BOOKS: Through a Dog’s Eyes

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2010:
(published October 5, 2010)

Through a Dog’s Eyes by Jennifer Arnold
Random House (1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019), 2010.
240 pages, hardcover. $25.00.

Operating a service dog school is a monster job. People with
major disabilities rely on dogs to safely lead them across busy
streets, open doors, and retrieve fallen objects. Some dogs
predict the onset of seizures or pick up sounds their people cannot
hear. Training a service dog takes money, time, patience, and
skill. Jennifer Arnold pulls this off despite having multiple

Through a Dog’s Eyes is a journey through Arnold’s life with
service dogs. She picked up perseverance and strength from her
mother, who raised four children after a drunk on a motorcycle
killed her dad. An inane clause in his life insurance policy voided
the payout because a two-wheeled vehicle caused his death.
An article about a woman training dogs for the disabled
piqued Arnold’s interest. This, and her life-long love for animals,
started her on her career path. Assisting in veterinary offices
provided hands-on experience.
Arnold developed an approach to training based on teaching
dogs to make choices, as opposed to following commands, using only
positive reinforcement. To Arnold, explains promotional material
for Through a Dog’s Eyes, dogs are neither wolves in need of a pack
leader, nor babies in need of coddling. Rather, they are trusting
beings, attuned to human needs, who try to please.
Arnold acquired the Canine Assistants property in 1990. To
keep money flowing, Arnold started a boarding kennel. As the “new
kid on the block,” she boarded all the dogs no one else wanted to
accept. One often traveling and sometimes tipsy owner insisted on
singing her dog Mabel to sleep each night. She sometimes lost her
place or dropped the phone, restarting her lullabies from the
beginning. When neighbors complained about dogs barking, Arnold
boarded the loudest in her own house.
Early in the history of Canine Assistants, Arnold chose dogs
from shelters or rescues. She still prefers to rescue, she writes,
but admits to having started a small breeding program.
Adopting potential service dogs can bring unforeseen
complications. Once Arnold sent a colleague to pick up a shelter dog
whom Arnold earlier approved for training. Through a mix-up, that
dog was adopted by someone else. The colleague mistakenly brought
back a much older dog. Old Fellow spent the rest of his life at
Canine Assistants.
On another occasion, at a local shelter evaluating dogs,
Arnold stopped in front of an emaciated dog, Nick, whose skin hung
off his bony frame. Open sores oozed pus. Clearly, this was not an
ideal candidate, but Arnold adopted Nick on the spot. Nick never
became a service dog, but did become Arnold’s constant companion at
speaking events, conferences, and meetings. Nick proved to be an
excellent fundraiser, and introduced Arnold to her husband,
veterinarian Kent Bruner. Nick’s death in 2004 poked a giant hole in
Arnold’s heart.
Through a Dog’s Eyes is not just about Arnold’s personal
experiences building a service dog organization. She shares her
broad knowledge of dogs and their behavior. One of Arnold’s most
important jobs is matching dogs with people. The match should last
until the dog retires, so she has to get it right.
Sometimes the connections between dogs and people just seem
to happen. Jorge, a yellow Lab, went through four training camps
with 23 different trainers. He ignored almost everyone. Arnold
feared he would be a drop-out. Then Jorge and a six-year-old named
Emma bonded. Jorge did everything that Emma asked of him.
Through a Dog’s Eyes is an inspiring tale of determined
people and the even more determined dogs, like Jorge, who serve
their disabled people. –Debra J. White

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