“If I could be half the person my dog is, I’d be twice the human I am”
State 20: Oregon - November 17, 2017
We woke up at a Walmart in Newport, OR, ready for another new day! Today we continue on our drive South along the beautiful Oregon Coast via Route 101. Much of the drive meanders along towering cliffs, and vast stretches of undisturbed sandy beaches. Sprinkled in along the way are adorable small fishing towns reminiscent of sections of the New England Shoreline we once called home. Unlike the New England Coast, the entire 363 mile Oregon shoreline consists of a series of 80 state parks and recreational areas guaranteeing beach access to everyone! Passed in 1967, The Oregon Beach Bill allows for private beach ownership, but the landowner must allow public access on the beach. In exchange, the land owner does not have to pay property taxes on the portion of the beach, which the public accesses. Some called the Oregon Beach Bill an attack on personal property rights, and others say it was a historic landmark piece of legislation aimed to preserve the shoreline from development. I guess where you stand on this issue is dependent upon whether or not you own Oregon shoreline property. Nevertheless, over the past 2 days, we had the privilege of enjoying the raw and rugged splendor of the Oregon Coast instead of driving by an endless sea of beach resorts, and seafood restaurants. Thankfully, a handful of visionaries back in the 1960’s saw the state’s shoreline as a treasure to be forever preserved and forever enjoyed by all, and for that we are very grateful.
We departed the Oregon Coast at Coos Bay, and drove 161 miles Southeast to Central Point, OR to visit the Cross Country Couple's Made in the USA Tour for Oregon, “Dogs for Better Lives”. Although Nate is more of a friend to felines, I on the other hand am a friend to Fido! Dogs are loyal, helpful, intelligent, playful, friendly and just plain fun to have around! Although cats are cute, when was the last time you saw someone try to play fetch with a cat, or saw the police use a bomb sniffing cat on duty? It is no wonder dogs have been hailed as man’s best friend. They are always there to greet us at the door when we come home from work, and come cuddle on our lap when they sense a broken heart. No other animal is more intently in tune to humans than our canine companions. I have had dogs my entire life and the Dachshund was always my breed of choice.
My last dog was a miniature Doxie named Bella, (pictured to the left) and she was everything one could want from a dog. Bella had a congenital defect, and she became partially paralyzed and incontinent at 2 years old. I spent months performing alternative therapies on her until she was walking again. While her paralysis diminished, her incontinence did not. We adapted by putting her in cute little diapers and outfits and made her as comfortable as possible. She was such a doll! It was at that time that we had gotten bad news that the owner was selling the condo we were living in and we had to move. We tried for months to find a new apartment, but no one wanted to rent to someone with a dog. With 6 days until my lease expired, I was forced to accept a painful ultimatum. I would either have to give up my beloved Bella, or face homelessness! Fortunately, I was able to connect with a Dachshund rescue group that specializes in dogs with paralysis as this is very common with dachshunds. Bella was sent to a Dachshund sanctuary in upstate New York where she will be well cared for the rest her life! Although I still miss her so very much, the sanctuary regularly sends me pictures of her running, playing and being held, and she seems so happy there. Now I am going to cry! I am so very much looking forward to seeing the dogs today, and learning more about Dogs for a Better life!
In 1977, A deaf woman in Minnesota was mourning the loss of her dog whom had passed away. However, she didn’t just lose a companion, she lost the ability to live independently. See, her dog had trained itself to alert her to specific sounds people with normal hearing take for granted such as the door bell, a smoke alarm and the sound of another human voice speaking to her. Now that she was alone in world of silence, she realized how much she had come to depend on her late dog, and contacted the American Humane Association in a search for someone to train a new dog for her.
2000 miles away, Roy Kabat was enjoying his retirement in Oregon after a successful career as an animal trainer in entertainment industry. His portfolio included Hollywood productions such as Dr. Doolittle, Swiss Family Robinson, the cougars for Mercury automobile commercials, and even trained the roaring lion featured at the beginning of every MGM movie! However, the most important role of his career had yet to be cast! One day, Roy Kabat’s phone rang, and on the other end was the American Humane Association in Denver, Colorado. The American Humane Association initiated experimental work to train dogs to help people who were deaf, and they contacted Roy for advice. After spending two weeks in Denver, Roy returned to Oregon, and founded the non-profit organization; Dogs for the Deaf in 1977.
Kabat would rescue dogs of all breeds and sizes from the pound whom would otherwise have been put to sleep. Over a period of 6 months, he would train the dogs to alert their hearing impaired owners to buzzing oven timers, ringing telephones, screeching smoke alarms, and dinging doorbells. Kabat trained over 20 dogs at a time, and delivered over 50 dogs a year to deaf people anywhere in the United States free of charge!
40 years later, they are still training dogs to assist the deaf, but have also expanded to include program assistance dogs, and autism assistance dogs. In 2017, the name was changed to Dogs for Better Lives to incorporate these new services. To date they have rescued, trained, and placed over 1,300 dogs with needy individuals free of charge! Below are paintings of each of the first three dogs they trained.
We had a problem arriving at Dogs for Better Lives due to a closed bridge, and had to drive around the block to another entrance. When Nate jumped out of Rosie to take a picture of the front door, he stepped in a pile of horse manure. So far we were not off to a very good start, but we were very happy to have finally arrived. After Nate cleaned his shoe, we walked into the main office, were greeted by our tour guide, and led into a meeting room. After our guide gave us an overview about “Dogs for Better Lives”, we watched a brief movie highlighting the stories of two dogs. One of the dogs would be trained to assist the deaf, and the other was trained to assist an autistic child. The movie walked us through the entire process beginning with the dog being rescued from the kennel, to being trained and then placed into service in their new homes! The trainers and new owners in the movie were crying, our tour guide was teary eyed, and I was balling like a baby!
After gaining my composure, we were led into a nearby room for a demonstration by a terrier mix named Buzz ,who had been trained to assist the deaf. As you may have seen out in the community, all service dogs wear a vest. You should never approach a service dog as it may distract them from their job, and put their owner at risk! What I found most interesting was the drastic difference in the dog’s behavior when wearing and not wearing his vest! Without his service vest, Buzz was your typically lovable, playful, adorable dog jumping and running all over the place. However, as soon as his service vest was put on, he stood at attention, fully alert, and was extremely well behaved! The drastic change in his behavior was dramatic and instantaneous. Buzz’s trainer had set an oven timer to go off in 3 minutes, and then distracted Buzz with food on the other side of the room. As soon as that timer went off, Buzz put is front paws on his trainer, and ran over to the oven. He continued to run back and forth between the oven and the trainer, until the timer was turned off. A few minutes later, someone knocked on the door to the office, and Buzz again placed his front paws on the trainer and then ran to the door. He again repeated the process of running between the door and the trainer, until the door was answered! It was quite impressive to see Buzz at work!
After bidding ado to Buzz, we were led out to the first of two kennels at the facility. The first kennel is where the dogs are quarantined for 2 weeks after they are rescued from the pound. During this time, the dogs receive a physical, get up to date on all of their shots, and get spayed and neutered. There was an cute golden retriever in this kennel, giving me the biggest puppy dog eyes I had ever seen. He was just too adorable! Next, our guide led us to the second kennel. One thing I noticed while enroute, was how the entire facility was well maintained and extremely clean. There were plenty of fenced in areas for the dogs to run, train and exercise, and even a 1 mile trail around the grounds where they are walked daily! I couldn’t even smell the scent of a dog, and I never even heard a single “Bark”!
The entrance way of the 2nd kennel featured pictures of a few of the dogs whom have already been placed. On an opposing wall is a map of the US with pins to signify where each of their dogs were placed. Over the past 40 years, Dogs for Better Lives has placed service dogs in all 50 states! Please see the pictures below.
Each dog has the same trainer for the entire time, and the trainer actually lives in an apartment above the kennel. To make this process even more impressive, the trainer actually flies out to the new owner’s home with the service dog, and spends 5-7 days helping them adjust to one another.
Next, we proceeded into the second kennel to view the dogs behind a one-way glass similar to the type you see in police interrogation rooms on TV. Since the dogs are still in training, any human interaction can affect the process. The dogs were clearly well cared for, well nourished, clean and healthy. They also had a doggie door on each of their pens allowing them to go outside into a fenced in areas, or remain inside as they wished. Please see the pictures below.
For our last stop, we visited to their service dog memorial. When a Dogs for Better Lives service dog passes away, the owner has the option to have their dog’s ashes spread at the memorial. In addition, the owner can have a memorial stone placed with the dog’s name, years of life, and a personal message. Standing there viewing the memorial stones of 40 years of service dogs, really put into perspective the life changing work performed by Dogs for Better Lives! Here I go again! I need to go get another a tissue!
Dogs for Better Lives is the most amazing organization I have come across on our cross country trip. Not only do they rescue dogs who would otherwise be put to sleep, they train them to be of service and find them forever homes with needy deaf and autistic owners throughout the country free of charge! These dogs now have a purpose, and you can tell that they love it! With the holiday season just around the corner, I encourage everyone to actively seek out non-profits whom do work you are personally passionate about. This year, instead of giving a few bucks at the request of the cashier in the supermarket, make a point to actually learn about and support the lesser known charities who are making a difference in the community such as Dogs for Better Lives. After departing Dogs for Better Lives, we drive 5 miles Southwest to Medford, OR, to a Walmart near the Oregon’s Southern border to spend the night.
Our 2 weeks in Oregon were coming to a close, and what an eventful two weeks it has been! We narrowly missed a crazed gunman in Walmart, toured tiny houses in Portland, got stranded in a snow storm on the tallest mountain in the state, personally met the head of an international Health Food Company, arrived at the end of the Oregon Trail and fell in love with the town of Eugene. Oregon was a memorable state, and offered many of the qualities we are looking for in a new home. Most states we visit, we end up feeling indifferent towards, and some states we can’t wait to leave. Very occasionally, we come across a state we are sad to depart, and Oregon was such a place. Will Oregon become the 2nd state on our cross country journey to score 8 or higher to be considered as our new home? We can’t wait to vote on Oregon!
California? You’re on deck!