The Davis Enterprise

November 13, 2006

Julie Rooney Enterprise staff writer

Each weekday morning, Julianne Phillips heads to UC Davis, where she is a freshman studying animal science. As the throngs of bicycle riders speed by, Phillips walks with Randolph, her guide dog in training.

Last Christmas, Phillips, on winter break from Davis High School, brought Randolph home from Guide Dogs for the Blind. He is her fourth guide dog puppy.

"It's the most rewarding experience," she said of raising guide dog puppies, a 15-month commitment.

Phillips is thrilled to be going to her dream school. And like college students everywhere, she's learning to live with roommates, to cook her own meals and be on her own.

Managing all of these new experiences with a puppy in tow has been anything but easy.

What is it like to raise a guide dog while attending college? Phillips is one of a handful of UC Davis students who are taking on the challenge this year. For Phillips, it means living off campus, since guide dogs in training aren't allowed in the dorms.

It also means navigating the 5,200-acre campus without the aid of a bicycle. Guide dogs are forbidden from running alongside bikes.

Taking the challenges in stride, Phillips said, "Our only problem has been the pano."

She's referring to panosteitis, a bone disease that is common in young, large-breed dogs. It tends to appear at ages 6 to 18 months, lasting anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. It usually disappears sometime during the dog's first two years.

"It's essentially growing pains so they put him on anti-inflammatories and bed rest," Phillips said.

Randolph recently recovered from his fourth bout of pano and, according to Phillips, it will not be a factor in determining whether Randolph graduates from the rigorous Guide Dogs for the Blind program.

When Randolph isn't resting, he goes everywhere she does.

"Right now we're working on not being so distracted by dogs," Phillips said. "He sees dogs and he's very interested, so that's not good."

Randolph is not attracting a lot of attention from the students on campus.

"People seem to be more afraid of him than interested because he is a German shepherd," she speculated. "Everyone loves a Lab, but he's big."

On Thursdays, Phillips sits through four hours of lectures, with only a 10-minute break. The pup sits patiently, but by the end of the two classes, "he gets very cranky," Philips said.

She takes him home after the long day, where he plays and relaxes.

The only class Randolph isn't attending this semester is Phillips' favorite class, Animal Science 1. Since the class involves working with livestock, Phillips doesn't want the animals to be scared of Randolph, nor does she want Randolph to catch any diseases.

She also is taking a sociology course, and is working toward a dual degree in animal science and social work. Her goal is to use therapy dogs to help youths in juvenile detention facilities.

Animals as healers

She's entering a field that got its start centuries ago. In 1792, William Turk founded the York Retreat in England to provide a more humane approach to treating patients in what was then called "insane asylums." To help foster self-control, patients were given responsibility to care for animals.

In 1942, the United States began exploring pet therapy when animals were brought to an Air Force convalescent hospital to provide companionship for residents.

But the field of pet therapy truly emerged in 1969 when psychologist Boris Levinson discovered by accident that his noncommunicative patient improved when the psychologist's dog was present. Researchers have been discovering the animal/human bond ever since.

Today, pet therapy is going on in prisons, hospitals, psychiatric facilities and nursing homes. There is even a therapy dog program aimed at helping children read.

Researchers discovered that struggling readers relaxed more and were able to concentrate better when reading aloud to a canine than a classmate. Thus, the nonprofit Reading Education Assistance Dogs was born.

There are a variety of nonprofit organizations that train dogs to assist people, Guide Dogs for the Blind being one of the oldest.

In early 2007, Randolph will head back to Guide Dogs in San Rafael, where he will undergo five months of formal guidework training. He will need to pass 10 phases of training before graduating.

If Randolph makes it to Phase 10, and Phillips is confident he will, he will have mastered every aspect of guidework. His 45-minute final test involves guiding a blindfolded instructor across crowded streets, in buildings, up and down escalators, onto buses and more. But for now, Randolph will focus on mastering his latest challenge — ignoring the many pooches that parade past him.

— To read the first two stories in this series, visit Reach Julie Rooney at or 747-8051.

Copyright, 2006, The Davis Enterprise. All Rights Reserved.