“The Right Dog for the Job” follows Irah, a wonderful golden retriever who started out as a service dog in training and ended up as a Guide Dog for the Blind.
When I was young, my mother would take me to San Rafael, CA, to see my orthodontist. That’s the home of Guide Dogs for the Blind. I’d look out the waiting room window to watch trainers on the sidewalks below with beautiful shepherds and retrievers. I wanted to be one of those people when I grew up. What could be more rewarding than working with dogs every day, knowing that they would be used to provide independence and safety to blind people?
I didn’t become a dog trainer. But in my career writing children’s nonfiction books, I discovered Canine Companions for Independence, a nonprofit that raises and trains assistance dogs free of charge to handicapped people. Yet another way for dogs to help people in need!
I wanted to write about assistance (service) dogs for young readers. But living in Montana put me far away from any training facility. Then an item in the local paper mentioned a nearby organization, PawsAbilities, that raised and trained service dogs. Trainer Glenn and puppy raiser KaDe agreed to let me and photographer Bill Munoz follow the progress of a litter of three adorable golden retriever puppies as they were raised and trained.
Not only did I get to follow them, I got to help out! A key moment came at the mall. One of the most important tasks for a service dog is using its paw to push the handicap button to open a door. The pups had learned to paw the icon on a plastic lid to find treats. Now they needed to transfer that behavior to a handicap button. I had Irah’s brother Ike with me, encouraging him to figure out what he needed to do. Confused at first, he finally got the idea, pushed the button, and the door opened. Success! I praised him and gave him a treat and felt so delighted–he was on his way!