Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Dogs That Guide the Blind

Last weekend I toured the Oregon campus of Guide Dogs for the Blind. Here's the visitor center, which includes an auditorium where graduations (for people and dogs) are held. The first thing you notice is there are dogs everywhere. Here is a young yellow lab in training.
In the past, different breeds have been used in the program, including German Shepherds and even Poodles. Today, Guide Dogs for the Blind uses 80 percent labs, either black or yellow, with some Golden Retrievers or Lab/Golden crosses.

The graduation ceremony is very special. The dog has passed a special training program of several months, and the legally blind student has spent time living on campus in a dorm, getting acquainted with the dog, and learning how to care for and work with it as a partner in life. Here, on stage, the people who raised the dog as a pup have an opportunity to transfer it to its new owner. There is joy and pride and many tears all around.

Puppy raisers are a special breed themselves. Getting their new charges at 7-8 weeks, they lovingly raise them indoors, socializing them and getting them used to as many new situations as they can. At age 14-16 months, the dogs are returned to Guide Dogs for the Blind for advanced training. This entire program receives no government or federal subsidies, and is run solely on private donations with the help of many wonderful volunteers.

Here are some of kennels the dogs stay in while in training. Note the play equipment. Hey, even dogs need some time off. The lovely campus includes dorms for the recipients of the guide dogs, kitchens, a training area, and a state of the art veterinary hospital where the dogs receive the very best of care. They must learn to help a legally blind person negotiate city streets, getting on buses, going in and out of stores and climbing stairs and escalators, and even practice "intelligent disobedience" when they come upon a situation dangerous for their handler.

What? Why is there a cat on campus? Actually, there are two cats that live here. This one is Chester, and guess what his job is? Yes, of course, to acquaint the guide dogs with felines, which they certainly might encounter in their lives.

Not all dogs make it through the intense training. But these dogs are not called flunkies. Oh no. Here are a few dogs that didn't make it, and they are lovingly called "Career Changers." Some go on to become search and rescue dogs, or help people with autism or epilepsy. And some even retire as pets. Every single dog in the program is provided either a career or a loving home throughout its life.

There is a feeling of intense pride for those dogs that do make it through the rigorous training program and go on to become a Guide Dog for the Blind. This dog just graduated last Saturday, and went to live with his new owner. He almost looks as if he understands the enormous responsibility he's been given, doesn't he?

Here's the website for Guide Dogs for the Blind, if you'd like to know more:
Guide Dogs for the Blind has two campuses, in Oregon and in California. You can tour the campus and attend a graduation for free. (Click on the link above, and go to About, and then Campuses and Tours.) If you love animals, I highly recommend it.
Have you ever raised a guide dog pup? Think you could? What a wonderful gift to give someone.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Horse Called Eagle

Or - why I love social networking. I belong to site called Goodreads and on that site, I recently listed a horse book I plan to read. It's by Pulitzer Prize winner Jane Smiley, and it's called THE GEORGES AND THE JEWELS. That's a strange name for a book - but I related to it, because apparently the main character's father sells horses (like my father did) and in an effort to prevent her from becoming too attached to them, they all get named either George (for a gelding or colt) or Jewel (for a filly or mare.) This book is now on the top of my to-read pile, and I'm anxious to dive in.

So - last week I get a message on twitter (a tweet) from a horsewoman named Natalie Reinert, mentioning that THE GEORGES AND THE JEWELS looks good. Natalie recently joined Goodreads, and friended me there (see how this works?) So I mentioned that once I owned a horse named Eagle, that my dad bought for me off a truck load of horses from Idaho. He was a flea-bitten grey, part Arab, and colored like the horse below. I loved his name - Eagle, and that's what I called him.

Sometime later I found out that the man unloading the truckload of horses called every horse Eagle that day. "Come on, Eagle. Easy there, boy. Whoa, son. Good boy, Eagle." Boy, did I feel dumb. But still, it was a good name.

So when I told Natalie that story, she messaged me back that she once owned a horse named - wait for it - Eagle, who arrived in Florida off a truck from Virginia. I know, small world, huh?

Anyway, Natalie gallops thoroughbred horses at Aqueduct race track in New York, she's a writer, and she has a fabulous blog. Read her post right here about the thrill of riding a horse out of the starting gate for the first time: Wow. I could never be so brave!

I am delighted to know Natalie, because we share a love of writing, reading, and horses. (Not to mention former horses named Eagle.)

Do you have a friend you've met through social networking, or a crazy story like that to share? Tell us. Or (gulp) have you, too, ever owned a horse named Eagle?

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Nap Cat

Fred, our shelter kitten, got his feelings hurt when I posted a picture (see my last post) of a darling sleeping kitten that I borrowed off the internet. No sooner did I mention that Fred never slows down and always zoom-zooms around, he promptly fell into an adorable nap . . .

in my purse.
"I may be 3 1/2 months old now, but I'm still cute too, right?"


"Right, Mom?"

Thursday, October 14, 2010

I Feel a Novel Coming On

I feel a novel coming on. I've taken a few weeks off from writing, letting my brain rest and rejuvenate after completing a big series of revisions. But this morning I got itchy fingers. That's always a good sign.

Then there's the weather. After a pitiful summer with not much heat in it, we've had a bit of a respite lately, with a couple weeks of lovely Indian Summer. With temperatures in the high sixties and seventies, yesterday I sat on the front porch rolling up my pant legs to gather the last bit of warm sun on my legs, watching our new kitten gambol in the grass, catching grasshoppers.

This morning, great grey clouds gathered in the north, and as the air grew brisk with impending rain, autumn leaves began to scuttle and scatter. Okay, enough with the poetic images. Winter is coming, darn it. And if you believe the forecasters, who predict something called La Nina for us this year (the opposite of El Nino) we are in for a long, wild winter.

Still, it's this kind of weather that makes me retreat to my keyboard and bang out words. This morning, as if my brain could feel the change in the seasons, I opened up Word and completed a first chapter on a new novel. Winter is the time when I write.

Now, if I can just get this kitten off my lap.

When is your best time to write? Do the seasons affect your creativity? Do you ever feel a novel coming on?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Revisions - The Final Read-through

I recently finished a big batch of revisions on my current middle grade novel and sent them off to my agent. Before I did, I wanted to give the story a final read-through, to make sure everything flowed and made sense, to make sure I picked up all the threads or plot lines I had changed, and to give myself a sense of pacing.

Because I read more easily from paper in front of me instead of words on the computer screen, I decided to print it out. My manuscript was formatted with double spacing, which is standard in the publishing industry for ease of reading, making notes, and (supposedly) ease of catching mistakes. I tried something new this time - a trick that I learned on twitter - or should I say, from a link there to an article I read (and I can't remember who recommended it) but it stuck in my head and I wanted to try it. I used single spacing and a different font. Here's how you can do it, too.

First, open a new blank document and label it as the single spaced version. Then open your original, nicely formatted document, highlight the entire thing (select all) and copy into the new doc. In the new doc - highlight the entire document again, go to Format - Paragraph - Indents and Spacing - and under Line spacing (below) chose Single, and hit Okay. Then save it, and presto - your entire document will be reduced by almost half - in my case - from 282 pages to 157 pages.

Then, while you have the whole document highlighted (or choose select all, and highlight it again if it's not) change your font from probably Times New Roman, which is standard to a Sans Serif font. In my case, I chose Tahoma. Hit Save.

Presto. Your manuscript looks a bit more like a finished book (and will read like one, too.) Yes, your chapter headings won't all be perfect, but you don't have to fix those unless you really want to. It's just for you to read through, and you've already saved paper by cutting your page count to almost half. But better yet, there are many things you will catch this time around that you didn't in your double-spaced version. (As in OMG I just used the word "just" five times in two paragraphs.)

Anyway, suffice to say that I caught LOTS of things on this final read-through that I believed improved my story, and after I marked them in red pen, I went back to my original, double-spaced version, and fixed them.

Have you ever used this method? What did you think? Any other revising trick you'd care to share?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


Can I just say that I've been trying very hard to write a literary post about writing or revision, or to have another author interview on this blog (which I promise I will very soon) but everytime I sit down to write one of these very important things, I cannot get anything done at all because something jumps in my lap and that something is this very adorable kitten we just got named Fred.

Actually Fred is my husband's cat. I went to the Animal Shelter last week and adopted him because although we have one barn cat named Lucy, and one animal shelter cat named Bugs, and one feral cat we found in our attic that is not very tame at all named Xena, none of these cats would come to my husband because they are all very shy and so he needed his own cat. So I picked this cat out for him because he is not a bit shy and so my husband named him Fred and he sleeps in my husband's lap and when he is not sleeping he is getting into everything and being bratty which is why I am typing so fast so I can get this blog post written before he wakes up:

Because I forgot that when little kittens are not cuddlingpurringnapping they are racingchasingattackingeverything and whoops, he's awake now I gotta go . . .

Friday, October 1, 2010

BLM Wild Horses and Burros

On a recent trip through Northeastern California, we drove by a Bureau of land Management holding facility for Wild Horses and Burros. So of course, we stopped.

The corrals were full, because a round-up in the Twin Peaks area had just been completed, with more than 1600 horses and 160 burros (donkeys) rounded up. All of the horses and burros are available for adoption for $125 each.

Some of the nice-looking horses available.

BLM gathers are a hot-button, controversial topic right now. Not only the fact that horses are being injured with helicopter round-ups, but also the solution to what, exactly, we should do to with the more than 38,000 wild horses and burros that currently roam government lands, as well as the approximately 35,000 previously rounded up animals currently kept in corrals and holding facilities throughout the country. Especially when you think about how many domestic horses are already in need of homes, all over the country.

There is no difference between a burro and a donkey. Different name for the same animal.

Here are a few of the wild burros that will be seeking new homes. These are all jacks (males.) The females with young foals were on the opposite side of the facility, and not available for viewing on the day we stopped in.

Some of these will be transported to adoption facilities in other areas of the country, and the lucky ones will find homes.

But how many homes are available? These are all nice looking donkeys (same thing as a burro, just different terminology.)

I know one thing. Even though I raised donkeys for a number of years, I will never breed another one.

For more pictures of the horses and burros at the Twin Lakes gather, you can go here.

Keep your ears open. There are plans in the works of Wild Horse Sanctuaries in Nevada, New Mexico, and possibly other states. It may take some time for this to come together, but I think it would be a much better solution rather than trying to find individual homes for each of these animals.

How many of you have actually seen a band of wild horses? How many of you would drive to a Wild Horse Sanctuary, to see wild horses as they behave in the wild? I know that I would.