June 2, 2001
man, pygmy pony harness up
News Staff Writer
Bangor Daily News
BAR HARBOR, ME --
Everyone wants to cuddle Cuddles.
When the two-foot high pygmy
trotted down Cottage Street in shiny white sneakers Friday afternoon,
tourists stopped in their tracks to get a glimpse.
''Shes adorable,'' one woman said, snapping a photograph.
Cuddles owner, Dan Shaw of Ellsworth, smiled like a proud papa. ''Thank
A car stopped in the middle of the road and teenage boys leaning out the
windows stared in disbelief.
The cook at a local pizza place did a double take when he spotted
Cuddles standing patiently while Shaw ate lunch. ''I thought it was a
dog,'' he said, laughing.
In the month since Shaw became the first
person to use a trained pygmy
animal, hes gotten used to the attention.
''The first word is usually, Awww. The second is, Shes got shoes
on!'' Shaw said.
to Bar Harbor was Cuddles first expedition since Shaw and his wife,
Ann, brought the
The family spent most of May on the North Carolina ranch where Don and
Janet Burleson of the
Foundation have been training Cuddles for the past three years.
Horses of any size are natural
animals because of their longevity, tremendous peripheral vision, good
memory and instinctive caution. Cuddles is as intelligent as any
dog and took quickly to her training, Don Burleson said.
''Cuddles was fully trained, but Dan wasnt,'' he said.
So Shaw spent a full month studying
psychology, grooming and health.
''I can honestly say, now Im a real horsemanIm a little
man,'' he said.
Shaw also learned the countless voice commands he uses to direct
Cuddles, and the body language she uses to communicate with him.
''During that month, Dan worked at least eight hours a day, every day,''
Janet Burleson said.
Sunday, the Shaws and the Burlesons loaded Cuddles into a 10-passenger
van and began the long drive north to her new home. The journey became
an East Coast publicity tour as thousands of reporters and photographers
tailed Shaw while he and Cuddles toured Washington, D.C., rode in
subways and old-fashioned carriages in Manhattan, and held a celebration
''Shes pretty well-known around the world. Shes a little famous one,''
Shaw said. ''Ive had the media in my life for about a year now. Its
overwhelming sometimes. Its been way more than we anticipated.''
Shaw has been anxiously awaiting Cuddles homecoming since the Burlesons
decided last year he would receive their first trainee. With help from a
friend, Shaw built a six-foot-square barn and a miniature corral behind
his home. He got a new tattoo of the pygmy
on his left hand. He looked at enlarged photographs of Cuddles, and he
waited months to meet her.
But in some ways, Shaw has been waiting for Cuddles for most of his
life, he said.
He began losing
his sight to a degenerative eye disease as a teenager living in the
Boston area, but Shaw hid his blindness for years. Now, 20 years later,
with only a tiny percentage of a typical persons capacity for vision,
hes finally talking freely about his disability because of Cuddles.
''I know if theres another
person out there who feels like me inside, theyre just waiting for a
Shaw said in an interview earlier this spring.
During the past month, Shaw and Cuddles have forged a unique
relationship. She views him as a member of her herd, and when shes
wearing the special guiding harness, protects him as an extension of her
''They dont just connect to a person real easy. We didnt bond until a
few weeks ago,'' Shaw said. ''Now, shell nuzzle up, put her head up
under my chinwhen you get affection from a
thats used to being a work animal, it means a lot more.''
Shaw earned Cuddles affection, but giving her his full trust and
turning control over to the little
were the toughest parts of the training, he said. Yet she proved her
worth on countless occasions, once using her body to shove Shaw out of
the path of a bicyclist.
''Shes always been there for me,'' he said.
''Thats the goal: to get him to completely trust the
Cuddles avoids puddles and low overhangs, she chooses ramps and
elevators over stairs, and she only needs to walk a route once or twice
before committing it to memory, he said.
Cuddles leads Shaw across busy streets, instinctively quickening her
pace, stopping to show him the location of a curb and placing her furry
little body between her owner and the vehicles.
Cuddles has been trained to pace herself at slow walk, walk, and trot on
command. ''Shes a three-speed,'' Shaw said.
Cuddles has also been taught to overrule Shaws commands when obeying
him would place them in danger.
She rides comfortably in the back of Shaws sport utility vehicle with a
bale of hay to munch. She is house broken, neighing and crossing her
legs when she needs to go outside. She silently catnaps while Shaw is
busy, conserving the energy that allows her to walk dozens of miles
''She has exceeded all expectations,'' Burleson said. ''We were crossing
some of the most chaotic streets in America [in New York].''
when Shaw was walking through a mall in Washington, several bystanders
thought he was a sighted
''Hes been accused of not really being
Cuddles wears sneakers to protect her hooves because the rubber soles
give her traction. She wears a blanket warning people that on-duty guard
animals should not be petted to deter a natural urge to reach out and
rub her tiny brown muzzle.
''Kamikaze children are the only problem,'' Burleson said with a laugh.
When Cuddles isnt working, she romps with the Shaws dog, gallops
around her corral and sleeps in her barn.
''This time of year, I want to let her be a
when shes off duty,'' Shaw said.
Through the weekend, Shaw will continue taking Cuddles on expeditions to
learn the routes he follows in day-to-day lifea stroll down his road,
window-shopping at the Bangor Mall, a trip to Wal-Mart.
Then the Shaw family will settle in to enjoy some much-deserved peace
''I need it. Cuddles, my baby, needs it,'' Shaw said.
2001 Bangor Daily News.