Blind sled dog thrives with brother's help
Gonzo, a blind sled dog, and his brother and guide Poncho, run together at the Muddy Paw Sled Dog Kennel in Jefferson, N.H. / Muddy Paw Sled Dog Kennel
JEFFERSON, N.H. When Gonzo started tripping over his food dish three years ago, no one could explain or stop the Alaskan husky's quickly advancing blindness. But a veterinarian offered some simple advice: "Run this dog."
Blind sled dog aided by brother
Gonzo, one of 120 dogs at Muddy Paw Sled Dog Kennel, was happy to comply. With help from his brother, Poncho, he soon resumed his place pulling a sled all over New Hampshire's North Country to the delight of tourists and his caretakers, who quickly realized that if Gonzo didn't treat his blindness like an obstacle, neither would they. Given the dog's obvious eagerness, he was allowed to continue on as usual.
"Even though he's blind, he still knows when hook-ups are happening. He's still very aware," said kennel manager Ben Morehouse. "When you have a dog such as Gonzo, with such a want and a drive and a desire ... you try it, you hook up, you see what happens."
A frenzy of excited barking engulfs the kennel whenever Morehouse and other staffers haul out a sled. The chosen team is outfitted with harnesses and booties; those left behind scramble onto their doghouse roofs and howl. Gonzo and Poncho are lined up side-by-side, usually toward the back of the eight-member team "brains to brawn" is how Morehouse describes the order.
"A lot of people say everything about dog sledding is efficiency. Gonzo and Poncho are not the most efficient sled dogs out there. They won't set a speed record, they won't pull the most you've ever seen," Morehouse said. "To be honest, they're probably some of the goofiest dogs you can put in harness. But they're just fun."
Some dogs at the kennel, including Gonzo and Poncho, were born there. But it's also home to what kennel owner Neil Beaulieu calls "second-chance" dogs former professional sled dogs a bit past their prime as well as dogs rescued from bad situations.
The barking continues as the dogs pull away from the kennel onto a snow-packed trail. Within a few minutes, however, they settle into a nearly silent rhythm, the sled's runners skimming through the woods. While the other dogs look straight ahead, Gonzo often lifts his head up and to the right, using his hearing and sense of smell, said Karen Tolin, who has worked her way up from volunteer "poop scooper" to business partner in the years since she first came to Muddy Paw.
When Gonzo first went blind, Poncho didn't treat him any different, she said. But then he realized his brother needed help.
"At first, he'd be a little bit nervous when Gonzo would lean into him. And then somehow I don't know how dogs communicate he learned that he was utilizing him to determine where the turns are and how fast they were going. And he would let him do that he wouldn't get as grumbly as he did in the beginning."
Usually if a dog trips, the others just keep going, Morehouse said.
"I've never seen it with any other dog," he said. "There's definitely a bond there and communication beyond what we do with the two dogs, between the two of them themselves."
Beaulieu describes a spring day when he took the pair for a ride on a trail known for its deep snow, and Gonzo strayed to the edge of the trial and stumbled. With the team still moving forward, Poncho reached over, dug his head in the snow and pulled his brother out, grabbing his harness with his teeth.
- no previous page
Popular on CBSNews.com
- Port Authority releases photo of One WTC workers at dizzying heights 140 Comments
- Massive train collision takes down highway overpass
- Thousands of U.S. bridges vulnerable to collapse
- Washington state bridge collapses 20 Photos
- Best U.S. beaches 2013 10 Photos
- Texas flooding turns deadly
- Bridge collapse blamed on tractor-trailer 330 Comments
- Missouri train derailment 10 Photos