Friday, January 27, 2012

Amongst the Towering Redwoods

Chris and his black Lab sit on a bench as sunlight filters through the redwoods

Enjoying nature with your best friends is something to be thankful for! One of the cherished outings for GDB students in training is a trip to the magnificant redwoods at Muir Woods with their canine cohorts. Above, Chris Divers with black Lab Sirius. Below, Cecilia von Beroldingen with yellow Lab Krissa, Yonah with his black Lab guide and Jeff Harrington with yellow Lab Lucas.

Cecilia with yellow Lab, Yonah with black Lab and Jeff with yellow Lab on a bench

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Breeder's Digest for October 2011

A yellow Lab puppyLitter Announcements

Labrador Retrievers

Golden Retrievers
Labrador/Golden Retriever Cross
New Breeders

Labrador Retrievers
  • Abigail – raised in CA
  • Cava – raised in CA
  • Juleen – raised in CA
  • Kiva – raised in WA
  • Tally – raised in CA
  • Yoga – raised in CO

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Graduation of Epic Proportions!

yellow Lab pup
Once upon a time, there was a little yellow Lab puppy named Epic.

Epic's siblings, black and yellow Lab puppies in conversation with each otherHe enjoyed conversing with his sister, black Lab Estee.

April with yellow Lab Epic and raiser Darleene on graduation stage And then he grew up! He was Mr. February on GDB's wall calendar...

and before we knew it, he graduated as a Guide Dog.

Here he is on the graduation stage with his new lifelong partner, April Smith

and his puppy raiser, Darleene Decrescenzo.

three Labs with their people in GDB CA dorm lunchroom at graduationThey are joined here by Epic's mom Belle, a retired GDB breeder

(wearing the red collar) and his sister Estee, a new breeder.

Epic and Estee were members of Belle’s litter,

home-schooled by Ken and Nancy Schopp.

And that's the beauty of GDB graduations...

They bring together the whole family!

This one was especially moving, as it was the last graduation in
our dormitory on the San Rafael, California, campus.

Friday, January 20, 2012

A New Leash on Life

yellow Lab and Corgi
by Donna Matern

Shortly before he died, my husband Lee picked out a sweet little Cardigan Welsh Corgi pup for me, in hopes that she would bring me comfort and companionship. Terra has turned out to be all of that and more. She was a star in dog obedience and agility classes, and a fine companion on hikes, working in the yard, riding in the car to visit grandchildren, snoozing by the fire at night: all the attributes we love in our pet dogs.

So it was with a little trepidation that I decided to co-raise a Guide Dog puppy named Visa this past October. After all, Terra is now over 14 years old. I wondered if the new pup would just be too hard on her. I pictured rough play, feeding time issues, fights over toys, competition for my attention, etc. What I didn’t count on at all was this: little old Terra has an entirely new leash on life!

She has been remarkably healthy for most of her life, but in the past year Terra has definitely slowed down. Before Visa arrived on the scene, it was all Terra could do to accompany me down our country lane to the mailbox. She’d make several stops along the way, and on cold mornings she hopped with her two back feet as one, as if it hurt to do a normal trot. Her eyes are clouded with cataracts and her hearing is just about gone. Despite all of these age-related issues, though, Terra never fails go greet me at the door with a wagging tail and happy dance. How could I inflict a squirming mass of Lab puppy on my dear old girl?

At first, Terra tried to ignore the pup, but as anyone knows about Labs, they are not to be denied. So Terra did a little play-fighting, fake-biting, and twirling around for a few minutes, then retired to a neutral corner. Visa wasn’t having any of that. Soon Terra figured out that she could use her doggie-door to make a hasty retreat outside, while Visa stood at the sliding door, baffled by the sudden disappearance of her playmate.

Sparring between the two dogs lessened, while at the same time I often found them just hanging out together, trailing around the yard as a pair, lapping water together, walking down to the mailbox with me in tandem. I left Terra home when I took the pup on longer walks, but then after an experimental outing, I realized that Terra was up to the greater distances, and seemed to relish them. She resumed her old habit of “FRAPping” around the house; “Frantic Rapid Activity Periods”) daring Visa to catch her.

My property is a graveyard for 14 years’ worth of Terra’s treasures: mummified gophers and moles, lizards, snakeskins, parings from the horses’ feet, bones, decayed food from the compost bin, etc. Visa’s arrival here has prompted Terra to resurrect many of these items and basically display them to the pup, but only when Visa is in her crate or on a tie-down. The poor puppy does somersaults and cartwheels at the end of her tie-down, while Terra nuzzles her prized possessions in tantalizing proximity to Visa,but juuuust out of reach.

This morning I was working with Visa on the basketball court, away from all distractions like leaves, sticks and grass. What I didn’t count on was Terra, parading back and forth behind the fence, with an entire ancient, petrified squirrel carcass in her mouth.

My fears that a Lab puppy would be the end of my old corgi have certainly disappeared. Now I’m worried that the old timer is just a little too much for the baby!
yellow Lab sleeping with paw over Corgi

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Visiting a Guide Dog School in Italy

by Annie Doris, Belvedere, CA, raiser of Weslia

Cars, mopeds, and bicycles buzz throughout the city of Florence, Italy. They whiz through stop signs and traffic lights, and they don’t stop for pedestrians. Even for a sighted person the roads are treacherous, and Italy must be one of the most stressful and difficult places for a working guide. One afternoon, we saw a blind woman and her guide dog walking down the narrow crowded cobblestones of Via Corso, and we were surprised and interested to discover that there was a guide dog school nearby.

One day after school, my friend Giuliana and I rang the bell of the Scuola Nazionale Cani Guida per Ciechi di Firenze-Scandicci (National School of Guide Dogs for the Blind in Florence-Scandicci, Italy) and we waited outside the large gate. The lush green plants of the courtyard and the big yellow villa that circled it looked beautiful and refreshing in the hot afternoon. Just as we were buzzed inside, the little padded feet of two Golden/Labrador retrievers rushed to greet us along with their trainers — Ludovica, Soro, and Massimo.

Over a cappuccino, they eagerly asked us questions about how guide dogs are trained in America. They were surprised to learn that Guide Dogs for the Blind has around 300dogs on the San Rafael campus, because their Scuola holds less than 50 dogs at any time, and they “graduate” roughly 25 dogs per year. The Florence Scuola has ten breeders that live in the countryside until they are ready to give birth. They used to use only Labs, but now they also use Goldens because they have found them to be the most obedient and least distracted dogs.

Since 1995, volunteer families around Florence have raised 267 puppies. Much like our program in the US, a puppy in Italy must learn five basic things: to eat at fixed times in his bowl, to do his business outside of the living space, to walk on a leash at the correct gait, to behave politely in public spaces and vehicles, and to not be distracted by city noises. They must be able to respond to the commands “avanti” — forward, “indietro” — backward, “sinistra” — left, and “destra” — right. “ [A puppy] must act like a member of the family, [like] a little ‘bambino’ who is educated and well behaved.”

At 4 months, the puppies are placed with families for socialization and they return to the Scuola kennel every month for a week to be examined and evaluated. At the age of 10-12 months, they are sent to the Scuola to be evaluated as guides and breeders.

The Scuola di Cane Guida program started after World War I when many injured blind veterans came home from the war and needed both guidance and companionship. Dorothy Harrison Eustis, an American woman, played a huge role in helping the guide dog program flourish in both Europe and the US. While working in Switzerland, she and Aurelio Nicolodi founded the Scuola in Florence-Scandicci in 1929; Mrs. Eustis also founded the Seeing Eye program in the US.

While we discussed the history of the Scuola and its program, trainer Soro brought in Lana, a frisky puppy, who surprisingly jumped up on the conference table! Soro explained that Lana’s behavior was because she was not wearing her working harness and was considered a “normal” dog without it. Once he put the harness on her, she transformed into a guide dog and quickly obeyed the commands he issued.

Before we helped feed the dogs, we toured the campus. Picture a bright ochre-colored villa surrounding a garden shaded by cypress trees and green leafy bushes. We walked through the many winding gravel pathways of the garden and saw an overpass of stairs used for training the dogs. There was also an amphitheater where the guide dogs were presented to their new blind owners. We walked inside the villa and observed the dorms of the visually impaired who stayed there for around two weeks while working with their dogs.

We walked to the kennel kitchen on the other side of the campus and loaded the food into the bowls and walked down to the kennel. The dogs howled as they heard the food slosh in their bowls. Just like our guide dogs in the kennels, they stood up on the fence and waited eagerly as we dished each one his meal. They ate feverishly and licked every last drop in less than a minute.

Italian guides must be super dogs because they face such stressful conditions in helping their owners navigate around the city. They might be surprised to come to California where drivers stop for pedestrians. Although the methods of training in Italy might be slightly different, both Italian and American guide dogs are loved and both guide dog groups want to raise the best possible dogs.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Now, That's the Spirit!

Sharon and yellow Lab guide
by GDB Alumna Sharon Ruttan

At St. Alban's the Martre Anglican Church here in Hamilton, Ontario, Forester is much loved. He even has a blue scarf that matches our choir robes -- made by a member of our congregation.

He lays quietly on his own blanket during our choir practices, as well as, during our services. He is the only one allowed to sleep during our minister's homily. Although there are times that I have to wake him up as he starts to dream and run in his sleep which has caused, on more than one occasion, giggles from those in the choir who are aware of his muted yips....he takes me quietly both down the aisle and back as we process and recess before and after services.

He is a much loved member of our congregation and his birthday is even remembered in our bulletin!

Sharon and yellow Lab with choir

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Party Time!

woman with guitar and yellow Lab

by Chris Sobchik

There was Whitney and Anchorage, Othello and Serenade, Columbus and Lana

No--Santa does not have a new team of reindeer; these are working Guide Dogs and puppies in training who attended the 27th annual Puppies 2 Partners Holiday Luncheon held in Anaheim in December. Puppy Raiser families hosted 28 working teams and shared a traditional holiday meal together. The planning was done by North Orange County puppy raising club Puppies 2 Partners with help from VIP3 of South County and BAARK Brea adult raisers.

This year’s theme was Jingle Bones. Graduate Dan Haley and his band entertained as guests arrived. Tina Wilson with her Guide Dog Donovan (shown above)entertained the group with Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree and The Christmas Song on her guitar. George Cassell and his yellow Lab Guide Dog Amigo sang a duet.

Santa posed for pictures with working teams and guests took home their photographs in painted frames adorned with dog biscuits. The holiday feeling was enhanced by “gifts” of door prizes won by lucky graduates. The luncheon offers local working teams the chance to visit with friends and show their appreciation to the volunteers who raise the puppies who later become Guide Dogs. They often share stories of how their guides help them each day and how much the work of the puppy raisers has meant in their lives.

Puppy raiser Katie Irving looks forward to the event each year. She said,“At the party we hear and see exactly how the puppies we raise help others lead more independent lives. It is great to see the working teams in action and learn more about the graduates as guide dog users.” Jaclyn Bigley added, “It’s amazing to see so many dogs and puppies in one place. Just about every table has a dog underneath and puppies sleeping around them!” Linda Becker, a GDB OAR Ambassador and regular at the event said, “ I look forward to this event each year. I see so many friends and I love the opportunity to tell the puppy raisers how much their work has changed my life.”

young raisers

Friday, January 6, 2012


Father Pat with Golden Retriever Guide DogFather Pat with Pace and Brandon Burris,

executive director of the Louisiana State Governor’s Office of Disability Affairs.

Father Pat Mascarella’s Guide Dog, Pace, was named Service Animal of the Year by the Louisiana State Governor’s Office of Disability Affairs. The event was covered on WBRZ-TV, and The Catholic Commentator (page 3)

Puppy Zaffino honors his namesake on TV

Student Teacher Senses When Children Need Help

Riding That K9 Buddy Train -- GDB volunteers spent their New Year's weekend bringing a wagging bundle of love to a young boy who is rapidly losing his vision. The story crossed several states and was picked up by many news outlets: CNN, KTVU in the SF Bay Area (FOX), DFW in Texas (CBS),WFAA (ABC), WFMY,KXTV(ABC) in Sacramento,KCAL(CBS)Orange County, WISH TV in Indianapolis and in San Diego.

Getting a New Guide Dog: Thomas Hicks

GDB Alumnus George Blackstock helps others

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Riding that K9 Buddy Train! Part 5

Zach Thibodeaux and his brand new K9 Buddy, Natura, steppin' out

At the end of a very long journey, it was, as Sandi Alsworth said in the following interview, a story about one dog and one boy. One story that touched the hearts of thousands of people. One story that shows what the power of our partnerships can accomplish.

To all of the people who give their time, talent and treasure in support of our mission, we thank you! In celebration of cooperation and generosity, Happy New Year, everyone!


We will be posting more photos of Zach and Natura on our Flickr site.


Our thanks to everyone for submitting your photos!

Here are some more:

Two yellow Labs

Yellow Lab Guide Dogs Junebug and Jules are the best of friends!

Black Lab shaking paws with AmandaAmada Stephens and black Lab Guide Dog Nacho

puppy club with firemen in front of firetruck
The San Rafael-based Marin Puppy Raising Club visited the Novato Fire District's Station 65 in the Hamilton section of Novato, California in November. The fire fighters and paramedics were very accomodating and the pups were able to experience many new sights, sounds and smells. The pups were able to visit the fire trucks, walk through the back of an ambulance, sniff the fire fighting clothing and equipment, and listen to the sirens.

Don't forget to send us your holiday photos!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Christmas Company

by Heidi Sanders, GDB Breeder Custodian and Foster Care Provider

4 dogs: a Golden, a yellow Lab, a Golden and a yellow Lab Ryka, Suzanne, Nessa (The Sanders Girls) and guest Pluto

This year our Christmas was slated to be quiet with two family members away. Ah, but the quiet idea didn’t last for long. Our holiday plans soon took on a brightness and glow when we received a call from Rebecca Hornick, foster care coordinator at GDB. An active guide, Pluto, needed a place to stay over the Christmas weekend; Rebecca asked if we’d be interested. Pluto had been our foster care guest twice before while our active breeder Suzanne was at GDB caring for her special “K” litter—Kyle, Keith, Kearney, Kellogg, Kristin, and Katrina born October 8, 2011. This time was a little different as Suzanne is now home, so it would mean a four-dog Christmas guest list, and, of course, we said yes. This year there was room for one more. Rebecca makes each foster care assignment sound so appealing--who can say no. Pluto’s human partner would be away for a few days, so it was a good match.

Pluto arrived and there was excitement in the air. Suzanne loved her new guest. It must be that likes attract. The Lab pair is similar in color, one bigger, one petite. Over the weekend we walked two by two, the two Labs, then the two Goldens. Suzanne's and Pluto’s gait was in sync and Suzanne was a flirt; this took some dog managing from our “foster care” tool bag of tie downs, crates, and treats, but all and all it was a wonderful holiday weekend, and never dull! What’s amazing to me is how the training of each dog from GDB allows a group of four dogs to meet, greet, and get along and spend a weekend together, and there’s nothing quite like having a Guide Dog in our midst. They are so special.
yellow Lab and Golden sharing a bone
That night all became peaceful, with our Christmas tree lights on, the house warm and cozy, and the dogs tired after a busy day. I had to smile as I set up their doggie beds and each one took their place. “It was the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.” Santa would be coming soon, and I’m sure the dogs would sleep through his trip down the chimney. Good night Ryka, Good night Suzanne, Good night Nessa, and Good night Pluto. All is well.

dogs relaxing with their person