4 Lessons from a Blind Superdog
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Life isn’t easy with two perfect eyes. Wonder doesn’t have two perfect eyes. His left eye has no vision; his right is mostly blind–just enough for a sliver of shadows and the loose outline of shapes in good light. But Wonder has something that can overcome lots of obstacles on the trail and in life . . . one small, stubby, always-wagging tail.
Back in 2015, Daniel and Tina Weissauer were looking to adopt a dog from the California German Shorthaired Pointer Rescue. They went to see one puppy, but another kept getting in the way, spreading love to every person (and wall and table leg) in the room. “This blind puppy loved everyone and everything,” Daniel says.
A fission of puppy love began, starting a chain reaction for the Weissauers. The dog had found his forever home. But what do you name a blind puppy that can’t be stopped (except by sturdy closed doors)?
“On the way home, we named him Wonder,” Daniel says. “After Stevie Wonder.”
Wonder (on Instagram here) learned to find his way in the world under the caring eyes of loving family. And most importantly, the family matched the love with lots of humor and patience. A few years later, they recount some horror stories with a smile. “The worst moment was when he tried to jump into the back of the car . . . when it was closed.”
“He ran full speed into lots of walls.”
“We jokingly called him Scarface because a cut on his forehead didn’t heal for a few months as he kept running into things.”
Now he knows the undulations and slopes and the feel of the different types of soil on every part of the trail. It’s crazy to see him sprint full speed around a 90-degree bend in the fire road. He knows it’s coming!
But Wonder couldn’t be stopped, finding his way, one full-speed head-butt at a time. He quickly became best friends with their children and two dogs, the life of every party. If the story ended there, it would be a heartwarming tale of a caring family and their rescue dog. Wonder isn’t just any dog, though. Wonder has superpowers.
In comic books, Matt Murdock is blinded by a radioactive substance. With his vision gone, his other senses are heightened, including a “radar sense” that lets him navigate his surroundings and become the superhero “Daredevil,” a vigilante for good. Maybe the Weissauers should have asked the rescue a question. Did Wonder have any accidents with radioactivity? Because little by little, he transformed into a superdog.
Tina and Daniel started taking Wonder to the trails, and he kept wanting to run. They started with a short leash, showing him the trails around their home of Topanga, California. It was teamwork to develop skills as individuals and as a team of three. Gradually, Wonder discovered his superpower.
“The leash got longer and longer until we’d be crushing 5:30 minutes per mile on trail downhills with him leading me on a 20-foot line,” Daniel says. “Now he knows the undulations and slopes and the feel of the different types of soil on every part of the trail. It’s crazy to see him sprint full speed around a 90-degree bend in the fire road. He knows it’s coming!”
On trails he hasn’t seen before, Wonder stays right at their feet, navigating with smell, hearing and whatever vision is possible in the lighting. Tina and Daniel have developed an ingenious system to communicate with Wonder verbally, but it’s not always a perfect set-up. “He’s the extra-gravity dog. He’s stuck to the floor in case it drops away underneath him. When it drops, he’s right there with it.”
And, like all trail runners, he sometimes does drop. “He really sucks at switchbacks. Switchbacks are hard.” I agree, Wonder. I fully agree.
Three years after winning the doggo lottery when the Weissauers walked into the rescue, Wonder is just finding his full stride. “He gets to run around two to four (maybe five) times a week, depending on our run schedules,” Daniel says. “He averages around 5-35 miles per week, and can easily handle 20 milers. Group/pack runs are around 4-10 miles, but his staple is around eight miles, when he leads the way on every turn.”
As runners, a lot of us are guilty of defining ourselves through our limitations. I know I did that, especially at first. Is my VO2 max good enough? Can I avoid injury? Wonder shows that a limitation can also be a strength if you change your reference point. Can’t see? Smell and hearing lead the way. Run into things? A great way to imprint a memory to improve for next time.
Living with Wonder the trail running superdog, Tina and Daniel have had a front-row seat to some wisdom. They outlined four things that can benefit everyone.
You don’t always have to look before you leap
Even if he does everything right, sometimes the trail isn’t exactly where he remembers it. Those drops are probably scary, but Wonder keeps his form and always (well, usually) lands on his feet. So take risks you are prepared for. Wonder is athletic and practices with focus, so his limitation can be a strength, and at the very least it doesn’t have to stop him from doing what he loves.
Daniel took this lesson to heart, quitting his job and starting his own business, motivated by Wonder. And that business is named Blindhund Athletics (“blind dog” in German).
Run like no one is watching
Daniel says it best: “Wonder doesn’t know other people can see. He gallops like a rocking horse and trots like a weird prancer, but it doesn’t matter because he’s running.” Wonder isn’t great at reading body language or facial cues from other dogs, so he seems to respond to the problems of others (growling, teeth showing, other insecurities) with happiness.
The peanut gallery will never be satisfied, and even if they are, they usually have the memory duration of fruit flies. With that in mind, you do you, as happily as you can.
It’s okay for it to be dark
It’s always dark out for Wonder, Daniel describes. “So no matter what time it is, there are no excuses for me.”
Practice unconditional love
Wonder isn’t a perfectly behaved dog. I mean, how could he be? I pee on the toilet seat all the time and I have great vision. But, Daniel says, that’s okay. “He knows no negativity, just love. He’s always trying. He’s always happy. I can’t be mad at him for not listening when he’s just trying to play.”
Maybe that’s the secret source of Wonder’s superpower. Maybe it’s not radioactivity like Daredevil. Perhaps Wonder has just harnessed the renewable power that all of us might be able to access: unconditional love.
—David Roche partners with runners of all abilities through his coaching service, Some Work, All Play. His book, Happy Runner, is co-written with his wife Megan and available for pre-order now at Amazon.