Good disposition saves dog with bad knees |

Good disposition saves dog with bad knees

William Ferchland, Tahoe Daily Tribune

Because of bad knees, Douglas has changed careers and is loving every minute of it.

The 11-month-old yellow Labrador retriever was being trained to be a guide dog for the blind. But those plans were sidelined because of an inherited orthopedic condition called elbow dysplasia.

Now the easygoing Douglas, who shares his time between handler Amy Arrington’s classroom at St. Theresa Catholic School and Arrington’s home, is being trained to be a therapy dog.

Therapy dogs visit hospitals, senior centers and other care facilities.

It seems the switch has gone smoothly for Douglas, who was picked up by Arrington last year at San Rafael’s Guide Dogs for the Blind, which breeds the animals.

He appears not to fret over having to be taken everywhere to become accustomed to people and the environment around him. The Labrador with a droopy face went with Arrington to restaurants, stores and the movie theater during his preliminary training as a guide dog.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, guide dogs are allowed in public places.

The plan was for Douglas to hang with the students and be taught proper obedience by Arrington. If all went well, he would have returned to San Rafael to be taught by certified trainers.

But during the summer Douglas began walking duck-footed and limping. He was diagnosed as having elbow dysplasia in both front legs, a joint problem in growing dogs. Specialists in Carson City and Reno will perform the surgery.

The good news for Arrington is Guide Dogs for the Blind is paying the $2,000 bill for the corrective surgery. The good news for Douglas is he can act like a regular dog.

“Now I can give him treats,” Arrington said. “He can be a normal dog and he’s having a good time doing that. Actually he learned how to dig in the past two weeks. Lucky me.”

Work isn’t over for Douglas. To be a therapy dog, he must pass a physical and a K-9 Good Citizenship test under American Kennel Club guidelines. He currently is working on obtaining the citizenship certificate.

Sherry Galka and her husband Stu, evaluate, handle and train therapy dogs in Sonora. The Galkas used to take their dog, a yellow Labrador named Shiloh who recently passed away, to hospitals, rest homes, libraries and schools.

Some are even trained to do dance numbers and perform in parades.

“These dogs are intelligent and they don’t want to sit home and do nothing,” she said.

Shiloh had 500 visits under her belt before passing away. Visits averaged about three a week.

“It’s very rewarding to see the patients’ faces light up,” she said. “They just can’t wait to see these dogs.”

“They love the little ones because they sit on their lap. They love the big ones because they’ve never seen a dog so huge,” she added.

St. Theresa sixth-grader Christian Winslow believes Douglas will make a fine therapy dog.

“He’s calm and he gets excited when he sees anybody so he’ll cheer people up,” he said.

After the surgery, which should be within a few weeks, Douglas will be available for visits. Anybody interested in Douglas dropping by can contact Arrington at (530) 544-8944.

— E-mail William Ferchland at

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