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September 11, 2007 > Seeing eye dog is teacher's pet

Seeing eye dog is teacher's pet

By Darin Fenger - The Sun

YUMA, Ariz. (AP), Aug 31 _ There's a new kid at Cibola High School this semester and he's having a ball making friends and learning his way around campus.

But he's going to have a dog of a time shaking the whole teacher's pet thing.

Thank goodness Sport is at the side of a lady who not only loves and cares for him, but gratefully relies on him for being her constant four-legged companion.

``He's a very loyal puppy,'' said teacher Suzanne Canole. ``We're a good team.''

But while Canole and Sport are good pals, they aren't old pals. The yellow Lab puppy just came into Canole's life about a month ago as the fifth guide to take up the post at her side.

``We've bonded real well, too,'' said Canole, who has been blind since birth. ``I've been so impressed with Sport, the way he sticks with me and follows my directions. He's still got a lot of puppy in him, which I really like.''

Canole brought Sport home from the campus of Guide Dogs for the Blind Inc. in Boring, Ore. The nonprofit group has trained more than 10,000 guide dogs since it began 60 years ago. Dogs are given to clients at no cost, which Canole praised as downright generous given that the group's investment in each dog comes to around $50,000.

A few weeks ago, the two were preparing for the start of the new school year by taking a quick tour around the Cibola High School campus.

``As you can see, this is kind of complicated. There are a lot of obstacles on a high school campus. It's not just all hallways and right angles like most workplaces.''

Canole teaches students who are visually impaired or blind. She works for the Southwest Regional Cooperative and actually teaches at five other schools, too, traveling to and fro in taxis or with Dial-A-Ride, a service she advocated and helped bring to Yuma.

When Sport had a bit of trouble remembering his way back to her office, Canole discerned her location by hearing the clank of the flagpole rope to her right and the whir of an air conditioning unit to her left.

``It's my job to know where I'm going, not his. That's a myth people have. He steers me around obstacles and keeps me from falling off curbs, but it's not up to him where we go.''

Canole says she already has 100 percent faith in Sport's navigational abilities, but not just because he's a smart and protective pup. He's also been trained very well. That training begins early on with basic obedience and continues in obstacle course training where dogs are taught to ignore everything from nearby cats and squeaky toys to cars driving all around them in traffic tests.

That training likely came in handy on school's first day, when Cibola's sidewalks were filled with lots of kids. She said that young people _ and adults _ often break the cardinal rule of guide dogs by attempting to play with them or shouting ``Here, puppy!''

``I will literally stop and try to get the kid's attention so I can explain 'Don't do that. This is a working dog and your should show it respect.' I'll make them apologize to my dog, too.''

She refuses, however, to hang the traditional ``I'm a working dog'' placard around Sport's neck.

``I think that's a put-off to people and that goes against our job. It is our job as people in the people-with-disabilities community to educate people and change attitudes.''

At work or at home Sport stays close to Canole, never farther than the next room. The longest the two are apart is when he must be let outside. Sport even sleeps next to his mistress' bed.

Sleeping next to Sport is another good friend of Canole's: That's Journey, the guide dog who retired last year mostly because her arthritis was getting bad.

Guide dogs in general may not always be as anxious to retire as their human friends, possibly because they simply enjoy the work. That is Canole's theory.

But the dog isn't the only one with a job in this relationship. Canole stressed that her part of the bargain involves just as much loyalty and dedication.

``Oh, I rely on my dogs and I let them know it. They have to know that they are loved and wanted,'' she said, smiling. ``If Sport is going to work with me then it is my obligation to make sure he is well taken care of and has the best of everything. I have to make sure he gets his heartworm medicine every month and that he knows he's the number-one dog!''

___

Information from: The Sun, http://www.yumasun.com

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