A Man And His Dog

At 3 years old and 102 pounds, Tundra is still a puppy

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Dare Harry Viezens to do something and he just might do it.

That is, if his service dog, Tundra, lets him.

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Harry Viezens with his service dog, Tundra.

Harry is the tall, affable man wearing a big smile under his cowboy hat, holding on to the leash of a white Alaskan malamute.

Although Harry was born without the ability to hear, he refuses to let that interfere with the joy and business of living.

Deafness never stopped him from building a house, riding a horse or shaping iron.

"When I was a kid, I made up my mind not to feel sorry for myself, but to be answerable for, make the best of my life," Viezens said.

His parents sent him to "deaf oral" schools for the hearing-impaired.

In kindergarten, he learned to speak his second language, English, his first is German. He also learned to read lips.

Fast forward to adulthood.

Perhaps there was no better moment lip reading than when Marcia said yes to his marriage proposal on their second date.

When he decided to make his living in construction, people were afraid to hire him because of the liability.

"They needed extra proof that I could do the job," Viezens said.

Undaunted, he became an entrepreneur and a contractor, as well as taking care of the family farm.

Usually, there was a malamute, Marcia's canine breed of choice, wandering about the farm.

In 2002, the Viezens decided to semi-retire.

Several times, Harry had driven through Payson on business.

They sold their Midwest farm and relocated to the Rim Country.

In 2005, the Viezens brought a large, furry four-footed malamute puppy home.

They named her Tundra.

"I was walking with her in the woods one day and for some reason, Tundra got in front of me. She wouldn't let me go forward, right or left.

"I didn't know why, but she probably had a darn good reason," Harry said.

He wondered if Tundra could learn to become a service dog.

He had considered applying for a service dog in the past. The $8,000 cost, combined with a three- to four-year wait, kept him from it.

"And you don't have a choice of breed," Harry said.

At 6'3'' tall, Harry just could not see himself with a small dog, such as a beagle or a sheltie.

Tundra, at nearly 3 years old, is still a puppy. She tips the scale at 102 pounds.

After the incident in the woods, Tundra began dog training with Lori Chandler and Margie Mansell at Leader of the Pack.

Next was agility training with Jane Burlison.

Tundra is unusual in the service dog world for several reasons.

"She is smart, because this breed is used as sled dogs," Marcia said.

Malamutes are independent-thinking dogs. This does not make them great candidates as service dogs, Harry added.

While most service dogs answer to just one master, the Viezens have trained Tundra to answer to either of them.

They did not need the usual timers and buzzers people generally use to give commands to service dogs.

When Marcia commands "Bring Harry," Tundra's ears prick up and she turns Harry around.

"She's got quite a pull," Harry said.

It takes work to keep Tundra's training current, while at the same time allowing her time for just being a dog.

Before Harry takes Tundra with him, he has to make sure his energetic dog has had play-time, so she is prepared to focus on work.

He must groom Tundra, so she will be acceptable in businesses. Tundra needs to eat long enough before they leave to evacuate, so she doesn't get car sick or need to go at an inappropriate moment.

"We can't duplicate the distractions in public at home, so we get out in public at stores," Harry said.

"Dennis in produce at Safeway helps with distractions if they go to the store, and it happens to be his shift."

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Harry Viezens walks his service dog, Tundra.

There is an etiquette for people's behavior around service dogs.

The fact that some people are oblivious to it drives the Viezens crazy.

"Please ignore her. She's working," is the answer to, "can I pet her?"

"And please, don't get mad when we say you can't pet her," Marcia said.

It is okay to say, ‘oh, pretty dog,' or some such in passing, but people should not stand and baby-talk or reach out to pet a service dog.

These things break a service dog's concentration and then the dog's master has to reset the focus to work.

At the end of the day, when they are ready to go home, is the time Harry might let people pet Tundra.

Off-duty, at home Tundra gets bossed around by Boy, the cat.

A squeaky spiked ball and a Kong doll with peanut butter in it are two of Tundra's favorite toys.

"Every morning she jumps in bed and hugs us with her paws," Marcia said.

"People are curious to know how the dog actually helps me," Harry said.

Tundra alerts Harry when someone is at the door. She warns him if she hears sirens when Harry is driving.

She points her nose in the direction of something she finds strange and stops Harry so he can assess the situation.

Tundra has quickly learned everything the Viezens have asked of her.

"If I could train a horse the way I've trained Tundra, I could jump to the moon," Harry said.

The tricks are constancy and keeping training fun," he said.

She has not flown on a plane yet, but the Viezens will be taking her on an Alaska cruise soon.

Tundra's impeccable manners have earned her a Good Citizenship award and she is certified as a Therapy Dog.

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