What lesson in life have your dogs taught you? Waggleview with Deb O’Brien, a puppy raiser for Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation
The Dog Owner: Deb O’Brien – Commercial Credit Manager, Vice President at TD Bank. I am a volunteer puppy raiser for Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation and a volunteer at Blue Star Equiculture in Palmer MA. As a professional career woman, I also look to mentor other young women in their lives. I serve on the Individuals with Disabilities Committee at the bank to promote hiring and advancement of anyone with a disability.
Dog types and Names:
Liberty – a 12 year-old mutt – had her DNA tested and she is a true Heinz 57; there wasn’t one dominant breed in the results.
Phelan – 5-year-old German shepherd – Fidelco Career Change to Pet
Yuki – 5-month-old German shepherd – current Fidelco puppy
Q: Why did you choose these dogs?
Liberty (she was born on the 4th of July) was adopted from a shelter as a puppy in Naugatuck CT (Flora’s Pet Project). Her mom was brought to the shelter when she was pregnant and had the puppies there. We were looking for a puppy to add to our house. At that time, we had a 3-year-old German shepherd; we wanted him to have a playmate. We choose Liberty because she was having fun and showed a lot of personality. She is now the mother of the household – over people and pets.
Phelan (Irish for “wolf”) was adopted when it became apparent that his life as a guide dog was unlikely. He was getting too big and wasn’t comfortable around small children. As our first puppy from the program, we were more than happy to add him to our family.
Yuki (Japanese for “snow’) was added to our family in September of 2015 after we turned in our previous puppy to head off for guide dog training. She was placed in our home based on the atmosphere and how it would blend with her personality.
Q: Do you talk to your dogs? If so, what do you talk about?
I talk to them all the time. I talk to them about what I am supposed to be doing (like they can remind me when I forget). I talk to them about my day. I pretty much talk to them all the time so I don’t feel alone. After being surrounded by people all day who want and need something from me, the silence at home can be disturbing. And let’s face it; husbands aren’t always much for conversation anyway. At least mine isn’t.
Q: If they could talk to you, what would they say?
They would all probably tell me that I am crazy. Then they would beg me to feed them or take them out to run and play.
Q: If your dogs had a job or career, what would they be doing?
Liberty – she would most likely be a supervisor of something. She is constantly checking in on the other dogs and finding me when they are up to no good. She is also a great hunter.
Phelan – well clearly he could have had a career, but now he is a puppy raiser with me and does a great job at it.
Yuki – she is too young yet to tell – but she is already showing signs that she would make a great inspector. She has a tremendous nose and feels the need to check out everything she comes in contact with.
Q: What lesson in life have your dogs taught you?
All of my dogs have taught me to be patient. But raising puppies for Fidelco and taking them out into the community has taught me confidence and quiet strength. When you are out in public with a German shepherd, you know never know what the reaction to something will be. And the more I get flustered the more out of control the situation can become. I have really learned to remain calm and collected under pressure. They have also taught me to be more extroverted. As an introvert, being out in public and talking to strangers is not something I enjoy. Over the past six years of raising puppies, I have really gained confidence in introducing myself and conversing with total strangers. I have also had to learn about letting go. These dogs only stay with me for 14 to 16 months.
Q: How do you become a trainer for a Fidelco dog?
The organization is very good at giving you the tools you need to be a puppy raiser. There are orientation classes and an application process before you even get on the list for a puppy. From there, once you get the puppy there are regular classes and a handbook to follow for the training. Additionally, if there are any questions or problems, there are staff members that will work with you.
Q: How long is the training?
The training for a dog lasts approximately 2 years. From the time they are born, the puppies are being trained. They are placed with the puppy raisers at 8 weeks of age. Once with the raisers, the puppies learn basic obedience and are socialized in live public settings to life so they are comfortable with any situation that may arise. At approximately 16 months of age, the dogs are returned to Fidelco where they work with the professional training staff to learn the job skills. I look at it as raising them be good citizens until they graduate high school. They then go to college at Fidelco and once they graduate, they then look for work. Once they graduate, the placement team works to find the perfect match based on the client waiting list. Fidelco focuses on pairing the dog and client based on personality and living arrangements. For example, if a dog weren’t completely comfortable working in the city they wouldn’t be placed with a client that lives there. All these dogs, like people, have preferences and they are matched to who is best for each other.
Q: How do your dogs inspire you?
They inspire me to be the real me. They don’t judge and love me for who I am. They are quick to forgive, don’t hold grudges and definitely live in the moment.
Q: Where are your dogs’ favorite places to go with you?
They all love hiking and running free in the woods or big fields. Phelan really loves swimming and playing in the snow. Liberty loves to go to my mother’s house (she gets spoiled there). But actually they love going anywhere I go, as long as they are with me.
Q: What made you decide to get involved with Fidelco?
Initially I heard an ad looking for people to raise German Shepherd puppies. I though that would be great, so I went ahead and got involved. It ended up being a great opportunity to raise German Shepherd puppies, all while helping provide independence to those that need it.
Q: Who or what do your dogs find the most interesting?
Other than me, I would have to say any other animals. They all seem to think that anything with four legs wants to play with them.
Q: What is the most annoying thing other dog owners do?
I think there are a few things that annoy me the most. The first is dog owners who don’t pick up after their dogs. The second is people who now try to take their dogs everywhere in public. There are people with real disabilities that need their dogs in order to be independent. It’s now so easy to get official looking identifications and vests/harnesses that say, “service dog”. So many of these dogs have never had professional training and are jeopardizing the validity of real service dogs.
Q: What does being a responsible dog owner mean to you?
It means making sure they are good canine citizens with strong obedience training. It’s important that they are exposed to things and situations in life that make them well adjusted and not reactive. It means having them spayed/neutered to prevent over population. It means keeping them healthy with regular vet visits, maintaining a healthy weight and active lifestyle.
Q: How does someone go about getting a guide dog?
For Fidelco there is an involved application process. All potential clients need to be experienced with a cane so that in the event the dog is sick they can still function.
Q: Why does Fidelco always pick German Shepards?
When the program started, the founders had a love of German Shepherds (they were from Germany) and used that breed. Over time they realized that these dogs tended to perform somewhat better than other breeds. They have a high drive to work and an amazing ability to make independent decisions when necessary.
Q: How have your dogs changed your life?
I recently had to put down one of my German shepherds, Ciara. She had Degenerative Myelopathy, which is a debilitating canine disease similar to ALS in humans. For the final year of her life she had no use of her hind legs. I would have to hold her back end up while she was in a harness to help her walk. Then that finally became too much for her. She was becoming more and more depressed. I figured the end was near so I decided to try one more thing, get her a cart. I took her on a short road trip to get the cart fitted to her. They measured her and built her “wheels”. I started worrying about how she would react to being “handicapped”. When they brought the cart out, I lifted her into it. Well, she didn’t even giving me a chance to finished locking it on her. She wanted to run! Within minutes of her running around, I could see the life back in her eyes, she was happy again. The depression went away instantly. When we got home and I put her outside in her cart with the other dogs, there was no stopping her. They adjusted quickly to giving her extra room to chase the ball.
This experience taught me to always have faith, compassion and to enjoy life to the fullest. There is no such thing as a limitation. If you have the will anything is possible. I had always said I would never put a pet in a cart – but it gave her an additional six months of happiness and life. The extra time and energy it took to work with her in and out of the cart didn’t matter when I saw how happy she was. All it takes is a little extra to truly make a difference in life. Sadly, she ended up having tumors on her bladder and she needed to cross over. I knew for sure I gave her the best life right to the end and neither of us had any regrets. I still lend out her cart to others less financially fortunate for what may be a short period of time.
Q: How do you deal with having to give up your Fidelco puppy?
It is one of the hardest things to do. I deal by quickly getting a new puppy. Having the opportunity to overlap the new puppy with the old puppy is even a better way to deal with giving it up. Overall, sending the puppy back for training is very hard to do. I get by with knowing that these dogs will one day make a difference in someone’s life. I try to talk to many clients so that I can continue to reinforce the difference the dog makes in their life. Seeing a client and their dog maneuvering and negotiating in a world where it is challenging, even for a sighted person, gives me all the motivation I need to keep raising these dogs.
Q: Do your dogs have a philosophy of life?
Not sure if they do, but if I had to guess, I am pretty sure it is – eat, sleep, play.
Q: I love my dogs because they make my life complete. They provide so many experiences I never would have had otherwise..
WAGGLEVIEW™: These interviews are focused on leaders in business, the community, or at home. My hope in doing this is to present remarkable and respected people in their community with their beloved pets. Who can resist reading about pets and what these people do? This is a platform for people to display their talents; their own business, a new book, a deeply loved passion for a charity or their own job. It also shows their love for their pet!
Thank you Deb for taking the time to participate in the waggleview™.
Cynthia Hinckley, founder and executive director of Bright Spot Therapy Dogs, Inc., has also learned some valuable lessons from her dogs. You know you want to read more, so click HERE to find out what Cynthia and her dogs have to say.
What lesson in life have your dogs taught you?
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