Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Alaska Airlines Collaborates with Guide Dogs for the Blind to Update Policy and Allow Service Animals in Training to Travel

Alaska Airlines, in collaboration with Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB), has updated their Accessible Travel Services policy to allow service animals in training to travel domestically at no cost.

“GDB is honored to partner with Alaska Airlines and we are thrilled that our guide dog puppies in training will now have the ability to practice traveling both in the airport and in cabin. This type of exposure helps to prepare them for the highest level of service dog work -- becoming a guide dog for someone who is blind or visually impaired,” said Christine Benninger, Guide Dogs for the Blind president and CEO. “We very much appreciate Alaska Airlines’ ongoing efforts to improve independent travel and customer service for all travelers, especially those with disabilities.”

Listed are some of the requirements:

-Travel is wholly within the United States.
-Space confirmed in advance.
-The service dog is being transported by their trainer/raiser.
-The trainer/raiser can provide a health certificate for the dog in training and an official ID card issued by the assistance organization.

“Making travel easier for our customers is a mantra at Alaska Airlines,” said Len Wolford, Alaska Airlines passenger service policy and procedure specialist. “When Guide Dogs for the Blind asked us to adopt a policy that would welcome ‘dogs in training’ on our planes, we responded quickly and waived our standard fee to allow service dogs-in-training to travel free of charge.”

Alaska Airlines and GDB recently hosted an exclusive event at Sea-Tac Airport for individuals who are blind and visually impaired, as well as GDB graduates and volunteers, to enhance the travel experience for all.
Alaska Airlines and GDB recently hosted an exclusive event at Sea-Tac Airport for individuals who are 
blind and visually impaired, as well as GDB graduates and volunteers, to enhance the travel experience for all.
GDB puppy raising volunteers raise puppies from age eight weeks to 16-18 months, at which point they can enter into formal guide dog training. During this time in the puppy raising home, families are responsible for providing their guide dog puppies with a well-rounded, nurturing environment. To support the puppy raisers, GDB offers a comprehensive puppy raising manual, organized training and socialization through meetings with other local Puppy Raising clubs, as well as staff that offer training and problem solving for the pups and their raisers. GDB currently has over 2,000 active puppy raising volunteers in the following states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Washington.

With several hundred puppies needing raiser homes every year, puppy raisers are a critical part of producing highly trained guide dogs and other service dogs. People interested in Puppy Raising can learn more here: www.guidedogs.com/puppy

To view Alaska Airline’s full updated policy regarding Accessibly Travel Services, specifically Service Animals in Training, please visit: http://www.alaskaair.com/content/travel-info/accessible-services/specialservices-support-animals.aspx

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

GDB Puppy Raising Youth Scholarship Recipient: Gina Phillipsen Essay

Raising Guide Dog for the Blind (GDB) puppies has provided many and varied opportunities for me to impact others in my community, and one particular instance stands out from the rest. Training of Carnival, my second GDB puppy, began at the start of summer so that by my second day of sophomore year I was able to introduce her to the challenges of attending high school. Walking into my last class of the day, Carnival was ready to fall asleep. Luckily, the teacher was still trying to figure the year out, and we were able to relax. At the end of the period, an earnest classmate I had never seen before approached me. Assuming she would just ask for Carnival’s name like countless others, I prepared myself to answer quickly and clearly. Instead, she surprised me by asking me about the program I was involved with and expressed interest in joining. I invited her to my club meeting that Friday, and Lexie has since become my best friend. We enjoyed a sleepover after every Friday GDB club meeting, working together to train Carnival to become the best GDB puppy imaginable. As Lexie’s parents were unsure whether or not their family would be able to raise a GDB puppy on their own, Lexie and I planned to submit a co-raising application once Carnival had returned to San Raphael. In the meantime Lexie became almost a co-raiser for Carnival, puppy sitting to get her hours, and working Carnival at meetings. Once Carnival returned to GDB, Lexie and I turned in our puppy raising application and waited patiently for word, while stressing together about Carnival’s phase number. After a few short weeks, we were informed of Carnival’s selection to become a breeder, and her graduation ceremony date at Guide Dog Fun Day. Lexie and her family attended Fun Day as well, to better prepare for their puppy and to enjoy the festivities. After presenting Carnival to her breeder keepers, Lexie and I were surprised with a puppy! This fluffy bundle of joy was Lloyd, a puppy from the Vernon and Carsey litter. We were so excited; we could not wait to begin training him! All too soon Lloyd was old enough to return to GDB, and although we are no longer co-raising a puppy, our friendship has remained as strong as ever.

My willingness to invest a large amount of time and emotional involvement in raising and training puppies that I know I will be giving up to improve a stranger's life places me in an elite group. Making the difference between dependent and independent lifestyles, a guide dog is truly a gift of love. What really makes me stand out from the crowd is that in addition to all the responsibilities associated with raising a puppy to specific standards, I also work very diligently to promote the GDB program. I am very proud of my guide dog puppies Jamaica, Carnival, Lloyd and Nepal and the GDB program, so I have invested significant time and effort promoting the program locally to help secure donations to GDB and to recruit volunteers into the program. Jamaica, Carnival, Lloyd, and Nepal have been present in all of my high school classes. I have taken each of my puppies-in-training to classrooms at nearby pre-schools, elementary and middle schools for promotional talks and presentations. I have also attended business networking association meetings to introduce Jamaica, Carnival and Lloyd and speak on behalf of the GDB program in order to raise funds for the program.

Over the past twelve months I have become greatly attached to Nepal, and have learned about the responsibility of taking care of a loving, living creature. I have taught her all of her commands and continue to reinforce her training if she encounters difficulties with a command. When my family and I take her back to GDB, tears of separation will become intermixed with tears of pride. For the next six months we will be happy if we do not hear any news of her, as that means she is doing well in her training. If Nepal becomes a Guide Dog I will not see her very often, but I will know that the blind person who receives her will love Nepal just as much as I have and she will still be in a good home. Every blind person who receives a Guide Dog seems overwhelmed with gratitude, and many aren’t able to imagine life without the dog once they have had one. I am involved with GDB because of the happiness of everyone whose life is touched by the puppies: the raiser, the raiser's family, the trainer, the blind person, and all of the people who have ever interacted with the puppy along its journey to a life of service.

Learning is one of my favorite activities, and I aspire to further my learning to the fullest extent in order to build upon the foundation of knowledge in my field. I plan on obtaining my degree at a 4-year university starting next year to major in engineering. As an Engineer, I will be able to invent solutions to fascinating problems, which will in turn benefit my society. I will be able to work towards safer lives and a cleaner environment. Once I have completed training in my chosen field of study, I would like to continue on the path of knowledge, either going into the field of research or teaching others such that they may love the subject as I do. I have tutored mathematics for three years, and I enjoy using my passion to help others. Raising GDB puppies has taught me the importance and responsibility of caring, selfless and meaningful contribution to others in my community, country and world. I aspire to become an engineer and dedicate my life to the goal of turning ideas into reality to increase quality of life for people while taking care of the earth.

Gina (wearing a red sweatshirt) smiles holding a young black Lab puppy in her arms.

Friday, September 25, 2015

GDB Puppy Raising Youth Scholarship Recipient: Jaclyn Bigley Essay

Except for the puppy part of Guide Dogs for the Blind, the experience of being part of this organization has been far more than I expected. I originally joined the program because I love animals, and I thought it would be a great way to help people. Many of my friends at the time I joined Guide Dogs for the Blind were joining National Charity League (NCL) because in our neck of the woods that was the thing to do. I went a different route because NCL was very high profile and required a significant financial commitment. I was shy, and I wanted something different, something that fit me as a person.

The program’s impact on me began immediately. The story of how Guide Dogs for the Blind started to change my life and those around me picks up when I picked up my first puppy to raise and experienced for the first time the monumental task and responsibility of caring for a guide dog day-in and day-out. Of course it is all second nature now even though there is more to learn, but in the beginning, I needed to understand my role and all the rules. And as importantly, I had to assert myself with my brothers when they would play or work with the dog in a way that was inconsistent with how I was taught. Dad even got off track on occasion, and I needed to remind him. We, quickly, as a family realized that we are in this together. It was not like playing a sport, or the piano, or having your own hobby. This was a life style choice. I knew right there and then that in order to be a successful puppy raiser, I needed everyone in the family to understand how important it was to do this together the right way.  And I needed to be confident enough to remind people of that.

Jenna was my first puppy and she successfully graduated from the program. She was given to a wonderful person named Sue Mangis who is a teacher. We have been friends ever since I met her at the graduation ceremony in San Rafael. Of the people my experience with Guide Dogs for the Blind has affected the most, I think Ms. Mangis would be around the top of the list. We keep in contact through email and she never fails to mention how amazed she is of the work I have done with Jenna and how well Guide Dogs for the Blind paired them together. Every time I think about them, I am so touched by her and Jenna. I realize that much of what Ms. Mangis is saying is because of the great job that the trainers and staff do in San Rafael, but it is still nice to hear anyway. Also, hearing her stories and her day-to-day activities made easier by Jenna and their relationship has truly shown me how big of an impact this organization makes. Although it is painful giving up a dog, Sue Mangis is one of those people who keeps me doing what I do for Guide Dogs for the Blind. I believe the work Jenna does and the relationship I have with Ms. Mangis has changed us all for the better.

My school and friends have also been impacted by my work with Guide Dogs for the Blind. Not a week goes by that somebody does not ask me about one of the dogs. In fact, if too much time passes for them without seeing the dog, they get mad at me for not bringing her to school. When the dog is not with me, people really want to know what is going on. Somehow they feel connect to the program through me and what “we” are doing because the students and staff at my high school think they are helping too. I am humbled by this. Most teachers and students openly welcome a guide dog into the classroom. Among other things, it has created a discussion and awareness of the blind. I am thankful that this has had such an affect in my school and with my friends.

Beyond being a puppy raiser, my experience as an intern in San Rafael was a milestone for me.  Stepping into an administrative role and living far from my home during part of the summer was an experience that I will never forget. People in a work setting depended on me and I depended on them.  After work, I needed to be self-sufficient and resourceful. I had freedom, but also responsibility, and it felt good to be part of something like that even for a short time to get a feel for the professional world.

I think I have found a piece of myself through Guide Dogs for the Blind that I was not sure existed.  People tell me “I have come out of my shell.” They credit Guide Dogs for the Blind for this and so do I. I feel more confident, more conscientious, and more in tune with what is going on with people around me because of my work in the program. I have had a chance to lead, to follow, to be on a team, to speak publicly, fundraise, put on parties and participate in many other activities that have helped me view the world from different angles and learn from each. I am grateful for this. From my experiences with Guide Dogs for the Blind I have learned about how beautiful it is to be unique. I have learned that it is okay to step out of my comfort zone and try something I might not think I can do or that my peers are not doing. I have learned that blindness or any handicap for that matter is a point of view. I learned it is not about what you cannot do, but what you can do that counts. I learned how vital it is to give in order to receive. I have learned, in spite of what your challenges are, you need to continue to move forward. I learned the value of hard work and making a commitment and sticking with it. I learned through the dogs about being disciplined and consistent. So for all the emotion, work, and the things I did to give, I received much, much more.

Guide Dogs for the Blind has and I hope it will continue to play a role in my life. It has helped to shape who I am today.  I want to pursue a career in business, but work in an organization that has a social purpose and some emphasis on helping humanity in some way. And like Guide Dogs for the Blind, it would be wonderful if animals were involved. Although I do not know what that specific career is yet, I feel that my experiences with Guide Dogs for the Blind has given me this vision of what I would like to do. I enjoy helping people and working with animals. In fact, that is why I chose to get involved with Guide Dogs for the Blind as a puppy raiser in the first place. I simply did not know where the journey would ultimately take me, and in the end I believe it has taken me where I need to be. It has helped me to mature in so many different areas.  It has allowed me to give something back that is needed.  And it has strengthened my interest in working in organizations who are more like this one.

Jaclyn smiles holding a young black Lab puppy in front of the Puppy Truck.

Jaclyn Bigley is from Fullerton, California and has been raising guide dog puppies for eight years. She is currently raising her sixth puppy, Anna. Jaclyn first got involved with GDB because she wanted to be able to help others with what she loves most, dogs. GDB has impacted her life in way she could have never imagined and she is very grateful for the opportunities it has brought her. In addition to puppy raising, Jaclyn swims, is the co-chairman of the Knights of Columbus Christmas Drive at her church, is involved in student government. Jaclyn will be attending the University of San Diego.