Saturday, August 27, 2011

My Bucket List

Mary and yellow Lab Persia in kayak

by Mary Andrae

Our daughter raised two Guide Dog puppies through 4-H. I was so inspired by her selfless act and desire to do something for someone else. Needless to say, the first item on my "Bucket List" after retirement was to raise a puppy.

I must say, I was not prepared for just how much I would benefit from raising a puppy. Persia has changed my life. At the grocery store, church, or anywhere we go, Persia is a magnet, drawing people to us. Although I am an introvert, with her I am thrust into the position of meeting new people, answering questions, and informing people about the wonderful work done by Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Persia and I recently completed a 50-hour caregiver class through my church. Together, we now visit an elderly widow. Persia must have been paying close attention in class because she is the most kind and loving caregiver. She brightens this lady's day, as she does with everyone she meets.

We are beginning to realize how much sweet Persia will be missed by her many friends when she returns to GDB in September, and certainly our house, our family and our hearts will feel the loss. This little yellow Lab's impact on us has been tremendous. But we know she will have even more of an impact on the lucky person whose "eyes" she will someday become.

Has raising a Guide Dog puppy had an impact on your life?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Driving Mr. Will

Morgan Watkins with his arm around his son Richard and Golden guide Will between them

by Morgan Watkins, GDB Acting President and CEO

Late one Friday afternoon, a few weeks ago, I told my son that if he picked me up after work, I would take us out to a nice dinner. Richard, being a 23-year-old student working as an intern at a local software firm, was more than happy to accept a free meal. So, shortly after 5 p.m., he showed up, ready for Dad to foot the dinner bill. Unfortunately, I had some last minute business that needed my attention before the weekend and I let him know that I would be tied up for an hour or more. I offered to pay for some fast food if he wanted to go and pick it up.

My Guide Dog Will had come out from under my desk to visit with Richard. Those two fellows are close buddies.

“Dad, can I take Will with me?”

I said that he could. I quickly took Will out for a little break on the lawn. It is important to note that our HR director saw Will and me walk by her office at this time.

After coming back in, I took the harness off of my dog and Richard grabbed the leash. Richard walked outside, let Will hop into the back of his car and then Richard took off to pick up our drive-thru meal.

At this same time, our GDB HR director spots Will and me walking outside. She sees me open the back seat of a car, let Will hop in, and then she sees me walk around the car and get in the driver’s seat. She knows that I drove a very long time ago, but this doesn’t make sense. And, then she sees me, with my Guide Dog in the back, drive away. She is stunned, and knows that something is very wrong with the picture she is seeing. It takes many seconds before it clicks that she was looking at Richard, who is about my height and similar in appearance.

I love the fact that our team can laugh and share fun stories like this, and still make a difference in so many lives. The camaraderie we enjoy with each other, and with our volunteers and graduates, makes this a very special place to work. We are all so very fortunate.

Yes, all is good in Guide Dog Country.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Click Click!

Instructor Todd Jurek uses food reward to teach a yellow Lab to find an empty chair

GDB puppy raisers got a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes when their puppies are trained to become Guide Dogs. Instructor Todd Jurek leads a demo of GDB Clicker Guide Dog Training on Fun Day in this two-part video on our YouTube Channel.

Part I
Part II

Thursday, August 18, 2011

I'll Bet You Didn't Know

a pile of mostly sleeping yellow Lab pups
by Rebecca Hornick, GDB Dog Placement Coordinator

There are so many interesting things to know about Guide Dogs for the Blind -- innovations in training, health tips from our veterinarians and fun stories about raisers and grads. In this post, I’d like to feature a core group of dedicated employees in the San Rafael Kennel Department.

Beyond keeping the kennels immaculate and feeding the dogs, our Kennel staff are experts in many aspects of canine care. It is not an exaggeration to say that senior members of our Kennel staff have more whelping experience than do most veterinarians. The staff is on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Aside from caring for the dogs that are whelping and nursing, they check on all the dogs in their care throughout the kennel: boarding dogs; surgical recovery dogs; young puppies and others that may need feeding, medications and treatments throughout the night. On-call veterinarians can sleep soundly knowing they can count on the expertise of Kennel staff to manage the most challenging medical situations with little or no assistance.

Ron and Karen doing ultrasound on a yellow Lab's belly

After the Breeding Department staff makes the selections of the dogs that will be bred, it is primarily the Kennel staff who conducts these scheduled breedings. There are at least two staff members present for each breeding to ensure all goes well and record any details that will affect future breedings. The Kennel staff knows our breeder dogs well because they are responsible for their health and wellbeing before, during and after conception. It’s not uncommon for staff to greet these dogs by name as they saunter down the hallway with their breeder custodians in tow. I recall feeling comforted when, years ago, I dropped off my own breeder at GDB and she greeted each staff member along the way with a wag and smile of recognition.

yellow Lab newborn on scales

Kennel staff is present at each whelp to detect any subtle signs of trouble. Once the pups are born, staff assesses them daily during their first months of care. Our Veterinary staff can attest to their in-depth medical knowledge – the two departments work hand-in-hand. By paying close attention to symptoms that might normally go unnoticed, Kennel staff experts utilize the experience they have gained by caring for hundreds of our dogs and alert the veterinarians to unusual cases that may require further medical attention.

black Lab puppy being bottle fed

They also oversee a lot of healthy dogs who come in to board each year while their caretakers are away from home. They engage the minds and bodies of these active dogs while boarding through our Kennel Enrichment Program to alleviate the dogs’ boredom. These activities include: daily dog walks, canine cuddling programs for physically challenged dogs that cannot go for invigorating walks, hanging toys in the outdoor and indoor runs, play structures to climb on and stuffed frozen Kongs (also called “pupsicles”) which are a much loved treat and activity all rolled into one delicious morsel!

Kennel staff also has the responsibility of managing the in-home Litter Raiser Program, processing all dog food orders for the hundreds of dogs on campus (as well as GDB staff dog food orders) and receiving all incoming phone calls after hours (whether they involve a medical emergency, lost dog or random question that happens to come in during the middle of the night). They conduct hands-on training programs for new dog walkers and foster care providers (so they can comfortably walk and care for their four-legged charges with confidence and skill).

The variety of unique challenges and educational opportunities may be among the factors that contribute to this staff’s amazing longevity. The 14“senior” staff (10+ years) have 258 combined years among them -- that’s a LOT of experience when you think about all they have seen and done in those years. Clearly, there’s a lot more to the job than just scooping and hosing. Of course, they get to receive lots of doggy kisses to help keep them motivated through the busiest of times as they do their fulfilling and important work for in support of GDB’s mission.

black Lab puppy with milk on her mouth

I am happy to sing the praises for this dedicated and humble core group of staff. Their hard work reminds us there’s a lot going on behind the scenes to make GDB a success.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Fun Fun Days

Wide shot of Oregon campus Fun Day tents and people walking with their kids and puppies

Fun Days on the California and Oregon campuses were a blast this year! Raisers and their puppies came from all over, and some even attended both events! Check out all the photos on our Flickr site!

Did you have fun???

Friday, August 5, 2011


black and yellow Lab puppies ride the SF Ferry
GDB Puppies take a ferry boat ride!

GDB Alumni Michael Thorpe was reunited with his Guide Dog Gwen, thanks to a neighborhood angel.

7 Questions for a Guide Dog Trainer

Aerial View: Podcast interview with Aerial Gilbert

In Memoriam: Freida Kennedy A retired Guide Dog is remembered for her work bringing cheer to ICU hospital patients. (pg. 3)

Beyond Fetching: Los Angeles Times

Cautious Caleb is featured in The Bark Blog

Man's Best Friend on 9/11 -- Michael Hingson is interviewed on NBC Bay Area about his experiences with his Guide Dogs Roselle and Africa and his new book Thunder Dog. The book has also been reviewed in People Magazine and the New York Post.

Melissa Hudson and her black Lab Anya are featured in Arthritis Today.

Santa Barbara County Sightseers and their GDB puppies are featured in Equine and Canine News. (pg. 14)

New Digs for Dogs in the Novato Advance covers the news of our plans to build a new student residence on our California campus.