Monday, October 13, 2008

Guides for the Blind Dog?

by Morry Anne Angell and Randall Dunn

Allow me to introduce you to one of GDB's coolest career change dogs, 7-year-old yellow Lab Chapin. Chapin has quite the story. Like all career change dogs, he started life as a Guide Dog puppy, but he wasn't exactly cut out for that job. For example, he has never met another dog that he didn't want to meet... or bark at! He commenced living the life of a very active pet - he's an avid hiker, runner, swimmer, and marathon sleeper. So what makes him special? This dog, who accompanies our family on backpacking and cross-country ski trips, is totally blind.

When Chapin was 3-1/2 years old, he was diagnosed with glaucoma in his left eye. He received the utmost in medical care, and was outfitted with a fancy prosthetic eyeball. And life was normal... for a while. Shortly after he lost his first eye, his second eye was diagnosed with glaucoma as well. It was only a matter of time before he would be completely blind. It was at this point that Chapin was returned to Guide Dogs by his first adoptive family, who we understand were truly devastated, but were overwhlemed with the prospect of caring for a completely blind dog. And that is where he came in to our life!

As Foster Care Volunteers, we started caring for Chapin while Guide Dogs' Placement Department searched for a new adoptive home. But the prospects were slim - not many people want to take a chance on a young and soon-to-be blind dog. As Chapin stayed in our home, it became quite apparent that WE were the ones.

Chapin was a phenomenal dog, and it was obvious that total blindness was not going to slow him down one bit. We played blindfold games with him in anticipation of him losing his second eye, and he could navigate better than fine. After several months we decided to officially adopt him. Ironically, the very morning that we were scheduled to complete the adoption paperwork was the morning he lost all the sight in his remaining eye. We like to think that he somehow knew that he had a permanent home, and it was ok for that eyeball to go. So, he got a second prosthetic eye to match his first, and it hasn't changed his stride. (A note on the prosthetics: he still has his eyeballs per se; the prosthetics are rubber balls that they implant inside the eye after scooping out the insides. His outer eye/cornea remain... hence the protective "doggles" he's wearing in his picture - we have him wear them when we go on hikes or are near cactus or other sharp plants in case he bumps into things.) With the prosthetics in place, we now call him our "blond with implants"! Chapin is a complete trooper, and we treat him no differently than any other dog: he hikes, he swims, he goes sailing/rafting... if we're doing it, he's doing it. He gets to go to work every day with one of us, too - we're all really spoiled that way!

Recently, Chapin embarked on a new career! He was selected by the Pine Street Foundation in San Anselmo to participate in their canine cancer sniffing studies, wherein it has been determined that dogs can detect very early stages of cancer in breath molecules. The research is to determine what it is on a molecular level that the dogs can detect that science can't, in hopes that one day science can catch up. True to form, Chapin loved going to his job - his nose is the best around, so they said - until it got hard! He was let go from the study because he just would rather be petted and fed treats... work was boring! So - he was a scientist for a few nanoseconds, but we still think it's cool.

So, who knows what Chapin's next big adventure will be? All we know is that blindness certainly isn't a barrier to his life!


  1. Chapin, you are a special dog. I love that you have got this whole thing figured out...all play and no work!!!

  2. Great story for a great dog. Kudos to you as well. Many years ago, we had a little mixed breed that was paralyzed & ran around with a doggie cart for 6 yrs. After that, she went blind. It was amazing what this little dog could do. She never gave up! She lived to be 15 yrs. old.

  3. It sounds like Chapin is an amazing pup! He looks cool in his glasses :)

  4. Morry, I've been waiting for this story since you told us about it at the wine gala!

  5. What a touching story -- loved it, thanks for sharing. I'm inspired by Chapin.

  6. This article made me cry. I was Chapin's puppy raiser, and he was a handful! So he was always confident. Now with Morry and her husband's guidance, I am sooo grateful he lives a full life (even more exciting than mine)! I didn't know he still had his corneas.