21 of Theodore Roosevelt’s Most Memorable Pets

Imagno/Getty Images
Imagno/Getty Images

When Theodore Roosevelt moved into the White House in 1901, he brought with him his wife, his six children, and one of the widest (and wildest) menageries Washington, D.C. has ever seen. Here are just some of the First Family’s most memorable pets.

Mental Floss launched a new podcast with iHeartRadio called History Vs., and our first season is all about Theodore Roosevelt. Subscribe here!

1. and 2. Algonquin and General Grant the Shetland Ponies

Archie Roosevelt on Shetland pony Algonquin
Archie Roosevelt and his Shetland pony Algonquin

When it comes to White House pets, dogs and cats are the norm—and the Roosevelt family had plenty of those (more on a bunch of them later). Less frequently seen roaming the halls of the White House? Shetland ponies. But TR was nothing if not an innovator. The family had two beloved Shetland ponies: Algonquin and General Grant. Once, when 9-year-old Archie Roosevelt was sick with measles and couldn't get down to the stables, his brothers Kermit and Quentin (or, according to other stories, footman Charles Reeder) decided to cheer him up by having Algonquin pay a visit to Archie in his bedroom—which was on the second floor of the White House residence. So they did what any kids would do, and brought the pony up in the elevator. Algonquin, who weighed 350 pounds, wasn’t thrilled about the adventure ... until he reportedly noticed his reflection in the elevator mirror and became entranced (making it difficult for the boys to get him out of the elevator).

But before Algonquin came along, there was General Grant, a sorrel Shetland pony named after Ulysses S. Grant, who used to chauffer the Roosevelt kids around. “Sedate pony Grant used to draw the cart in which the children went driving when they were very small, the driver being their old nurse Mame,” Roosevelt wrote. “They loved pony Grant. Once I saw the then little boy of three hugging pony Grant's fore legs. As he leaned over, his broad straw hat tilted on end, and pony Grant meditatively munched the brim; whereupon the small boy looked up with a wail of anguish, evidently thinking the pony had decided to treat him like a radish.”

3. and 4. General and Judge the Carriage Horses

Theodore Roosevelt (1858 - 1919), the 26th President of the United States (1901-09), jumping hurdles at the Chevy Chase club Washington
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The Roosevelts had a stable full of horses, too, as TR once said that “there are no pets like horses; and horsemanship is a test of prowess.” In addition to General and Judge, a pair of carriage horses, the family’s horses included Grey, Dawn, Jocko, Root, Renown, Roswell, Rusty, Wyoming, Yagenka, and Bleistein (Teddy’s favorite).

5. Mame the Pig

Getting back to the kids’ nurse Mame for a second: When the kids were gifted with a pig, they decided to name it after their beloved nurse—but Mame may not have taken it as the compliment it was intended to be. “I doubt whether I ever saw Mame really offended with [the kids] except once when, out of pure but misunderstood affection, they named a pig after her,” Roosevelt wrote.

6. A Herd of Guinea Pigs

Guinea pigs were a popular pet in the Roosevelt household, with TR once remarking that the animals’ “highly unemotional nature fits them for companionship with adoring but over-enthusiastic young masters and mistresses.” In a 1900 letter, Roosevelt wrote about the namesakes of their guinea pig brood: “They included Bishop Doane; Dr. Johnson, my Dutch Reformed pastor; Father G. Grady, the local priest with whom the children had scraped a speaking acquaintance; Fighting Bob Evans; and Admiral Dewey.”

7. Jonathan Edwards the Bear

In that same letter in which he mentions the guinea pigs, Roosevelt wrote that, “Some of my Republican supporters in West Virginia have just sent me a small bear which the children of their own accord christened Jonathan Edwards, partly out of compliment to their mother's ancestor, and partly because they thought they detected Calvinistic traits in the bear's character.” (Edwards, the famed revivalist preacher, was Edith Roosevelt’s great-great-great grandfather.)

Unfortunately, Jonathan Edwards’s time with the Roosevelt family was short-lived, which was probably for the best. On January 2, 1901, Roosevelt wrote to the Bronx Zoo, explaining that he had "a small bear named Jonathan Edwards," but “that we do not have the accommodations to keep him” and asked if the zoo would take him. (They did.) Which doesn’t mean that the Roosevelts weren’t open to keeping bears as pets; they reportedly had five.

8. Bill the Lizard

Roosevelt’s collected letters to his children make it clear that the 26th president was as much of an animal lover as his kids were. In a letter to Archie written from California in 1903, Teddy wrote about some of the wonderful new pets he had acquired in his travels: “I have a number of treasures to divide among you children when I get back. One of the treasures is Bill the Lizard. He is a little live lizard, called a horned frog, very cunning, who lives in a small box.”

9. Josiah the Badger

Archie Roosevelt holds his pet badger Josiah at Sagamore Hill. President Roosevelt brought the badger home from a trip out west.
Archie Roosevelt holds his pet badger Josiah at Sagamore Hill.

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Theodore Roosevelt Digital Library. Dickinson State University.

On that same 1903 trip, Roosevelt was given a badger named Josiah in Sharon Springs, Kansas, whom he later gifted to Archie. “The little badger, Josh, is very well and eats milk and potatoes,” Roosevelt wrote. “We took him out and gave him a run in the sand today. So far he seems as friendly as possible. When he feels hungry he squeals.”

10. Eli Yale the Blue Macaw

Teddy Roosevelt Jr. and Eli Yale
Teddy Roosevelt Jr. and Eli Yale

What is now the West Wing of the White House used to be White House greenhouse, home to Eli Yale, a bright blue (and reportedly very loud) hyacinth macaw that TR once described as looking “as if he came out of Alice in Wonderland.” In a 1902 letter to author Joel Chandler Harris, Roosevelt wrote about the bird: “Eli [is] the most gorgeous macaw, with a bill that I think could bite through boiler plate, who crawls all over Ted, and whom I view with dark suspicion."

11. Jonathan the Piebald Rat

In that same 1902 letter to Harris, Roosevelt mentioned several more of the family pets, including a flying squirrel, two kangaroo rats, and “Jonathan, the piebald rat, of most friendly and affectionate nature, who crawls all over everybody.”

12. Emily Spinach the Snake

Of all of TR’s children, his eldest—daughter Alice, his only child with his first wife (who died just days after giving birth)—proved to be the most rambunctious and was known for her often outrageous behavior. She played it a bit differently when it came to her pets, too: Her preferred companion was a garter snake she named Emily Spinach “because it was as green as spinach and as thin as my Aunt Emily.”

Emily Spinach wasn’t the only snake in Roosevelt pet family, however. While Roosevelt was typically amused by his children’s antics, there was one snake-filled incident where Quentin may have pushed his dad a bit too far. The story goes that Quentin purchased four snakes at a pet store, then rushed to the Oval Office to show his father his latest acquisitions. Quentin burst into the room, where his father was holding an important meeting, and ran over to give his dad a hug—leading him to drop the snakes, which sent everybody running. When the snakes were eventually caught, they were sent back to the pet store from which they came.

13. Peter the Rabbit

OK, so maybe it’s not the most original name for a rabbit, but Peter was one-of-a-kind—particularly to Archie. When the bunny passed away in 1904, he was buried with all the pomp and circumstance the White House could muster. In a letter to Kermit, Theodore wrote:

“Yesterday poor Peter Rabbit died and his funeral was held with proper state. Archie, in his overalls, dragged the wagon with the little black coffin in which poor Peter Rabbit lay. Mother walked behind as chief mourner, she and Archie solemnly exchanging tributes to the worth and good qualities of the departed. Then he was buried, with a fuchsia over the little grave.”

14. A One-Legged Rooster

The Roosevelt family's one-legged rooster
Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Not much is known about the Roosevelts’ pet rooster, except that it had just one leg. Which is enough for us.

15. Manchu the Dancing Pekingese

During a trip abroad, the last empress of China gifted Alice Roosevelt with a tiny Pekingese which she named Manchu. She swore that one of the pup’s favorite activities was standing back on its hind legs and dancing, and that she had seen him do it on the White House lawn.

16. A Bitey Bull Terrier Named Pete

Though the White House was full of energetic pets, one of them—a bull terrier named Pete—had a little too much energy. Some sources cite him as a Boston terrier or a bulldog, so his exact breed is not known. What is known is that he had a tendency to be a bit destructive, but was absolutely adored by the family.

In a 1907 letter to Kermit, TR wrote:

“We have had rather a tragedy about Pete. He has killed four squirrels. Dr. Rixey, who is a philosopher, insists that it is all right and proper as it shows that the squirrels were getting so careless that something was sure to kill them anyhow; but it makes both Mother and me rather melancholy. On the other hand, Pete loves us so and is such a ridiculously affectionate, fighting bulldog that we have not the heart to get rid of him.”

But when Pete graduated from attacking squirrels to biting people—including several naval officers, cabinet ministers, diplomats, and police officers—the Roosevelts had to reconsider their position. Eventually he had to be relocated to the family’s home in Long Island after an embarrassing international incident where, according to The Pawprints of History: Dogs and the Course of Human Events author Stanley Coren, the dog chased French Ambassador Jules Jusserand “down a White House corridor, ultimately catching up with him and then tearing the bottom out of his pants.” The incident became a major headline, especially once the French government lodged an official complaint about it.

17. Skip the Rat Terrier

Theodore Roosevelt and dog Skip on hunting trip
Theodore Roosevelt and dog Skip on hunting trip.
Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site. Theodore Roosevelt Digital Library. Dickinson State University

Equally beloved, but far less nippy, was Skip, an extremely affectionate black-and-tan rat terrier that rarely left Archie’s side. Once, when Edith and the kids had left Theodore alone at the White House, the president wrote to his son Archie about how much Skip missed them all:

“Poor Skip is a very, very lonely little dog without his family. Each morning he comes up to see me at breakfast time and during most of breakfast (which I take in the hall just outside my room) Skip stands with his little paws on my lap. Then when I get through and sit down in the rocking-chair to read for 15 or 20 minutes, Skip hops into my lap and stays there, just bathing himself in the companionship of the only one of his family he has left. The rest of the day he spends with the ushers, as I am so frightfully busy that I am nowhere long enough for Skip to have any real satisfaction in my companionship.”

18. Sailor Boy the Chesapeake Bay Retriever

If there was a patriarch of the Roosevelt dog clan, it might have Sailor Boy, a Chesapeake Bay Retriever. Writing about their various pets’ temperaments, Theodore said of Sailor Boy:

“Much the most individual of the dogs and the one with the strongest character was Sailor Boy, a Chesapeake Bay dog. He had a masterful temperament and a strong sense of both dignity and duty. He would never let the other dogs fight, and he himself never fought unless circumstances imperatively demanded it; but he was a murderous animal when he did fight."

19. Rollo the Saint Bernard

Theodore Roosevelt and his dog Rollo
Theodore Roosevelt and his dog Rollo
Cliff, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

In 1902, Alfred S. Rollo—a family friend of the Roosevelts—tried to gift TR with a gigantic Saint Bernard puppy, but Roosevelt wanted nothing to do with it. In December of that year, he wrote to Rollo, saying:

“I’m going to ask you not to think me churlish if I say we have three collies already, one of them a puppy, and four other dogs in addition, and that I really do not [have] house room or stable room for any more. I dare not venture to tell your proposition to my children.”

Whether something got lost in translation or Rollo sent the pup along regardless, TR eventually grew to love the gentle giant, who was often seen in the president’s company.

20. Blackjack the Manchester Terrier

Jack the dog. 1902. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. https://www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org/Research/Digital-Library/Record?libID=o282090. Theodore Roosevelt Digital Library. Dickinson State University
Jack the dog. 1902.
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Theodore Roosevelt Digital Library. Dickinson State University.

Sometimes described as “the most loved” pet of all, Blackjack—or Jack for short—was Kermit’s Manchester Terrier. In a 1902 letter, TR enclosed a photo of Kermit and his dog, writing, “It is a real pleasure to send you a photograph of my boy Kermit, with Jack, the Manchester terrier, who is absolutely a member of the family.”

Jack passed away while the Roosevelts were still living at the White House, so they buried him in the backyard. But in 1908, they exhumed his remains and had them reburied at Sagamore Hill, their Long Island estate, as Edith couldn’t bear the thought of Jack’s remains sitting “beneath the eyes of presidents who might care nothing for little black dogs.”

21. Tom Quartz the Cat

Jack had a bit of a love-hate relationship with Tom Quartz, a kitten who loved playing pranks on Jack (who might have been terrified of cats). Writing to Kermit in 1903, Roosevelt recounted a story:

“Tom Quartz is certainly the cunningest kitten I have ever seen. He is always playing pranks on Jack and I get very nervous lest Jack should grow too irritated. The other evening they were both in the library—Jack sleeping before the fire—Tom Quartz scampering about, an exceedingly playful little wild creature—which is about what he is. He would race across the floor, then jump upon the curtain or play with the tassel. Suddenly he spied Jack and galloped up to him. Jack, looking exceedingly sullen and shame-faced, jumped out of the way and got upon the sofa, where Tom Quartz instantly jumped upon him again. Jack suddenly shifted to the other sofa, where Tom Quartz again went after him. Then Jack started for the door, while Tom made a rapid turn under the sofa and around the table, and just as Jack reached the door leaped on his hind-quarters. Jack bounded forward and away and the two went tandem out of the room—Jack not reappearing at all; and after about five minutes Tom Quartz stalked solemnly back.”

YouTube Star Coyote Peterson Brings 'Misunderstood' Animals to His New Animal Planet Series

Animal Planet
Animal Planet

As host of the popular YouTube series Brave Wilderness, Coyote Peterson is no stranger to going face-to-face with creatures many deem terrifying—think great white sharks and pit vipers—but that he says are simply "misunderstood."

Animals have always been a big part of Peterson's life, even before he made a career out of being stung and bitten by ferocious critters. The Ohio native studied video production and directing at Ohio State University, and then decided to combine his two passions—film and all things wild—to teach viewers about wildlife and the importance of conservation. His YouTube channel currently has more than 15 million subscribers.

Now Peterson is embarking on a new adventure with Animal Planet in the show Brave the Wild. He'll travel all over the world with wildlife biologist Mario Aldecoa and his crew, sharing creatures that aren't often in the spotlight and that viewers may find a little frightening. He recently chatted with Mental Floss about the importance of conservation, his thing for snapping turtles, and his close encounter with a jaguar and her three cubs.

You’ve said your love of animals started with snapping turtles. Can you talk about the first time you saw one and what about them fascinated you so much?

The first snapping turtle I caught was when I was only 8 years old. I was always fascinated with turtles, because at first glance they look prehistoric, almost dinosaur-like. Growing up in Ohio, I never got to see any "exotic" animals. My favorite thing to watch on TV was Steve Irwin. Watching him wrestle crocs is what inspired me to catch my first snapping turtle, the most dangerous animal Ohio has to offer.

Coyote Peterson with a gigantic snapping turtle
Animal Planet

In Brave the Wild, you introduce animals that are often feared or misunderstood. What's the importance in exposing viewers to these creatures?

One of my goals through this series was to inspire people to overcome their fears of these seemingly dangerous animals and learn to admire them from a safe distance. The more you understand these creatures, the less you are afraid of them. One of the messages I try to convey in every episode is the importance of conservation.

What’s the most "misunderstood" creature you've encountered?

The most misunderstood creature that comes to mind is the carpet shark, which we filmed in season one. As I always say, people’s biggest fears are the three S’s (sharks, snakes and spiders). The carpet shark is found off the coast of Australia. They only bite humans in the case of mistaken identity. To some of these sharks a person’s foot might look like a fish. Any time you enter a new environment you need to be aware of what you need to look for, not only to keep yourself safe, but the animal as well.

What goes into preparing for each encounter to make sure you and the animals come out alive?

With any new expedition, you need to come into the environment knowing exactly what to expect. When encountering a new animal, I try to stay as calm as I can and have no hesitation. If I stay calm, the animal stays calm, [and] I'm creating a safer interaction for myself. I use different tactics when I encounter different animals. It also depends on whether the environment is land or in water.

How do you keep your composure on camera when you're in a potentially dangerous situation?

Any situation I find myself in, I look at it as my job. For example, I would be afraid operating a crane, because that is something I don't do. If it's part of your job, it's something that you get used to. When I do my job, I make sure I'm focused and never hesitate. Before I encounter any animal, I know what I'm going to say to the camera. I say that, for the best show, we always need to have the camera rolling so the audience can see what is happening.

Coyote Peterson with a kangaroo
Animal Planet

You were in Australia filming Brave the Wild during bushfire season. What was that like?

Visiting Australia was one of the best experiences I had filming the show. Australia is a fascinating country that has so many unique environments. We spent over 50 days in Australia and encountered more than 35 different species. We were there right before all these devastating fires started, and we got to witness the severity of the drought and all the different animals it impacted.

What was your favorite animal encounter in upcoming series?

Each encounter I have in the wild is special. I would have to say that the most exciting moment for me was when we were filming in Brazil and I saw a jaguar and three of her cubs up close. Not only did I get to see this in real life, but my amazing team was able to capture this special moment on tape. It is just so amazing seeing these animals survive and thrive in the wild while dealing with not only the dangers of the wild but human encroachment as well. Hands down, this was my favorite episode that we got to film.

Catch new episodes of Brave the Wild on Animal Planet, Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

10 Secrets of Seeing Eye Dog Trainers

Seeing Eye instructors with the dogs they are training.
Seeing Eye instructors with the dogs they are training.
The Seeing Eye

Founded in 1929, The Seeing Eye is a nonprofit in Morristown, New Jersey, that trains guide dogs to help their blind owners navigate the world safely. In order to make sure each dog is ready for all the obstacles and challenges that come with leading the visually impaired, instructors train them in both real-world settings and simulations at The Seeing Eye's campus. It's a system that has worked for over 90 years.

“It’s the oldest guide dog school, and we’ve been honing this very specific process of training a dog to do very specific tasks,” Brian O’Neal, a guide dog mobility instructor with The Seeing Eye for nine years, tells Mental Floss. “We have a road map.”

Seeing Eye dogs are venerated; in January 2020, New Jersey proclaimed them the official state dog. And legally, no guide dog can even be called a "Seeing Eye dog" unless it graduated from the school itself. Though the dogs that come out of the school have garnered plenty of attention, the dedicated instructors who prepare them for working life are less well-known. We spoke with three trainers from The Seeing Eye about why certain breeds make great guide dogs, how they keep their owner’s safe from low-hanging branches, and whether or not they can read cross signals (spoilers: They can’t).

1. It takes years of apprentice work to become a Seeing Eye Instructor.

Being a Seeing Eye instructor isn't a volunteer position anyone can sign up for—it's a full-time job. If you meet the basic requirements, such as having a four-year Bachelor’s degree, you can apply to become an instructor. Once you make it through the application process, you go through a three-year apprenticeship program in order to become an official trainer. The apprenticeship includes classes and exams, as well as hands-on training with dogs and students, The Seeing Eye’s name for blind people preparing to become guide dog owners.

The work doesn’t become any less intense when apprentices graduate to full-fledged instructors. From 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., they train, exercise, and care for eight dogs total—four in the morning and four in the afternoon. If you aren’t ready to commit to working for The Seeing Eye full-time, you can volunteer to be a puppy raiser and foster future guide dogs in your own home.

2. Seeing Eye dog instructors also train the dog owners.

The dogs and their trainers aren’t the only ones working hard at The Seeing Eye. Before a blind person can take a guide dog home, they must live on the campus and go through weeks of training to learn all the intricacies of working with their dog, including navigation and bonding.

“A student is someone who’s applied to our school and [has] been accepted to our program, and we’ve flown them here or provided travel to come here,” O’Neal explains. “We match them with a dog, and over 27 days, we teach them how to safely and effectively work with this dog and vice versa. Once they’ve completed the program, they become graduates.” But to get there, the instructors, students, and their dogs have to put in long hours.

“Class is emotionally and physically exhausting," Sarah Indano, who's been in the apprenticeship program for two and a half years, tells Mental Floss. "It's like boot camp to really train these people for everything they need in a limited amount of time."

3. The Seeing Eye instructors only work with dogs bred by the organization.

The Seeing Eye in Morristown, New Jersey.
A photo of The Seeing Eye campus in Morristown, New Jersey.
The Seeing Eye

The Seeing Eye breeds all its own dogs at a center in Chester, New Jersey, and each must meet a strict set of requirements to become a part of the breeding program. “All the dogs are medically tested and their temperaments are also tested,” Ruthanne Dewey, a guide dog mobility instructor at The Seeing Eye for more than six years, tells Mental Floss. “The best of the best are selected to go into that breeding program.”

Even with the proper pedigree, not every dog the organization breeds is fit to be a guide animal. At 7 weeks old, dogs are sent to live with volunteers called puppy raisers who provide them with care and teach them basic commands. When the dogs are about 14 months old, they receive medical testing to determine if they’re fit enough to train to be guide dogs. From there, the training, which O'Neal says involves a lot of "repetition and consistency," lasts four months.

4. Instructors typically work with a handful of choice breeds.

Seeing Eye instructor with a yellow Lab.
Seeing Eye instructor Ruthanne Dewy with a yellow Lab she trained.
Seeing Eye/Ruthanne Dewy

Seeing Eye dogs almost always belong to the following groups: Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, German shepherds, or any mix of those breeds. Both physically and personality-wise, these breeds produce the best dogs for the job. “They are working breeds,” O’Neal says. “They have a long history of work and working alongside humans in varying capacities. So it comes down to their drive to work as well as their incredible temperament.”

This drive to work often translates to a desire to please their humans. As O’Neal states, trainers can only teach dogs so much, and an animal’s need to keep their owner happy is what ultimately allows them to do their job well. “They want to get the praise from that person. They want to figure out, ‘what does this person want me to do? Because I’ll do it.’”

These breeds also fit the physical requirements for a guide animal: They’re big enough to lead a person down the street or block them from traffic, but at the same time, small enough to fit on public transportation or beneath an office desk.

5. Praise is crucial during the training process.

Seeing Eye dogs may not know the directions to the supermarket, but they're trained to learn other tasks that enable their owners to move through their environments with confidence and security. These include stopping short of curbs, moving around objects, and blocking people from walking in front of vehicles. Dogs learn these skills through positive reinforcement—as much as it takes to make the behaviors second-nature.

“When the dog does something right, we’re showering it with love and affection telling it did a great job, and if it didn’t do a great job, we’re telling it ‘no, we don’t do it that way,’ and we’ll always go back and give them the chance to be successful,” O’Neal explains. “That’s important, because if we just said 'no' and moved on, I could see animals being discouraged by that."

6. Seeing Eye instructors can’t teach dogs to read street signs.

Seeing Eye instructor with a black Lab.
Seeing Eye instructor Brian O'Neal with a black Lab he trained.
Seeing Eye/Brian O'Neal

A Seeing Eye dog can navigate obstacles on a sidewalk, or stop a person from stumbling off a curb, but Seeing Eye instructors can't train them to replace a GPS. “I get asked all the time how the dog can read the stop light and know that green means go and red means stop,” Dewey says. “I always explain to people that it is not the dog that decides when to cross the street. The dog doesn’t know how to get to the grocery store. All that falls on the person. The blind person has to be able to cross the street safely.”

7. The Seeing Eye has escalators and Priuses on campus to simulate real-world obstacles.

The more advanced stages of Seeing Eye dog training take place in urban areas, starting in the center of Morristown and culminating in trips to New York City. But before the dogs are ready to enter the real world, trainers find ways to recreate those environments on the campus.

“We have our own maintenance department and mechanic that is in charge of our own fleet of vehicles,” O'Neal says. These cars are used to prepare dogs for the type of traffic they'll encounter when guiding their owners in public. “We also have Priuses so we can make sure the dogs are learning to steer clear of cars that are silent as well.”

The campus also has plenty of indoor obstacles designed for training, like staircases and an escalator that's housed on the grounds.

8. Some obstacles require some surprising training equipment.

Training a dog to look out for objects in front of it—like cars or pedestrians—is fairly straightforward. Making sure they’re aware of obstacles above ground-level poses more of a challenge to instructors. For these lessons, trainers use some unexpected equipment. “We have an obstacle course with overhead pool noodles that stick out to make sure the dogs are watching out for the top part of the person, too,” O'Neal says.

Instructors don’t know what size a dog’s owner will be during the training process, but that hasn't been a problem so far. Incredibly, the dogs are able to figure out the height and width of their humans on their own. “If you’re an instructor that’s really short, but that dog goes to a person that’s really tall, that dog quickly learns and adapts that they have to look out for [obstacles] that are much higher,” O'Neal says. “To me that’s one of the most amazing parts of the job; how much the dogs adapt and do on their own that we don’t teach them and can’t teach them.”

9. Seeing Eye apprentices take classes on the human eye to learn more about visual impairments.

Every instructor’s apprenticeship includes courses on dogs and dog training, but they also take classes to learn about the vision issues faced by the students. “I’m currently studying for my second exam, which is on the human eye and diseases and disorders of the eye and optic nerve,” Indano says, likening these classes to a college course. “It gives us the basis of the language we use to communicate with our students. We’re reminded that not only do our students see us as dog professionals, but they also see us as vision professionals, as well.”

This level of understanding is made even greater during Blindfold Week—which exactly what it sounds like. “We wear a completely dark blindfold for one week, and we live with the students for the first week of class,” Indano says. “We’re given some prep on how to effectively use a cane for travel for the first two days of class, and are taught how to cross streets, how to judge traffic, and keep ourselves safe."

The apprentices are even paired with a dog during Blindfold Week, effectively putting them through the same training as the students. "It gives you a lot of insight into what these students are going through," Indano says.

10. Seeing Eye instructors don't prepare dogs to work 24/7.

Seeing Eye instructor with a black Lab.
Seeing Eye instructor Sarah Indano with a black Lab she trained.
Seeing Eye/Sarah Indano

Seeing Eye dogs don’t have the time to chase squirrels, accept pets from strangers, or sniff trash cans when they’re on the job, but that doesn’t mean they never get to enjoy being a regular dog.

“People think these dogs don’t ever get a break,” Indano says. “They put on their business suits, which for them is their harness, and they’re at work. When they go home, their business suit comes off, and they get to be a dog that their person can snuggle and give pets to and play fetch with ... They live and love to work for their owners, and they get to go home and get even more love.”

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