Thursday, February 24, 2011

GDB Lifestyle Workshop in Lone Star State

Lifestyles workshop participant working a guide dog with Field Service Manager Bill Archie
Guide Dogs for the Blind hosted a Lifestyle Workshop at the Criss Cole Center in Austin, TX to help blind men and women determine if having a Guide Dog is the right mobility choice for them. Approximately 25 local men and women received hands-on experience working with a Guide Dog and an overview of the services offered at GDB.

The workshop was directly followed by a luncheon where participants were greeted by many local Texas Guide Dog users and puppy raisers. GDB’s Acting CEO Morgan Watkins (an Austin native) and Alumni Director Theresa Duncan were also in attendance to offer their support and personal knowledge about being a Guide Dog user while Field Managers Bill Archie and Marc Gillard were able to provide their expertise and instruction.

Morgan Watkins and Theresa Duncan with Texas-area GDB grads
Lifestyles workshop participant working a guide dog with Field Service Manager Marc Gillard
Theresa Duncan, Morgan Watkins,  and GDB grad Holly McKnight with the Lone Star Puppy Raising Club

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Zaffino's TV Debut

Guide Dog Puppy Zaffino gives KGW-TV Weatherman Matt Zaffino a kiss on the cheekGuide Dog puppy Zaffino was welcomed recently to the Portland area by Oregon’s #1 Weatherman and KGW-TV/NBC’s Chief Meteorologist Matt Zaffino. This sweet yellow lab puppy was celebrated with a live telecast from KGW’s Studio on the Square along with other Guide Dog puppies-in-training, career change dogs, retired guides and Guides Dogs.

Little Zaffino is being raised by volunteer Puppy Raiser Nancy Prewitt. Nancy is the leader of Sightmasters, a Beaverton, Oreg. based puppy club. Zaffino is Nancy’s 21st puppy she will raise for GDB. For those interested in learning more about the puppy raising program please visit or call 1-800-295-4050.

In the coming month’s Zaffino’s adventures in Oregon will be documented and aired on KGW-TV/NBC. Please check out Zaffino’s TV debut: KGW-TV/NBC "Meet Zaffino, The Guide Dog-Puppy-In-Training."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

My Day at the Capitol

by Guide Dog Lassen

Yellow Lab Guide Dog Lassen, his handler Betsy Grenevitch, and the Georgia Statewide Coalition on Blindness group, with Governor Nathan Deal on the capitol building steps
Ever since I began working here in Georgia in September 2006, one of my favorite places to go has been to the State Capitol in Atlanta, Georgia. I love any place where there are crowds to maneuver but the Capitol is especially exciting. That is about the only time during the year where I have to watch for a lot of traffic and cross a lot of busy streets. This year at the Capitol was especially exciting!

My handler, Betsy Grenevitch, belongs to a group called the Georgia Statewide Coalition on Blindness. One of their many goals has been to try to get legislation passed that will enhance the lives of the blind and visually impaired as well as the lives of the deaf/blind. We usually end up going down to the Capitol two to three times each State legislative season. This year had many "firsts" in it for me.

My handler's two oldest children went with us this year. The past couple of years it was just Paul but this year, his older sister, Danielle, was home, so she also went to learn where Paul has been parking the car. Because we were running a little late, I did not have to walk from the parking garage but was dropped off near the Capitol. The security guards allowed us to go right through the checkpoint and I did not even have to be touched. I guess I have been there so often through the past four years that they all know me there.

Normally, we do not have to do as much walking as we did this year. This year we had a lot more appointments than we have had in the past years. One of the highlights of this visit was getting my picture taken with our new Governor, Nathan Deal. We had been trying to get this accomplished with the past Governor but it had never happened. I love getting my picture taken so it was a lot of fun. I can't wait to actually get to meet the Governor when we get a meeting with him privately. He did not have time to talk with us at length this time, but he did try to greet all of us who were in the group.

I love the challenge of having to retrace our steps. My handler felt for sure I would be able to retrace back to the elevator as we had been on this particular floor several times during the day. She asked me to find the elevator and I did! I was so excited because I received a lot of praise when I guided her to the elevator. It was not just a straight hallway, but there were several turns. This next part is really funny! Her daughter, Danielle, was down the hall a few feet and my handler called out to her to tell her that "The dog did it!" She did not realize that a man was holding open the elevator door and he thought she was telling her daughter that a dog was holding open the door. The man told her that it was not a dog holding the door but it was him. We all got a great laugh out of that--even I was smiling.

I am already looking forward to our next visit to the Capitol. It is great to get so much attention from people there. It makes it all worthwhile.

Friday, February 18, 2011

NatGeo Wild

NatGeo logo
Tune in on Monday, February 21 at 8:00 PM ET/PT to watch NatGeo Wild’s three-hour series premiere of “Blue Collar Dogs.” Guide Dogs for the Blind will be featured during the first hour episode entitled “Canine MD.”

View the preview on YouTube here.

The episode will cover from puppy to Guide Dog team and include a variety of interviews on the San Rafael campus including licensed instructor Ben Cawley and GDB team Olivia Norman and Guide Dog Jim. The cameras also follow GDB team David Cooper and Guide Dog Parnelli as they in-home train on the streets of New York City with licensed instructor Jim Dugan. Additional canines highlighted in “Canine MD” include hearing dogs, dogs for diabetics, epileptic seizure and cancer detection dogs.

Please see link for local listings.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Happy Birthday to YOU!

Jimmy Garrison sits with Guide Dog puppy in training Khaki at Jimmy's birthday party. Photo by Pat Whitehead.
Eight-year-old Jimmy Garrison is already an inspiration.

On a perfect beach day in February, Manhattan Beach resident Jimmy Garrison celebrated his 8th birthday with a party for his friends on the beach. When planning what to do for his birthday, Jimmy told his parents that, because he had lots of "things," he did not want to have the kids bring gifts. Instead he thought it would be nice to be able to help someone. The work of their neighbor, Guide Dogs for the Blind L.A. Southwest puppy raising Leader Pat Whitehead and her puppies, came to mind. Once he and his parents talked with Pat, they realized this was a perfect match. Each guest received information about GDB so he would understand more what Jimmy's charity was all about. It was a wonderful party...boys and puppies, followed by games and pizza on the beach...a win-win situation for all. Many thanks to Jimmy for his generous spirit and to the partygoers who made generous donations.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

In Tribute to Sir George Shearing

by Joanne Ritter

Jazz pianist George Shearing with his Golden Retriever Guide Dog, Lee
A part of GDB history has died. George Shearing, internationally famous jazz pianist passed away of congestive heart failure at the age of 91. In addition to his incomparable musical talents, George was a delightful man with a keen sense of humor.

George had one Guide Dog, a beautiful Golden Retriever named Lee, whom he loved dearly. George and Lee traveled together for over ten years, until Lee’s death in 1975. He described Lee as, “a marvelous companion with a great temperament,” and wrote fondly about his experiences training with Lee in his book Lullaby of Birdland: “I’ll never forget the day I could feel the wind in my face as Lee and I walked across the Golden Gate Bridge together. What an exhilarating experience!”

George was a strong supporter of Guide Dogs for the Blind and traveled the country with Norah Hamilton Straus, helping to raise awareness and support through media interviews on radio and television. Norah related, “Between the three of us, it was hard to say who was the biggest scene stealer. I remember one radio show to which George had been invited primarily to play the piano. I was tagging along to put in a few words on behalf of Guide Dogs for the Blind. Well, every time George paused in his playing, I started talking about the school. I had so much to say and so little air time to say it! I guess it would be fair to say I got carried away. The announcer was very nice and let me do it. So did George Shearing. The only thing he was more devoted to than Lee, however, was his music. As we were leaving the radio station after the show, I turned to him nervously and asked how he thought it went. He gave me a good natured smile and said, ‘Next time, Norah, I’d like a little less Hamilton and a little more Shearing.’”

George and his wife, Ellie have supported Guide Dogs for the Blind for many years. He will be missed.

Read this piece in the Wall Street Journal's Remembrance section about George Shearing.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Valentine's Day e-Card

We were inspired by this trio of furry cupids. Photo submitted by former puppy raiser and Oregon resident Debi Hays:

Three Labrador Retrievers wear heart-shaped glasses for Valentine's Day
This is now a Valentine's Day e-card you can send to the people you care about.

Newshounds: GDB in the News

GDB puppy raiser Megan Minkiewicz and husband Alex with black Lab puppy-in-training Caleb
Puppy Raiser Megan Minkiewicz has raised six puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind. She is currently raising Caleb (with husband Alex) and writing a series of articles throughout the next year and a half for The Bark blog. Her most current blog post is featured in the current issue of the magazine.

The Bark Magazine (February/March 2011)
“Caleb About Town”

Gresham Outlook (February 9, 2011)
“Troutdale Woman Graduates from Guide Dog Training”

Marin Magazine (February 2011)
“Snap Shots: 34th Annual GDB Holiday Luncheon”

KSEE-TV / NBC (January 26, 2011)
“South Valley Students Train Guide Dogs”

KPIX-TV / CBS (January 14, 2011)
“Good Question: Can Blind People Use Text Messaging”

NorthBay Biz (January 2011)
“Creative Partnerships”

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Puppies at Work

By Beth Adams, Lone Star Puppy Raisers

Melville is a 9-month old black Lab puppy being raised by Lindsey Amos from the Lone Star Puppy Raisers in Texas. As a puppy in training he gets to go to work with Lindsey every day, which means Melville’s 8 am to 5 pm is spent as an “unofficial employee” for Wasp Barcode Technologies.

Black Lab Melville lies under Lindsey Amos's desk during a meeting at the office
Community service projects and charity work are an integral part of the beliefs and values of Wasp. Wasp believes in corporate social responsibility and the value of charity work and is a proud supporter of Melville and Guide Dogs for the Blind. At the end of 2010, Wasp shared a holiday e-card with its customers, choosing to make a donation to Guide Dogs for the Blind instead of sending a traditional printed Christmas card.

More recently, Wasp is a Communitas Award applicant for supporting and donating to Guide Dogs for the Blind and incorporating Guide Dog puppies in training into the office life at Wasp. Communitas Awards honor companies and individuals that are changing the way they do business to benefit their employees, communities, and environment. Training Guide Dog puppies in a work place is essential, because it simulates a real-life situation that a visually impaired person might encounter on a daily basis. Melville does everything from attending meetings and business lunches to accompanying Lindsey everywhere she goes to ensure that he is prepared for his mission in life.

Click here to watch the Wasp Barcode/Guide Dogs for the Blind Video.

My First Guide Dog Presentation

By Alma Rodick

GDB graduate Alma Rodick sits with yellow Lab Guide Dog ShimmerFebruary 7th was a very special day. My son, Zack, is in the gifted program at school and I had previously arranged to do a presentation about guide dogs to his class. I spent several days preparing for it but felt very nervous as I entered the school, since this was my first ever such talk.

When the time came, I showed the students the slide show that is shown at graduation, and they really enjoyed it. After that, Shimmer and I did an obstacle course through the classroom, which was interesting, since I hadn't been in the classroom before.

Then, I made a spontaneous decision to treat the kids to some playtime with Shimmer, after overhearing one of the students commenting that 'Shimmer works 24/7'. So I took off her harness and let the children come up one by one and pet her while she was seated, then I removed her leash and let her walk around for a bit to show the students how differently she acts when her leash and harness are removed, and they got the message pretty quickly. When it was time for her to go back to work, I called her to me, and she came quickly and got right into heel position. What a good girl!

Next, I had time for questions and answers, and the students seemed particularly interested in learning more about the training involved when teaching guide dogs guidework. There were only 11 students, with two absentees, so it was a small group, which meant everyone who had questions was able to get them answered.

I left there feeling like I really made a difference and now feel as though I have purpose. I just recently got approved to be on the GDB Speakers' Bureau, and it's truly an honor to be able to give back to an organization and to people who have given me so much. I would encourage all of you to take advantage of opportunities to give such presentations in your communities. It is a very uplifting experience!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Thank You Note

Kellie Gerdts lying with her Guide Dog July
by GDB Graduate Kellie Gerdts

It is a couple of months into 2011 and I have taken this time to reflect upon the gifts in my life. There are several things, from a supportive husband and family to great friends, a good job as well as good health. But as we swiftly embark on our forward journey into the upcoming year one gift in particular stands out in my mind, my first Guide Dog.

July and I met in June 2001, almost 10 years ago, and the experience is still vividly imprinted into my mind as though it happened yesterday. The morning of "Dog Day" I was filled with anticipation and eagerness as I wondered who my partner was going to be. Until that magical moment when you hear your dog’s name and they finally have an identity, you contemplate what your special dog will be like. Girl? Boy? Tall? Short? What breed? And when the time finally arrives, it feels like you are living in a dream.

I felt much this way when I was told I was receiving a yellow Lab named July. I had not met her yet and still, I knew I would love her instantly. Our first meeting is a treasured memory since the first thing she did was ask for a belly rub, a behavior I would learn quickly was her trademark.

Throughout class we learned how to work smoothly together as a team. We traversed the streets of San Rafael and San Francisco, encountering so many different things from overhead obstacles like tree branches to traffic checks. It wasn’t always easy, since each of us made mistakes which were to be expected, but we grew together and progressed quickly through training.

The hardest thing for me was adjusting to her personality. She had great work ethic but didn’t interact with me outside of guiding. I would try to snuggle and play with her but she remained quiet and subdued instead of silly and wiggly like Labs I had seen in the past. Initially, I had a difficult time, thinking she did not like me and worked only because she felt she had to. It was a fear I had through the remainder of class, though, I would learn it was an unfounded fear once I was home.

Training passed quickly and before I knew it, graduation day arrived. It was wonderful getting to meet July’s puppy raisers and learn about her as a puppy. There were many tears of gratitude from the students and tears of pride from the puppy raisers during the ceremony. Graduation was full of such feeling and you really got a sense of how much these dogs meant to everyone involved. For us, greater independence, and for the puppy raisers, the knowledge they accomplished something that made a difference in another person’s life.

Our adventure would really begin once we got home. There were times when I worried whether we would be successful as we worked through challenges every young team faces, but as we became more comfortable with one another, those worries faded away. Patience, consistent handling and love went a long way toward our success. The bond that seemed so elusive wasn’t such an unreachable goal after all. It turns out July just needed a little time to warm up to me and she became that affectionate, silly Lab I’d hoped for.

I’ve done so much since "Dog Day." I traveled to many places in the country, hiked, toured caves in Arkansas and navigated through jam-packed conventions. I visited Disneyland, took a cruise to the Mexican Riviera, got married and moved 2,000 miles for a job. Through it all July has led the way, giving me wings to fly and to see the world through her eyes. I love her so much and still feel amazed each time I pick up the handle and ask her for a forward.

As our 10 year anniversary approaches, I wanted to thank GDB for entrusting me with such a priceless gift. I can’t begin to express my gratitude for all the hard work and dedication that went into matching us as a team. The loyalty she shows and the love she gives is difficult to put into words and all I can say is GDB is incredible. She has given me the independence I have always sought after. She is an extension of me and every day we have together is a gift I will treasure always.

Thank you!

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Here's one of the photos we received during the month of January; all submissions can be seen on Flickr. You may submit photos via email to or post to our Flickr Group Photo Pool.

The Wales children each hold a black Lab puppy their family is providing foster care forPhoto above: the Wales children cuddle two black Lab puppies their family is providing foster care for.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

World-Renowned Behavioral Biologist Karen Pryor

Michele Pouliot and Karen Pryor beside GDB sign on Oregon campus By Michele Pouliot, Director of Research and Development at Guide Dogs for the Blind

Guide Dogs for the Blind partnered with the Oregon Zoo last week for a presentation by world-renowned behavioral biologist Karen Pryor, the woman who literally wrote the book on positive reinforcement for all animals. Karen has been an advocate of force-free animal training worldwide since the 1960s, and is author of Don’t Shoot the Dog! and most recently, Reaching the Animal Mind, two bibles of the dog training industry.

After a sold-out presentation before an animal-loving audience at the Oregon Zoo, Karen spent her day at the GDB Oregon campus and met with the training staff. She experienced her first blindfold experience with a Guide Dog-in-training. Karen has been a longtime mentor and she is responsible for introducing me to the animal world of training.

Karen has selected Portland as the site of next year’s Clicker Expo to be held in January of 2012. All of us at GDB are thrilled about sharing the wisdom this amazing woman has brought to the animal training world.

For more information and to learn more about Karen and the upcoming Clicker Expo, please visit