Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Dog Named Rowan

In England, in Bedfordshire, in the town of Potton, which is not far from Biggleswade, there is a dog named Rowan, who is a German spitz.  This is a pretty rare breed of dog, so that's one thing that is different about Rowan.  But what really makes him different is that he was born without any eyes!  So of course this means he is blind, because as you probably know, you can't see if you don't have eyes.

Rowan had one littermate, and his littermate has eyes and can see, just like a regular dog, but Rowan got some kind of strange genes that made him not have any eyes.  Rowan's breeder, who is a woman named Sam Orchard, found out that Rowan was blind when he was 10 days old, and she took him to the vet to find out why Rowan hadn't opened his eyes yet.

Well, okay, so you are probably saying to yourself that Rowan is not the only dog who was ever born blind, and that blind dogs learn to get around pretty well, even without using a white cane.  But the thing about Rowan that makes him different from other blind dogs is that he uses something called echolocation to get around outside without bumping into stuff.

Bats are the animals you mostly think of as using echolocation, because bats are also blind.  The way it works is that the bat makes this little noise that goes out and hits something such as a building or a mosquito, and then the noise bounces back to the bat.  And since the bat has an ear on each side of his head, the echo sound comes into each ear a little bit differently.  So then when the sounds from the two ears get joined together in the bat's brain, he can somehow tell what's out in front of him, and how big it is, and whether it's moving, and if it might make a yummy bat supper.

Dolphins also use echolocation, and so do some whales and shrews and certain kinds of birds who live in caves.  And the reason all these animals use echolocation is because they are either blind or else they live in places where it is too dark to see the flipper in front of your face, so to speak.

But usually you don't hear about dogs using echolocation, so that's what makes Rowan so different from your ordinary, run-of-the-mill blind dog.  Because when Rowan is outside romping around, he can make little barks and bounce them off the trees in the woods, and then he knows not to bump into those trees.  Which is very clever, if you ask me.  And if you want to watch a video of Rowan doing this, go here.

Rowan's other talents are that he has learned a bunch of obedience commands, and he completed a Good Citizen Bronze award.  But he cannot be in regular dog shows because he doesn't have any eyes, which the silly old breed standard says you are supposed to have.

So Rowan is a very smart dog, and he has figured out how to do something that most blind dogs don't figure out how to do.  And he has a very happy life with his human and doggy family, and he probably doesn't even know he is different from everybody else!

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