This is Juno, my service dog.
She's five years old, as near as anyone can tell, and my best guess is that she's a mix of Doberman, Labrador, Greyhound and German Shepherd. (I refuse to do those DNA tests because they're expensive and seem unreliable.) This February, she developed sudden acquired retinal degenerative syndrome, known as SARDS. Over a period of a few weeks, this genetic condition causes dogs to go blind.
There are two experimental treatments: steroids and injections of human immunoglobin. We first tried steroids, and when that didn't work, we tried the injections. Those didn't appear to have worked either—two weeks after the procedure, Juno was pretty much blind.
But then something remarkable happened: her vision slowly started returning! And in mid-April, she was able to resume her duties as my service dog. It's hard to put into words how much better she makes my life. Without her, even small things seemed insurmountable; with her, so many things seem possible again.
I got Juno originally as a family pet, adopting her from Peninsula Humane Society when she was 18 months old. She was quite the wild child, full of pent-up energy and super reactive to other dogs on leash. With a lot of exercise, training and affection, Juno settled down with remarkable speed, and after several months became the kind of dog you can count on to behave properly in public, no matter what the situation.
She went everywhere we could take her—stores, outdoor restaurants, movie theatre lobbies, parks, you name it. When she was almost four, there were some new developments in my life that made me think about training her as a service dog. Thanks to her unofficial but extensive public access training as a pet, Juno quickly took to the service dog lifestyle. She's tremendously food motivated, and does well with clicker training, so teaching her all her new tasks was fun and mostly easy. We spent months polishing her manners in places like grocery stores, movie theatres, and indoor restaurants, as well as teaching her more formally to ignore all other dogs and humans while vested. Sometimes that was pretty hard for her, especially when people would just let their over-exuberant dogs run up to Juno.
Juno graduated to full service dog status in September of 2011, just in time for her first plane trip—to Michigan! Juno took the bustle of the airport and the strangeness of flying in stride, just like everything else. She also went on a trip to Las Vegas just before her temporary retirement, where she got to put all her training to use—leading me to the outside through crowded casinos, riding politely in taxis, lying at my feet during the Cirque du Soleil show "O," blocking people out of my space in various situations.
I distinctly remember thinking, as Juno calmly led me through yet another casino—a cacophony of noise, crazy lights, smoke, and strangers—"How will I ever teach another dog to do this?" Filling Juno's pawprints seemed like a monumental task.
Well, now I'm going to find out. Because until recently I thought Juno's retirement was permanent, I moved up my successor-dog timeline by about a year. It takes 18-24 months to fully train a service dog, so it's very important to plan far in advance.
After extensive research, I had decided to purchase a purebred Doberman puppy from Von Luka Dobermans in the summer of 2013—with SARDS, I couldn't wait that long. I went through the list of reputable breeders I had compiled months earlier, and finally found the perfect match in Gatehouse Dobermanns of Canada. In July, when I plan to bring my puppy home, the next part of our journey will begin!