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POSTED: Wednesday, September 28, 2011, 10:12 PM

Even though I still think of Sparkle as a "young" pup, she's piling on the pounds and the muscle. At a recent vet visit for a bordetella (kennel cough) nasal injection, she broke the 50-pound mark, weighing in at 51.1 pounds.

At her previous routine visit (not counting her emergency care) back on May 19, she was 27.2 pounds. So, in the space of four months, her weight has increased 88 percent, almost double.  Going back to her first vet visit with us on March 13 (9.2 pounds), her weight has zoomed by 455 percent!

Her energy level is also soaring. She pulls very hard on the leash when she see something she wants, and can surprise me with a sudden lunge. As one of the Seeing Eye leaders told me, "The pups have four-wheel-drive and you only have two-wheel-drive, so they will win a pulling contest." So I've tried her with a training collar, not for neighborhood walks, but for future outings and obedience classes. She's adapting to it well.

POSTED: Friday, September 23, 2011, 10:13 PM

We arrived at Oberlin College & Conservatory, guided by our GPS, after dark on a Sunday after driving from Chicago. The contrast with the big city was startling at first. We felt like we were way out in the middle of nowhere, it was pitch dark, and we had no idea where we were staying.

We found the hotel easily enough -- right across the street from campus. The Oberlin Inn  proved graciously accommodating and moderately priced. The next morning, while Betsy (with mom Cathy) made the rounds of the admissions office, took a campus tour, and also met with some professors, Sparkle, little Josh and I mostly hung out in the historic Tappan Square and circled the campus a few times. I was impressed with the friendly intimacy of the campus and the quaint town, which are connected by the grassy, tree-shaded square. And Oberlin is not out in the middle of nowhere, it's about a half-hour from Cleveland. 

 As the hours stretched on, it was great exposure for Sparkle exploring the college neighborhood. After Betsy was finished, we ate a late lunch at a downtown cafe, then took a final tour around Tappan Square, which was named after Arthur Tappan, an abolitionist who helped keep the college financially afloat in its early years.  

POSTED: Wednesday, September 21, 2011, 11:03 PM

While daughter Betsy and I attended the admissions open house in the  morning, my wife, Cathy, took Sparkle and young Josh around campus and ventured into the adjoining Hyde Park neighborhood, where they scouted out a likely lunch spot.

After Betsy and I took the student-led tour, we all met up and ate on a sidewalk patio outside a row of shops and restaurants while Sparkle rested placidly at our feet. Since there was a rather high wall around our table, I don't think any of the other diners were even aware of Sparkle's presence.  I doubt anyone would have minded anyway, because the mood was rather laid-back and affable.

Later, everyone else begged off to explore an intriguing bookstore that we passed, so I took Sparkle solo and toured all around campus, admiring the buildings and meticulously kept grounds.

POSTED: Friday, September 16, 2011, 11:39 PM

Our next stop after Purdue was Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., just north of Chicago along Lake Michigan. It was a perfect summer day, clear and sunny but not hot.

While Betsy met with admissions officers and faculty early in the day, Sparkle and I circled the immediate buildings and did a little exploring in town.

Later, we all took a long walk around campus, venturing down to the campus beach and the lake. Classes had not started yet, so the setting was quite serene, unlike the hustle and bustle at Purdue, where school was already in session.

POSTED: Tuesday, September 13, 2011, 10:38 PM

On a recent Sunday afternoon, we joined the puppy-raiser club on an excursion on the Wilmington & Western Railroad  in Delaware that was great fun for everyone as well as solid exposure for the Seeing Eye pups. 

Sparkle enjoyed the leisurely ride through the leafy countryside and behaved well. Some of the pups were a bit balky about climbing on and off the train and needed some encouragement. Sparkle went down carefully and smoothly, but getting back on after our half-hour picnic break at Mount Cuba, she made a huge leap up the stairs.

She had no problems walking through the crowded train station and meeting up with the other pups.  

POSTED: Wednesday, September 7, 2011, 11:32 PM
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Wearing an Elizabethan cone collar, Sparkle sleeps soundly amid Josh's toys and books after coming home from her surgery. Incidentally, the collar, which is used to prevent dogs and cats from biting or scratching at their wounds, was featured in the Pixar movie "Up" as the "cone of shame" used to humiliate a dog.

After Sparkle  got bitten through the backyard fence by a dog visiting next door Sunday evening, we whisked her over to the emergency vet and had her lip sutured. (If you are a pet owner, it's prudent to know ahead where the nearest 24/7 vet hospital is and to keep the phone number handy.)

Unfortunately, Sparkle's sutures pulled out a day later. A decision had to be made. Would the vet make another try?  Cathy and Betsy e-mailed photos of the wound to the Seeing Eye, and the staff veterinarians studied the close-ups before deciding that a re-suturing would be too difficult and prone to failure. It will be allowed to heal by itself.

This morning, I took Sparkle back to the local vet and had the remains of the sutures removed. She still has a suture on her nose, so we'll be going back next week to have that removed, and she is still wearing the clunky Elizabethan cone collar.  She'll be taking it easy the next week, and hopefully, when we go back out with her, she'll still be the same confident, eager pup.   

POSTED: Tuesday, September 6, 2011, 10:56 PM

On Sunday afternoon, we went on a relaxing train excursion in Delaware with the puppy club (more on that later) and were puttering around after dinner in the backyard. Our next-door neighbor was having some friends over. Unbeknownst to us, a large dog from down the street was turned out in his backyard. Sparkle went over to the fence line, to say hi presumably, and let out a sharp yelp of pain. I looked over to see her running back toward the house, trembling with fear.

A quick examination revealed she had blood in her mouth, and her lip was split from her nose down to her mouth. We called a nearby 24/7 vet clinic and got her over there quickly. The vet checked her out, stitched her lip, and kept her overnight.

  She seemed to be coping OK with the recovery, wearing one of those clunky halo collars that dogs hate so much, but this morning I noticed that the stitches had come free. I drove her back over to the vet, and she confirmed that the stitches had pulled free through the skin.  

POSTED: Friday, September 2, 2011, 10:29 PM

On our trip to the Midwest last week (well-timed: we missed an earthquake and a hurricane), we stopped in at Cathy's alma mater, Purdue University, and visited old friends. Betsy, a high school senior, is touring colleges, and Sparkle is along for the ride.

Sparkle got in a wide-ranging tour of the sprawling campus, and with school back in session, there was plenty of hustle and bustle.  She handled it all with grace and good humor. She went through the bookstore, football stadium and athletic center, and we ate lunch at outdoor tables while she quietly relaxed at our feet. We made sure she had plenty of fresh water, of course.

It was a beautifully clear and mild late-summer day, perfect for just strolling the campus and taking in all the sights and sounds (including a marching band in full swing).  Outside the Neil Armstrong Hall of  Engineering, Sparkle seemed to really hit it off with the big man on campus himself.  An even bigger man, of course, was the Purdue Boilermaker statue.

About this blog
George Carter, The Inquirer's weekend national/foreign editor, has always counted dogs among his closest companions. According to family lore, he learned to walk by clinging to the side of a saintly patient mutt named Spanker. In turn, one of his earliest hazy memories is of tossing treats to the family dogs gathered expectantly on the porch of their Maryland farmhouse. It was only natural then, that when George saw a newspaper ad looking for families to raise puppies for the Seeing Eye of Morristown, N.J., he bit at the chance. From the start, it has been a family project, with teenage daughter Betsy as the official puppy-raiser. First there was Porter, a big-hearted yellow Lab born on Memorial Day 2004. A few years later, the Carters raised Velma, a gorgeous Lab/golden cross. Just a couple weeks ago, Velma's 7-week-old daughter Sparkle arrived as the latest family charge. George, Betsy and mom Cathy are thrilled that Sparkle is from Velma's very first litter. You can reach George Carter at 215-854-2411 or by clicking here. Reach George at gcarter@phillynews.com.

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