I am a big fan of Hallie, the blind dog that paints, and so delighted she agreed to an interview. I am certain you’ll enjoy getting to know this very special (and talented!) little dog.
How did you meet your mom?
One night when I was about 10 months old, my people took me and my sister and brother to an animal shelter and locked us in the night drop-off kennel. We were scared in there. One of the shelter employees called my soon-to-be Mom because she had lost her other longhaired dachshund girl four years earlier and was still so broken hearted she didn’t have another dog-child. They asked her if she would foster the three of us so we wouldn’t have to stay in the shelter while we waited for new homes. So she did and she found homes for us (because she was still vowing to not get a dog again herself) but after she took my brother and sister to their new homes, she just couldn’t let me go, so she kept me. And the funny thing is, I knew from the second we laid eyes on each other that I would be staying with her. And on some level, I think she knew it too. I promised her I’d take good care of her, and I have ever since.
What got you interested in painting?
My Mom and I always did fun things and we trained all the time. To me it was a big game and I loved it. I won obedience titles and learned a lot of tricks. When I was 10 years old, I had earned most of my titles so we didn’t go to shows as often. Mom taught me more tricks so I would still have something fun to learn. She is an artist also (I think she gets it from me) so one winter day when it was cold out and I was bored, she got the idea to see if I wanted to learn how to paint too. I surprised her by learning very fast and doing my first painting within a few weeks. I really got into it! And the better the treat involved…the faster I painted!
Do you have a favorite painting?
I am most proud of my first painting. My Mom has it framed on the wall. She has a video of me painting it. My style was different then, when I could still see. You can watch the video here. Read More »
Animals are such amazing creatures, and we can learn a lot from their attitude about a disability. Life continues, regardless of what happened to cause a disability. I grew up with someone who had a debilitating disability, and I’ve also dealt with a dog that was deaf and blind. I learned from my mom and my dog that the best way to live with a disability is to simply keep on living the best you can. So when I run across stories that exemplify courage and determination, in disabled humans or dogs, they catch my attention. Gonzo, an eight year old Alaskan Husky, is blind but he continues to run with his team pulling a dog sled, with a little help from his brother, Poncho.
What sled dog wouldn’t love to have the entire New Hampshire North country as their playground? Sled dogs are born to run, and pulling a sled isn’t work to them, it’s play. So what do you do with a sled dog that develops a disability? In the case of Gonzo, when it was discovered he was losing his sight, his vet recommended hooking him up to a sled and continuing to run him.
Gonzo’s life changed three years ago when kennel manager Ben Morehouse noticed the dog tripping over his food bowl. After a variety of failed treatments, everyone realized the dog would soon be blind, and there was nothing they could do to stop it. But Gonzo is a sled dog, and he couldn’t wait to get back on the trail with his team. He wasn’t going to let a little thing like no sight stop him from enjoying life.
He may be blind, but Gonzo knows when the team is being hooked up, and he isn’t about to be left behind. His desire to run is just as strong as it was when he could see. Gonzo and Poncho are harnessed side by side toward the back of the eight dog team. At first, Poncho wasn’t aware there was anything wrong with his brother, and treated him just like normal. When Gonzo began to lean on him when they came to turns, it bothered him at first and he’d get grumpy with his brother. But it wasn’t long before he realized Gonzo needed his help, and figured out he was leaning on him to get a feel of how fast they were running and where the turns were at.
Established in August of 2009, the Blind Dog Rescue Alliance – started by Karen and Eric Belfi – is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit group that spans the United States and Canada. Run entirely by volunteers, the organization’s mission is to aid blind and visually impaired dogs. Their work includes rescuing blind dogs from shelters, assisting blind dog owners, and educating the public about these wonderful canines and the joy of caring for one.
The Belfi’s interest in visually impaired dogs began when they were searching for a companion for their Siberian husky. As they combed the Internet for an available orphan, the dog that captured their hearts was blind (appropriately named Ray Charles). As a responsible pet owner, Karen Belfi located an online discussion group dedicated to blind dog care and advocacy; she wanted to learn about a visually impaired dog’s special requirements. The group assured Karen that a blind dog’s needs aren’t much different than the needs of a ‘regular dog,’ so a match was made.
Karen and Eric remained active in the Internet discussion forum. They watched as the list of visually compromised adoptable dogs increased. Sadly, the list grew so large that otherwise healthy dogs were not finding homes in time, and were being euthanized. Unable to stand by and watch this trend, they joined forces with a few others in the discussion group and formed the Blind Dog Rescue Alliance.
When a person loses their sight, there are many avenues of assistance. But what do you do when it is your dog? Making some simple changes to your house can help your blind dog adjust easier. Experts suggest not moving furniture or rugs, as it can make it more difficult for your blind dog to maneuver around the home. Evaluate each room from your dog’s height and sight level for hidden dangers. Are there any cords dangling in the way that could trip up your dog? Check for sharp corners or objects at a level your dog may run into, and move or pad them to lessen the effect of an accident. To help a blind dog acclimate faster, walk them around the house and re-introduce them to their favorite rooms, areas for sleeping and eating, and anywhere else they will spend time.
When approaching your blind dog, talk to them softly so they don’t get startled. Do not approach your dog if they are sleeping or from behind, as this may frighten them. You can provide encouragement to your dog by talking to them often. If your blind dog has obedience training, a consistent use of their regular basic commands gives them normality.
Using textured floor runners for a path through the rooms your blind dog spends the most time in can help them find their way using their feet. For example, if they sleep in the kitchen, use a floor runner to go from their crate or bed to the outside door they use most often. Don’t change where you feed or water them, and don’t carry them to their food or up stairs, as this can confuse them. If you have stairs, think about installing a gate at the top to prevent tumbles. Try to keep the floors clear of any obstacles that may hinder your blind dog’s movement through the rooms.
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