By Emily Simone, Field Manager for Central CA and Colorado
5:45 a.m. (Clovis, CA): Am awakened by the soft lick of Ava, my Ambassador dog, ready to start her day… and mine apparently!
6:00 a.m: Take a quick 3-mile run to get the blood pumping. Ava and my pet dog Trey will not tolerate a day off and their absolute favorite thing to do is drag my butt around the neighborhood.
7:00 a.m: After a hot shower, I grab a bagel and check my email and voice mail message from yesterday. Eeek! 8 voicemail messages! I hope to return them later today or first thing tomorrow--today is a busy day!
7:30 a.m: Pack up my paperwork, briefcase, harness, camera, phone and blindfold and Ava for an 8:00 home interview with a potential guide dog applicant.
7:50 a.m. (Fresno, CA): Arrive at the apartment complex of the applicant and drive around the neighborhood, checking out the environment--is it safe for a dog? What's the traffic like: quiet, busy? What condition are the sidewalks and curbs? What type of curbs? Are there destinations to walk to from this location or is it isolated?
8:00 – 11:45: I conduct a home interview with a first time applicant (to protect his privacy, I'll call him J). This interview takes a bit longer than usual, because J has a lot of questions. J is newly blind (just 2 years) and is still adjusting to sudden vision loss as a result of Glaucoma. He's such a nice gentleman and he's very anxious to become independent and not rely on his wife. He just completed comprehensive orientation and mobility (O&M) and living skills training through the Davidson Program at the Junior Blind of America in Southern CA. He was there for 9 months. He and his wife just moved to this new apartment in a nicer area of town. Unfortunately, J doesn't know the area very well and currently can only walk alone on one route--perhaps a 6-block distance. I assess his cane skills and note that he is a novice traveler, meaning he is cautious, but he is very safe. On the walk home, I let him work Ambassador dog Ava and he is thrilled by the experience. He actually tears up at the end of the walk and reports that he felt like he was flying and moved faster than he has in two years. He's more anxious than ever to get a dog. Unfortunately, I have to inform him that he will need to learn at least two more destination routes in his home area before we will be able to serve him. I put him in contact with a local O&M specialist so he can get a few training sessions to learn more routes. I explain that a dog needs a variety of routes to keep his skills sharp and prevent boredom. J understands. I tell him that he showed excellent potential as a guide dog handler and once he has learned his new area better I will revisit and help him with his goal of getting a guide dog. I'm very confident he will be successful and I look forward to seeing him again!
12:15 p.m. (Clovis, CA): I drop off Ava back at my house and grab a sandwich before heading out again!
1:30-2:30 p.m. (Visalia, CA): After an hour drive down highway 99, I arrive at the home of a guide dog graduate I'll call S. S has requested a direct follow-up visit to address some questions and challenges she's having. I've known S since she applied for her first guide dog 12 years ago; she's now married and a new mom! She just gave birth to her son and I'm excited to see how they're doing. S's current guide (her 2nd) is a lovely male black lab. He's a "seasoned" guide at 6 years old. We discuss how she can work him with her baby stroller and I take her out for a quick demo; her guide dog quickly adjusts. Back at the house, we discuss a plan to prevent him from scavenging food as her son gets older through use of a barrier to the kitchen. I congratulate S on her new son; he's adorable!
2:45 p.m. (Somewhere on hwy 99): On the drive back to Fresno, I receive an emergency phone message from a graduate in Colorado. He's calling to inform me his guide dog has severe diarrhea and vomiting and he is wondering what he should do. He's a brand new graduate and unfamiliar with this type of situation. I ask him some questions and determine that the previous night the dog had ingested part of a Kong toy. I advise he contact his vet and make an appointment promptly for an evaluation. He doesn't have a vet yet, as he just graduated last month. I tell him I'll contact another grad in his area to get a referral and will call him back. I make the call and get a referral for a vet hospital nearby that gives a discount for guide dogs. I call him back with the vet's contact info and he thanks me and states he'll call back with an update once he's at the clinic.
3:15 p.m. (Clovis, CA): I arrive back at my home office and sit down to return some phone calls when I receive another call from another local graduate who just graduated with a new dog 3 months ago. He reports he's at the Fresno State Campus and his dog is very poorly behaved around squirrels and can I help him this afternoon if possible? Of course I can! I get back in the van and head to Fresno State.
3:45-5:00 p.m. (Fresno State Campus): I arrive on campus and meet graduate B at the Disabled Services Center. B is 20 years old and a new graduate with his first guide dog. She's a spit-fire! She's active and quick and very confident with everything she does. I suggest we go for a walk around campus and look for squirrels. It doesn't take long and suddenly his dog is lunging toward a squirrel that crosses her path. I advise Bill to stop and immediately set down the handle and implement some obedience commands to regain his dog's attention. B admits he has been lax with his daily obedience training. I advise him that daily obedience training is critical for a new, young, assertive guide dog. I remind him that guide dogs are given a lot of authority when they're working. They're allowed to make decisions for the team's safety and this can create an overconfident dog. Obedience reminds the dog that the handler is always the leader of the team. She needs daily reminders or she will assume she's the leader of the team. I also advise that B consider using food rewards after he's regained his dog's attention to reinforce her good behavior. We proceed on and B is thrilled to note that now his guide is more focused and responsive when they pass the next squirrel. We make several more laps around campus until both B and I are satisfied that he has good control and she's shown improved behavior. B thanks me profusely for the prompt visit.
5:15 p.m. (somewhere in Fresno): While driving home, I receive a call from the Colorado graduate regarding his sick dog. His new vet took x-rays and didn't find any blockages in the dog's intestines, which is a GOOD THING! They sent him home with some antibiotics and directions to put his dog on a bland diet for a few days. The graduate was pleased to report that his dog did business #2 when he got home and 'evacuated' a piece of Kong. We discussed how to prevent this from happening in the future (no more Kong toys!). I thanked him for the update and asked him to contact his vet and us if further issues develop.
5:30-6:30 p.m. (Clovis, CA): I arrive home and write up reports from today's home interview and follow up visits. (I'm grateful to my mother for insisting I take typing class in high school!) My beloved husband calls me for dinner and I end my day. I'll return those voicemail messages first thing tomorrow morning!