“Introducing my guide dog Pelham,” by André van Hall
We had buried the last of our Rhodesian Ridgebacks the year before I lost my eyesight. Nancy and I were convinced we were done with dogs, and we relinquished our extensive dog paraphernalia.
Upon losing my eyesight, I quickly learned how to use a cane for mobility, and was convinced I found the right tool to function in this complex world. However, I began meeting more visually impaired people who had dogs – these people seemed to be happier than those who used a cane.
My heart started to warm up to the idea of getting a dog for mobility.
When I started to pursue this idea, I thought you simply bought a guide dog, and that they were available locally. A quick search made me realize how wrong I was!
After researching the nine outfits in the U.S. that train dogs, the standout for me was Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael, California. Founded in 1942 to assist returning WWII veterans, Guide Dogs for the Blind enabled thousands of people to better function in a darker world. I also discovered that their dogs are completely free of charge, and that they do this great work without a penny of tax support.
After a lengthy application and qualification process, I headed to San Rafael to be trained in mobility with a dog.
Wow! I was not prepared for the unbelievable bond I would develop with my guide dog!
Pelham and I had an immediate connection that grows every day we work together. At the time, he was just shy of his second birthday.
Pelham had been specifically bred by Guide Dogs for the Blind for both temperament and size. He began his in-house training in Clovis, California, where a loving family raised him for 15 months, giving him all the essentials to become a successful guide. After a tearful goodbye, he was returned to San Rafael where he underwent rigorous training to become the superb guide he is now.
By this time, I had wrapped up my application process and was invited to a 2-week class of demanding training with my new partner.
Pelham has a bright, outgoing, and friendly demeanor that will melt your heart.
A yellow lab with red-fox coloring, Pelham’s gorgeous eyes are a people magnet! And he LOVES to have his tummy rubbed, so don’t be surprised if you find him in his favorite relaxed pose: belly up with splayed back legs and front paws bent down in total surrender.
Pelham’s working weight is 62 pounds. He adores playing tug-of-war and is happiest when he wins. He uses his tail to sense the terrain behind him, as he fiercely pulls on his rope toy.
Feeding him snacks is a big no-no. Although he loves to get a treat (he is a Labrador Retriever, after all), he can’t eat anything outside of his diet, since the risk of getting sick while working is too great.
Petting him and saying hello is fine, as long as he is out of harness.
Not everyone knows that a working dog in harness is doing just that – working. When you pet a working dog while in its harness, this distracts him from his job. When possible, I take the harness off, so Pelham knows he is not working, and he can get friendly pets and his daily dose and belly rubs.
In researching Pelham’s name, I found that there are towns in Massachusetts, New York, and England with that name. Also, a pelham is a special mouth bit for horses.
Pelham has brought efficiency and safety into my life – and a lot of laughter, support, and undemanding love.
Pelham accompanies me everywhere, and he has helped me start conversations and engage with many people. So when you see us, come and say hello to Pelham, and if so inclined, I would love to meet you too!