Thursday, July 21, 2011

An Experience of a Lifetime

Miranda in cap and gown with yellow Lab puppy
by Miranda Robertson

Only 48 hours after I graduated from high school, I arrived at the GDB Oregon campus with rising anticipation. Although I am a puppy sitter and Guide Dog enthusiast in my home club, I had more curiosity than knowledge as to what I would actually be doing during my two-week Kennel Department internship. Yet here I was, filled with excitement, confident that whatever I found myself doing, I would enjoy it thoroughly.

For those interested in applying for an internship, I am obligated to first warn you of its less glamorous aspects. There is poop. In fact, it becomes astounding the range and variety of feces, so much so that there is a helpful numeric scale of one through seven to help you categorize it. There is also dog hair -- in drains and filters and gutters -- all of which need to be cleaned out. And, last but not least, there is concrete. For me, this meant going home with throbbing feet regularly during my first week. But, while the unpleasant elements are largely predictable, the joys were more often unexpected.

An average day as a GDB intern soon took on a regular tempo. Cleaning, feeding, and vet check schedules were absolute, but in the lulls between punctual appointments there was plenty of time for pleasant, even mundane, dog care. To be honest, there was a lot of puppy cuddling to do. Basically, the job of a Kennel Department intern is to shadow a canine welfare technician or CWT, which means being at the service of trainers, veterinarians and volunteers. Communication is important, but a willingness to drop everything and go help someone else is irreplaceable. This unpredictable agenda soon became one of my favorite aspects of my internship. At a moment’s notice, I could be running dogs to the clinic for eye checks, assisting trainers, evaluating how puppies take food, or best of all, learning to work a guide.

Miranda under blindfold with Juno

In the last few days of my internship, I found myself in downtown Gresham, blindfolded, and learning first to command a dummy-dog, affectionately named Juno, before moving on to the real thing: a Guide Dog named Reva.

Miranda harnessing a yellow Lab

After alternately cuing and awkwardly praising a piece of rolled up carpet, I advanced to gliding down the street after Reva as she weaved through sidewalk obstacles and took me across busy streets. It was exhilarating!

Miranda test driving a yellow Lab with instructor nearby

This post would not be complete without sincerely thanking all the staff and GDB for welcoming, training and encouraging me so generously. I hope to return soon as a proper CWT for more working, learning and laughs.

Up curb stop for Miranda and yellow Lab guide as instructor looks on

I had a wonderful time and my puppy club --canine and human members alike -- are also enriched by my new knowledge. Special thanks must go out to Nancy Denier, the trainer I stayed with for two weeks, for her hospitality and humor. Thanks again for making my time at GDB so much fun and so fascinating.

yellow Lab guide stops at up curb and gazes at Miranda

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