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Blind Dog {format} {format} 4:34 Scott Carrier

Fritz the dog catches Frisbee, even though hes sightless.

Broadcast: Jun 17 2004 on NPR Day to Day Subjects: Health, Sports

Profile: Blind dog learns to catch a Frisbee

June 17, 2004 from Day to Day

ALEX CHADWICK, host: And now from reflections about Deep Throat to a report about dogs or, rather, one very special dog, here's writer and reporter Scott Carrier.

SCOTT CARRIER reporting:

It was noon and I was in the Green River Bar in Daniel, Wyoming. I was the only customer. I'd been floating down the Green River in a canoe, but the wind started blowing so hard, I was just getting pinned against the shore. I saw this town, Daniel, and figured I'd hole up until the wind died down.

The bartender was an older woman. She was washing glasses left over from the night before. A German shepherd lay asleep on the concrete floor. On the mirror behind the bar were photos of the woman throwing a Frisbee to the dog. To make conversation, I said, `I see your dog likes to catch the Frisbee.' She said, `He sure does, don't you, Fritz? You love playing catch.' Fritz picked his head up off the floor and looked at her.

`I used to know a shepherd that was crazy about the Frisbee,' I said, `but his hips went bad and he had to stop. Broke his heart.'

`Fritz has good hips,' she said. `But he had an eye disease called pannus that attacks the corneas. It got worse and worse. Finally, we had to have his eyeballs removed.

`He's blind?'

`He doesn't have any eyes,' she said. `So, yes, he's blind.'

`He must miss catching the Frisbee,' I said.

`No,' she said, smiling. `He still plays catch. Those photos were taken after his operation.'

I didn't believe it, so she offered to show me.

Ms. PAT WALKER (Dog Owner): Well, I'm Pat Walker, and we're in Daniel, Wyoming. We're in our front yard, but it doesn't matter where we might be 'cause this dog likes to play with his Frisbee.

You love showing off, don't you? Good dog.

CARRIER: The way they did it was Fritz would run in a circle about 10 feet in diameter, and Pat stood back about another 10 feet. And when Fritz came around, she'd throw it. Fritz would jump up and try to catch it.

Ms. WALKER: Good dog.

CARRIER: Sometimes he'd catch it, sometimes he didn't.

Ms. WALKER: Oops. My fault.

CARRIER: Even though it was choreographed, Pat didn't always throw it at the same time. She didn't always throw it in the same place.

Ms. WALKER: OK. Good dog.

CARRIER: It was amazing.

Ms. WALKER: This is the way he always played.

CARRIER: Uh-huh.

Ms. WALKER: See, this is how he played when he was sighted.

CARRIER: Right.

Ms. WALKER: And then I could look back, but it wasn't awfully long until he finally caught it once. He wanted us to do it. And, of course, he'd miss and miss and miss. But he didn't get tired of it. And so we just kept going until he caught it. And like I say, if I've been good at it, why, I've had him catch it up to 50 times without missing.

His life is very full. He does everything he did before--a little slower, maybe. And he takes some bad knocks, but not too many anymore.

Yeah.

CARRIER: So how do you think he does it? How does he know?

Ms. WALKER: He hears 'cause, see, like when that car came by...

CARRIER: Uh-huh.

Ms. WALKER: ...then he blows it.

Good dog. Come to me. Yeah, see, he's falling down now. Why don't you lie down for a minute? No, lie down. Fritz, down. Lie down just for a minute. Here. Lie down. Come on.

CARRIER: What's it like living here--out here?

Ms. WALKER: Wonderful. Here by choice. And besides, it's wonderfully beautiful country. Why, I always said I didn't know whether I loved the people or the country most. Pretty special.

CARRIER: While Pat was talking to me, she wasn't throwing the Frisbee, and Fritz was getting impatient. He was standing there between us, and I was holding the microphone up to Pat. And suddenly, he jumped up and bit down on the end of the microphone.

Ms. WALKER: Oh, Fritz, easy. Oh.

CARRIER: He thought the microphone was the Frisbee. I don't know how else to explain it. And even then, I can't explain how he knew to bite that spot. Microphones don't make sound, they record sound, although it never worked very well after that. A dent in the metal screen. Now it sets on my bookshelf with a thousand-year-old arrowhead, a photo of an Eskimo in a kayak and some rocks from Yellowstone Lake. Sometimes I show it to people. See this dent? It was made by the tooth of a blind German shepherd who thought it was a Frisbee. This is Scott Carrier.

CHADWICK: This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.