Friday, December 20, 2013

Alumni Connections: In Gratitude – The Gift of a Guide Dog

As the GDB Alumni Association Board, we want to take this opportunity to extend our warmest holiday wishes to each of you. Thank you to the incredible puppy raisers, the volunteers, the GDB staff, the donors and each of you who have contributed your time and resources to this organization. Because of you, we experience the gift of a guide dog: a beautiful partnership. We also are very grateful to our fellow alumni and wish you happy and safe travels this holiday. Thank you for your involvement in the Alumni Association, for inspiring us, and for sharing your stories with others who may also benefit from the gift of a guide dog. It has been such a honor to get to know more of you from our involvement in the Alumni Association.

Young yellow lab puppies sit in a basket as their mom looks on.

Becky Andrews & Cricket, Alumni Association Chair

As a young wife and mother, my world opened back up with possibilities on that first walk with my new guide, Pantera in 1997. My two amazing guides, Pantera and Cricket, have given me the beautiful gift of safe travels, confidence, independence, and much joy, love and laughter. The gift of a guide dog has also brought connections into my life too numerous to list … puppy raisers, fellow alumni, incredible GDB staff, so many friends, and all in the GDB family. You can follow our journeys at:

Theresa Stern & Dario, Alumni Association Director

It is difficult to express how much the partnerships I have shared with my three amazing guides, “Blossom”, “Astaire”, and “Dario”, have meant to me. They have all been so much more than a tool to help me get around. They have enriched my soul, and have touched everyone they have met in a special way. I have learned something important from each one of these dogs, “Blossom” taught me to be brave, “Astaire”, taught me to not take life too seriously, and “Dario”, the eternal optimist teaches me every day, to be persistent and keep hope alive. From the bottom of my heart I want to thank everyone who has made these partnerships possible, from the kennel staff who stayed up all night to make sure these pups were born healthy, to the volunteer puppy raisers, donors, trainers, and accountants who made sure the heating bills are paid on time, keeping the kennels warm at night (everyone forgets the accountants), and also a big thank you to my fellow alumni who serve to inspire me every day!
George Kerscher & Mikey, GDB Board Chair

As an infant Buster, a Black Lab, monitored my crib. When I was six, for Christmas my parents brought in a beautiful German Shepard puppy named Prince. Over the years dogs have always been a part of my life. I knew RP (Retinitis pigmentosa) would eventually take my sight, but I also wanted to wait until I really needed a guide dog. In 1999, at the age of 49, I went to GDB and received Nesbit my first wonderful guide. His Eulogy is at:
In 2008, I received Mikey, who is at my feet right now. It is just days before Christmas and I cannot help but recognize that GDB has given me two incredible gifts. I want to say thank you to everybody who makes this magic happen: the volunteers that do everything under the sun, the puppy raisers, the GDB staff, The Alumni Association Board, the GDB Board and of course our generous donors. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays and thank you for the furry gift who is now licking my face.

Melissa Hudson & Camry, Outreach Co-chair, Nominating Chair & Chapter Coordinator 

Guide Dogs for the Blind has given me the most beautiful gifts I've ever received - my three guide dogs: Anya, Zorro and Camry. They have each opened up my world, literally and figuratively and put a smile back on my face!  ClichĂ© but true, it's a gift that keeps on giving...not only giving me independence, but also lifelong friendships with other GDB alumni, puppy raisers and GDB staff. I am so grateful and appreciative for all the gifts that I continually receive! Thank you my Guide Dogs for the Blind family!!  Follow Melissa and Camry’s journeys at:

Young Golden Retriever guide dog puppy wears the green puppy coat and sits inside of an empty harness.

Maile George & Jasmine, Outreach Co-chair
24/7 and 365 days a year, my gift is my guide dog, Jasmine. She’s the only one who can make me laugh just by being herself, and she always seems to be ready to play, to comfort, and to snuggle. Without fail, she enthusiastically guides me through anything, anywhere, and in any kind of weather, and she never calls in sick! Besides her expertise as a guide dog, which is pretty amazing in itself, Jasmine is also the first guide dog to be allowed to be cross-trained as a medical alert dog. I am grateful to Guide Dogs for the Blind for being open to conducting this experiment jointly with an organization called Dogs4Diabetics. Jasmine is now certified to warn me before my blood sugar drops dangerously low. Her selfless gift is my independence, my freedom from fear and a happy heart. I feel inadequate as I try to reciprocate by feeding her the right amount of quality food, providing healthy treats at appropriate times, including plenty of work and play in her daily activities, brushing her teeth, grooming her and visiting her vet when it’s necessary. Though I felt as though my life was over when I  became blind as a  result of diabetic retinopathy, I’m happy to say that ever since I picked up Egan’s harness that first time back in 1985, my life has been full. Jasmine is my fifth guide dog, so I guess I can say that guide dogs are the gifts that just keep on giving! I am so grateful for the gift of Egan, Acorn, Huntley, Flanders and Jasmine.

Michelle Miller & Tango, Alumni Association Secretary and Grad Call Coordinator

The Ambassador

The gift of a guide dog is so heartfelt and pure
To some bystanders the relationship may feel or look like a glittery blur
The Ambassador of happiness: Tango is his name
Nothing but unconditional love is what I can claim
Traveling together by boat, train, or hot air balloon
And as liberating as a butterfly leaving the safety of her cocoon
The bond we share is more precious than a gift
Daily we venture out never adrift
The Ambassador of Happiness both him and I
Share love and a bond larger than the sea or the sky!

Gary Norman & Pilot, Alumni Association Board Member

On behalf of Pilot, an active guide and Langer, who is retired; the Normans of Maryland, express Happy Holidays! The life of my family and the life of my extended family are deeply enriched by the guide dog life style. Among the many lessons and gifts they provide is that there is beauty and power in partnerships.

A Yellow Lab guide dog in harness sits next you a young Golden Retriver guide dog puppy wearing a green coat.

Samantha Adams & Lotto, Communications Committee Chair

I never wanted to be one of those blind people who were defined by her inability to see and I think I have succeeded in this desire; however, I think I am defined by my guides.  Having recently said farewell to my second retired guide, I had time to mourn and therefore consider the role of my guides in my life over the last 18 years. I have concluded that my guides have defined me. They complete me and add dimension and meaning to my life. They are and always will be a part of who I am. My guides were and continue to be my constant companion and confidant; they share the good, the bad and the ugly and they keep coming back for more. During this holiday season, take time to remember the guides of the past and celebrate all that they brought to your lives…then give your current guide an ear scratch and a snuggle to let them know how much they are loved. Happy Holidays to all and take time to remember what really matters.

Terry Christensen & Zane, Alumni Association Vice Chair

Recently, Zane and I traveled to Boston for the History of Science Society’s Annual Conference. Here again, thanks to our training together, Zane and I were able to travel independently from Philadelphia to Boston, then work our way from the Amtrak Station to the conference hotel. Navigating around the conference presented its own challenges. The subject area sessions were scattered on three different levels of the hotel with only fifteen minutes in between. Candidly, I cannot imagine getting around in a timely fashion if I had been following a white cane. Of course, successful navigation at a reasonable pace of travel is far from the whole story.
In the months between [my second guide] Dutton’s death and being partnered with Zane, I relearned how socially isolating a white cane can be. For one reason or another it seems that very few people are inclined to initiate a conversation with someone who they view as “disabled”. Here, it is important to keep the real purpose of these conferences in mind. The research presented at these events can easily (and efficiently) be disseminated by electronically. The real point of an academic conference is to bring together people who have similar research interests such that we might cross-pollinating each other’s thinking. If I speak with the thirty people or so that I already know, I will have gained nothing from the process and wasted a good deal of money. With Zane by my side however, I was able to productively engage with a number of new acquaintances.
All in all, it was another reminder how much having a guide empowers me. I came away from the conference with a reinvigorated sense of purpose. Many friends (old and new) commented on the value of my scholarship. Others encouraged me to keep going on my biography of the theoretical physicist John Archibald Wheeler. Having hit something of a snag, on this project, it was very important for me to have this sort of constructive feedback. The plain truth is that, without a guide dog, I would have never attempted the trip.    

A Yellow Lab guide dog shakes hands with her partner.

We wish you the happiest of holiday seasons and a blessed 2014!

For more information about the alumni association, please visit:

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Avery and Natalie's Guide Dogs Project

Avery Williams and Natalie Schrum are 3rd grade students at John Wetton Elementary School in Gladstone, Oregon. When their teacher, Mrs. Vierra, announced to the class that they would be doing a project on an animal of their choice and write facts about it, they knew right away that their project would be on Guide Dogs.

Close up of guide dogs project with an image of a puppy and surrounding text.
Avery and her family are currently puppy sitters with the "Pups with Vision" puppy raising club in Portland. She and Natalie love dogs and Avery's grandmother, who is the club leader, brought Kuni in to the classroom when he was just five months old to participate in reading  a book about Guide Dogs. They are hoping that Kuni will make one more visit before school lets out for the year.
Avery and Natalie (smiling) hold up their school project together
Thank you girls for all your love and support!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Newshounds: Guide Dogs for the Blind in the News!

ESPN Story: GDB Grad Jake Olson Makes High School Football Team -

Guide Dog Prudy Returns Home -

GDB Graduate and U.S. Paralympic Skier Danelle Umstead -

Yahoo Voices - Belo Cipriani: A Guide in The Dark -

Shasta County Guide Dog Puppy Raisers -

GDB Youth Scholarship Winner -

Today Show: Guide Dog O'Neil Out-of-Control Car Story -

Guide Dog Puppy Delivery in Lemoore, CA -

GDB Graduate Kathy Austin in Chicago -

Puppy Truck Deliveries in Arizona -

Modesto High School Student Trains Guide Dog Puppies in Training -

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Grateful: A Walk with Lava

By: Marlene Dunaway, GDB Graduate

It is 7:00 AM in the morning. I know because my internal alarm clock insists that I open my eyes. The news says the weather will be sunny and warm, and I think to myself, “Yes, let’s take a walk on the greenbelt today.” As I roll over to the edge of the bed, I feel a soft kiss on my lips as Lava, my black Labrador guide dog, does her graceful “downward dog” stretch, reminding me that I must do that myself. Lava lies down by my bed and patiently waits. Occasionally she groans just to let me know she is there and getting hungry. When I do get out of bed, she romps around me, tail wagging, and dashes to the kitchen and back again to see if I am also coming. After eating enthusiastically and taking a short outside potty break, she is willing to relax in her bed while I get dressed and do my daily morning tasks. She knows I am getting ready to take a walk.

I get my sunglasses, hat, water and snacks for Lava and me. Then I put on her leash and she glides into the harness with little effort. I give her kisses on the nose and tell her she is now my eyes and I want her to focus and take care of me. She is now in her serious mode and lies down and waits until I get the key in the door, turn off the lights, and do a couple of other things I have forgotten to attend to.

Finally, we are on our way. Before I leave the house, I say to myself, “What will we encounter today? I hope there are no loose or aggressive dogs on our walk. I hope the sidewalk will be clear of toys, buckets, and anything else.” Then I put all my fears aside and say “forward” to Lava. Immediately, I am propelled at a fast-paced clip in the direction I tell her to go. We whisk around the pile of leaves in the way. We avoid the small chair sitting in the middle of the sidewalk and stop when a car’s door is left open in our path. I’m not even sure what we are avoiding, but I know I feel a flow of movement and a freedom I can’t get any other time. I am invigorated as I crunch on the leaves beneath my feet, smell the aroma of the Asian noodles and the teriyaki chicken or the enchilada sauce and chilies simmering as I wind my way past the row of inviting houses. I almost want to knock on a door to get a clearer image of what is really cooking. Lava sees and hears everything: squirrels darting up the trees, children shouting as they play on the swings, dogs, bicyclists, and strollers. Some people say “Good morning” while others avoid getting too close. No matter. Lava dutifully continues her pace without getting distracted by the environment. I praise her as we move, and sometimes we find a bench where she rests and enjoys some extra petting.

I feel brave when I am with Lava. I don’t have to see what is lurking within the pockets of shadows and light. She takes me right through them without hesitation. She remembers where the bench I like to sit on is located, and she knows the correct doors to enter at the restaurants I frequent. She stops at curbs or stairs to alert me or uses the flat part of a curb so we don’t have to stop. When we go to a restaurant or go shopping, she patiently waits for hours while I talk to my friends or look at items to purchase. She even helps us find the car when we struggle to remember where we parked.  

I am so grateful for my lovely Lava that at times I am overwhelmed with emotion. It is a gift I treasure, and I am content to explore my new world with this amazing companion.


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Breeder's Digest for September 2013

Breeder’s Digest
September 2013


Litter Announcements

Labrador Retrievers

Golden Retrievers

Labrador-Golden Crosses

New Breeders
Labrador Retrievers:  Glory – raised in CA;  Paris – raised in CA

Lab-Golden Crosses:   Royale – raised in CA 

Golden Retrievers:  Siefkin – raised in AZ

Making a PACTT

By Jim Price

Months of planning, organizing, training and coordination came together recently at the launch of a new therapy dog program for GDB career change dogs in the Portland, Ore., area. Known as PACTT (Portland Area Canine Therapy Teams), the program is a partnership between Guide Dogs for the Blind and DoveLewis Animal Hospital. Last week, the first PACTT team (therapy dog and handler) made its debut therapy visit.

On the GDB side, Community Field Representative Deana Allen coordinates the program. “DoveLewis had a therapy dog program for a while that was disbanded for a variety of reasons,” she said. “Their CEO Ron Morgan wanted to have another and this time he wanted to partner with GDB.”
It made a lot of sense to both organizations to tap into the GDB career-change community. “Many of the people who adopt career change dogs are GDB puppy raisers and they have a lot of skill,” Deana said. “They know their dogs very well, and the dogs are used to being out in public.”

Moon lends a little love to Juanita Murphy at Emeritus Senior Living in Vancouver, Wash., as handler Lisa Locke looks on
Moon lends a little love to Juanita Murphy at Emeritus Senior Living in Vancouver, Wash., while handler Lisa Locke looks on 
Under the agreement with DoveLewis, GDB’s role is to train and evaluate the PACCT teams, while DoveLewis would take care of coordinating and scheduling site visits to places interested in having therapy dogs visit. “I'm very excited about the possibilities,” said Kathy Loter, DoveLewis’s animal assisted therapy program coordinator. “I have so many ideas of where we can take the program. There are the traditional hospitals, assisted living facilities, etc. but opportunities also exist in the court system, with organizations helping children, and in domestic violence situations. I'm scheduled to go on a ride-along with the county sheriff's department, for example. All I need are the teams. We plan to have 16 or 17 by the end of the year, and 70 by the end of next year.”

Janet Schultz and Salsa during therapy dog evaluation at the GDB dorm.
Janet Schultz and Salsa during therapy dog evaluation at the GDB dorm
To create the new program, Deana said, “I first had to determine what a therapy dog needed to do. I looked at other programs, actually became accredited through another program with my own dog, and made a few visits with teams to see exactly how they interacted with the people they visited.” She then developed the training curriculum and assessment criteria. The first class had four teams and the second one had three.

Lisa Locke and her dog Moon visit the Emeritus Senior Living’s recreation room, Vancouver, Wash.
Lisa Locke and her dog Moon visit the Emeritus Senior Living’s recreation room, Vancouver, Wash.
Vic Bowden of Vancouver, Wash., went through the program with her yellow Lab, Sherbert. She and her husband raised seven puppies for GDB. “We adopted both our third and sixth dogs that we raised for GDB,” Vic said. “I discovered early on that my purpose isn't just to raise guide dogs. Every one of our dogs has changed people's lives in one way or another. I used to go almost every day to see my mother-in-law when she was in a nursing home and I just loved to see how much the people loved to see our dog. We visited from person to person to person. In addition, my husband taught an anger management class at our church and he would always take whatever dog we were raising. He said he could watch the people in the class who were so closed up and angry, just relax and calm down while petting a dog.”

Elaine Wilderman of Bethany, Oregon and her dog Clark are one of the teams recently certified to do therapy work
Elaine Wilderman of Bethany, Oregon and her dog Clark are one of the teams recently certified to do therapy work
The first official PACCT visit was by Lisa Locke of Hockinson, Wash., with her yellow Lab, Moon. The duo visited the Emeritus Senior Living facility in Vancouver, Wash. Locke and Moon visited with several residents and Moon generated smiles wherever she went, especially from one particular resident named Juanita. “Bye Moon!” Juanita said. “I can't wait for you to come see me again.”

Here’s to many more visits and smiles in the future. It’s our PACCT!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Alumni Connections: Reach for the Stars Scholarship

By: Samantha Adams

“They walk among us.” This is a phrase usually associated with those silly e-mail messages my family sends announcing the Darwin awards for the year. Customarily, this phrase is somewhat derogatory; however, I am choosing to put an awe struck spin on it. They walk among us. “They” are the remarkable members of the GDB family who are out there in the world working with their guides and inspiring all people to strive to do their best; to push the limits of self. 

You may or may not be aware that the Alumni Board of GDB has been vested with the responsibility of selecting a scholarship recipient every year. The scholarship is called the “Reach for the Stars” scholarship and exists due to the generosity of a GDB graduate, Ms. Gina Harper of Davis, California. The value of the scholarship is $1500.

This year, the nominating committee of the Alumni Board was charged with an especially daunting task of selecting one recipient out of a large number of truly remarkable candidates. This predicament was conveyed to Ms. Harper in the context of updating her on the progress of the committee.  Following this comment, Ms. Harper contacted the committee chair and offered an additional scholarship of $1500.

The scholarship recipients were announced at the banquet at the Alumni Reunion on October 5, 2013. I am pleased to introduce to you, two remarkable young women who I am proud to identify as part of our GDB family.

Ms. Cristina Jones travels with guide dog, Kingsley. She is a graduate of California State University, Fullerton. This fall she embarked upon a great adventure across the pond. She is studying music in London England at the prestigious Royal Academy of Music pursuing a Masters of Arts in Voice Performance with an emphasis in Opera Performance - this is a two year program. Ms. Jones explained to the nominating committee that she is required to learn about six pieces of music per week and these pieces are in several languages, including English. Going to school in England means that she does not have the benefit of the ADA and therefore; she finds herself incurring additional costs to get braille music.She anticipates that the scholarship will greatly help with the purchase of braille paper. Ms. Jones is not one to be discouraged by hard work and long roads. After this program, she intends to audition for opera schools and ultimately work as an opera singer professionally.
Our second recipient is Ms. Natalie Martiniello of Montreal, Canada and her guide Carlina. She is a graduate of McGill University in Montreal where she received a Bachelor of Arts in English and Education and she is currently pursuing a Master’s program in Vision Rehabilitation Teaching at the University of Montreal. It is worth noting that the University of Montreal is an institution where all of the courses are conducted in French. Ms. Martiniello speaks English an Italian; however, prior to her enrollment in this program, she would not have called herself fluent in French. Nevertheless, she is learning French to a level which meets the academic standards of her chosen course of study. Her goal is to teach visually impaired and blind people braille and technology and ultimately pursue her doctorate and teach vision rehabilitation professionals. She told the nominating committee that her Masters’ thesis would discuss the role of technology in relation to the use of braille. Ms. Martiniello is one who embraces the challenges of life and rises beyond them. Her first guide led her out of Dawson College during the course of a shooting incident and then went on to be by her side through lengthy chemotherapy. Neither of these incidents have halted Ms. Martiniello’s journey forward. She continues to march forward in search of her goals and dreams.

Are you inspired yet? These are but two examples of our GDB family out there “reaching for the stars.” They walk among us.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Raising Rue - My Speech at GDB Graduation

By: Amber May

My experience raising Rue was enlightening to say the least. From the first day I picked her up here at GDB her instinct has always been to listen and watch. My little Rue was never the most outgoing puppy in our club, but she was quite the firecracker at home. Perpetually instigating trouble between the other dogs in our household. However, I don’t feel like there’s much need to tell you more about her personality. Many of you already know how these dogs are so wonderful and full of life and love, but Rue is my fourth puppy that I’ve raised and I think I’m finally starting to see a glimpse of the bigger picture here.

Rue licks Amber's face

Spending most of my time isolated with Rue in my apartment I realized that she actually makes me a better person. Still to this day I think of her when I’m angry and scared or when I don’t know what to do and just seeing her face or filling my hands with her fur brings me back to a place of peace inside that I can’t achieve on my own. Reality makes us humans move so fast and most of the time our brains are only half present. Having a guide dog puppy makes you slow down and literally smell the flowers sometimes. Yet there’s something even more special in all this, GDB has given me the tools to give genuine meaning to a dog’s life. The way they look at us makes you feel like a hero, but these dogs are the real heroes here. They don’t take love and affection for granted.

Rue on stage at graduation with her new handler and Amber next to them

There is so much joy in raising these puppies. All my life I’ve just wanted to make a difference and with a puppy like Rue I can be the difference, so I have to thank Guide Dogs, and my club, and my family for everything they’ve done to allow me to continue raising puppies wherever I may be in my life.

Friday, October 25, 2013

My Week 2 Experience of the Two Week Training Program at GDB!

By: Jane Neglia, GDB Outreach Manager

I forgot to mention in my previous post that one night during my first week of training, a yoga class was offered and it was fabulous! The stretching felt so good after all the walking we had been doing.  Susanne, the yoga instructor is also amazing at describing the poses verbally. On Sunday evening, massages were offered, $1 per minute, and it was the most amazing massage I have ever had!  This got me all ready and loosened up for week number two. The only down side of my massage was that I thought the massage therapist was totally blind, so I decided to just wear my PJ’s, well he was totally sighted, and what a sight I was in my plaid flannel pajama bottoms and long sleeve T!
This is the week where I think all the fun stuff happens, we get free access to the play paddocks so we can cut loose with our dogs, we get to go on escalators if we choose, ride the buses and trains, and we work more customized routes which are meant to simulate our home environments. We also worked with the dog booties on; I love the "clop, clop, clop" sound of their shoes when walking around! I chose to work a route over to the mall which is across the street from GDB, and I also learned an exercise route through a neighborhood that is also across from GDB. My classmate wanted more exposure to busy intersections, buses, and trains, so she and Carol the instructor would go off and work those areas. Another student in class lives in a busy urban city, so she and her trainer spent several days in a row working in the beautiful city of San Francisco.
Throughout this time, we also got all of our grooming kits and Carol went over brushing, teeth brushing, and ear cleaning. We also received our Heartgard and Frontline which of course is provided FREE of charge to you for the life of your dog, but now it is even easier because all you have to do is call the support center and it will be mailed directly to your house! We then learned “fun things about our dogs,” visited the vet clinic and received the health history on our dogs, and took our group class and individual ID photos. Some people in class even began receiving calls from their puppy raisers, and I think they all made it to graduation, so that is exciting! Those of us who had been through the four week training program in the past or even the three week training were questioning how we did it? We were all so tired, but energized at the same time! Not to mention I know that I was carrying around at least five extra pounds from all the yummy food!

If I had to highlight some things about my two week training and the New Student Residence, here is what I would say, and in no particular order:
  •  There is still down time (much needed), but a lot more one-on-one time with your instructor!
  •  Training staff seems more relaxed and easy going, they don’t seemed rushed
  •  The food rewards really makes a huge difference in the work my guide dog would do, it kept him engaged and motivated!!
  •  Traveling around in mini vans is much more efficient, and again the one-on-one time with the instructor and the one other student is great!
  •  Having access to the relieving patio directly out your own door is fabulous - there is still a relieving schedule, but it is a bit more flexible.
  •  The food of course!
  •  The nursing staff is awesome and so supportive.
  •  Having my own room was really nice, and the coffee pot in the room was great, thanks Theresa!
  •  Meeting new people from around the country.
  •  As a re-train, watching those getting their first dog and the emotions involved with this is priceless.
  •  The adult learning approach is awesome.
  •  Instructors were constantly checking in with me to see how things were going, positives/negatives, and coming up with solutions if need be. 
  •  Such a supportive, energetic, and encouraging training staff - it is so obvious that they love what they do, thank you!
I know there are still a lot of people out there skeptical about this two week training approach, especially for those getting their first dog. Some of the main reasons GDB was able to shorten the time is because of the 2:1 student instructor ratio, using mini vans for transportation, and the class lectures being provided ahead of time. If anything you are getting much more one-on-one hands-on instruction in the two weeks than you ever did in the four or three week program, and I went through both of these. Because of this, the instructors are much more thorough and a lot more material can be covered. Not to mention the customization of the program; getting to work in areas that are going to be most appropriate to you in your particular home environment. 
If you have any questions or would like to speak to me directly, you can call me at 800-295-4050 Ext. 4176 or email me at - I would be happy to chat with you any time!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

My Week 1 Experience of the Two Week Training Program at GDB!

By: Jane Neglia, GDB Outreach Manager

With a heavy heart, I said good-bye to my active guide Anja on Sunday September 22nd and checked into the new Student Residence at Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) in San Rafael for my two week training experience. I had very mixed emotions about leaving Anja for these two weeks, but I knew she would be in good hands at home with my fiancĂ© Wayne and our pet dog Belle.

If you haven’t visited our new Student Residence yet, you are in for a real treat. It just opened in May of this year, and it is a beautiful space. Each student has his/her own room with all the comforts of home: television, coffee pot, small refrigerator, recliner, a large private bathroom, and your own back door that leads to a small patio with table and chairs. You’re also connected directly to the relieving patio - we no longer have to gather at the lounge door and line up one at a time around the relieving circle, woop woop! Beyond the relieving patio are three private gated paddocks to the Student Residence for play time with your new guide dog! The residence also has a workout room, laundry facilities, a student lounge with a large TV, bean bag chairs and vending machines for those late night munchies! There is an indoor grooming room, two wet rooms for those rainy days, and a private student patio with a Jacuzzi tub! The dining room has floor to ceiling windows, and a wonderful kitchen staff, and of course very delicious meals and desserts, I am sure to gain a few pounds!

Sunday was just a settling in day, we were all oriented to our private rooms individually, and then to the Student Residence as a group. We also were able to get acquainted with one another – what a fun group of people! There are three people here for their first guide dog, and three for their successor dog. After dinner and a few more housekeeping items, it was off to bed early with excitement and anticipation in our hearts and minds, as we will all be getting our dogs tomorrow afternoon! What will it be? What is his/her name? There have been a lot of recent changes at GDB, but some things will always remain the same, such as the emotional impact dog day has on all of us! Even for myself who is getting a new dog only for these two weeks, knowing at the end I will have to say good-bye, I couldn’t wait to meet my new partner!

Monday morning we met our instructor team – we were each paired up with one other student and one instructor for the next two weeks. With the 2:1 instructor/student ratio, I was sure to receive a lot of one on one time! We also travel from location to location in mini vans, just the three of us, which allows for more time for discussions about our routes, trouble-shooting, handling techniques, etc. We spent the morning learning the basic guide dog work commands, foot and body positioning, left and right turns, hand gestures, healing position, leash gestures, leash cues, and leash corrections. I also learned a new technique called the “time-out” technique. You would pull your dog close to your side and hold the leash close to the collar. You stand still and quiet for 10 seconds. The dog does not receive any feedback from you during this time, and it also allows you to take a breath and re-focus.

I was paired up with a first time guide dog user, and it was wonderful to watch her learn and absorb all of this new information. This also helped reinforce everything for me, as I would be working with a brand new dog to me. I would also have to be careful not to fall into my old habits that I have with my current guide. Our instructor Carol was so patient and thorough in her instruction, and because she only had the two of us to work with, we had a lot of time, and weren’t rushed through the information. Finally, we explored the harness and practiced putting it on and taking it off of “Wheeler”, the pretend guide dog on wheels. Then we went for Juno walks around the campus (where the instructor acts as the guide dog) so Carol could get one last feel for our pace, to ensure that they made the right dog match for us. We practiced our turns, leash work, and the time-out technique. Dog time was quickly approaching, first lunch and then we get to hear about and meet our new partners!

After lunch we all gathered in one of the resource rooms and learned about our new dogs. There were some tears of joy, and a lot of “oohs” and “ahhs” when they read all the names. To protect the innocent, I am not able to share the name of the dog I received, but let’s just say he is an adorable black lab with really big paws! When Carol brought him to my room, he was excited and playful. She left us to get acquainted, and as I predicted, I fell in love! The rest of the day was spent getting to know our new partners, learning to walk and heel our dog, positioning them at the dining table, feeding, watering, and relieving them.

The next couple of days were spent learning a route designed by our instructor in downtown San Rafael. This was a purposeful route with a destination, ours being a coffee shop where we would sit for about 10 minutes after the route and talk about issues/challenges we encountered, what worked well, what needed to be improved, etc. Then we would work the second half of the route back to the downtown lounge. Working to learn this one particular route successfully with my guide dog in the beginning of training helped to establish trust and confidence in one another. This is why GDB requires three established routes in your home area, so that you have this time when you get home to work these routes and establish this bond and trust with your new partner.

The positive reinforcement of food rewards has been a part of GDB’s philosophy for quite some time, but they have upped the ante since I received my current guid Anja in 2009. Food is such a powerful tool in motivating your dog to work and work well. Food was used heavily this first week, rewarding all good obedience type behavior and successful guide work behaviors: stopping at elevation changes, avoiding obstacles, ignoring distractions, stopping at doorways, etc. Because my dog was rewarded so heavily with food, a primary reinforcer, I had his focus completely on me very early on in our training process. In fact, while sitting in our destination coffee shop the first day, a couple commented on how attentive he was to me, just staring up at me. If food is what will motivate my dog to do his job and do it well, I am going to continue to use food to keep him motivated. Another thing I found interesting is that when his primary trainers would come into the room, there was little reaction from him. He remained focused on me, and our bond was only certain to strengthen as time went on!

As part of GDB’s adult learning approach to training, all of the lecture material that pertains to class time and going home with your guide dog is provided prior to arriving on campus and is also available on our website This allows you to read and study the information ahead of time so that when you get to class, you are familiar with what you will be learning, and it will always be available for review once you get home. This will enhance the learning process and will allow for more time working with your new guide dog, and less time sitting in the classroom having a lecture about the various topics. Discussion questions are part of the information provided and group discussions are held daily around these questions, which I also found to be very helpful.

As the first week was wrapping up, we made our way into downtown San Francisco to work some busier intersections and more crowded sidewalks. Learning the set route in San Rafael first, gave me and my guide dog the confidence to work the busier streets in the city together – he was awesome! I also was able to watch the relationship grow between the student I was paired up with who was working with her first guide. It was amazing to watch their bond develop and her trust develop in her new partner.

In my final post I will discuss the second week of training where we worked more customized routes. Because I live here, I am a bit spoiled in that I get to practice a route that I will actually walk regularly! Stay tuned…

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Alumni Connections: GDB Alumni Chapters

By: Melissa Hudson, Chapter Coordinator

One of the many ways Guide Dogs for the Blind sets itself apart, is our amazing Alumni Association! Within our Alumni Association, we have fabulous, unique and varied Alumni Chapters, just like all of our grads! Joining an Alumni Chapter is a great way to connect with fellow guide dog handlers, puppy raisers and your community at large. Yes, GDB Alumni Chapters are open to grads, puppy raisers, community members, friends and family too!

Here is a list of our geographically-based chapters:

Colorado Alumni Chapter of GDB
The Foggy Doggies (Northern California)
GDB Handlers of the Northeast
Great White North GDB Alumni Chapter (Canada)
Guide Dog Handlers of the Midwest (Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana & Michigan)
Guide Dog Teams of Orange County (Southern California)
North State Guide Dog Handlers (Chico, CA)
Oklahoma City GDB Alumni Chapter
Reigning Canines (Portland, OR)
River City Guide Dog Users (Sacramento, CA)
San Diego Alumni Chapter (Southern California)
Sunshine Guide Dog Teams (Florida)
Big Star Dawgs (Texas)
The Greatest Paws on Earth (Utah)
Washington State GDB Alumni
Windy City Chapter (Chicago, IL)

Now, here's a list of our interest-based Alumni Chapters:

GDB Cruisers (people who love traveling via cruises)
GDB Tech Dogs (people interested in assistive technology)
Guide Dog Handlers All Ways (graduates with multiple disabilities)
Talking Dogs Alumni Chapter (people involved in the Speakers Bureau)

Here's a list of Alumni Chapters that are no longer active but, are seeking new members to help re-establish them (We need your help!):

GDB Los Angeles Guide Dogs Alumni Chapter
Greater Toronto GDB Alumni Chapter
Montana Guide Dog Handlers
Montreal Chapter

As you can tell, we have quite a fun and diverse group of Alumni Chapters! All of our Alumni Chapters are always looking for new members, so why not join one, help re-establish one or start a new one! If that sounds interesting to you, please email me directly at and I'll get you started on the path to being connected!

Each Alumni Chapter has its own meeting schedule and dynamics, whether the meetings are via conference call, in person or online. That's what's so great about our Alumni Chapters - their flexibility, love for each other and GDB! In future blog posts, we'll spotlight one of our amazing Alumni Chapters to give you a better insight, so keep checking in!

Friday, October 4, 2013

How to Work the System When Things Don't Go Quite Right with Access

By: Joe Landau, GDB graduate

In 2008 I became blind as a result of an auto accident. I suffer from a peripheral loss of vision and I am legally blind. While recovering in the hospital my niece was brilliant enough to contact Guide dogs for the Blind (GDB) to place me on a waiting list for a guide dog. Six months later, and after receiving mobility training at the Braille Institute, I arrived home with my guide dog Balsam.

Balsam is a wonderful companion and allows me to travel safely and maintain an active, independent life. In the five years Balsam and I have been a team, I rarely have encountered access issues as a result of using a guide dog. In all cases I ask for a manager and at most present an ID which shows that Balsam is a certified guide dog and we are on our way - that was until March of this year.

My partner and I decided to dine at a restaurant in Hollywood before seeing a play. A waitress greeted us at the door seated us at a table and gave us menus. A minute later she returned to say that her manager asked that we leave, so I asked to speak with the manager. The manager said that my guide dog might upset his other customers. Things went downhill from there and we left to find another place to eat. Sure I was upset and let the manager know it, but we were hungry and had plans so we left to find another restaurant.

The following week I decided to actually test what recourse I had with the restaurant owner that denied us service. Surely the disability laws should cover the situation, but how in real life does a valid claim get processed and what options are available? This is what I found:
I contacted GDB, very helpful, and among the options available, they explained I could file a grievance in writing with the Justice Department.  I wrote a short narrative of that happened and mailed it to the Justice Department in Washington D.C. Six months later I received a large packet of information including a complete copy of the ADA law. The Justice Department suggested mediation, with a third party, as long as I could convince the restaurant to participate.  If the restaurant was not willing to participate, my recourse would be to find a lawyer and sue. The Justice Department has a program in which they will pay for the mediation up to a maximum number of hours (current costs for mediation start under $1,000.00 and are based on time used). 

Meanwhile, while waiting for the justice department to respond to my letter, I checked the internet for lawyers who handle discrimination cases. I found that most listed on the web defend employers, or in this case the restaurant.  After a few phone calls I ended up with a recommendation for an attorney that would represent me. The firm’s name is Metz and Harrison LLP located in El Segundo, CA. Mr. Metz requested I send them a written recap of what occurred and offered to take my case. As long as I was successful in my lawsuit, the owners of the restaurant would pay for my attorneys’ fees and costs, as well as damages that are available to me as a victim of disability discrimination. So instead of waiting for the Justice Department material to arrive, I decided to be more proactive and signed an agreement with Metz & Harrison LLP and they filed suit in Federal Court.

Now this is where the law gets interesting. The law was written to encourage civil rights lawyers to take on discrimination cases by allowing for damages and fee-shifting provisions, which ultimately requires the owners and operators to pay for my, (the plaintiff’s) attorneys’ fees and costs.
California law provides for a minimum of $4,000 for each occurrence of discrimination, which, in my case, included the denial of service. However, there is no cap on attorneys’ fees, except as ultimately awarded by a court. As we all know, lawyers are expensive and the more the restaurant owner wanted to drag this out the higher both his and my attorneys’ fees would climb. Since all the attorneys’ fees would have to be paid by the restaurant it would have been in the owner’s best interest to settle quickly. The parties agreed to mediation with a mediator who was also a retired judge. The mediation fee of about $800.00 was split between the two parties since it was outside of the Justice Department's mediation program. Mediation is quite common in these types of cases and avoids the wait and expense of actually going to trial. We ended up settling in mediation and the restaurant will end up paying $21,000 for my attorneys’ fees and damages for not allowing me access. The amount is to be paid over a period of two years. If for some reason the restaurant fails to make payments on time, the amount of the settlement will increase to $30,000.00.  I’m not sure what the restaurant paid to his attorney for representation as their attorney stated that he was working for free as a favor to the restaurant owner. In addition, the owner was also required to post signs indicating that service animals were allowed and provide on-going staff training in regard to the law and serving people with disabilities. 

It’s not fun to be discriminated against. If the owner of the restaurant would have listened to reason, he could have saved a lot of money. In fact, he passed up the opportunity to make $100.00 by serving us dinner.   If you find yourself in a situation where you feel you have been discriminated against because of a disability and can’t find a solution with the party doing the discriminating, you may want to explore what legal remedies are available to you either through the Justice Department or through a civil rights lawyer.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Introduction to My Class Experience

By: Jane Neglia

Hi everyone, my name is Jane Neglia and I am the new Outreach Manager here at Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB)!  As Outreach Manager, it is my role to reach out and educate potential applicants and those who might refer individuals to us for a Guide Dog:Orientation and Mobility (O&M) instructors, Teachers of the Visually Impaired (TVI’s), etc. about our various programs and services. As a guide dog user myself, I have not yet experienced our two week class training program. I went through the four week training with my first guide Ari, and three weeks with my current guide Anja, and as part of my training as Outreach Manager I am going through the two week training program so that I can talk about it first hand while out presenting GDB and our services to the community. I will be receiving a different dog for this experience while Anja rests peacefully at home with my fiance waiting for my return in two weeks. So if you are considering coming to GDB for a dog, or have a dog from here, but are unclear or uncertain about the two week training program, stay tuned!      

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Small, Small World

By: Megan Minkiewicz 

What are the odds that a guide dog puppy raised in Bend, Oregon, matched with a graduate from College Station, Texas would reunite two kids who had grown up together in Kent, Washington?  Slim to none I would say. But, if you’ve been around the Guide Dogs for the Blind family long enough you start to experience the overlaps and extensions of family and friends in this tight knit world.

In February I dropped of our eighth puppy Dyson for formal training on the Oregon campus and in early May we were notified that he was matched with his partner and set to graduate! As graduation approached I had the opportunity to talk to Dyson’s handler Laura Ann. She is Dyson’s soul mate, they are made for one another and in an instant we were thick as thieves too. In our conversations she casually mentioned a friend from Washington would be attending graduation. I really didn’t give it much thought; graduation is always full of new friendly faces. After the emotional reunion and graduation ceremony, chatting up with friends and staff, Laura Ann said she wanted me to meet her friend Cathy. They had been classmates nearly 10 years ago when Cathy received her first guide dog Bombay and Laura Ann was matched with Dasher, her third guide.

As Cathy reached out to shake my hand she mentioned we had a mutual friend on Facebook. After a few rounds of attempting to try to put the pieces together she mentioned her maiden name and I blurted out “your sister was our 6th grade volleyball coach!” Cathy and I had grown up in the same community outside of Seattle, attending elementary through high school together. Cathy lost 95% of her vision in her late 20s due to diabetic eye retinopathy and has the lovely Bombay as her guide dog. The last time I saw Cathy was nearly 20 years ago at our high school graduation. Neither of us have kept up much with our classmates or attended reunions, but leave it to Guide Dogs for the Blind to reconnect us!

Megan, Laura Ann and Cathy sit smiling on a bench with their dogs

Funny how these connections are made and we reconnect in various stages of life. It truly is a small world after all! One common love for a little yellow Labrador named Dyson was all it took to bring us together.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Alumni Connections: Introducing Our GDB Alumni Board

By: Becky Andrews, Alumni Association Chair

Greetings from the 2013-2014 Alumni Association Board! Sixteen years ago, on September 17th, I took that initial walk with my first guide, Pantera. I was so thrilled! Now, with my second guide, Cricket, I am grateful for this opportunity to serve as the Alumni Association Chair. Under the direction of Theresa Stern, Alumni Association Director, our term began in July with meetings in San Rafael with members from the GDB Board of Directors. We had the opportunity to meet with Bob Burke, Interim CEO, Brad Hibbard, Director of Training Operations and Andy Mathiesen and Stuart Odell from the GDB Board of Directors. George Kerscher, Chair from the GDB Board and our liaison was also in attendance.

We also enjoyed the chance to see our beautiful new Student Residence and welcome our three newest Alumni Association board members: Leanne Bremner, Maile George and Gary Norman.  Also serving on our board: Terry Christensen, Vice Chair; Michelle Miller, Secretary; Melissa Hudson, Outreach Coordinator & Nominating Chair – Chapter Coordinator; Samantha Adams, Communications Chair; and Melanie Brunson, Advocacy Chair. Thank you to this great Alumni Association Board! You can find our bios and contact information here:  

We would love to hear from you! 

GDB Alumni Association Board stands on campus with Director of Training Brad Hibbard.

Under the direction of Theresa Stern, Alumni Association Director, and our Special Events Chair, Melissa Hudson; we have been working hard planning our upcoming Alumni Reunion: Harnessing Health and Happiness October 4-6, 2013 in San Rafael, California. We hope you can join us!
Last Thursday we had our first Speaker Series of this year - a Townhall Meeting where we loved getting the chance to connect with many of our alumni!  Mark your calendars: our next Speakers Series call in meeting will be Thursday, November 14th. Details to follow. 
Again, we would love to hear from you. My email is: For fun, leave a comment on this post - maybe share a word that describes your partnership with your guide.

Until next time, wishing you and your guide health and happiness!   

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Golden Summer

By: Susan Mooney

She came to us
a fluffy butterball
inquisitive brown eyes
open to an undiscovered world

Seasons changed while she grew

Autumn leaves blowing
in the wind like butterflies
as she munched on them --
nature's potato chips

Winter brought snow angels
four-pawed snowplowing
jumping and twisting Snoopy-like in the drifts

Spring blossoms and returning birds
a scenic backdrop as she went off to
Read to A Dog at local schools, church,
hanging out under restaurant tables,
and other venues of life in a small town

Summer arrived in time for mountain hikes,
clear streams, blowing bubbles in Junction Creek
while bobbing for rocks,
concerts, theater visits and
sleepovers with other puppy raisers

Soon this grownup Golden Girl
will head off to Guide Dog school
her world will enlarge
our world without her will shrink

But wait! The puppy truck arrives
and our joyous whirlwind begins anew

The Mooneys hold their puppy at the Puppy Truck stop

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Jeremy and Spice

By: Jim Price

He was 26 and depressed. He didn't even know it, but his wife could see it plain as day. And she came up with the perfect solution – time to get a guide dog.

Jeremy Jeffers of Los Angeles started life a bit behind everyone else. He was missing one leg and he had retinopathy of prematurity. And he had spent most of his young life proving those things aren't what make you a man. "I was in the band in middle school and for discipline you had to run around this big track. I got in trouble for something but they said I didn't have to do it because of my vision." Jeremy ran it twice.

He said he has always been sensitive to what other people say. "I didn't ever want to be 'that blind guy.'" Until recently he had enough vision to get by, even though his left eye didn't work at all. When his vision finally failed altogether (he can only detect light and dark now) it put him in a funk. "That's the thing about someone who really loves you. They can see past your poker face. I thought I was fine but Majanaye could tell. She had a friend, Nicole Bautista, who was a Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) grad and was doing great with her guide dog. She was convinced a dog would help me and she was right."

His new dog is female yellow Lab Spice, who was raised in Port Townsend, Wash., by Michael Porter and Mary Munford. "Spice is amazing," he said, subconsciously reaching down to his side for a pat. "She has a very warm personality, even though she is somewhat cautious. GDB does such a great job of matching us up. I can't imagine a more perfect dog for me." He was in class at the Oregon campus of Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Jermey hugs his guide dog Spice - a Yellow Labrador Retriever

His first walk with Spice, however, ". . .was horrible. I was so nervous. All I could think about was don't screw up this beautiful dog. I got along great with Juno. We walked. We were good. (Juno is a fake dog on wheels that students use to practice with before they get their real dogs.) Thankfully, Spice is so patient. She's like, 'Okay, Dude. I'll go with you, even though . . .' I didn't get that sense of freedom at all. I was too nervous. But then last night (his ninth day in class) we went on our first night walk and it all came together. If felt so great to just walk down the street by yourself, no worries, you know you aren't going to bump into anything – it was great. I loved it."
 Back home in LA Jeremy and Spice will be on the move. He is a musician, playing piano at two churches and for anyone else who calls. He attended a performing arts magnet high school. They asked what would be his biggest dream. He told them, and they made it happen – he played trumpet on stage while Stevie Wonder played the piano. At one point his blues group won a competition and the prize was to play with Ray Charles. He also writes and produces original music. "Music is fun. It's challenging and can be very rewarding one day then very depressing the next. But it's all worth it. I love it." During training at the Oregon campus the instructors even took Jeremy and Spice, along with another musician in the class, to a music store. "She did great," he said, his voice obviously proud.

Jeremy and his guide dog Spice walk down a sunny street

"This class has been tough," he said. In addition to his prosthetic leg, he had to endure back spasms while in Oregon as the routes are many and long, mostly through downtown Portland. "But it's all worth it. I have been hesitant to go places because I don't want to overextend my welcome with people. If I can do it myself, I will. I'd rather do that than leave a bad taste in someone's mouth. With Spice, I will be able to do a lot more networking with people. I will have a lot more independence. I'll be able to go different places, see people. Just being out by myself will make it all worthwhile."

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Puppy Raising Youth Scholarship Winners

Annually, Guide Dogs for the Blind awards scholarships to puppy raisers in their senior year of high school. This year, 17 raisers submitted applications, all of whom have outstanding scholastic achievements and community service experience within Guide Dogs and their communities.

For 2013, we were pleased to award $3,000 in scholarship funds. 

Carrie Faber holds a young guide dog puppyCarrie Faber, of Nevada County, California, received a $1,000 scholarship.  Carrie has raised guide dog puppies since she was 11. She has always loved dogs, and enjoys being part of the process of building a strong interdependent team whose lives are richer because of the partnership. She has raised seven pups: five are working guides, one is a therapy dog, one is in formal training, and one is currently a puppy in training.  In addition to puppy raising, Carrie also maintains her club’s web page on Facebook. She has taken several classes at her community college including American Sign Language classes, earning her both high school and college credits. Carrie will be attending Moorpark College and applying to their Exotic Animal Training and Management program (EATM). She hopes to work in the service animal industry in the continued effort to enhance the lives of both human and companion.

Bryan Goings in his graduation uniform with guide dog puppyBryan Goings, of Douglas County, Colorado, received an $800 scholarship.  Bryan has been part of his puppy raising club since his freshman year in high school. He is currently raising his third puppy, Armand, and his two previous puppies, Keller and Maximus, are working guides. Bryan has been part of his high school’s World Language National Honor Society and received a varsity letter in Cross Country. Bryan also participated in a week long mission trip to Costa Rica to help construct chicken coops for an impoverished church. Bryan has been chosen to be part of the Honors Program while attending Colorado State University to pursue a degree in Mechanical Engineering beginning fall 2013. 

Blaise Wittenauer-Lee with guide dog puppyBlaise Wittenauer-Lee, of Washington County, Oregon, received a $600 scholarship.  Blaise has been involved in puppy raising since she was 11. She and her family have raised 6 puppies, among them are Chantilly who is a working dog in Tennessee, and Kirin, a breeder.  Blaise's most recent puppy Delia, is in the formal training on the Oregon campus. Blaise is also a dedicated student athlete. She earned Scholastic All American in swimming this year, was the recipient of OSAA award of excellence for high school swimming, is a Junior National qualifier, and a state and school record holder in her events. She is a member of the National Honor Society.  Blaise worked for a woman's shelter for her Christian Service Project at Jesuit High School and was the recipient of the school's 201 Service Award, completing over 200 hours of community service in her junior and senior year.  Blaise will be attending Seattle University with an academic and athletic scholarship and plans to study Biology.

Colleen Bohannan with guide dog puppy at Christmas eventColleen Bohannan, of Solano County, California, received a $600 scholarship.  Colleen has been involved with her puppy raising club since the age of nine. She is currently raising her 8th puppy, a Golden Retriever named Freedom. Colleen credits the Guide Dog program for teaching her great responsibility and a sense of community. In addition to puppy raising, Colleen is a California State 4-H Ambassador, a member of her school's leadership program, a Varsity athlete, and a lifeguard at her local pool. She graduated as a member of her school's National Honors Society and part of American Canyon High School's inaugural first class. Colleen will be attending Oregon State University in the fall, majoring in Athletic Training with the hopes of earning a Master's degree in Physical Therapy.

Honorable Mention
Anne Dansie

Thursday, August 22, 2013

New Collaboration with the Minnesota Guide Dogs Breeding Center

Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) is excited to announce a new collaboration! GDB has several mutually beneficial relationships with guide and service dog schools around the world and our collaborative efforts consist of donating and accepting puppies and adult dogs, as well as annually participating in numerous co-breeding exchanges. Each collaboration builds a relationship with a school and a community, leads us to future opportunities to expand our knowledge and experience, increases the prospects for greater canine genetic diversity, and further spreads the gift of mobility and independence throughout the world.

Recently GDB participated in another type of collaboration with the Minnesota Guide Dogs Breeding Center (MGDBC). The MGDBC was founded in 1989 by a captain of industry and philanthropist, Paul Keymer. Mr. Keymer visited guide and service dog schools around the world and realized that introducing collaborative breeding efforts would dramatically enhance progress in reproductive practices, canine selection strategies and provision of services for the visually impaired. Toward this goal, he founded the MGDBC and contacted key schools to create the Original Collaborative Breeding Group:
  • The Seeing Eye (United States)
  • Guiding Eyes for the Blind (United States)
  • Guide Dogs for the Blind (United States)
  • KNGF (the Netherlands)
  • Guide Dogs, Victoria (Australia)
  • Guide Dogs for the Blind Association (United Kingdom)
Mr. Keymer initiated staff training and provided the state-of-the-art equipment which enabled the original members to share in vitro canine reproductive techniques while also breeding and donating puppies produced at the MGDBC to the other schools, serving as a role model for collaboration.

To date, collaboration continues to flourish. The six original schools continue to benefit from the opportunity to share knowledge and experience and to further initiatives to expand gene pools, educate veterinary staff about techniques specific to working with assistance dogs and to improve the health and well-being of guide dogs around the world.

Once collaboration between the six original schools was well established, Mr. Keymer donated all the MGDBC adult breeding stock to other schools and stopped producing puppies. Since that time the MGDBC has continued to support the Guide Dog industry by whelping and rearing litters of puppies for other schools. MGDBC has developed a program for the early socialization of puppies and they usually select one school each summer to work with. This year Guide Dogs for the Blind was honored to be selected for this collaboration. Golden Retriever brood Amaya was selected and traveled to Minnesota while pregnant; she then whelped and reared her litter at the MGDBC. Once the puppies were weaned, MGDBC staff member, Kelly Schulz, accompanied Amaya back to GDB and spent a week at our San Rafael campus learning more about our program and exchanging ideas. Similarly, Breeding Manager, Jenna Bullis and Puppy Raising Program Specialist, Sharon Kret traveled to Minnesota to observe their program and Amaya’s puppies before they left to join their new GDB raiser families.

Young puppy sits in socialization yard

We greatly value our collaboration with MGDBC and look forward to continuing to work together in the future. We are very excited for the volunteer puppy raisers who will begin working with the puppies from the Amaya x Amici litter this week. We are grateful for their help and the assistance of all our volunteers and donors in fulfilling Guide Dog for the Blind’s mission.

Photos of Amaya x Amici puppies:

Video of Amaya x Amici puppies:

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Gift

By: Marissa Pounds

Sierra and Marissa Pounds and Jessica Harpel along with GDB puppy "Vino"

The pure and true love that those puppies give when they are put into your arms. The wag of their tails, or the wiggle of their bodies, even the licks of their tongues on your face. And the pure love that pours out of both of you when you press a kiss onto their head when you say goodbye.

The perseverance that keeps you moving through times of wanting to give up, or that are amazingly hard and never seem to work right. To push through the tears and walk away from your best friend and companion of the past year.

A trust that is clearly visible in those soft brown eyes that search for your own when unsure or scared. The trust you see the dog with the same soft brown eyes have in their blind partner and likewise. A trust that makes unforgettable memories.

The loss of a friend who didn't ask, and was content with no answers. Who was happy with a hug in the morning, and passed no judgement. A friend who was meant for greater things, who was born to lead, and who wagged their tail as tears streamed down your face in sadness of the goodbye that would happen in just a moment.

Then came the joy. Months later, realizing that the friend you had given up, had been given to someone else as a gift that brought light to them while still in the dark. The prince who the girl had been searching for through the darkness, years before he came. A gift she could only describe as her "Happily Ever After."

This gift you helped create shines like a radiating star, the pure love between your companion and their partner. A bond full of trust and soon to come unforgettable memories. A perseverance that will never give up, and always keep going. And, through the loss and the joy, this true love will never stop, and never end in the partnership that is a person who is blind and their guide dog.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Understanding Mismarks

By: GDB Breeding Manager Jenna Bullis

Recently we posted a litter announcement for the Auberge x Tom litter and shared with you all that “Jicama” was career changed due to a prominent facial mismark.  Since then we have received many questions and comments so we thought we would give you some more “Fun Facts from the Breeding Department”. Get ready for your biology lesson for the day!

In order to understand what caused Jicama’s mismark, we have to cover some basics first…there are spots on the canine genes called “loci” (or “locus” for a single spot) that deal with different coat colors. There are thousands of these loci, and it gets pretty complicated really quickly. Fortunately for us, in Labradors (and Goldens) we really only need to focus on two loci to determine whether a dog will be black, chocolate, or yellow: B and E.

Jicama puppy shown with prominent black facial mismark
B comes in two varieties: black and brown. Black (B) is dominant, brown (b) is recessive, and the color applies not only to the dog’s fur, but to some extent all of the areas of pigment we see: nose, lips, foot pads, and around the eyes. If the dog in question has even one copy of the dominant (B) gene, s/he will have a black coat and black nose, etc. Only if the dog has two copies of the recessive gene (b) will their coat and nose look brown.

So where do yellow Labradors and Golden Retrievers fit in? For them, we need to go to a different locus: E, which works a little differently. In recessive form (e), it suppresses or prevents the coat color of the B locus from expressing itself. In other words, the black or chocolate color won’t show up in the fur if the dog is carrying e/e. Instead, their coats will be yellow. Recessive (e) doesn’t remove the other areas of pigment however – they should have black noses, or at least a black rim around their noses, if they have B/B or B/b on that first locus. If they have b/b on that first locus, then those other areas of pigment will be liver colored. Couple that with e/e for recessive yellow coat color and we see a yellow coated dog with liver b/b pigment.

In a way, the coat colors are like a ladder. The first rung (or loci) tells you if the dog is black or brown, then the 2nd rung takes that black or brown dog and if double recessive, turns its fur yellow.
Golden Retrievers are genetically black (BB ee) but look golden (yellow) to reddish due to their (ee) genes restricting the development of black pigment.

So how does all this relate to Jicama? Sometimes when an embryo is developing one of its skin cells undergoes a mutation. Any cell that is produced by this mutant cell dividing also contains the mutation.  Jicama had mutation in a skin cell in which (ee) became (Ee). This allowed the black pigment to form in cells descended from that one original mutant cell. This phenomenon is well documented in Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers. These dogs are sometimes referred to as Mosaics. This same phenomenon has also been observed in domestic cats and in ranched foxes. It’s not a really a birthmark, it’s just a somatic mutation.

The cells responsible for reproduction originate from a different place than the skin cells therefore are not affected by this mutation and thus a dog which has a somatic mutation (or mismark) will not produce its dual color in offspring. 

These types of color mismarks are not incredible unusual in our colony, but they are not typically as prominent and noticeable as Jicama’s. Phew!  As you can see, genetics is a complicated business!  In the end, as we said in the original post, we felt that Jicama’s mismark was prominent enough to draw significant comment from the public, which could be a distraction at best, and a potential burden for a graduate.  She is enjoying her life as a pet in a loving home.