Raising Guide Dogs was a family affair for the Prindle family of Seattle from the time Douglas Prindle was 8, until after he and his younger brother had both gone off to college. Doug wanted to be in 4-H, something his mom, Janine, had done as a young girl. He tried working with ‘Jubilee,’ Janine’s Flat-Coated Retriever, Aardo Ad Libitum Jubilee, UD.
“He told me, ‘I need a littler dog.’”
Because Janine was diagnosed in 1980 with retinopathy that could someday lead to blindness, she suggested that Doug do a Guide Dog project. “I thought it might be something our whole family would appreciate,” she says. “He was 9 years old when he got his first Guide Dog puppy.” That was Jersey, a yellow Lab. After eight months, the young puppy raiser took her to the fair, a rite of passage for 4-Hers, where the dog was deemed Grand Champion Guide Dog puppy. “He was so tickled with that.”
All in the Family
When Jersey left the Prindles to go to Guide Dog school, young Doug secretly hoped she wouldn’t do well. “He knew if she didn’t, he could have her back.” But Jersey learned quickly and was soon assigned to someone who needed her assistance. “My son was so disappointed,” Janine Prindle recalls of her now 36-year-old son.
But that didn’t stop him from raising another. The Prindles had launched themselves on an odyssey that would see 30 such young dogs pass through their home, being socialized and loved on their way to careers as Guide Dogs. Soon, his younger brother, Aaron, was raising his own puppy for Guide Dogs.
Doug got his last puppy in February of his senior year of high school. By then, Janine was the leader of a 4-H group whose focus was raising Guide Dog puppies. For eight years, the Prindles had two puppies in their home virtually all the time, she says.
Prior to getting that first puppy, though, Prindle had been showing Jubilee’s mother, Ch. Frolickin’ Magic Presto, UD, and competing in obedience with her. Janine continued to work with Jubilee after the boys got involved in 4-H.
Then, in 1997, when Aaron had graduated from high school, “I thought we were pretty much done with puppy raising,” she says.Not quite. “My advisor called saying they had a 4-month-old that a family had to give up.” Janine agreed to take the puppy, Button, “temporarily.” When the advisor called to say that they’d found a new puppy-raising family for the young dog, Janine wouldn’t let her go. “No, she’s staying right here with me,” she told her advisor.
A Guide Dog Comes Home
Janine and her husband, Jack, would raise nine more puppies before it was time for Janine to become the recipient of a fully trained Guide Dog. By 2004, her retinopathy had developed to the point where she had no peripheral vision, could no longer drive, and eventuallyled her to give up her job of 28 years as a teacher of remedial math and reading.
Retinopathy causes the blood vessels of the eye to break and bleed. To control the bleeding, the vessels are cauterized. “I do have some vision left,” Janine says, “but not really good vision. Just a little bit of central vision.”
None of that, however, could keep her out of obedience rings.
How could she when so much of her life had been about dogs?
A Girl and Her Dog
“When I was a kid all I wanted was a dog,” she says. “In 1961 my parents went out to a dog show to look at different breeds of dog. They decided we should have a Basenji, so we had a Basenji. I was 9 years old. I thought this dog was the best thing that had ever happened. I was going to make it a show dog.”
However, at 35 pounds, it wasn’t a show-quality Basenji. Despite that, Janine was determined to show the dog, so she joined the local Basenji club. “My dad had taken the dog to obedience class. I remember going to this Basenji club match. I thought we were doing obedience, but it was junior handling. The judge was so, so nice,” she recalls, telling the young girl, “You still have a lot to learn.”
Nonetheless, “I came home with a ribbon,” she says. She got more and more involved with the Basenji club, and, at 16, a club member gave her a show-quality puppy. “I just loved the dogs,” she says.
The Evergreen Basenji Club specialty was coming up, and Janine only had the money to enter one dog. “I had a really old fellow and the young one,” she recalls, finally deciding to enter Benji in the Veteran class. “He was the first Veterans class winner of the Evergreen Basenji Club.”
Although she left her Basenjis behind when she went away to college, she still went to dog shows, getting a fix of canine camaraderie whenever she could.
Not much has changed in all those decades.
Janine got her Guide Dog, yellow Lab Cranberry, in 2007. The young dog went to school with Janine each day, where her small classes of six kids at a time were excited to have Cranberry in the classroom, but learned to leave the dog alone.
Into the Rings
Before she and Cranberry graduated from Guide Dog training, Janine had asked if she could compete in obedience with the dog. Guide Dogs told her that it would be fine once the pair bonded and Cranberry was guiding her well. After about eight months of working together and bonding in their working relationship, they took their first competitive obedience class.
Janine had to be careful to teach Cranberry the difference between obedience and working. “She was a little confused at one point.” For example, when a judge says, “Forward,” Cranberry interpreted that as a command to start walking. When Cranberry’s in the heel position, Janine can’t see her. The only way she knows that the dog is moving is if she hears her paw pads on the floor.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Janine says. “People have been really helpful.” Even though the AKC obedience department gave her a letter to show judges outlining the accommodations she needs, she rarely has to use it. “I do ask for assistance for when I have to go out of the ring for long sits and downs.” Sometimes a judge will adjust his or her hand signals so Janine can see them from a distance.
She never knows what might come up to create a new challenge, though. Recently she was at a competition where the rings were circled with “light, plastic chains,” rather than gates. “I could hardly see that,” she says. “How am I going to know when to tell her to sit?” So I just watched her really carefully. When she started to slow down, I told her to sit.”
Now almost 7, Cranberry has her Companion Dog Excellent and Graduate Open titles in obedience, as well as novice, advanced and excellent titles in rally. She’s still working on her obedience Utility Dog title.
Prindle thinks she’s been able to continue in obedience and rally, at least partially, because she did both before she lost her sight. “I have done it before, so I know what needs to be done. It might be more difficult for someone who’s learning to do it for the first time.”
Her 4-year-old Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, Corey, is just getting started in obedience and rally. The pair will travel to Albany, Ore., in September for the National Specialty and some performance competition.
And Back to School
Janine, Cranberry and Corey’s activities go beyond competing and working toward titles.
After retiring from teaching in June 2011, Prindle found that she missed being in a school environment. Because she had gotten Cranberry certified as a therapy dog with Therapy Dogs International, she was able to start a local program of kids “reading” to dogs. She, Cranberry and two other teams visit the school where her husband teaches. “We went in once a week so the kids could read to her. Every kid got a chance to read to at least one dog every Wednesday. It really is fun. The kids are great.”
When school starts next month, the program will resume.
Twice a month, Cranberry and Janine visit a home for people with Alzheimer’s disease. “That is something that I really enjoy, too. It’s totally different than the kids at school. You can tell that they really enjoy it,” she says. The visits often prompt residents to recall the dogs they’ve had over their lifetimes, she says.
Prindle doesn’t think she’s going to completely lose her vision. “It’s been fairly stable for the last few years,” she says. “Some days are better than others, based on my blood pressure. When it’s too low, the left eye doesn’t have the usual amount of vision.”
If she were to lose the little central vision she has left, she says she likes to think she wouldn’t give up her canine sports and activities. She has some totally blind friends who compete in various performance events with their dogs. One in California has a Golden Retriever that does hunting tests. Another has put a CDX on her dog, along with her husband, who is also blind.
For now, Janine has no plans to slow down. “It’s just the satisfaction of doing it,” she says. “I enjoy working with my dog; I enjoy training her. I’m a little bit competitive. I just want her to do it [get her UD]. What’s really neat about competing in obedience is I’ve met the most wonderful people. I have a real strong support group in the people I train with.”
Dogs have brought joy to Janine’s life ever since she was 9. “My dogs have brought me a lot of happiness,” she says. “I enjoy just being with them.” They serve her especially well in the evenings when her husband is often away.
But Cranberry has given her a very special gift. Before she had her, Janine says, “It was like, ‘look at that poor lady using a cane to get around.’”Now people notice her and Cranberry, and treat her like any other person out and about with a dog.