Tuesday, February 8, 2011
A Thank You Note
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.