Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Sorry Kid, He's Already Taken

Wrangell at 9 weeks.
 On February 28, our Lab Wrangell will turn 8 years old. Time marches ever on. With his roots in Guide Dogs of the Desert, Wrangell was our very first guide dog puppy, raised as a 4-H project by daughter Lena when she was 15 and 16. Our first glimpse of him was at 9 weeks of age as he toddled out of his shipping crate. He was shipped courtesy of Alaska Airlines from Palm Springs, California to Fairbanks, Alaska. 


Resisting temptation from a biscuit by learning "Leave It".  4 months old.

Lena and Wrangell in Valdez in summer, 2006 with Columbia Glacier in the background.

Wrangell's daddy was an English champion, a school breeding experiment. Unfortunately, neither Wrangell nor any of his siblings ever became a guide dog. And so he became a permanent member of the Cole family. 

Alaskan puppy raiser meeting, winter 2005/6. This photo was taken about 2 pm. Yes, it's dusk outside! Wrangell and Lena are in the middle. His brother KV is on the right. The PR on the left is a colonel from Fort Wainwright, Alaska.

Wherever Wrangell goes he turns heads. He has the classic boxy head, deep chest and solid football player build of the English Lab. With liquid brown eyes framed by distinctive eyebrows, looking into his eyes is like a window into his soul. Charisma.

Lena and Wrangell check out an Alaskan grizzly at Univ. of Alaska Museum. Good, now he's had his bear exposure. That is on the checklist, right?

Wrangell is a living testimony that a dog's life is anything but over when he gets career-changed. Instead Wrangell has been somewhat of a canine jack-of-all-trades. After his career change he turned to Search and Rescue training for over a year, finding subjects and rappelling from ropes. But that was not his true calling. 

Wrangell hangs from a harness 4-5' off the ground, while I walk/rappel down a steep slope next to him. This is valuable training for SAR K-9's who may be asked to search in extremely rugged country.

Next was the stage. As Annie's dog Sandy, Wrangell starred in 2 productions of the play "Annie," basking in the applause. But an actor's life is a fickle one, and soon he was "back on the streets" living the life of a pet. 

The Hooverville Scene. We rubbed ashes on Wrangell so he would look like a street dog.
Curtain call! Wrangell totally loved the stage. He didn't want it to end.

Yet of all the jobs on Wrangell's list, his most important has been his daily service helping our family raise six guide dog puppies. Since he knows the rules and is a canine to boot, Wrangell's solid presence sets the bar for the pups in our household. As a guide puppy crosses our threshold for the first time, Wrangell looks at me as if to say, "Well boss, here we go again!"          

Almost every day for 6 years Wrangell has faithfully mentored guide dog puppies. Here he and little Allen curl up in a tent on a backpacking trip in Alaska, summer 2007. Wrangell makes my job so much easier.

With surrogate uncle Wrangell the puppies adapt more easily to our home. And his snoring is a bonus, better than a ticking clock.

Recently Wrangell was certified as a therapy dog, so that periodically he serves in coat at nursing homes and the Chatham Public Library. It is a known fact that reluctant readers can excel given a program where they read to a dog. In the presence of a therapy dog, many children learn a love of books and reading who wouldn't otherwise. Stretched out with his massive Lab head leaning against a child's leg, Wrangell looks like a cross between Simba the Lion King and a Teddy Bear floor pillow. Children stroke his tawny sides and marvel at his big paws. He exudes calm, gentle strength. Many of these children have no dog at home; for some this is their first positive dog experience.

Wrangell listens to this reader who is a regular at the library. She stated that Wrangell is her new best friend.

Two sisters come into the library reading room, a little afraid, yet curious. I let them know they're welcome and soon they are cuddled on the floor between Dorian and Wrangell. While the bigger sister reads "Green Eggs and Ham" the little one reverently touches the hide of Wrangell the Lion-Dog. Suddenly she interrupts her sister's reading with a Great Idea. "Can you give me this dog? I will walk him every day. He can sleep by my bed!" I smile and keep listening to her sister read. But what I really want to say is, 
"I'm sorry Kid, but he's already taken."