Wednesday, December 19, 2012

GDB Holiday Luncheon Keynote Address by Jake Olson

GDB recently held our 36th annual Festive Holiday Luncheon at the Westin St. Francis hotel on Union Square in San Francisco - it was such a wonderful way to usher in the holidays! More than 700 people turned out to enjoy a lovely wine reception, three-course lunch, and a program that featured everything from a guidework demonstration to a puppy delivery. All of our guests enjoyed the puppy love, and left feeling very inspired, thanks to our keynote speaker, Jake Olson with his guide dog Quebec. Jake's speech was so well-received (he brought the crowd to their feet for a standing ovation), that we thought we'd share his remarks with you here. Jake is introduced by the event emcee, CBS-5 News Anchor Ken Bastida. Enjoy - and happy holidays from all of us here at Guide Dogs for the Blind!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Responding to Sandy


Search and rescue dog Luau with her handler, Sue Bonney

GDB career change-turned Northwest Disaster Search Dog, Luau, and her handler Sue Bonney (pictured above) have been deployed to help with the crisis caused by Hurricane Sandy. Sue reports that Luau has taken to Search and Rescue like a pro and has found her niche in life. "I can see her smiling while in training!" Sue said. Luau is a 42 pound ball of yellow Labrador energy and this is the team's first deployment. Sue is a member of her local GDB puppy raising group, Guide Puppies of Seattle, and is currently raising a pup named Sparky.

Luau is in good company. Another GDB career change dog, Lani, with her handler John Stewart, is also a search and rescue dog with the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation. Lani and John, from Sarasota Springs, Calif., are also currently at a staging area in Long Island, readying equipment and discussing potential search strategies so they can respond as efficiently as possible. If deployed, their job will be to find people trapped in structures destroyed during the massive storms.

Kudos to these amazing GDB career change dogs and their handlers!

Breeder's Digest for August 2012


A pile of Labrador puppies!
Litter Announcements

Labrador Retrievers
Golden Retrievers
Labrador-Golden Retriever Crosses

New Breeders

Labrador Retrievers
  • Patience – raised in AZ
  • Pierre – raised in UT

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Snapshots!

Here are a few highlights from the photo submissions we received int he month of September. You can see them all on our Flickr site at http://www.flickr.com/photos/guidedogsfortheblind/

Career change dog yellow Lab Lourdes with her adopter, Elaine Zilonka and Ruby, a black lab/greyhound mix, on the hiking trail.
Career change dog yellow Lab Lourdes with her adopter, Elaine Zilonka and Ruby, a black lab/greyhound mix, on the hiking trail. Lourdes was the fourth of five female yellow labs raised by Bob and Joan Fricke of Gold Country Guides in Placer County, CA. She was adopted four years ago by Elaine, the Fitness Director at Sun City Roseville. She was to be a companion for Ruby, rescued seven years ago from the Sacramento SPCA. Bob writes: "Ruby assumes the Alpha position in the home, which Lourdes accepts - and they get along fine. Elaine has introduced Lourdes to the outdoors including: jogging (up to 15 miles every week), hiking, and backpacking on the weekends. The dogs both have their own backpacks and sleep in a "pup" tent (of course) with Elaine. Elaine also exposed Lourdes to lakes and streams, taught her to swim, retrieve sticks, balls and frisbees (her favorite). Lourdes also entertains herself (and others) by blowing bubbles in the water. Needless to say, Lourdes has a new and wonderful life and looks forward to Elaine's return home from work each day by laying on the sofa and gazing out the window (her favorite spot)."

Golden pup Natura, trying on a Guide Dog harness for size!
Golden pup Natura, trying on a Guide Dog harness for size! Submitted by Carrie Mesches.

Labs Desma, Monte, Dakota and Culver celebrate Culver's birthday.
Labs Desma, Monte, Dakota and Culver celebrate Culver's birthday. Submitted by Debi Hayes.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Lessons from the Dog House: The Adventures of Ansel


Submitted by Timothy Burdick
(Written by Guide Dog Ansel)

My name is Ansel, and I would like to introduce my partner, Timothy. Timothy is a hospital Chaplain, who is blind, and I am his Guide Dog and Chaplain’s assistant. I am really underpaid, because aside from these two jobs, I do much more. In fact, I do most of the work. Let me explain...

While Timothy can’t see, he doesn’t like to dwell on that fact. Rather, he tries to find ways, both figuratively and literally, around obstacles in his path. From going on emergencies in the hospital, to routine visits, I help Timothy make his way by guiding him around the hospital's twelve floors.

Timothy and I live within walking distance of the hospital, so we can get there any time in a matter of minutes. I have learned, however, that when he gets a sudden call and has to get to the hospital real early, that I am not a fan of early mornings. Despite this I try and do my best.

All Timothy has to do is say is "find the heart," when we get off the elevator, and I will guide him from the medical center to the heart hospital. But when I think about it, my favorite place to go is the cafeteria. While I can’t eat there, the food sure smells good, and sometimes Timothy will give me the ice from his cup.

More than just trying to be a great guide though, I am also a therapy dog, and as such, wear my badge from the hospital proudly. I love to cheer up patients, helping them see the brighter side of life, using my own brand of psychology. I go to each person, wag my tail, and offer cheer. Timothy says that I bring more comfort to the patients than he ever could on his own.

Sometimes Timothy likes to kid me when we come back from doing his rounds, saying, “instead of having a girl in every port, you have one in every nurse’s station.” But he has to admit that I really shine as a public relations guru, for when my harness is off, my job is to encourage the hospital staff.

While I want to remain modest, you have probably figured out by now that I am indispensable, and while my work makes for a long day, I do have time to sleep in meetings. As for you Timothy, “what do you do?" I ask. Then he usually answers, as he shrugs sarcastically, “I guess I just tag along.”

GDB's Oregon Campus Hosts Alaska Airlines


Alaska Airlines employees at GDB's Oregon campus

Recently 15 Alaska Airlines employees based in the airline's Portland office visited GDB's Oregon campus in Boring for an afternoon of team building and education. Director of Development Chris Jones spoke to them about the journey a Guide Dog takes through its life and the community it takes to create a Guide Dog partnership: from the breeder and puppy raising volunteers, to the staff instructors and campus volunteers, to the people who are blind that get matched with Guide Dogs. Alaska Airlines employees were then shown how different types of blindness affect a person’s vision with the use of special glasses. One highlight of the day was when our guests had the opportunity to take walks with Guide Dogs while under blindfold. They were accompanied by instructors and led around the campus in order to get a feel for the trust that needs to develop between handler and dog to make a successful working relationship. “This is the ultimate example of teamwork,” said Regional Development Officer Debbie Hibbard, who helped facilitate the airline's visit.

Alaska Airlines continues to demonstrate exceptional customer service when flying GDB staff members and dogs. We would like to extend a special thank you to them for visiting our campus and continuing to be a tremendous supporter of GDB!

Breeder's Digest for July 2012

Golden Kaylee with her litter of pups


Litter Announcements

Labrador Retrievers


Labrador Retriever-Golden Retriever Crosses


Golden Retrievers



New Breeders

Labrador Retrievers      

  • Jolt – raised in WA     
  • Lorna – raised in OR

Lab-Golden Cross 

  • Tessie – raised in OR

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Girl Scout Project Blossoms at GDB



Four girl scouts in their newly-planted lavender garden at GDB.

Girl Scout Daisy Troop #10160, of Santa Rosa, CA, has proudly presented The Guide Dogs for the Blind's California campus in San Rafael with six lavender plants. The girls, all first-graders, planted, maintained, and transplanted the lavender from starters for a project known as “It’s Your World-Change It!” As a part of the Leadership Journey, the girls were given the opportunity to explore the world of gardening and nature, while practicing elements of the Girl Scout Law, including being responsible for what they say and do and taking action to better the world around them.

The troop decided that raising the beautiful and fragrant plants would be a great first step, but that donating them to an upstanding cause would be even better. One of the scouts made the decision of just who should receive the lavender an easy choice, as her grandmother has worked in the Guide Dogs breeding department for years.

All the girls put great time and commitment into their Journey and take great pride in contributing their hard work to help beautify GDB's campus. The girls planted the lavender for all to enjoy (human and canine alike!) just inside the back entrance to the kennels.

Four girl scouts planting a lavender garden at GDB.

We've Got Mail: New Career, New Friends!


The following is an update from career change adopters Tammie and Scott. It is an expression of gratitude to all puppy raisers. We love it when career change dogs like Shep have such a wonderful impact on their adopters and their community! 

Dear Guide Dogs for the Blind -

I thought you would enjoy hearing how one career change dog, Shep, has brought raisers and his new family together and is making a difference in his new career.

We have been very lucky to create a friendship with Shep's raisers. They are amazing people we would never know if it wasn't for Shep. We have meet on a few occasions- one being his 2nd birthday, even though we live almost two hours apart. We understand that they made the difficult choice to allow him to go so he could have another career, and we feel the smallest gift we can give them is to share Shep with them as we are able. He has a Facebook page to keep his friends, family and puppy club updated on his adventures. Recently Shep even spent a week's vacation with them. It meant a lot to his main raiser, Sierra, who is 15, to spend time with him.

Shep gets a kiss on the top of his head. As much as it was hard to see him leave again, they are always excited for Shep and the opportunities he has. They are thrilled that he gets to work 40 hours a week making seniors happy. Shep is now certified as a pet therapy dog, through pet partners (formally Delta Society), with both Scott and I. He breezed through his test.

Shep's job is going very well. Residents, families, visitors all love seeing him and he is wonderful with them all. The residents have taught him to shake hands, and give light kisses on cheek or hand.

His raiser family shares Shep's career change success with their puppy club, encouraging other raisers to allow career changes a chance at another job. They share with others how much faith they have in GDB's placement department to find the right home/job for the dogs.

We are thankful for the opportunity to adopt Shep and all the friends and joy he has brought into our lives.

Sincerely-

Tammie, Scott and Shep

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Of Pups and Cyclists


Sue Mooney and Ryder with a cyclist from the USA Pro Cycling ChallengeBy Sue Mooney 

Late August in Durango, Colo., means kids and teachers returning to school, and Guide Dog pups returning to GDB's Oregon campus to start their own version of school. It also saw the start of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, with professional cyclists from all over the world beginning a race here in Durango. Ryder, our current Guide Dog puppy, shares the name of an acclaimed Canadian cyclist, Ryder Hesjedal. He wasn't racing here, but many of his Garmin Sharp Barracuda team were. We went to many events celebrating the race, and I was struck by how much a Guide Dog puppy is like a professional cyclist. They are both part of a team when training and working. They must be focused, brave, and open to new experiences. They all must stay in shape, and each day is significant. Ryder and the cyclists were quite taken with each other, and we got some great pictures. The cyclists left on their race adventure at the beginning of the week; Ryder and his team left for Oregon on the puppy truck the following weekend, taking many of the same mountain roads as the cyclists. Godspeed, athletes and pups. What an inspiration you have been to us!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Alumni Spotlight: James Nealy and Silver


James Nealy and Silver
By Jim Price

James Nealey figured he had everything wired. He was a skilled military electrician working on US Army helicopters and their complex avionics and weapons systems. He was an enlisted man with one combat tour under his belt and another scheduled, and he was putting together his Warrant Officer application packet. He was happily married to a beautiful German girl with hopes of making a family. His plan entailed 20 years in the Army, retirement, then a great job doing the same kind of work in the civilian world.

Then three years ago, in just a few months, it all came crashing down. He lost his vision. He lost his job and most of his friends. He even lost his wife.

James, now 28, was stationed in Germany after serving in Iraq when he noticed he was starting to lose vision in his left eye. Several doctors and months later he was finally diagnosed with Leber's Hereditary Optic Neuropathy. He was telling his story recently at GDB's Oregon Campus. He was there to get his first Guide Dog, a yellow Lab named Silver. "It was a tough time. Except for my closest friends, who had seen me run into things, nobody believed me when I said I was losing my vision." And when they finally did, he was given a medical discharge.

"I went through six or seven months of depression," he said, shaking his head at the memory. "But then I decided I needed to get off the couch and make something out of my life."

The Veteran's Administration sent him to the Blind Veterans Rehabilitation Center in Palo Alto, Calif., where he learned orientation and mobility, living skills, computer skills and the like. And then he heard about the Wyakin Warriors Foundation back in his home state of Idaho. "They help disabled vets go to college," he said. "It's a great organization. I'm not the academic type at all but with their help I finished my first semester with a 3.8 grade point average." As he said that, he couldn't stop a huge smile from spreading across his face. He hopes to eventually earn an MBA and own his own business.

At a disabled veterans convention James met a few guys with guide dogs. "They told me how much more independence you can have, how liberating it is. It's an amazing feeling, traveling with a dog compared to a cane. And it's so much more social. Most people don't even want to approach you when you are traveling with a cane. Now people come up to me, want to meet Silver, say hi to him, ask me questions. There is no comparison."

At six foot, five inches tall, James frequently gets smacked in the head by tree branches but with Silver leading the way, that problem has gone away. "He leads me in and out of crowded sidewalks, around trees and other things. He's amazing. At first it was hard to learn to trust him. I have two Newfoundland dog  s at home and I love them but I wouldn't trust them with anything. Silver, on the other hand, is great. It's only been a week and a half and already I know I can depend on him. He's just not going to let me run into something.

"And he's got a great personality. They did a perfect job of matching us up. He walks as fast as I do. He wants to be playful when I do. He's very quick to learn and respond to any command I give him."

So his new plan is to spend the next year and a half at the College of Western Idaho, then  transfer to Boise State and eventually enroll in the MBA program there. The Wyakin Warriors Foundation promises tuition, books, room and board and plenty of encouragement with local and national mentors, as well as volunteer students at the school who help out if he needs it.

And what about that German wife? "She said she couldn't live with someone with a disability," he explained. "But that may not be the whole truth. I found out later she married my best friend." No matter. He said his new girlfriend, Jill, who worked at PetSmart and first fell in love with his dogs, is great. "She can't wait to meet Silver. And I can't wait to get him home and get on with my life."

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The long row from the 2008 NFB Conference to the London Paralympics


By Aerial Gilbert
GDB Outreach Manager (and accomplished rower!)


Eleni and Briggs

GDB alumna Eleni Englert of Vista, Calif., got her first introduction to rowing at the 2008 National Federation of the Blind (NFB) conference rowing workshop that was sponsored by Guide Dogs for the Blind. Her dad and cousin rowed in college, so Eleni was intrigued by the rowing workshop at the conference. At the time, Eleni was in 8th grade and already 6 feet tall (height is a real advantage in rowing). She had always been an athlete, competing in volleyball and basketball, but these sports had become progressively more difficult as her vision was diminishing. She took to rowing naturally, and when she competed at the rowing workshop, she blew everyone out of the water, including some athletes from the men's Paralympic Goal Ball team! I encouraged Eleni to contact a local rowing club in her home area if she wanted to pursue the sport. The first team she contacted was afraid to include a blind athlete, but she was met with open arms at ZLAC Rowing Club in San Diego where she rowed on the juniors program through high school. Her coach had told her that being a blind rower was a good thing, since she wouldn't be distracted looking outside the boat.

In 2009, Eleni and I ran into each other at the San Diego Crew Classic regatta where after hearing of her rowing success, I encouraged her to contact the coach for the US National Adaptive team. She met the time standards and was invited first to a development camp and then to selection camp where she was picked to represent the United States at the World Rowing Championships in New Zealand. She has now made the team for the past three years, rowing at World Championships in New Zealand and Slovania.

She got her first Guide Dog, Briggs, a little over a year ago, before they went to Slovenia. “I love having a Guide Dog,” Eleni said. “He’s amazing. I can do fine with a cane but with the dog I can go so much faster, we like walking fast. Briggs is always with me and can go everywhere. It was so cool to take him to Slovenia. He wore a USA bandana and was a great ambassador. People from all over the world were so excited about seeing him. Even if we didn’t speak the same language, Briggs gave us a connection. He’s also a great flyer, we had no problems on the plane. It was a twelve hour flight to Germany and he slept the entire time!”

This year, Eleni made the team that will be representing the United States at the Paralympics in London, which run from August 29 through September 9 at Dorney Lake in Eton. When asked what the sport of rowing means to her, Eleni responded: “Rowing has become a huge part of my life. I can row any boat I want and love the feeling of being on the water. I can’t imagine myself ever stopping, its too addictive. Even when the workouts are really hard and painful I can’t help but have fun.”

Eleni is currently with her team at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., where they train three times a day. This is what she has to say about her normal training regime when she is home: “I usually wake up early and swim. I do hard cardio in the morning and a light erg in the afternoon. I do two workouts a day and usually go to the beach and surf or swim.”

Eleni said that going to the Paralympics is very exciting and a lot of hard work. “Anyone can do it," she said. “If you find something you want to do, you have to just go for it and try.” Next fall Eleni and Briggs will be attending the University of Washington where she will continue her rowing career. Congratulations Eleni! Go Team USA!

Eleni (front) rowing in a four-man boat

Thursday, July 26, 2012

We've Got Mail

From time to time, we receive wonderful letters from graduates of our program that we like to share with our readers. This is a wonderful letter from David Greene with black Lab guide Camille. It is printed here with his permission. 


Hi folks -

Just wanted to let you both know of an interesting journey that Camille and I took last Saturday. [My wife] Jennifer had been in Toronto looking after our grandson for two weeks. On Saturday Camille and I went to Toronto to stay over night and pick up Jennifer, returning on Sunday evening.

I had taken the subway in Toronto in the past but always with some one else. I wanted to try taking it myself and I wondered if Camille would remember all the subway teaching. I decided that I would take the challenge and our son, Nathan, gave me the directions to get to his place... the subway line to take, where to change to the next subway, which station to get off...

Camille and I took the bus from Kingston to Toronto, a 2.5 hr ride, then made our way to the subway station. I just gave Camille the directions that Nathan had given me and away we went. I feel myself getting emotional as I write this. I just can't believe that little girl, Camille - what a dog. I want to tell you that she didn't forget one thing that she was taught... the thousands of people, the noise of the subway trains... and she is just as cool as can be. The subway train comes to a stop and it is so noisy and there is so many people. I just bend down to her ear and with great enthusiasm say to Camille, "inside," and she just leads me on the subway car as if we did it every day. "Find a chair" and she takes me to a seat...  Oh! I so wanted to shout FREEDOM, this is my dog and she is from GDB.

I guess if I had to, I could have done that trip with the cane but it would have to be a life and death situation to inspire me. A doorway, a set of stairs, a counter... all can be so close, but so far away when you can't see it. The only time using a cane brought me to tears is when I ran into something. I just can't describe the thrill of holding that harness handle.

Camille and I want to send you a big thank you, and to let you know that you are so appreciated.

Talk later,

David and soft shiny black Camille

Summer’s Village of Foster Care


By Rebecca Hornick, Foster Care Coordinator

A Golden Retriever

Most people have heard the term, “It takes a village” in reference to many people lending support to a common effort. Never is that more true than during the summer months when people tend to travel and numerous dogs arrive at GDB for boarding. We are extremely fortunate to have a dedicated group of loving Foster Care Providers in our team of campus volunteers that provide the temporary comfort of local foster homes to many of these dogs.  We couldn’t do what we do for these dogs without this “village” of volunteers.

At GDB's California campus alone, more than 400 dogs transition in and out of foster homes each year, with the busiest time being during the summer months. The types of dogs needing care, and the reasons they need foster homes, are quite varied:

  • Dogs may be boarding here while their caretakers are traveling, moving or are recovering from illness
  • Dogs are under medical care with our veterinary staff and need proximity to campus
  • Home behavior evaluations have been requested for certain dogs
  • Dogs are awaiting placement into permanent adoptive homes, etc.  

The truth is, even our wonderful Foster Care Providers have travel plans of their own during the summer. At times, they cannot fill the entire length of time the dog needs a foster home. In order to minimize their time in the kennel, some of these dogs have enjoyed the comforts of several different foster homes during their stay. When it works for all parties involved, sometimes “in-field” transfers can be arranged so dogs don’t need to come back to the kennel at all when going from one foster home to another. In the East Bay, for example, there are more than a dozen volunteers who can be called upon to either foster a dog or transport dogs, food or medications to and from each other and campus so no one has to travel excessively to help us meet our needs. By utilizing  these connections, the dogs’ needs are more easily met and less travel is required of each volunteer. Now that’s a green team solution that everyone can appreciate!

Some of the volunteers who reliably come to the aid of the foster dogs in our busy months are the people who are also willing to “double up” on dogs. This means that even though they are already hosting a foster dog in their home, they agree to manage another dog at the same time. Sometimes that just means having a second one for the weekend or during the brief time the other foster volunteer is away, and other times, it may be weeks or even longer. For those of you who find it challenging to manage one dog, I am happy to tell you, housing multiple dogs at once can be done! Handling more than one dog involves managing a variety of needs, providing proper boundaries and, of course, a whole lotta love! These are amazing people who foster more than one dog regularly, and we are so grateful for their extra help. I know the dogs have a blast, but I am happy to tell you, these generous volunteers report to me that they get a lot out of it as well.

Another unique request that comes up from time to time is a need we call “commuter foster care.” This is when we have a dog who is in the finishing phases of its guidework training and can benefit by having some home time in the evenings. Only a few dogs need this extra care because most do just fine completing formal training while being housed in the kennel environment. But once in a while a need arises, so we call upon a few local volunteers to meet the need. Typically these dogs get dropped off directly in the Training Office in the morning, get their daily workouts with a Guide Dog instructor, and then get collected again by the end of the day for foster care in the home. The extra information we get from these volunteers is incredibly helpful when making the right match for the dog with a student in class. Commuter foster care is just another example of the extra effort these volunteers kindly give us to meet the unique challenges and requests we have each year.

There are many fine folks who make up the list of California campus Foster Care Providers and when you think about how many different needs we throw at them, you have got to love their Can-Do attitude. We surely appreciate this “Village” of support we have in this core group of volunteers in the busy months and all year long.

A village of Foster Care Providers with a black Lab

Taking to the Skies - Hollywood Style!


By Alice Garcia, Leader and Puppy Raiser

On a recent Saturday outing, nearly 60 Guide Dogs for the Blind puppies-in-training and their raisers attended the K9 Flight School offered by Air Hollywood. Air Hollywood is an aviation-themed studio that serves the motion picture and television industry. The studio, located in Burbank Calif., provides airport terminal standing sets and airplane mock-ups for television, movie and commercial productions. Movies such as Bridesmaids, Money, and Charlie Wilson’s War, just to name a few, have been filmed at this location.
Waiting in the terminal

Going through the security gate
The K9 Flight School offers fundamental training to assure a dog and handler’s flying experience is easy and stress free. This was an excellent opportunity for our raisers and puppies-in-training to learn how to handle airport sights and sounds. GDB's Southern California Community Field Representative Rick Wilcox and Air Hollywood President and CEO Talaat Captan coordinated the event.

We began our experience by first entering the busy terminal where we were ushered to the departure gate. There, we encountered a woman in a wheelchair, lots of raisers and their dogs, and the friendly Air Hollywood staff and dog trainers.

On board the aircraftWe were called for boarding and our puppies were required to sit and wait as the raiser went through the TSA metal detector screening. The puppy was then called to “come” and a security wand and pat down was performed on the puppy before continuing down the jetway. Once we boarded the jumbo jet and were seated, the sounds associated with the flight attendant and captain’s announcements, luggage being loaded, and a jet taking off and landing were very authentic. In addition, an Air Turbulence simulator provided us with a bumpy flight and the opportunity for our dogs to experience turbulence. The dogs snoozed through the flight even though it was a hair-raising experience for some of the raisers. Some of our puppies and their raisers even had First-Class seating.

We then went to baggage claim where we encountered people with luggage carts and our puppies were provided with water bowls. We concluded the event with a group photo.

Group Photo

We are grateful to Sid Yost, from Top Dog Talent Agency, Tracy Oliver, a former GDB puppy raiser, and the other dog trainers that were on hand. They guided us through the training experience and gave us pointers on how to make this outing successful for our puppies and raisers. We hope to make this an annual event.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Noah’s Story

Emily Simone and Cyndi Davis are both long-time GDB employees. Emily is as a Senior Field Manager based out of our California campus, and Cyndi is a Master Instructor at our Oregon campus. Both are Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialists (COMS), and have worked for years with blind students who have a faced a variety of challenges above and beyond their lack of vision.


Every so often, a visually impaired client comes along who is so inspirational and impressive that even the wisest and most experienced instructors are forever changed by the experience. And if ever there was a student who was the personification of the old adage, “Attitude is Everything,” it would be a young man named Noah Al Hadidi, who touched both of these veteran Guide Dog instructors in the most profound of ways.  


This is his story, and that of his new best friend, a beautiful female black lab Guide Dog named “Amiga,” as recounted by Emily and Cyndi.

Noah and black Lab guide Amiga


Emily: When I first learned of the background of this potential GDB student, I was uncertain we could serve him – there were so many obstacles to be overcome that I wasn’t sure it was possible. From what I read in his initial application, Noah Al Hadidi was born in the Middle East - Muscat, Oman, and he lost his eyesight at the age of 7 months due to a genetic eye disorder. Because of the lack of schooling for the disabled in Oman, at the age of 7 he was taken from his family to an institution for the blind in Bahrain, where he spent the next ten years. At the age of 18, he went to Saudi Arabia to work for a company that develops new technology and software for the blind. It was in this setting that he was given a scholarship to come to the United States to study computer science, thanks to the wonderful support from the folks at Lions International.

When he moved to the U.S., Noah did not speak a word of English. He started at Arkansas State University in 2009, and then transferred to Colorado State University’s Ft. Collins campus in 2010. Noah thrived in these educational settings and it was in Ft. Collins that he first was exposed to service animals, and heard about Guide Dogs for the Blind.

He applied to GDB in the Fall of 2010, and I met him not long after at his dorm near the CSU campus. He was still learning his way around the campus and during the cane assessment, he demonstrated an impressive confident travel technique, despite very little formal mobility training. He was undaunted by the prospect of learning how to live and work with a dog and his positive attitude was captivating. I instinctively felt that he would be an excellent candidate for a Guide Dog, but his lack of knowledge of basic dog care, handling and rudimentary mobility travel skills came into question.

I recommended a Continued Assessment for Noah, which is a three-day program where students are brought to one of our campuses and given a more in-depth review of their travel and dog handling skills. Noah was given the green light for this “second look,” and that’s when Cyndi entered the picture.

Cyndi: My first contact with Noah was by phone in December before the Continued Assessment class that was scheduled for January of 2011. He was difficult to contact, he didn’t return phone calls. When I was finally able to speak to him, his answers were short and non-committal. That was not the best way to get started for me, as I was already a little leery about any person’s ability to rise above the multitude of obstacles that this young man faced.

And it wasn’t just the physical challenges – the cultural implications for a person of a Middle Eastern background turning to a dog for help and safety were as far removed from his life experience as could be imagined. Not only had Noah never owned a dog, he had never spent more than a few minutes in passing in the same room as a dog. In that part of the world, companion animals are very rare – and oftentimes the only contact with dogs was with the strays running in the streets. Here in America, even if you didn’t grow up with a companion animal, it wasn’t a foreign concept – chances are you had some kind of positive connection with animals, be it with a friend or neighbor, or even what you saw on TV. For Noah, there was NO contact.

After we finally connected, Noah casually made mention that finals week had just finished – and my own recollection of what the trauma of finals week was like came rushing back to me. Now factor in that Noah was totally blind, had only been speaking English for two years, and had to rely on a reader to take his exams – no wonder he was hard to get a hold of and not very conversational! As far as I was concerned, Noah had passed my first test, with flying colors.

Emily: Cyndi and I spoke often in preparation for Noah’s arrival in Oregon for his assessment. My biggest reservations were with his Orientation and Mobility skills and his lack of exposure to dogs. His traveling skills were unorthodox, showing a lack of training rather than inability. The sum total of his experience with dogs was from friends he had made at Colorado State University who were guide dog users.

Cyndi: In preparing for Noah’s assessment at our Oregon campus, my purpose was clear:  immerse Noah in all things dog! So, after picking him up at the Portland Airport and settling him in to his private room at the dorm, I introduced him to “Nectarine,” a small black Labrador Retriever who was nearing the end of her training. His first task was to give her a bath – and I believe that was the first time I noticed Noah’s infectious smile.  It lit up the whole room, and you couldn’t help but smile yourself when you were under its influence.

His first walks with her were a bit awkward, as to be expected, but even with his discomfort he sported that ear-to-ear grin. He spent the next two days with “Nectarine” – and without hesitation proceeded to feed, pet, praise, play, keep her under control, relieve and pick up after her. He was a natural! His questions were endless, and our questions for him were endless as well. How will your family feel about this decision? Do you plan on taking this dog with you to Oman? If so, how do you see that going? It was clear that he had thought long and hard about how a dog would change his life.

Noah completed his assessment with some homework, including additional O&M lessons that GDB helped secure for him in Colorado. Once completed, Emily visited him once again and to no one’s surprise, all went as planned and Noah was scheduled to join a class in late May back at the Oregon campus.

I was delighted to find that I was one of the three instructors assigned to the Noah’s class, where he was joined with five other visually impaired students. I was there on the first day of class when Noah met the friendly and super affectionate little black lab named “Amiga” selected to be his guide – and there was that incredible smile again. Noah was instantly taken with this sweet young pup, and reveled in the fact that there he was, a man of Middle Eastern descent, on the edge of an Oregon forest, in a town called Boring, paired up with a frisky Lab whose name was Spanish for friend! How perfectly international was that?

Over the next two weeks, Noah and his fellow students spent hours learning how to work with their new Guide Dogs. Noah was paired with another student for our daily trips, a slight girl of Spanish extraction – and although they were both young, and had faced challenges as small children that many of us would shrink from, they came out the other side with those infectious smiles.

During a caravan ride to one of our many varied training excursions on the streets of Portland, I used the word “slimy” to describe what I thought avocado juice would taste like. “What does this ‘slimy’ mean?” asked Noah, “explain it to me.”  So, for the next 45 minutes, we tried to come up with more examples and descriptions of slimy – from a slug out in the rain, to a mashed banana, to a worm – and by the end of the day, we all were laughing about our new-found understanding of the many depths of the word “slimy.”

And, no matter the task, no matter the challenge we faced as we walked the streets of Portland, learning how to communicate with his new buddy “Amiga,” there was that brilliant smile.

He talked about his dreams and aspirations – of some day having a family, having a girlfriend – and of returning to Oman some day to help the children in his homeland. In his culture, he explained, blind people are not shunned; they are protected and kept away from challenges. It was his fondest hope to be able to bring the same kind of freedom and independence he was experiencing with a Guide Dog, so that children like he once was could also feel the thrill of accomplishment and expanding their lives.

Emily: Noah is now home with “Amiga” and they have been successfully working together for a year. Noah has consulted with me on many occasions with routine questions about normal dog behaviors that he did not understand or had not experienced. Yet, Noah is bright and sensible and has quickly grasped how a dog learns and thinks and their progress has been exceptional. He is an inspiration to others and he absolutely loves working and living with a Guide Dog. Noah will remain in the U.S. for several more years as he focuses on his goal of obtaining a Ph.D. in computer science. He may move back to Oman at some point, and if he does, he’ll be the first guide dog user in that country. He is not afraid of the challenge and hopes other blind and visually impaired people in Oman may be inspired to follow in his footsteps.

We are so impressed with Noah’s independent spirit and infectious personality. He inspires everyone who meets him and we are proud he has a GDB dog by his side. Noah is going to take the world by storm and we will be there to support him!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Pasta Power!


By GDB alumna Megan Miller with Guide Dog Pasta
Megan and Pasta in their caps and gowns

Pasta and I have been having a great summer. In May, I graduated with my Masters degree in criminal justice from California State University, Long Beach. Pasta accompanied me to school for the last semester of my Bachelor's degree, and then for my entire masters program. It was only fitting that she was with me at graduation! One of my professors made her a cap, gown and hood to match my own, and Pasta actually liked wearing them!

To add to this special day, her puppy raisers drove down for the ceremony, and afterword, they took the entire celebratory crowd out to dinner (which included my boyfriend, Ethan, his Guide Dog, River, and Ethan's aunt). Pasta loved seeing her puppy raisers again (it had been more than three years since we'd seen them last). It was a terrific day for us all.
A couple weeks later, Pasta and I visited my family back in Iowa. Like always, she did great on the airplanes, and she was very happy to see all of my family. Pasta's favorite part of the vacation was playing in the kiddy pool Dad had purchased for his dog. Pasta didn't mind that it was really small and that she couldn't actually swim; she made it work for her as this video shows! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AfzEJb9eBS4&feature=plcp

Now that we're back home, Pasta's still doing great. She was very happy to see Ethan and River, not to mention my cats, Tofu and Cookie, whom she loves. And, she's happy to be going back to the Cal State Long Beach campus where I'm working part-time. It makes me smile to think of how happy Pasta is no matter what we do, and I just had to share these extra special moments to say thank you to GDB and her puppy raisers for blessing me with such a special and fun-loving dog.

Will Guide Dog Venus Win the Hero Dog Awards?

black Lab in harness with paws crossed

Venus, my six year old Guide Dog from Guide Dogs for the Blind, not only helps me with mobility, she also helps the people I work with who are blind or visually impaired. I teach others, who have vision loss, use technology to improve their lives, find employment and remain independent. Many of these people are depressed and have lost hope because of their disabilities. When they see Venus and how much she helps me, they often find encouragement and hope that they can return to a "normal" life.

She spreads joy wherever she goes. People tell me that she has never lost her “puppy face”.

She also has an amazing memory. When we visit a client for the second time, she remembers them. I can feel her tail wag when we go to the door.

Venus is a great companion. When my mother passed away, we traveled to Florida to make arrangements and have services. While I was cleaning out the house, Venus attached herself to an afghan my mother made the moment we entered the house. While boxing up items on the last day, Venus made sure that afghan went with us. She put it right in front of the door! Today the afghan goes with us on all trips.

I waited 15 years to get a guide dog. I have no idea why I waited so long. Venus is the best things I have ever done for my vision loss and she is truly my hero! -- Betsy Gruba of Heartland, Wisconsin

Will Guide Dog Venus win the Hero Dog Awards? Only if you vote! Vote every day and be sure to share!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Airport Adventure


By Puppy Raiser Bonnie Sloane

Puppy raisers and their pups on an airport excursion

On a lovely spring evening, five puppies between the ages of 6 and 13 months from the “Puppies With a Vision” club of Ventura County, California boarded a shuttle bus heading for the Bob Hope (Burbank) Airport. We raisers and our pups had met in the lobby of the Los Angeles Marriott Burbank Airport Hotel awaiting the shuttle, which had been provided for us by the hotel. The pups were going to the airport to experience its sights, sounds, and smells and begin preparation for someday leading a handler through an airport.

A puppy raiser and pup exiting the shuttle busThe dogs had no trouble boarding the shuttle bus and made themselves at home inside. After a short, pleasant ride, we arrived at the airport and were met by two representatives: Land Side Operations Manager Tom Janowitz and Public Relations Manager Lucy Burghdorf. They led us into a baggage claim area, where the conveyor belt was turned on and loaded with items. The pups cocked their heads at the strange noises, smelled the items moving past them, but showed no fear.

Tom and Lucy led us to the ticketing area where we wound our way through maze-like aisles to the counter. There Lucy pretended to check us in from behind the counter (such a shame we couldn’t really fly somewhere!). The pups got weighed at another check-in counter, and then we calmly walked by the rest of the ticketing counters. Needless to say, we heard over and over, “Oh! Look at the cute puppies!”

Puppies checking out items moving along a baggage claim conveyor belt
While we couldn’t go through the TSA screening, we were permitted to walk in the maze-like line and say hello to the inspectors.

Our next stop was a second baggage area; this one having a revolving carousel. Again, Tom placed plastic containers at the top so they could come down the slide and fall onto the moving carousel. For a second time, the pups were not in the least put off by the noises and movements. Shortly thereafter, the passengers from a recently landed plane entered the area and their bags coming down the slide to the carousel again caused no fear in our dogs.

After a relaxing stop at the airport’s restaurant where we were offered cookies and beverages, we thanked Lucy and Tom for the very useful tour.

Puppy raisers and their pups at the airport
We boarded the Marriott shuttle to return to the hotel, and on the ride back we discussed the behavior of our dogs. They had passed with flying colors. They were very well behaved and there were no mishaps. Our leader, Alice Garcia, said she was very proud of the entire group because they had performed beautifully.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Will Guide Dog Trish Win the Hero Dog Awards?

Jason with black Lab

On a cold and blustery February evening, my roommates, my guide Trish and I went to Muir Beach Overlook to watch the sunset. This photo (below) was taken of Trish and me on the Overlook with the sun off to our left.

Having some sight makes it somewhat easier to navigate places like this, but with Trish, there is no question that I am 100% safe traversing just about any terrain we face. She has totally changed my life for the better and is not only a one-of-a-kind guide, but a loved and adored companion. -- Jason Baker of Fairfax, California



Will Guide Dog Trish win the Hero Dog Awards? Only if you vote! Vote every day and be sure to share!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Snapshots!

Here's a sampling of some of the great photo submissions we've received lately. You can view all of the photo submissions on our Flickr site, and our Flickr Group Photo Pool. Keep em coming! Send your photo submissions to information@guidedogs.com. 

GDB puppy Rhubard

GDB puppy Rhubarb at Mile Rock Beach viewpoint. Golden Gate Bridge and the Pacific Ocean in the background. Submitted to the GDB Flickr Group Photo Pool by Niall Kennedy.

Friends for life: Sierra, Jessica and Marissa


Friends for life: Sierra, Jessica and Marissa. As you may be aware, GDB's puppy raising program provides more than just excellent socialization for our pups - it fosters lifelong friendships between puppy raisers as well. We recently heard from Marissa Pounds, who tells this story about she and her sister, Sierra, meeting one of their best friends, fellow puppy raiser Jessica Harpel: "My sister and I met Jessica at our very first puppy club meeting. She had just gotten her first puppy in training, Dakota, a yellow lab male. At first, we didn't get along. We stayed away from each other until Dakota was assigned to come to our house so we could puppy-sit. It was then that we finally talked with Jessica and learned we had lots in common. Not two days later did we plan a sleep-over. Jessica was there when we got our puppy, Jaunty, a black lab female. We went to Puppy Fun Day together, and do gymnastics together. Although my sister and I have known Jessica for only a year, I know when we are old, we will be talking about those two Guide Dog puppies that we raised a long time ago and our adventures with them."

Career change dog Jana

Career change dog Jana at the Purina Incredible Dog Challenge. In addition to her dock diving training, Jana is in training to become a therapy dog. Photo by Caroline Fenton. Submitted by Susan C. Smith.


Monday, July 2, 2012

Will Guide Dog Timber Win the Hero Dog Awards?



I thought I'd never get out of the well. The pale circle of light far above was becoming dimmer with each passing minute. Then, I heard footsteps, no, it was pawsteps, and I knew I was saved.


Okay, I'm not Timmy, and it isn't Lassie rescuing me from the well. I'm Leslie, and it's Timber rescuing me each and every day. Timber's heroics aren't the sort that appear in newspapers and movies. Rather, his heroics are the sort that happen during the course of our daily lives.


Transforming instantly from pet to guide when his harness snaps on, Timber is hyper-alert and focused on his task of negotiating our environment as we travel from one place to another. Whether the route is mundane, having only straight and level sidewalks with street crossings in my favor or the route is hazardous, having obstacles and complicated intersection crossings with loud gusting winds, Timber deftly leads us to our destination. Nothing in the environment, not crowds, not noise, not even dogs, distracts Timber from his purposeful and flawless guiding.


Maybe I am more like Timmy and Timber is more like Lassie than we had thought. Every day, everywhere we go, Timber rescues me from my figurative well; he saves me from the confines of immobility and sets me free. He truly is a hero dog. -- Leslie Brueckner of Santa Barbara, California



Will Guide Dog Timber win the Hero Dog Awards? Only if you vote! You can vote every day, and be sure to share!

Monday, June 25, 2012

The FBI Welcomes Guide Dogs for the Blind


Mark Francis and Kent Ellard

The FBI Portland Division held a Diversity Awareness Day on June 12. GDB alumnus Mark Francis and Puppy Raiser Kent Ellard represented GDB and spoke about the different aspects of our organization from puppy raising to coming to campus to train with a Guide Dog.

“I really like the fact that we were able to speak as a team,” said Mark. “A graduate and a puppy raiser together, because this helps tell the whole story. We were able to discuss the before and after and everything in between. There was a wide range of inquires and people cared enough to ask really good questions. Overall, it was a great opportunity.” Kent has raised seven puppies for GDB and his current puppy in training, Pegasus, accompanied him at the podium.

Adelina Wildy, FBI staff operations specialist, had this to say: “It was perfect and a big hit. I can say with confidence that everyone in the audience enjoyed the presentation and thought highly of both presenters.”

Will Guide Dog Puppy Pilaf Win the Hero Dog Awards?

Pilaf is the twelfth puppy I have raised for Guide Dogs for the Blind. Two years ago, my husband and I started a web series called Growing Up Guide Pup. We thought that it would be fun to document and share our experience puppy raising. We gained a lot of fans, especially those who use guide dogs or were interested in getting a guide of their own, or people who were interested in becoming puppy raisers.

We decided to conitue the show and do another season with a new puppy, Pilaf is that puppy. She is helping us to continue to educate people how guides are started. Many people believe that working dogs are forced to work and never have any fun. Pilaf is helping to show the world that Guide Dogs are raised with love, not manufactured. They are encouraged to work because it's fun, not forced because they have to.

We have recieved messages from all over the world about how our show has helped people decide to get a guide dog, now understanding all the work that goes into them. We have also had people tell us that they want to become puppy raisers because of the show.

Pilaf is a great puppy to show that anything is possible. She started off as a very timid puppy, afraid of the world around her. But she is proving that with some encouragement and guidence she is overcoming her fears. -- Amie Chapman of Hayward, California.

Will Guide Dog Puppy Pilaf win the Hero Dog Awards? Only if you vote! Vote every day and be sure to share!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Newshounds

Here's a round-up of some recent stories in the news about our alumni and puppy raisers.

Yellow Lab Guide Dog Cricket
Yellow Lab Guide Dog Cricket, from ksl.com
Ann Taylor Tells Blind Woman Her Guide Dog Isn't Allowed in the Store
Ann Taylor apologizes for kicking guide dog out of store
Ann Taylor says it was misinformed the first time it issued a statement on Guide Dogs


    And in other news....


    Future guide dogs get puppy pat downs 
    Going to the Dogs; Local Students are Puppy Trainers for Guide Dog Program
    (Oakdale Leader, Oakdale, CABritish Columbia, Canada)

    Gift puts visually impaired Penticton woman in the driver's seat 
    (Penticton Western News, British Columbia, Canada)

    Leading the way; Durango volunteers raise puppies to guide the blind 
    (Durango Telegraph, Durango, CO)

    Guide Dogs for the Blind brings puppies to Lemoore 
    (Hanford Sentinel, Hanford, CA)

    Quilts Sewn for Servicemen, Women 
    (GDB pup Pernilla is pictured with raiser Nancy Bloyer, a member of the quilt guild. San Clemente Times, San Clemente, CA)

    Monday, June 18, 2012

    Will Guide Dog Pasta Win the Hero Dog Awards?

    black Lab in harness on stairs
    Ever since receiving Pasta from Guide Dogs for the Blind, my life has changed. When I used my cane, I felt insecure. I hated traveling at night; I avoided going out in the rain when possible because the noise made listening to my surroundings challenging and I never just went for pleasure walks.

    With Pasta, I take pleasure walks, travel at night, ride the bus, go to stores and restaurants, and even go out in the rain! I don’t have to worry about running into something, misreading traffic or tripping. Pasta guides me around obstacles, stops for changes in elevation and refuses to go if it is unsafe.

    Pasta makes me feel a level of confidence that I have never known before. One day, a passerby said, “When I see you walking, I don’t think of you as disabled.” And, with Pasta, I don’t feel that way.

    Pasta gives me the freedom to do anything. If I get lost, as I did mere months after receiving Pasta, all I have to do is say “Let’s go home,” and she’ll take me there, as she did that very first time four years ago. If we are crossing a street and a car turns in front of us without looking, she’ll stop and push me out of the way, as she has on several occasions.

    But Pasta is more than my Guide Dog; she is my friend, cuddle-bug and so much more that words cannot describe. I love her with all my heart. -- Megan Miller of Long Beach, California

    Will Guide Dog Pasta win the Hero Dog Awards? Only if you vote! Vote every day and be sure to share!

    Wednesday, June 13, 2012

    GDB History: Stories of Sgt. Leonard Foulk

    Sgt. Leonard Foulk with BlondieGuide Dogs for the Blind was founded in 1942 to aid blinded servicemen returning from World War II. The first veteran to graduate from the program was Sgt. Leonard Foulk, who was paired with a Guide Dog named Blondie. We recently caught up with Sgt. Foulk’s niece, Bonnie Cursey, and great niece, Holly Searcy (who considers Sgt. Foulk to be her grandfather and refers to him as "Papa"). We shared some of their memories of Sgt. Foulk in the latest issue of Guide Dog News, but they had many other stories to tell. Here are some more wonderful anecdotes about the man and the dog that have become the face of GDB's founding era. 


    "Blondie was ready at any moment to do the job that she was trained for, and Leonard was eternally grateful for her service and her friendship," said Bonnie. "She was ALWAYS there for him."

    Bonnie relates that there was a defining moment when Leonard really developed his 'blind' trust for Blondie. It came as they were walking in a familiar place in San Francisco, and Leonard doubted one of Blondie's actions. "Blondie did something to indicate that Leonard should move over and he ignored her," Bonnie said. Urging her forward, Blondie once again tried to signal Leonard to move over. "He ignored her yet again, and as they moved forward at his insistence, Leonard ran right into a light pole, striking his head." Bonnie said that was the one and only time he ignored Blondie's signals.

    "Without Blondie," Bonnie said, "I am not sure what he would have done in those first few years of blindness. Adjusting to being blind was difficult, but having Blondie as his constant, loyal companion - taking Leonard wherever he wanted to go - allowed him full independence that he would not have had otherwise. This was truly a wonderful gift and a blessing. Leonard traveled with her, ate with her, slept by her ... Blondie was his best friend. Blondie gave him something to care for, to get up for, and to start a new day even if he did not want to. She was his responsibility and he would not do anything that might be detrimental in caring for her. She probably saved his life, and he knew this as well as did our family. Although he did not work, he became an accomplished wood worker, learned to play the banjo, and spent many hours listening to books on tape. He lived a full rewarding life, enjoying his family, friends and hobbies thanks to Blondie and the Guide Dogs for the Blind."          

    As the years passed, Leonard didn't use Blondie quite as much for his mobility as he did in the beginning of their partnership. By the time Blondie was 9 or 10 years old she pretty much was just a wonderful companion and no longer a working Guide Dog. "She was getting old and was having difficulty getting up and down," said Bonnie. In her retirement, "Blondie got to enjoy being lazy and spoiled. In 1955 or 56,  much to everyone's dismay, Blondie went outside and disappeared. For weeks we looked for her, the community joining in, but she was never located. It was very difficult for him to lose her as they had been through so much together and he was quite devastated for some time."

    Leonard with FuzzyBonnie also relates how Leonard met the next dog in his life, Fuzzy: "While sitting outside on the driveway one day, a beautiful sheep dog walked across the street and sat down beside him," she said. "From then on, Fuzzy would walk across the street each day, nuzzle Leonard's hand to let him know that he was there and then spend the day. Fuzzy would follow Leonard and never let him out of sight until his owner called him home at night. If ever there was an object on the ground, Fuzzy would pick it up and move it so Leonard wouldn't stumble (something Blondie had also done). The owner could not keep Fuzzy home and the following Christmas, Fuzzy's owner put a large red bow on him and sent him over as a Christmas present to Leonard. From that time on, Fuzzy became the new guardian, slept beside Leonard's bed and was his new Blondie. Leonard always said that Fuzzy was his reincarnated Blondie."

    Bonnie and Holly both said that Leonard rarely talked about the war or the actual injury that he sustained that caused his blindness. His family learned many of the details from his book, "Still My World." Holly relates: "From what I have read in his book, I am sure his confidence and determination was developed when he began training with his Guide Dog, Blondie."

    Holly with Leonard, her Papa
    Holly has nothing but the fondest memories of her dear Papa. "He was well-loved and respected by so many people. He was kind and generous to everyone he met. Papa had a workshop in the back of the house that he built with the help of his good neighbor who was a contractor. He loved that shop and spent many hours working in it. It had a million tools - he could build anything. I would spend hours with him in the shop learning how to use different tools. To this day, I think I know how know about tools than my husband does!

    "One summer he built a drying rack for meat and fruit. For Christmas, everyone received jerky and peaches from his garden - a gift we looked forward to each year! When it was cool outside, he would sit by the shop's wood burning stove and play his banjo. I loved hearing him play and to this day when I hear or see a banjo, I think of him."

    Holly isn't exactly sure when she realized that Leonard was blind (Blondie was gone by the time Holly was born). He was so accomplished in all that he did, the thought never occurred to her as a young child. "We would take walks to the mailbox located at the very far end of his gravel driveway," she said. "He would hold my hand like any other grandfather did, but I didn't realize I was his eyes, guiding him since there were no walls to trace. To me it was just taking a walk with Papa, something I loved to do."

    Holly also is grateful for the many life lessons that she learned from Leonard. "My grandfather literally saved every spare penny that he had to pay for my college education, something he never had," Holly said. "He would take his change out of his pocket at the end of the day and walk to the coffee can that was stored in a cupboard and drop the coins in, telling me that someday I would use it for school. And I did. He inspired me to go to college and get my degree, something I wanted for myself and for him. He inspired me to never give up on something I really want."