Monday, December 26, 2011

Mark Condon & Dutchess

Who is in the photo at right?

I’m Mark Condon, and in the photo with me is my Golden Retriever, Dutchess (“Dutchess the Dog” on Facebook; @DutchessTheDog on Twitter). I’m a biology professor. Dutchess, who is almost nine years old, is a therapy dog for The Good Dog Foundation.

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

Dutchess and I are on the way to Pause Dog Boutique in Rhinebeck, New York to pick up some Christmas gifts for some canine friends. We’re at Bread Alone bakery.

What's brewing?

I’m having a black decaf “Counter Culture” coffee (think fair trade and sustainable!).

Any treats for you or Dutchess on this occasion?

Dutchess is working on a peanut butter-stuffed Kong. I’m having a morning glory muffin.

How were you and Dutchess united?

Dutchess was born at Shasta Kennels in Sussex, New Jersey. She came to live with me in March of 2003, when she was ten weeks old. We’ve been best friends ever since.

How did she get her name? Any nicknames?

I teach at Dutchess Community College in Poughkeepsie, New York, and “Dutchess” seemed like a good, solid dog name (sort of regal without being pretentious). Nicknames include “Dutchie”, “Dutch”, and “Puppy”.

I've read about Dutchess's loss of sight. Did it take long for her to adapt to blindness? What's the biggest change in her life from before?

Dutchess was diagnosed with pigmentary uveitis, an inherited eye condition, in August of 2010. Her condition eventually required surgical removal of both eyes in February, 2011. Her adjustment to blindness was extraordinarily smooth. I had taught her a few new commands as she was losing her vision (“step up” and “step down” when approaching curbs, for example), but the seamlessness of her adjustment was due mainly to her remarkable self-confidence. Her love of life and its experiences prevented her from withdrawing from her routine, and she resumed her favorite activities almost immediately after her surgery. Within one week, she was fetching tennis balls in the back yard (sniffing them out instead of tracking them visually), and two weeks post-surgery she returned to work as a therapy dog. With the exception of no longer catching tennis balls on the fly, her life is essentially the same as before her vision loss. Her blindness certainly hasn’t dampened her warm, extroverted personality!

Please tell us about Dutchess' work as a therapy dog.

Dutchess works regularly (once or twice per week) at the Anderson Center for Autism, where she brings joy, comfort, and learning opportunities to both children and adults. She is a valued companion to many Anderson students, helping them overcome communication obstacles and build social skills, and grounding them with unconditional affection and companionship. The students love to walk, brush, feed, read to, and play ball with her, and she is exuberantly happy to participate. Dutchess has a knack for reaching the students in a manner that only a dog can.

Does Dutchess really sleepwalk?

No, but she appears to be, since her eyelids were permanently closed as part of her surgery.

Who is Dutchess' best pet-pal?

Dutchess’ best canine pal is my Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Holly [photo above right]. She is just nine months younger than Dutchess, and they’ve grown up together.

Dutchess also likes to pal around with my cat, Tweak [photo left]. The two of them spend many hours each day huddled together, sleeping on the sofa. Tweak likes to knead Dutchess’ back, and I think Dutchess enjoys the massages.

What is Dutchess' best quality?

Dutchess is an incredibly loving dog, and is extremely outgoing about expressing her affection towards others. Her gregarious personality is delightful, and she is always in a cheerful mood. The positive energy that she brings to my life is priceless.

If Dutchess could change one thing about you, what would it be?

I think that Dutchess would like me to quit my job so that I could spend more time with her.

Though this is financially impractical, I do manage to get home at lunchtime on most days to take her and Holly for a walk.

If Hollywood made a movie in which Dutchess could talk, who should do her voice?

Dutchess’ ability to communicate nonverbally is one of her most endearing qualities. However, if she had a “human” voice, I imagine it would sound like a blend of comedienne Ellen DeGeneres’ (cheerful, with quirky, inquisitive inflections) and jazz artist Diana Krall’s (smooth, mellow, soulful, and expressive).

Visit the “Dutchess the Dog” Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue


  1. Hi Mark and Duchess, what a great read. Duchess sounds just wonderful. Take care all. No worries, and love, Stella and Rory

  2. I think I just fell in love. What a sweet dog. I love the photo of her sleeping with her feline pal.
    Give Dutchess a smootch from Baltimore.

  3. I love how happy Dutchess is. You make a great pair. Positive vibes make the world a beautiful place. Peace!

  4. I'm very proud of my wonderful niece, Dutchess. Her carefree and happy disposition and total enjoyment of the "here and now" make her an astonishing example to us lowly humans. She's an inspiration. (I guess I'm proud of my little brother, too).

  5. We just loved this interview. Dutchess and Mark make such a marvelous team. We love that her best friend is the little pooch and letting that feline to cuddle up with!! Yikes!!!
    Smooches from pooches,
    BabyRD & Hootie

  6. This interview is great! I am linking to it from my blog because I recently heard him speak at the Autism Expo. Thanks so much.