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!

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


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 

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!