Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Meet Phoebe

Happy Wednesday. Maybe Thursday.

Have I ever told you about my Mama?

My dear Mama, is legally blind. She has an eye disease called Retinitis Pigmentosa, which is basically the detioration of the retina. My mom is one of the lucky ones, because her vision is deteriorating from the outside in. Some people with this disease start losing their sight in patches, sometimes directly in front, so they can't see what they are looking at.

If you met my mom, you might not even know that she has probably 10 percent or less of her vision. She looks you right in the eye, and she barrels her way through everything.

My mom lives in Portland, Oregon, because she needed to be in a city with a good bus system so that she can get around town unassisted. Since moving there, she has become *obsessed* with paddling. Paddling is rowing with oars on dragonboats. My mama has been all over the world on the US team for paddling competitions. This year she's headed to Prague. It's really been amazing to watch her grow with her confidence and this sport.

That said, in recent years, we've noticed that her vision has deteriorated more. In recent months she's had more than one close encounter with a car, because she simply didn't see it. She walks with a cane, but she's still very dependent on her sight to get her around town, so it's important that she has something else to help her get where she wants to go.

It's time for a dog.

She got on a list with a charity foundation that provides seeing-eye dogs for disabled people. She took some tests and then went to Michigan for a month when her name was called so that she could get paired with a dog. The first few weeks were spent just doing testing. They needed to measure her gait and mannerisms so that they could pair her with just the right dog, because not any dog will do.

Until they met Mom didn't even know what type of dog she was going to get. Labs are popular seeing-eye dogs. So are German Shepards. As the owner of a lab, I was hoping for one of those, but a German Shepard also sounded good because she lives alone, so maybe having one would also offer protection from the boogie man.

After breakfast one morning, she was told to go to her room. It was time to meet her dog. After a minute someone came to her room and told her that her dog's name was Phoebe, and that in a few minutes, they'd be back and she'd need to call Phoebe into her room so they could meet.
I can't imagine what it must have felt like at that point. My mom had been on this list to get a dog for a few months, and had been in Michigan for a few weeks, just waiting for this moment. She must have been climbing the walls!

When the time finally, finally came, my mama said "Phoebe?" and in walked her guide. Was it a lab? Was it a German Shepard?


It was a black, standard poodle. A black standard Poodle named Phoebe. You see, my mom is also hearing impaired. She does hear, but she wears hearing aids and needs assistance in that area. Poodles are very, very smart dogs, and do great with both hearing and sight impaired people.

(Picture from my mama)

The two of them stayed in Michigan for another couple of weeks, learning from each other. My mom had to let go and trust a dog to know the way. It must be hard to do that. I can't imagine doing that, letting go and trusting a puppy. Because that's what Phoebe is. A puppy.

They finally came home in April, and in May I took my girls to Portland to meet Phoebe and go to the zoo. I must admit, I was leery, and a little sad. I see these working dogs and I always think they look so sad just laying there, forced to walk slowly with someone disabled, not free to run around and play. But I'm here to tell you I do NOT feel that way anymore, and you shouldn't either.

My girls met Phoebe when her working collar was off. When her working collar is off, she is free to be a puppy. And she totally was. She played with her toys, caused mischief with my kids, and was a general pain in the neck, which all puppies are. I was SO happy to see it.

In the end, I think seeing-eye dogs are the most amazing animals on the planet. No wonder the list for "rejects" is so long. The minute that work harness is on Phoebe, it's like a light is switched, and she is absolutely in work mode, out to get my mama where she needs to be, as safely as possible. Watching for cracks in the road, cars and green lights. She even knows to walk around a puddle so my mama doesn't get her feet wet. It is really quite amazing.

While visiting, I had to get some photos of the two of them together. My mama joked about how dogs and their humans start to look alike, and all of the sudden she whipped out this black wig and tossed it on. She's so kooky. Of coure I had to take a zillion photos, and then I had to put them on a layout. I took a about a zillion photos of this layout and had the hardest time getting the focus and colors right, but I hope you get the idea.

Cosmo Cricket Ever After and Li'l Man paper, chipboard
Studio Calico kit

Does my mama's blouse give anything away about our plans earlier in the day? hahahah.

I hope you read this post and I hope it helps you understand about the blind and their disabilities. I hope you understand seeing-eye dogs. Now please... if you see one with their harness on, do as the sign says, and try not to pet it. It's often a puppy who really needs to focus on her job, and petting the pup distracts her and confuses her about what she's really supposed to be doing. But as soon as that harness is off, all bets are off to. :)

Have a great day! Davinie

Edited to add:
I just got word that a really great online store is closing. Please stop by Scrap Supply for all of your online scrappy needs. She's having a great sale and hoping to go out with a bang. :)


  1. What an incredible animal. It sounds like your mom got a perfect match!

  2. That's a great story! And a beautiful layout! :)

  3. Oh, Dav, that is the best story EVER!!! I just love your mom's humor and zest!!! Great LO!

  4. Anonymous6:34 AM

    what a sweet story to go with that layout!

  5. Great layout, Davinie. Thanks for sharing your mom's beautiful (and inspiring)story. My friend trained a puppy for CCI -- an organization that matches companion dogs with the disabled -- and you are's like a light switch goes on when you put the dog's vest on. Her dog didn't pass the final exam. They said it was too skittish to be a companion dog. CCI was hoping that by placing the dog in a home with children and pets for training that it would eventually overcome this trait. It didn't. So now my friend has two dogs and is a "foster parent" to puppies who are waiting to be placed or whose trainers are on vacation. Just thought I would share a little personal background with you about the other side of the coin. Guide/companion dogs and those dogs in training are truly amazing!

  6. Oh, this made me teary-eyed. What a cool story. And what an AMAZING woman!

  7. Very enlightening... beautiful LO, too! Sounds like that dog is your mom's angel in disguise... :-)

  8. Great news about your mama's new companion. Love the LO - and her black wig! ;)
    Hope those two have many happy years together.

  9. Anonymous5:48 PM

    My aunt (who lived in Michigan at the time) was a foster parent for puppies from the Leader Dog for the Blind school in Rochester, MI. I can't even count how many pups they helped raise. They receive the puppy at around 8 weeks old and keep it for a year. They are responsible for teaching it a number of different basic commands, for socializing it, and for exposing it to as many different experiences as possible. People always say "I don't know how you could ever give it up after a year." But I'll tell you how. One day my aunt was driving in town shortly after one of her dogs had finished training at the school...and when she looked up at the stoplight, there was her dog leading his companion safely across the street. It brought tears to her eyes knowing what a great job her dog was doing. These dogs are very special animals with a very special job and I'll bet that they are happy as can be. The bond that these dogs must have with their owners is undoubtedly very strong...I think that these animals are very very loved. And keep in mind that some breeds do better and are happier when they have a "job" to do.

    Sorry so long...and I hope I didn't sound too preachy...I am just very passionate about animals. I just loved your post today and had to share my aunt's story. I wonder if your mom got her dog from Rochester, MI??

    BTW, one of the puppies she fostered didn't pass the final exam (he had a fear of fire hydrants and men in baseball hats)and she adopted him for life. She said that when her children were babies, the dog would block the stairway so that the children couldn't go down the stairs, lol:)

    Have a great day,

  10. such a great story to share - standard poodles are SO smart! they may be a bit "floofy" looking (we have nicknamed one of hers "tina turner" b/c of his big poofy hair) but man oh man they are smart cookies, my mom has two and they are great pets, i'm not surprised they would be terrific guide dogs.

  11. wow.. what an amazing stody, Girl.. thanks for sharing! *hugs*

  12. What a great story! I love service dogs, we have one at my son's school and the year he arrived there was lots of training with the kiddos to make sure that they knew not to pet Beemer. He is a fixture in the neighborhood and even comes to the swimming pool with his companion, a little girl! I'm so excited for your Momma and Pheobe, what a wonderful new adventure she is embarking on!

  13. There are a number of peer review research studies showing the value of supplementing with specific nutrients to help preserve vision for those with retinitis pigmentosa.

    Some specific nutrients include: Vitamin A Palmitate, omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil), lutein,
    Vitamins A, C, and alpha lipoid acid.

    Peer Review Research Studies at Natural Eye Care and Retinitis Pigmentosa

  14. WOW, what a great piece. Thank you for posting.

    I thought you and your readers might enjoy this story that Carol sent us. It's about the "aha moment" she had that led her to start a non-profit company that trains service dogs.

    Check out her story here:

    Hope you like it! Thanks and have a great day!
    -mike / mutual of omaha

  15. this was so awesome to read. =) glad your mama and phoebe found one another!

  16. I loved this story! Thanks for sharing!

  17. Sounds like that dog is your mom's angel in disguise......

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