Dogs aren't our whole world but they do make Jim's and my world whole. (I'm
paraphrasing a popular Roger Caras quote.)
If you've read some of the previous years' journals on this website,
you probably already know that we are big fans of Labrador
retrievers. I've shared my home and life with six of them so far. Jim
has known all of them except Callie, my first Lab.
Labs #2 and 3: Tater (L) and
There are good reasons why Labs have been the most popular AKC breed in
the United States for the past 26 years. They are intelligent, lovable,
active, handsome, and relatively easy-care dogs that are suitable for
people of all ages. Most of them, like ours, make excellent family pets.
Many can be trained to work in a variety of important jobs like
sniffing out drugs and bombs, finding survivors buried in snow or rubble
after a blizzard or hurricane, serving as guide, therapy, and service dogs, and more.
This entry is an update on our three companion Labs, who currently range in
age from 17 months to more than 15½ years
old. It's hard to get a good picture of all of them at once, even
though they often follow me around like I'm the Pied Piper. It's easier
to capture the action with only two of them at once:
Holly (L) and Casey hunt for fish
in the bottom of the pool. When the water is moving,
it looks like the "fish" are moving.
<grin> Holly was six months old in this picture. (2-22-18)
Cody (L) and Holly snooze on their beds in the
This entry is also an introduction to
Warrior Canine Connection, a great organization I've come to know in
the last few months that uses military veterans, some with PTSD,
to raise and train Labs and Golden retrievers to be service dogs for fellow
servicemen and women who are disabled in some manner. It's warriors helping
The organization uses a
model that helps veterans recover from
the stress of combat. WCC estimates that each of its service dogs
benefits the lives of at least 60 recovering warriors in the process,
plus the veteran who receives the dog for the rest of its life after it is
fully trained for its specific duties.
I'll start with our own dogs first.
FAMILY OF FIVE
Our lives continue to revolve partly (mostly, some might say) around our fur kids.
Since late July, 2017, we've had the pleasure of sharing our home with
lovable Labrador retrievers, the first we've ever had more than two
dogs at once. That's when we adopted our last little bundle of joy,
They occupy a lot of our time -- walking them, feeding them,
training them, cleaning up dog hairs, throwing balls to be retrieved, cuddling, feeding,
walking some more -- but they make
us laugh and keep us younger.
Holly-pup's first full day with
Last October I
wrote about the joys and challenges of
having dogs in three distinct stages of life from exuberant young puppy
to senior citizen with doggie dementia.
Not a lot has changed since I wrote that, except all three are a year
older now and Holly's almost as big as Casey (those are the two yellow girls).
Holly's still definitely a puppy, though.
Cody, the black male Lab who accompanied me
on part of the Appalachian Trail in 2005 when he was two years old, is now
15 years and 8 months old. That's ancient in human years! The average lifespan
of a Labrador retriever is 10-12 years. I've never had one live past 12
until Cody. He has far exceeded our expectations.
Cody then, just before his 2nd
birthday in March, 2005, on a training run
with me near Dragons Tooth on a
gnarly section of the AT in Virginia
Cody now: still handsome at 100+ in
human years! I took this picture of him two months ago at 15½.
He's had a graying chin and calm demeanor since age
2, so people have always thought he was old.
With that much age also comes some medical issues, just as in most
humans in their 90s and 100s.
Since turning 12, Cody has survived surgery on a superficial cancerous
spot on his groin, a near-fatal bout of pancreatitis, and one
episode of canine vestibular disease (an ear imbalance). We were warned
that the vestibular disease might recur but, thankfully, it never has.
His arthritis has gotten progressively worse with time, just like
mine has. Since his 14th birthday he's also developed a nerve disorder
in his hind quarters, which makes walking more difficult, and canine
cognitive dysfunction, the equivalent of human dementia. Both conditions
require some accommodations, like understanding that he needs to
be close to me in the house to feel secure (very much a Velcro Dog now)
and using a ramp to get him into the truck and camper (our house is
stepless, which is good).
Cody on a hike at Line Creek
Nature Area in Peachtree City, GA (8-22-18)
Despite these physical and mental limitations he still eats well
(Labs are always hungry, it seems!), is a good weight, can walk
half a mile or more with me on trails, isn't phased by the two younger
dogs in the family, and has the same sweet disposition he's always had.
Our vet is impressed with his longevity and stoicism.
I joke that Cody is going to outlive us all, but we know his days are
numbered. It's going to be a very sad time for us when he has to make one last
trip to the vet.
is (gasp!) middle-aged already at age six.
Labs are considered "senior" at seven. Wasn't she just a cute little puppy
Cody and Casey share a stick in
the fall of 2012
when Casey was just a little squirt.
While she does still have a puppy brain sometimes, she has settled down enough
at age six to look downright mature compared to Holly-pup!
In fact, Holly's puppy trainer,
Robin Sockness, thinks Casey would make a good therapy dog
because she's so sweet and lovable. I'm researching what that training entails.
My first two Labs were certified therapy dogs back in the 1980s, so I do
know some about the process.
Casey with Robin in June, 2018,
during a doggie play session at a friend's farm;
in play groups Casey tends to gravitate more to
people than other dogs.
Deep Run Casey Girl is a
lovable sweetie pie.
Then there's Holly AKA "Holly-Holly"
in a sing-song voice.
What were we thinking when we got another
young, exuberant Lab puppy at our age?? (I jest in part; puppies
are a ton of fun.)
Casey and Cody have been remarkably tolerant of the new kid as she's
grown from a precocious, plump little eight-week-old fur ball to a lean and
leggy, still-rambunctious 17-month-old.
Holly in April, 2018 at age 10 months in a rare
Holly and Casey share enough genes that they resemble each other in
many ways. Casey's sire is Holly's paternal grand-sire so I guess
they're like aunt and niece in human-speak.
Holly has some of her very own
endearing quirks, however, such as her continued emotional attachment to Snuggle Puppy II.
The next picture shows her with the original
Snuggle Puppy, the one that she's resting
her head on in the front of the crate. We got this special stuffed dog before her arrival so
she'd have less stress after being separated from her litter. These
therapeutic toys have a battery-operated "heart" inside that vibrates and
makes a ticking sound to soothe puppies and older dogs. Snuggle Puppy also came with
a heat pack but we never used that.
Every morning when we got up, the white
topknot on Snuggle Puppy's head would be wet from her mouthing it
like a pacifier or thumb:
Holly slept and played
with that toy until she dismembered it when she was about a year old. I
finally tossed it out after she swallowed little pieces of its ears and fiberfill.
Several weeks ago I got her a new, less expensive stuffed dog at PetsMart. After she chewed off
the ears (again!), she started mouthing the top of its head like she
used to do with Snuggle Puppy when she was younger. We have to supervise her when she plays
with this or any other stuffed toy because she still likes to eviscerate
them. That's not so awful, but swallowing the pieces is.
As with the original Snuggle Puppy, she gets
totally focused while mouthing the top of this one's head. She wraps her front paws
around it to hold it steady and rocks almost imperceptively back and forth.
In the next picture she's mouthing the top of the (earless) head of
the newest stuffed dog, then looks up innocently when she hears the
camera go off:
Still a baby at 16 months old
"Are you lookin' at me??"
"Yes, I am, baby girl. You are
just too cute when you do that!"
Sometimes she does it for ten minutes or more. It's almost like a
baby sucking its thumb. It just melts our hearts because the vulnerable
behavior is so different than when she's tormenting Casey or zinging around like a Wild Child.
All the dogs love to go anywhere with us -- even the vet -- whether
via car, truck, bike, golf cart, RV, or on foot. Holly did great in our RV on our recent trip
to Alabama for a race Jim participated in. Even though it was her first
time overnight in the camper, you'd have thought she'd been traveling in
it all her life. Cody and Casey were just as adaptable when they began
RVing as puppies, too.
Holly (L) and Casey inside the
Cameo screen door (Oct., 2018); they are good watchdogs.
We got Holly so Casey would have someone to play with on a regular
basis. Cody's always been too old for Casey to play as much as she wanted;
he was almost ten when we got Casey.
Casey was not quite five when we got Holly last year. The timing was good for all of us.
Now age six, Casey still usually enjoys playing with Holly. They wrestle, play
keep-away with toys, sticks, and balls, and chase each other around the yard and through their
Aging Cody is very tolerant of the pup. He's never hurt her and she's
learned to be very gentle with him. When either dog has had enough puppy antics, they let Holly know with
their body language or a growl and she's uusually wise enough to back off.
SUE'S SEARCH FOR MEANINGFUL VOLUNTEER WORK
(Hang on. This does come back to the subject of dogs in a little while.)
I come from a long line of volunteers; it's in my DNA, but
I've gone about it differently than most people I know. Why be normal??
Many folks do more volunteer work after retiring or raising a
family than before, mostly because they have more time. Me? I have a long
history of volunteer work during my teens, 20s, 30s, and 40s when I was busy studying in
high school and college, then working full time and spending many hours running and
racing every week, too. Looking back, it's to believe I had the time to
do so much volunteering on top of everything else.
I retired at 50 and haven't
been nearly as active of a volunteer as I was when I was younger.
Why? The main reasons are moving around so much the last 19+
years, wanting more "me" time, and the undeniable fact that I
simply don't have nearly as much energy now, closing in on 70,
as I did when I was 35. Or even 55!
New composting toilet Jim and I
helped build along the Appalachian Trail in VA in 2004
Some of my volunteer (and all the paid) work before I retired was related to my
degrees in education and counseling/psychology, plus
my desire to help others -- abused and neglected kids, women, and the elderly,
and pet therapy with my first two Labs at a nursing home.
Other volunteer jobs were rewarding in a much less intense way --
Habitat for Humanity and trail work for the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club are
examples. And some were related to running or the Olympics --
e.g., working events every day during the 1996 summer games in Atlanta
and helped carry the torch on Opening Night:
What an honor!! I still have the torch.
I also worked many of the events conducted by the very large Atlanta Track
Club for twenty years and served on its Board of Directors for three years.
After retiring and living in Montana and Virginia, Jim and I continued
doing volunteer work for the local running club, Roanoke AT Club, and at races around the
country. Some of our best memories are volunteering for various jobs at the Bighorn Wild
& Scenic Trail events in Wyoming, Leadville and Hardrock in Colorado,
and Across the Years in Arizona.
Jim was captain of the Cunningham
aid station at Hardrock in 2007. This is our group of new and
old friends who worked hard with
us that year. Jim and I are under the red dots. (7-13-07)
I mentioned in the previous entry that Jim has found a couple of
volunteer jobs with military organizations in our new area in metro
Atlanta that are meaningful to him.
Volunteering here is still a work in progress for me. I've been busy
enough with the dogs and "building our new nest" that I haven't actively
pursued any volunteer positions yet except picking up the occasional litter along the
cart paths in Peachtree City when I'm out walking.
Peach (cherry?) trees in bloom
along the cart path in Peachtree City (4-1-18)
My antennae have been out since moving here, however, and now I think
I may have recently found two meaningful activities to get involved with
when we return from our winter trip out West.
Becky, a friend whose three-year-old female Lab plays
with Casey and Holly, has been my inspiration for both of these possible
volunteer positions. Becky is currently training Libby, the beautiful
black Lab in the next photo, for therapy dog certification. She has also
been a remote "cam op" for Explore.org for several years.
I'll go into more detail about both of these volunteer jobs below.
(L-R) Casey, Holly, and Libby
wait for Kirk, Becky's husband, to throw a ball.
Becky, Kirk, and Libby were
visiting our house on a play date in June.
TRAINING & CERTIFYING A THERAPY DOG
Libby-the-Lab is currently taking some training lessons from Robin, the dog
trainer I mentioned earlier in this entry, to prepare her to take the
required Georgia certification tests to become a therapy dog. Becky
hopes to get her certified for work with kids and adults in school,
library, and medical settings (hospitals, nursing homes) and other possible
positions, like reducing stress with travelers at airports, college
students during exams, or victims of disasters.
Becky recently observed a therapy dog helping children relax in a
reading program at the Peachtree City library. Some kids can
learn better with a quiet, attentive dog lying beside them. Becky is
the most enthusiastic now about doing this type of volunteering with Libby.
Libby is about as excitable as Casey is when meeting people for the
first time, however, so that's a hurdle both of us will have to
overcome. Both dogs will often jump on people in greeting, friends and
strangers alike. They both settle down pretty fast, so Robin has assured
us that with proper training focusing on "polite greetings" there is hope that
both girls can probably become therapy dogs.
What child wouldn't want to cozy
up with sweet Casey while reading a good book??
This picture was taken in our RV
two years ago.
My two previous Labs (Callie and Bubba) that were therapy dogs at a nursing home in
metro Atlanta back in the '80s and '90s were certified by Happy Tails, an
organization that is still in operation.
Becky is going to get certified by a different group called the
Alliance of Therapy Dogs (ATD), which is based in Utah. A local
woman named Melissa does the testing for ATD and also runs the
program in schools and libraries that Becky is interested in.
CAREing Paws, which acts as a liaison between therapy
dogs and the organizations like READ that want to use them. Becky says that makes
scheduling visits a lot easier for the handlers and offers new opportunities she and
Libby might enjoy.
I plan to observe one of the reading sessions with Becky after we get back
from our winter RV trip and decide if that's something I want to pursue
with Casey. Part of the certification involves testing in other
settings, too, so I'll be able to see which are the best fit for both
Casey and for me (a dog has to be as comfortable in a particular setting as
its human handler is).
EXPLORE.ORG AND WARRIOR CANINE CONNECTION
I'm very grateful to Becky for introducing me to both Explore.org and
the Warrior Canine Connection several months ago. I wasn't aware of
either website or organization and now they are two of my favorites.
If you haven't been on the
Explore.org site, GO! This organization
operates live remote cameras in all sorts of natural settings where you
can sit in a comfy chair with your favorite electronic device (I prefer
my large-screen laptop computer) and watch everything from dancing
Northern Lights to animals like grizzly bears, whales, African wildlife,
bald eagles, and much, much more. There are also highlight videos and
nature/science documentaries of all types.
I could spend all day perusing that website!
This is just a few of the
live-cam sites you can click on at Explore.org.
As it is, I do have a life aside from screens of all types so
I don't spend as much time on Explore as I'd really like to.
Explore live-cam site to which I've allowed myself to become somewhat addicted is
Canine Connection (WCC). The volunteer work with Explore that I
might be interested in is operating any of the five cameras used at WCC.
I don't know if I could specify that I'd only want to operate those
cameras or if I'd be required to be available for any assignment they
might need me for. Becky has been a cam op with Explore for several years,
operating up to six remote cameras at a time (usually fewer, fortunately),
mostly for the various therapy and guide dog sites.
I'm also interested in doing whatever I can do from Georgia to help
Warrior Canine Connection, which is based in Maryland and has branches
in Colorado and California.
WCC works with several similar organizations around
the country to breed, raise, and train Labrador and Golden retrievers as
service dogs for military veterans who need their assistance for varying
reasons. They utilize other veterans, especially those with PTSD, in the
Photo from Warrior Canine
website home page
Through training the dogs for veterans with disabilities, warriors
with post-deployment challenges heal themselves. There is a lot of
information on the WCC website that describes their mission and how they
accomplish it. You don't have to be in the military or a veteran to
volunteer -- or donate.
I've been somewhat obsessed with WCC and its admirable mission since Becky told
me about it during the summer. Watching the young litters of puppies from whelping to
eight or nine weeks of age, when they go to Puppy Parents for two years of further training, is
pretty addictive! They are adorable and, just like my own pups, grow up
Here are some pictures I snagged from
Explore's live cameras on the WCC site
showing puppies from recent litters who are young enough to still be
nursing, older ones playing in their sensory-enriched environment
indoors and out, and typical "piles of puppies" when they sleep (the
piles begin soon after birth):
WCC Ann's six Labrador retriever
puppies were only a couple days old in this picture.
Two of Ann's Labs play kissy-face
on the elephant slide on the
outdoor deck when they're about six weeks old.
One of WCC Dawn's seven Golden
retriever pups plays with dangling objects in the play room.
The pups are introduced to a wide variety of
materials, textures, and sounds before they leave WCC.
Puppy whisperers? WCC staff and volunteers are present
24/7 to care for the pups
and their mothers. Additional visits with
puppy petters like these occur once or
twice a day. Pups are socialized to at least 100
different people by 8 weeks of age.
There are five cameras on the WCC site to show what's going on in the
whelping room, nursery, and play room indoors, as well as the outdoor
puppy pen (on a deck) and corral (in a grassy field). If none of the
pups or adult dogs are live in one of those spots, highlights from previous
action are played. The picture you click on will indicate if the action is live or highlights.
Can you see why I flip between two or three live cams to watch these adorable
puppies as often as I have time??
Not only are they fun and relaxing to watch, I've also learned a lot about the early
development of my own Lab puppies before I adopted them at six or eight weeks of age. I'm
impressed by all the early training these purpose-bred litters get in their first
two months -- not only behavioral, but also all the sensory
objects, people, and other animals they are exposed to in order to
familiarize them with things they may encounter in their Puppy Parent
homes and their eventual permanent homes as service dogs for disabled veterans.
All seven of Dawn's Goldens
in a cuddle puddle
Seven of WCC Elaine's nine Labs
form another puppy pile while sleeping in a soft bed that isn't designed
for so many dogs! There are a couple other beds in
the enclosure but they prefer to huddle together.
In addition to the
WCC website, the organization is also on
Facebook and other forms of social
media. WCC recently received the highest rating from the independent
charity evaluator called Charity Navigator for its "strong financial
health and commitment to accountability, transparency, and to our
nation's Veterans." That made me feel even better about the
I wish WCC was closer to Atlanta so I could volunteer on-site or we
could be a puppy raiser. I'm trying to figure out how I can support the mission and
work of this organization from Georgia in addition to donating $$$,
putting them in my will, and participating in the online discussion group.
Volunteering to operate the cameras like Becky has done may be one
way to contribute to the continuing success of WCC if I could take breaks
while traveling for several weeks or months at a time. Becky operates several remote
cameras, which requires a good internet connection and room for multiple
screens at her work space. That's not a problem for me at home, but it
would be impossible while roaming around the country in an RV.
I'll continue researching both of these volunteer options --
therapy work with Casey near home, and what I can do to assist Warrior
Canine Connection from several states away -- while we're
gone this winter, and possibly start working toward one or both when we
get back in February.
Next entry: updated photos from Peachtree City's scenic landscape
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
Cody, Casey, and Holly-pup
© 2018 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil