Tragedy to triumph:
Bishop’s story

By Angie Young

urinary tract disease in catsBishop came into my life in July 2009 after I agreed to foster him short term for the Southern Alberta Rottweiler Rescue (SARR). Right from the beginning, and I’ve since been told, my friend who introduced me to Bishop had “a plan” for him to become a permanent member of my family. It just took me longer than Bishop and Ali to figure it out!?You see, I had recently lost my German Shepard soul mate, 13-year-old Reba and wasn’t sure I was ready to become a pet guardian again so soon — especially to a special needs dog.

Bishop came to SARR from Prairie Animal Rescue in northern Alberta after he was found as a stray. Bishop is blind and needed some extra special care. He was born without an optic nerve so it was miraculous that he survived any length of time on his own.?Bishop also had several health issues that needed to be addressed before he could be adopted. He needed cryptorchid neuter surgery and several broken teeth removed.?

All dogs are special to their guardians, but the way Bishop has learned to thrive in spite of his disability has been a tremendous inspiration to both me and everyone who meets him. Bishop loves all people, but especially children in a way that I’ve never seen from another dog. When Bishop hears or smells children or child-related equipment like strollers and wagons, he makes a bee line in their direction to nuzzle and lick them.

He has a loyal following of people at Southland Off-leash Park, who seek us out to say hello. We met many people on our numerous camping trips this past year that have been amazed by Bishop’s life journey and the way his other senses have developed to compensate for his lack of vision. Most were completely shocked to learn that he is blind as they had just witnessed him playing in the river or hiking up and down a mountain with me.

During one hike this past summer, a mountain path became too steep for us and Bishop made the trip down the path three times, each time carefully negotiating the trip back up with a different adult hanging onto his collar, to take us safely to flat ground. When we were all up, Bishop looked at us with a pleased grin on his beautiful Rott face, as if to say, “Glad I could help out!”

I was thrilled in October 2009 when Bishop and my two mature rescue dogs (one a deaf Boston Terrier) were successful at the Pet Access League Society’s (PALS) therapy dog screening. Bishop became the first ever blind therapy dog for PALS and one of only four Rottweilers in the program (two of which are past SARR foster dogs). In addition to making several special visits for PALS and as “orientation dog” for new volunteers in the program to witness how an ideal PALS dog needs to behave, Bishop regularly visits the students of William Roper Hull School and provides the children with a tangible reminder about thriving in spite of the challenges life puts in your path.

Life with Bishop requires more vigilance on my part than living with a sighted dog.?Bishop depends on me to keep every step of his path safe from obstacles. One night he stepped off of the mat covering the hardwood floors in my hallway and slipped. We spent several months helping him to regain his confidence and learn to walk independently in the house again. Bishop lives for his daily walks and is now so comfortable with our route that he jogs down the block ahead of me much to my neighbours’ glee. Bishop has proudly learned how to pull a cart to do a sport called “drafting”, not only giving him a job — which is so important for his breed — but also serves to haul my lazy Boston Terrier and soon, my baby, on cold days.?Bishop has also learned how to play with other dogs in the park and gets great joy from chasing my Pug/French Bulldog cross in hopes of stealing his tennis ball — to date he hasn’t been very successful at this!?

In addition to Bishop’s adoration for the living situation he has been given with my family, he has given me a tremendous lesson in grace and gratitude for the small things in life that we so often take for granted. Bishop approaches every person and situation with immense grace, trust and kindness.?He expects the best from people and what Bishop lacks in eyesight, he makes up for with a courageous heart.

From the bottom of my heart, I can’t thank his special angels enough — at Prairie Animal Rescue, SARR and the volunteers who “ferried” him from northern Alberta to Calgary — for bringing Bishop into my life. My life is so much better having been blessed with such a special dog.