but even that couldn't stop her for long. She would be so determined to "escape" that Ellen broke the leg off the refrigerator a number of times. Unfortunately there was no way to tie Ellen to the house itself, but even if we could have done it she probably would have moved that, too.

Ellen was a challenge, not because of the bad things she did but because she was so strong-headed and fearless. She had the determination and drive to work and play, but in her own way. When it was time for Ellen's IFT (In For Training) test, we knew that she would have the guts to face every new challenge, and she did. She passed her tests and was soon matched and placed with a blind woman.

excelled at work, but, not surprisingly, was a bit of a problem in the house. Her unacceptable house behavior continued and Ellen's owner couldn't do much about it. Consequently, Ellen was released from the Guiding Eyes program and was put up for adoption. For various reasons we couldn't adopt her. Fortunately, a caring, retired couple who had previously raised sixteen other Guiding Eyes dogs adopted Ellen. But she didn't get off that easy. Ellen is now a therapy dog and visits hospitals and nursing homes when she's not at home stirring up trouble.

Ellen certainly is a unique dog. She came into our home and hearts to teach us patience, responsibility, and determination. We are so happy to have raised her.