Friday, May 27, 2011

Hats Off to Our Graduates!

Amber May and yellow Lab pup Cloe in cap and gown

by Club Leader Carrie Mesches

It's the time of year when graduation announcements fill our mailboxes, and if you happen to be lucky enough to have a graduate in your household, it's a very bittersweet and exciting time. Graduations remind us that our kids are growing up, as they start a new chapter in their lives. We know that they are going on to do great things and are excited for them as they begin a new adventure. With our children as well as our Guide Dog puppies, their success is a direct reflection of the love and hard work that we have put into raising them. We had two special graduates in our puppy club this spring. They were able to cross the stage with the puppies they have worked so hard to raise, and who will be moving on to their higher education soon as well.

Amber May graduated from Thomas Downey High School in Modesto, California. She is an outstanding student with exceptional character who will be going on to UC Davis to pursue her goal of becoming a veterinarian. She has raised her puppy, Chloe, with the help of her parents, Dan and Tami, and her brother Ryan. Amber is someone who has “dog whisperer” type natural ability to bond with and train dogs. It's hard not to see the amazing relationship she has built with Chloe. Amber and Chloe have been wonderful additions to our puppy club, and while we will certainly miss Amber, we hope that she will get involved with the puppy club in Davis. Chloe will be going to college this fall as well, and we hope that she saves her cap for graduation at Guide Dogs for the Blind.

My daughter Sophie graduated from La Loma Junior High School, also in Modesto, California. She will be going on to Modesto High School next year, and is a very well-rounded, high-achieving student. Having Luigi at school with her everyday made Junior High more fun, and helped her to make friends that she otherwise may not have met. She raised Luigi with the help of her parents, (my husband Jeremy and I) as well as her siblings, Ben, Olivia and Emma. Sophie and Luigi have a very strong bond, and he is the wonderful dog that he is because of her consistent handling and patient, sweet nature. Luigi is going back to "Guide Dog college" on June twelfth, and like any child leaving the home for school, we will miss him dearly, but are extremely excited to watch him shine and grow into whomever he's meant to be.

Graduations are such a happy time, as we know our kids and puppies are going on to do great things and hopefully help others in some way. While it's hard not to have them around, the love that makes us miss them is the same love that made them as wonderful as they are!

Sophie Mesches and yellow Lab Luigi

Sophie and Luigi were also featured in an article and video by the Modesto Bee:

Are you and your dog graduating this month?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Guide Dogs for the Blind Rocks the Boat!

Raisers and Alumni with puppies and guides
A whopping 65 GDB alumni, staff, puppy raisers and guests, along with 28 dogs (puppies in training and working Guide Dogs) found their sea legs recently aboard the cruise ship, The Sea Princess, when it was docked in San Francisco en route to Alaska. The ship may have looked like it had gone to the dogs, but there was a reason for the special tour: to give puppy raisers the opportunity to socialize their pups to the various surfaces, sights and smells of a cruise ship, and to offer a behind-the-scenes look at cruising as an accessible way to see the world for people who are blind. The ship was set up with every comfort in mind for accessible travel, including a lovingly nicknamed “Poop Deck” outfitted with special relieving boxes for the dogs. “The ship was amazing,” said GDB’s Alumni Association Director Theresa Duncan. “I can’t wait to set sail with my guide, Dario!” Thank you to Princess Cruises and Dimensions in Travel for providing the opportunity.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Super Madge

Belo and MadgeBy Belo Cipriani

Belo and his Guide Dog Madge live in San Francisco. He's a freelance writer, speaker, and the author of Blind: A Memoir.

I had been walking for about five minutes up and down the numerous hallways when I heard a man offer me help. I told him where I needed to be and he said, “No problem! Should I write the directions down for your dog?” A loud laugh tumbled out of my mouth and I realized the stranger was not kidding when he began to talk to Madge, “Okay puppy, just go down this hallway and make a left at the elevator.” The man had clearly kneeled down as his voice sounded at Madge’s head level.

Interrupting the energetic voice, I pulled Madge closer to me and explained to the man that Madge and I were a team. “I give the directions and she guides me as safely as possible,” I told the stranger.

A big sigh came from the man who mentioned he was also heading toward the same direction and asked if he could walk with us. He continued to praise Madge for guiding me around some boxes, dodging a “Wet Floor” sign, and steering me away from a low hanging branch from an indoor plant.

Madge and I have been a team since 2009 and because I do not always catch every single small step or maneuver that she does in my favor, I realized I had taken some of her guidework for granted. We arrived at my dentist’s office and I verbally thanked the stranger for walking with us and also mentally thanked him for narrating the obstacles Madge dodged to keep me harm free. The man asked, “So, what is the hero’s name?” Smiling and rubbing her velvety ears I cheered, “Her name is Super Madge!”

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Happy Birthday to My First Guide Dog

Kim working black Lab TuliaBack in January, GDB Alumna Kim Kilpatrick decided to post daily on her blog "Great Things About Being Blind". Her topics vary, but she often writes about her relationship with her Guide Dogs.

In some ways, I've come full circle with my Guide Dogs. I've had Guide Dogs since the spring of 1992. All from the same school: Guide Dogs for the Blind in California and Oregon.

My first Guide Dog was born on this day in 1990. She was a wonderful black Labrador named Gwenny. Gwenny was calm, smart, happy, and had a real mind of her own. She would let you know if something you did didn't please her. One of the first times I found this out, happened on her birthday.

Gwenny's brother was also in our Guide Dog class. There were about 16 people in class I believe. Gwenny was black and her brother was yellow. so, the student who had her brother and I bought cake and ice cream for the class. Chocolate cake in honour of black Gwenny and vanilla ice cream in honour of yellow brother whose name I forget. Then, I bought biscuits for all of the dogs from Gwenny.

Anyone who has a retreiver knows that food is very important to them. Gwenny loved her food very much. She was excited when she saw and smelled the bag of biscuits. She had guided me to the pet store to get them. We walked down the hall and at each door, I knocked and presented a biscuit to the owner of each new guide. Gwenny started walking more and more slowly. She kept banging my leg with her head. She would tilt her head to look at the bag of biscuits each time one came out and wasn't offered to her. There were very few biscuits left when Gwenny sat down and stayed there wagging her tail.

"Hey woman! What about me? It is my second birthday after all. And I guided you safely to that store and guided you up and down these halls. Now just where is my biscuit?"

Point well taken. Gwenny did get her biscuit.

Gwenny died suddenly of cancer at age 7.5 while still working. Her loss was so devastating to me and all who knew her. She is now on high and I hope eating well on her birthday.

This past winter, when I took that last journey with my retired guide who also had cancer, I thought of Gwenny waiting for my wonderful Gia.

And, as I sat on the floor stroking my Golden Gia for the last time, talking to her, my second small black lab lay at my feet. Another calm, compassionate, fun dog with a mind of her own. Not like the others and yet like them.

For her wonderful raisers who I still keep in touch with, for all my raiser families who are now friends, for all of the trainers at GDB who had a hand in training my wonderful guides, for all the raisers and trainers out there, you are awesome!

Have a piece of cake or dog biscuit in honour of the best first Guide Dog any person could ever have.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Raising a Guide Dog Puppy in College

by Ashley Carroll

Ashley Carroll with Golden Lab Cross MedfordEver since I was in sixth grade, all I can remember is going to school with a dog almost every day. When I was a senior in high school, I told myself that I would wait till my third year of college before raising again. Needless to say that thought did not last very long.

In March of 2010, I got Medford. He’s three-quarters Golden and one-quarter Lab. He is my seventh puppy, but the first I’ve raised alone. When I got Medford, I was still living in the college dorms. My parents were great and agreed to watch him for a whole month until school was out. My Fresno puppy club leader, Mary Harris, was also offered to watch him for a week. With their help, Medford learned to behave well enough to start the fall semester with me in August.

It is not easy raising a Guide Dog puppy while in college. I have to balance schoolwork, working with Medford, and spending time with friends. I have been blessed so far -- all my teachers and the students at Fresno State have been very supportive of what I am doing. Medford and I have become very well known around campus. He has been nicknamed “Bear” because he sort of looks like a bear cub. He does great in class, as he goes right to sleep and doesn’t get up until he is told.

I keep a blog called “Life with a Guide Dog in Training in College” that talks about my adventure of raising a Guide Dog puppy while going to college. In my blog I talk about the ups and downs Medford and I face together. Medford is 15 months old now and could be recalled for formal training by GDB at any time.
Golden Lab Cross puppy Polaris
Luckily, I just received my new puppy, Polaris, who will join me next school year. He’s seven-eighths Golden and one eighth Lab. For now, Polaris is staying with my parents. I will document my adventures with him on my blog, as well. I’d like to thank my parents, my Fresno and Bakersfield group, Mary Harris, Margaret Baker, and Guide Dogs for the Blind for helping me and allowing me to raise a puppy while in college.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Ready for Stardom!

Black Lab Guide Dog puppy CalebRaiser Megan Minkiewicz writes about her Guide Dog puppy Caleb’s first plane trip and his exploits in downtown San Francisco. She also includes a video of him getting glamour photos taken by photographer Amanda Jones on The Bark Blog. Check it out!