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Archive for Monday, January 23, 2006

Family guides dog toward future role as human helper

January 23, 2006

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She's only four months old, but Andromeda already is embarking on a lifelong career.

The black, female Labrador retriever is undergoing basic training for use as either a guide or service dog for people with vision and physical disabilities.

"They are very easy to train. They want to please people," Margaret Thorp said as she watched the dog amble around the yard of her Old West Lawrence home and play with two older Labs she and her husband, Jim Thorp, have as pets.

"There's a lot of baby dog behavior we have to modify," Margaret Thorp said.

Several weeks ago the Thorps applied to become puppy raisers for KSDS Inc., a nonprofit firm that breeds and trains guide and service dogs and then places them with clients.

There also is a third career option. Andromeda could be used for breeding and be a mother to future generations of guide and service dogs. The Thorps would prefer that option, and their reason is a simple one.


Lawrence resident Margaret Thorp works with Andromeda, a four-month-old Labrador retriever, in her backyard along with her husband, Jim Thorp, and their two dogs Lily, front, and Zoe on Thursday afternoon. The Thorps will be training Andromeda for use as a guide or service dog.

Lawrence resident Margaret Thorp works with Andromeda, a four-month-old Labrador retriever, in her backyard along with her husband, Jim Thorp, and their two dogs Lily, front, and Zoe on Thursday afternoon. The Thorps will be training Andromeda for use as a guide or service dog.

"It's hard to give them up," Margaret Thorp said.

The Thorps have been through this before. Several years ago while living in New York state, they raised a guide dog for an agency similar to KSDS. When the time came they hated to give up the dog. If Andromeda becomes a breeder dog, then she would only be away from the Thorps for short periods. She would be taken for periodic breeding at KSDS in Washington, Kan., and then returned to the Thorps.

But for now the Thorps will conduct Andromeda's early training. Most of it is pretty basic. They will teach the dog to walk beside her masters, sit and retrieve objects. Considering Labs are hunting dogs, retrieving is no problem, the Thorps said.

"They are smart," Margaret Thorp said. "They like to put things in their mouths and carry them."

Service dogs are used by people with physical handicaps and who may be confined to a wheelchair. The service dogs will be required to retrieve certain objects such as a telephone or even open a door for their master. Someone with physical disabilities may even have to lean on the dogs to get up from a chair or floor.


Andromeda, left, runs around Margaret and Jim Thorp's backyard along with their dog Zoe as the two wrestle with Andromeda's training cape Thursday afternoon.

Andromeda, left, runs around Margaret and Jim Thorp's backyard along with their dog Zoe as the two wrestle with Andromeda's training cape Thursday afternoon.

Guide dogs are given to people who are blind or have serious vision problems. Their training is more detailed. For example, they must know when to lead their master across a busy street. They even have to judge when a tree limb might be low enough to present a problem to their human partner.

KSDS breeds and trains only Labs and golden retrievers. Those breeds are considered to be the right size for the job, and they also have the smarts and the pleasant demeanor needed for service and guide work.

There is a high demand for the dogs, Carrie Powe, spokeswoman for KSDS, said. Currently, the service has 105 service dogs and 24 guide dogs at work.

"We currently have more demand for service dogs," Powe said. "Both breeds are equally as likely to work as either guide or service dogs."

The Thorps are among 65 puppy-raisers used by KSDS. There are several in the Lawrence and Kansas City area. The puppy-raisers volunteer their time and home to train the dogs. Dog food is provided to them free by the makers of Science Diet. Heartworm prevention medication is provided free, but the puppy-raisers pay for flea, tick and other treatments. Some veterinarians donate their services or give reduced rates for specialty dogs.


Lawrence resident Margaret Thorp tries to remove a stick from the mouth of a 4-month-old black Labrador retriever named Andromeda. Thorp is training Andromeda to be a guide or service dog.

Lawrence resident Margaret Thorp tries to remove a stick from the mouth of a 4-month-old black Labrador retriever named Andromeda. Thorp is training Andromeda to be a guide or service dog.

The Thorps will work with Andromeda for up to two years before she moves on to KSDS for additional training or for breeding. In addition to teaching her basic commands, they will be taking Andromeda into stores and restaurants and getting her used to stairs and escalators.

"They have to be calm and sociable," said Margaret Thorp. "You don't want them to jump on people or go off chasing squirrels. We're trying to expose her to all the situations so she takes everything in stride."

Andromeda has been with Margaret Thorp, a Lawrence attorney, and Jim Thorp, a Kansas University professor in the department of ecology and evolutionary biology, for only two weeks.

"She's doing well," Margaret Thorp said.





Widespread organization

KSDS Inc. was formed 15 years ago as Kansas Specialty Dog Service. Today references to the nonprofit firm generally use only the initials. That's because the full name indicates it is only Kansas oriented, and that's not the case. KSDS has placed dogs with clients not only in Kansas, but in several other Midwest states and as far away as Oregon and New Mexico. Most of the dogs are bred and receive advanced training at KSDS in Washington, Kan. Each dog receives 120 hours of training time. The price tag for a fully trained dog is $15,000. That includes the cost of training, staff, housing, veterinary care, equipment, travel, team training and class. KSDS accepts donations to help with the costs. Kansas Lions Clubs are major donors. A client receiving a guide or service dog does not have to buy the dog. Someone receiving a guide dog spends three weeks training with the dog at KSDS. It takes two weeks of training for clients receiving a service dog.

Comments

mom_of_three 8 years, 11 months ago

This is a service dog that is under constant supervision every time it goes out. If it bites someone, it won't go into the program.

Different dog, different situation.

mom_of_three 8 years, 11 months ago

Just an FYI - Chances are the labs won't jump the wooden fence pictured above. Unlike a chain link, with a consistent level at the top, dogs have a hard time judging the height on the fence such as above, according to a good source.

But that doesn't mean the a weak slat won't break with pressure, and a smaller lab could go THROUGH the hole in the fence.

As I have stated, I am a dog owner, and as much as it hurts, sometimes a dog needs to be put down, such as the one who bit two kids.

mztrendy 8 years, 11 months ago

Marion, do you have children? How would you feel if that pitbull bit your child? Would you have pity on the poor dog, even though you had to take your child to the emergency room to get stitches, creating a visable scar on your childs face that may never go away?

Confrontation 8 years, 11 months ago

The lady who had the face transplant was attacked by her lab. She got a new nose and lips. Sure wasn't a pit bull or rottweiler.

mom_of_three 8 years, 11 months ago

If the dog who bit two children had only been given a warning "nip", I doubt it would have required stitches for either case.
A week after I acquired my dog from the pound (who was about 1 at the time), he gave my daughter a nip. It didn't break skin, and it wasn't in the face. He wanted to be left alone. He was also very playful, and nipped when he played, but never broke the skin or went for the face. He was a stray when he was picked up, and no, we don't know his history, but from his behavior, hadn't been taken care of by humans for a while.

The dog from last week could just be over agressive while playing, but hhmmm, two kids, in the face, with blood, doesn't usually result from overzealousness. Maybe it is the breed of dog, but I have never seen it before.
I don't see those as injuries which accidentally occur.

sunflowerjen 8 years, 11 months ago

I went to this article to read what people had to say about this article, these dogs and their services, because I love reading great stories about dogs and how they make our lives better. Needless to say, I was disappointed to find no posts about this particular article and to find only that everyone decided to argue more about last week's attack.

mom_of_three 8 years, 11 months ago

To satisfy sunflower jen - There is another family in Lawrence who train service dogs, and one of the girls was allowed to take it to school at certain times to help socialize it. I hear it worked out well. Both the dog and the students learned alot.

meggers 8 years, 11 months ago

c-man: "Why in the world would someone replace a child with a pet?"

If you know of people who are actually "replacing" their children with pets, you must run in some pretty interesting circles.

Many people, those with children and those without, simply choose to share their homes and their lives with animals. Surely you aren't interpreting that as some sort of attack on "family values".

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