Friday, October 31, 2008

We've Arrived!

The puppy truck's maiden voyage was a success! All arrived safe and sound in Colorado today, just in time for Halloween! Next stops are Utah, Idaho, and Oregon.

Photo of Puppy Truck drivers Joe and Lee posing outside the Puppy Truck in Colorado:

Puppy Truck drivers Joe and Lee posing outside the Puppy Truck

Photo of puppy 'Mystery' being introduced to her new raisers:

Puppy 'Mystery' being introduced to her new raisers

Photo of puppy 'Damaris' being passed to her new raiser:

Puppy 'Damaris' being handed to her new raisers

Puppy 'Samba' is introduced to her raiser:

Puppy 'Samba' is introduced to her new raiser

Career-changed dog 'Angel' returns home to her raiser:

Career-changed dog 'Angel' is returned home to her raiser

Lee and Joe in the cab of the truck wearing their Halloween costumes:

Puppy Truck drivers Lee and Joe pictured in the cab of the truck in their Halloween costumes

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

New Puppy Truck's Maiden Voyage

Photo of truck with new puppies ready to be loaded
Like most things at Guide Dogs for the Blind, this story has a happy ending. As many of you know, Guide Dogs get their start in our kennels at our California campus. They are transported by puppy truck to the homes of puppy raisers in 8 Western states so they can learn good house manners and be socialized in public before they return to our campuses for formal training to become Guide Dogs.

Back in January, one of our puppy trucks got caught in a storm and was involved in an accident when another driver lost control of his vehicle and struck ours. Denny Epperson, who was driving at the time, did an excellent job in keeping the puppy truck upright and minimizing the accident as much as possible, but he, himself, was injured.

Sadly, one of the five adult dogs traveling was killed during the accident. She was a retired guide who was returning to her puppy raisers for adoption. The four other adult dogs, including Denny's active puppy that he is currently raising, and the 18 puppies aboard were not injured. We have many people to thank for getting them back to us, safe and secure.

When our puppy raisers, staff, graduates and others learned about the accident, they pulled together the funds to purchase a replacement. After going through this ordeal, our puppy truck drivers offered suggestions that would create an even safer vehicle for our precious cargo. Our new truck was custom built for us, and today, we happily celebrated the ribbon cutting for its maiden voyage.

Adorning the side of the truck is a large white panel with an adorable photo of six puppies sitting behind a white fence with their paws hanging over the side. The pups look like little angels, but we know the real truth! These feisty little devils gave us a run for our money when we attempted to do the photo shoot. You can hear our squeals of laughter when they continued to leap over the fence every time we were just getting ready to snap the shutter.

Below are several videos:

Video 1 is just 20 seconds and shows the crazy puppy photo shoot.
Video 2 is 2 and 1/2 minutes and is a series of photos from the same photo shoot put to music.
Video 3 is a 2-minute video showing the ribbon cutting and loading the puppies into the truck.

Following these is a series of photos showing the truck being custom built and the interior kennels installed. See all the photos on our Flickr site here.

Thank you to breeding stock custodian and photographer Cathy Gregory for the fantastic photos for the murals, and for her time and energy spend creating the video!

Drivers Lee Shenk and Joe Aguirre will be putting the new truck to good use right away - on a seven day trip to Colorado! If you'd like to see the truck in person, please visit us on a stop along the way. Here's the schedule:

10/30 Salt Lake City, Utah: Ramada Inn at exit 113 (Highway 80), 1:30 pm or Grand Junction, Colorado: Holiday Inn at exit 31 (Highway 70)
10/31 Littleton, Colorado: 4H Extension office, 5814 South Datura, 12:00 p.m.
11/1 Ogden, Utah: Best Western Inn at exit 347 (Highway 39)
11/2 Boise, Idaho: Story Park at Meridian exit (Highway 84)
11/3 Boring, Oregon: Guide Dogs' campus, 12:00 p.m.

We would like to give a special thank you to our puppy truck drivers, Lee Shenk, Joe Aguirre and Mick Aguilera, for their patience, and to Christina DiMaio from our Maintenance staff who worked so hard to order our new beauty! We would also like to send a "shout out" to Denny Epperson, who is currently making excellent progress on his recovery at home. We look forward to having him back on the road someday soon!

Photo of skeleton of puppy truck

Front of puppy truck under construction

Photo of truck with insulation installed

Photo of roof

Kennels installed inside truck

Photo of truck with work in progress

Photo of finished truck

Monday, October 13, 2008

Guides for the Blind Dog?

by Morry Anne Angell and Randall Dunn

Allow me to introduce you to one of GDB's coolest career change dogs, 7-year-old yellow Lab Chapin. Chapin has quite the story. Like all career change dogs, he started life as a Guide Dog puppy, but he wasn't exactly cut out for that job. For example, he has never met another dog that he didn't want to meet... or bark at! He commenced living the life of a very active pet - he's an avid hiker, runner, swimmer, and marathon sleeper. So what makes him special? This dog, who accompanies our family on backpacking and cross-country ski trips, is totally blind.

When Chapin was 3-1/2 years old, he was diagnosed with glaucoma in his left eye. He received the utmost in medical care, and was outfitted with a fancy prosthetic eyeball. And life was normal... for a while. Shortly after he lost his first eye, his second eye was diagnosed with glaucoma as well. It was only a matter of time before he would be completely blind. It was at this point that Chapin was returned to Guide Dogs by his first adoptive family, who we understand were truly devastated, but were overwhlemed with the prospect of caring for a completely blind dog. And that is where he came in to our life!

As Foster Care Volunteers, we started caring for Chapin while Guide Dogs' Placement Department searched for a new adoptive home. But the prospects were slim - not many people want to take a chance on a young and soon-to-be blind dog. As Chapin stayed in our home, it became quite apparent that WE were the ones.

Chapin was a phenomenal dog, and it was obvious that total blindness was not going to slow him down one bit. We played blindfold games with him in anticipation of him losing his second eye, and he could navigate better than fine. After several months we decided to officially adopt him. Ironically, the very morning that we were scheduled to complete the adoption paperwork was the morning he lost all the sight in his remaining eye. We like to think that he somehow knew that he had a permanent home, and it was ok for that eyeball to go. So, he got a second prosthetic eye to match his first, and it hasn't changed his stride. (A note on the prosthetics: he still has his eyeballs per se; the prosthetics are rubber balls that they implant inside the eye after scooping out the insides. His outer eye/cornea remain... hence the protective "doggles" he's wearing in his picture - we have him wear them when we go on hikes or are near cactus or other sharp plants in case he bumps into things.) With the prosthetics in place, we now call him our "blond with implants"! Chapin is a complete trooper, and we treat him no differently than any other dog: he hikes, he swims, he goes sailing/rafting... if we're doing it, he's doing it. He gets to go to work every day with one of us, too - we're all really spoiled that way!

Recently, Chapin embarked on a new career! He was selected by the Pine Street Foundation in San Anselmo to participate in their canine cancer sniffing studies, wherein it has been determined that dogs can detect very early stages of cancer in breath molecules. The research is to determine what it is on a molecular level that the dogs can detect that science can't, in hopes that one day science can catch up. True to form, Chapin loved going to his job - his nose is the best around, so they said - until it got hard! He was let go from the study because he just would rather be petted and fed treats... work was boring! So - he was a scientist for a few nanoseconds, but we still think it's cool.

So, who knows what Chapin's next big adventure will be? All we know is that blindness certainly isn't a barrier to his life!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Catching Up With Brendan

Brendan Pritkin is one of the lucky people who's had the chance to get a hands-on, behind-the-scenes look at Guide Dogs for the Blind. He was part of our Summer Internship Program. We caught up with him recently on our California campus. Give a listen to the 4-minute interview here! (MP3)

When he was a baby, Brendan was cared for by infant development specialist Bette Flushman, who has been a Breeding Stock Custodian for Guide Dogs for the Blind for many years, and is also his neighbor. Today, Brendan dog-sits for Bette's retired GDB breeder Nicola.

It's a small world. We hope you'll share your passion for our program with others!
You can learn more about volunteering at: