In Part 1 of Disabled Dogs Love without Impairment, we learn about the interesting challenges that Waldo, the blind dalmatian, and Joan Michaels, Waldo’s service human, face from day to day. Determined to live life to the fullest, Joan and Waldo have developed creative solutions to these daily challenges and nothing can stop them now. Read on for Joan’s account of how she and Waldo have made their way…

Waldo's Close UpHow has Waldo overcome?

Waldo is my hero. Against all odds, he passed the Therapy Dog test a few days ago after many months of training and first earning his Canine Good Citizenship certificate last February. I believe his “disability” has made him a better dog and especially able to sympathize with children and older people with special needs of their own. Now we can begin our new journey, bringing joy to people who really need relief, even if just for a short time.

I never coddled Waldo after I learned that he was blind. I knew that if I did, he would become more fearful and possibly depressed and afraid of the world around him. Instead, I take him with me often for walks through Home Depot, where he is fast becoming the store’s mascot; I enroll him in classes; and we hike through the woods in Schodack whenever we can.

I grieved for a short time when I learned Waldo was blind, but then I thought: wait. He’s a happy dog. He doesn’t know he’s blind. He lost his sight so slowly that he has adapted famously to his surroundings and has learned to compensate for his loss with heightened hearing, sense of smell and touch. I got past my own blindness and realized that my dog had not changed. He is the same loving companion he has always been. He simply needs to navigate his sightless world in new, creative ways. He opened my eyes.

Happy WaldoCan you describe alternative training you’ve used?

I realized one afternoon that I would not always want to use word signals with Waldo and since hand signals no longer have any use in his world, I decided to teach Waldo “touch” signals. If I press gently on his forehead, he knows to sit. If I press

on his chest with my fingertips, he lays down. Press on his shoulders, stay. We are still adding to his “touch vocabulary” and so far it has been so rewarding to see him maneuver his dark surroundings with more confidence.

One of the biggest challenges for Waldo is walking up and down stairs (except at home), so I warn him that we are approaching stairs by asking him to sit. Then I say “step” for each step as he picks his way down. I use “up” when we climb stairs. Recently, I asked him to sit before we crossed a street. He misunderstood my cue and expected stairs, so suddenly my dog was crawling across the road! I had to laugh and then reassure him that, no, we were just crossing a street. Keeping your sense of humor is key.

I am also teaching him new words such as left, right, back, stop, slow, safe. Others come up unexpectedly such as: look out! He generally comes to a dead stop when he hears these two little words.

Waldo SmilingWould you recommend adoption of a disabled animal?

Definitely. I have found that when people learn that Waldo is blind, their first response is usually one of sadness or even pity, but neither emotion has a place among the lives of animals. They don’t feel sorry for themselves. They don’t pass judgment. They just want to get on with their lives and live in the moment. Disabled animals such as Waldo might present challenges but the reward for anyone lucky enough to adopt one is great. Give a little and you will get ten-fold back.

I’m so grateful to Joan for sharing her story. As it turns out, words like “disabled” and “impaired” don’t apply to Waldo at all. Thanks to the work Joan and Waldo have done together, Waldo is more than able and, in his never-ending discovery and interaction with the world, Waldo certainly isn’t impaired. See for yourself in Waldo the (Blind) Wonderdog.

I wish you well on your therapy dog adventures, Waldo. Keep on spreading the love!