Star Canine Graduates to Service Work
Photo by David Scott
Noble, a Facebook celebrity, begins life as a guide dog.
He'll always be a star, but now Noble, the guide dog with more than 1,000 Facebook fans, has taken on an even more important role -- fulfilling his first service assignment with Marine Corps veteran Sam Farr, according to Chris Casatelli, his trainer.
Noble graduated in February from the school at Canine Assistants, the non-profit organization based in Milton, Ga., where dogs are taught to help adults and children with special needs or disabilities. At 15 months old, he completed the program "a little early," Casatelli said. Most dogs are 18 months to 2 years old before they start their working life.
Farr, 24, of Oceanside, Calif., said Noble has already helped him regain some independence.
"I'm starting to go out a little more," Farr said.
Milk-Bone made the Labrador and Golden Retriever mix a celebrity about a year ago by choosing him for a commercial and sending a film crew to follow Noble's progress through service dog training, whether he made the grade or not, Casatelli said. The company has long supported the Canine Assistants organization, he said.
"They chose him as a puppy," he said. "He was a famous dog from Day One."
Of course, no one doubted Noble had the right stuff, Casatelli said.
"From the very beginning, he was really smart and exceptionally eager to please," he said. Casatelli, who took a bachelor's degree in psychology from Georgia State, has considered whether nature or nurture made Noble great.
"Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" he said. Casatelli thinks it was the training.
"Noble just had so much experience by the time he was a year old," he said. Besides the attention at school, Noble's foster "mother" socialized him by taking him on trips and frequent hospital visits. He quickly became used to "beeping machines and people with chronic illnesses," Casatelli said.
But Noble was bred for service work, Casatelli said, pointing out that crossing the golden and the Lab, for example, often results in a superior service animal.
"Pure Goldens and pure Labs are great, but the mixes are fantastic," he said. "They're really driven workers from the Lab side," he said, and they inherit the "soft personality" from the sweet-tempered and loving Golden Retriever side.
Mixed breeds also tend to avoid health problems like hip dysplasia, one result of inbreeding or over-breeding, he said. That's important because the typical guide dog will work 8 to 10 years, and their bodies have to be sturdy.
Farr and his family flew to Georgia for a two-week training camp, Casatelli said. They worked with several dogs until the day came when staff let the dogs out of the kennels to see if the dogs picked anyone.
The dogs have to pick their assignments, Casatelli said. The people cannot choose the dog.
Noble had not seemed interested in anyone before, but this time, he was a little older, Casatelli said, and perhaps that's the reason why he "matched" with Farr.
"They let the dogs out of the kennels to come up to us," Farr said. Noble was the only dog that came to him.
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