Thursday, May 30, 2013

Serra Catholic School Raises Funds for a GDB Harness

Serra Catholic School students hold up a check for funds they raised from their recycle program to benefit GDB.

Serra Catholic School has been the daily destination of many a guide dog puppy in Southern Orange County for the last 18 years. Over the years Guide Dogs for the Blind has been the recipient of several outreach programs, which most recently was the recycle program of Serra’s Student Council headed by Ecology Officer Jack Herzfeld. Pictured here is John Barnes with guide dog puppy Paris accepting a check for $353.25 on behalf of Guide Dogs for the Blind. The goal of student council this year was to raise enough money to purchase a harness for a graduating puppy from the VIP3 Puppy Raising Club.  

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Bob Boskey and Perez

By: Jim Price

Blind since birth, he was an accomplished cane traveler and proud of it. At 30, college was behind him, he had a great government job, and his loving wife was expecting his second son. Life was good.

He was still in a bit of shock by the time he made it home that night. Some jerk had blown a stop sign and the near-miss had him rattled. Bob Bosken's wife could tell something was wrong. "Once I told her what had happened, she was adamant," he remembered. "She said she knew I was really great with a cane but it was time. 'It's not just you anymore,' she said. ' It's also me, and our kids, too. I would really like you to look into getting a guide dog.'"

Bob Bosken with his Guide Dog Perez

That was nine years ago and Bosken was recently back at the Oregon campus of Guide Dogs for the Blind to get his second dog, male Yellow Lab Perez. As Bosken told his story, Perez took only a few seconds to fall fast asleep on the pad next to his chair. "I really, really like this guy," he grinned. "He's fun, really good on routes, learns really fast. He's amazing at finding curbs - he's dead on just about 100 percent of the time."

That first dog, Lab/Golden Cross Pastel, was back at the family home in Columbus, Ohio, where she was patiently waiting to meet her new roommate. Also waiting were Bosken's two boys and their mother. He had already sent photos of Perez and even posted some on Facebook. "I'm sure the boys don't remember not having a guide dog around," he said. "When we are out in public they are the first ones to enforce the rules, telling strangers they have to ask permission before petting the dog." And the boys know they will have to treat this new dog differently until Dad gets him totally focused on himself and work. "Once I know I can get him refocused quickly, I can loosen up a bit."

Helping with that focus are the newest training methods at GDB. "Sure, these dogs get distracted sometimes," explained Bosken. "But GDB has come up with some interesting techniques to get them refocused quickly. And the new food reward is really cool for the dog and the handler. Everyone wants to treat their dog once in a while and now I have, right here on my hip, a perfectly acceptable system to do that. It's not going to make him heavy, and it's going to make him respond to me much quicker than without it. A lot of this is about trusting your dog and I can already tell, after just 10 days, that I am feeling more of a connection than I did with Pastel after five or six months. That's a really good feeling."

As a youngster, Bosken's parents fought to have him mainstreamed, as opposed to finding him a school for the blind. "They reasoned that I was going to have to adapt to the world, the world wasn't going to adapt to me," he said. He was the first child who was blind in Hamilton County schools.
Back home, Bosken has adapted well, successful at his management job at the Social Security Administration. He analyzes accessibility of such things as SSA websites and other programs, for both employees and the public. He also does management analyses, creating, for example, supplemental training plans for various positions, and even working on a union contract.

Bob and guide dog Perez walk down the street
"One of the things about having a guide dog that people may not realize is they open doors," he said. A few years back he was having lunch with some of his coworkers with Pastel at his side when the then chief of the SSA entered the lunchroom. A dog lover, Commissioner Michael Astrue made a beeline for Pastel and joined them for lunch. That meeting led to numerous other meetings and eventually earned Pastel a job as the pretty face of SSA accessibility. She appeared in a number of internal marketing campaigns and when she retired, was honored for her 49 years (dog years) of service.

"I don't mean to dis cane travel," summed up Bosken. "But a dog is so much more freeing. You don't have to concentrate on every little bit of sensory feedback to get yourself home safely. You have to concentrate on the dog, but you also can focus on your other senses. I find I can think more clearly when I can hear the birds singing or smell the air on a crisp morning. I really enjoy traveling with a dog."

With a low "let's go," Perez was instantly wide awake and on his feet, ready to head out into the crisp morning air.

Dollars for Darlo - A Father Rides for His Son and K9 Buddy Dog

Earlier this month John Simmons completed the Grizzly Peak Century Bike Ride in Contra Costa County, CA and raised over $2500 for Guide Dogs for the Blind. The ride is 75 miles long with nearly 6,000 feet of hill climbing.

Matthew Simmons with his K9 Buddy "Darlo"

“We can attest firsthand to the outstanding work carried out at GDB as our son Matthew, who suffers with severe vision impairment, was the recent recipient of a beautiful companion dog named ‘Darlo’ as part of the organization's K9 Buddy Program,” said Simmons. “Needless to say, Matthew is absolutely thrilled with his new best friend!”

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Expanding the Power of Positive at GDB By: Rebecca Hornick, Foster Care Coordinator

Since starting at Guide Dogs for the Blind in 1994, I have seen so many changes in how our Training Department handles the monumental task of turning adolescent dogs into competent working guide dogs for people who are blind and visually impaired. The Training staff at GDB always tries to stay current with new and innovative ways to better train dogs since there are so many new challenges our guide dogs and our clients have to face every year in the ever evolving changes in the world. We strive to create confident, happy dogs and then match them with a person who will continue to work with that guide dog as they both become even more competent traveling in their own world and beyond. 

In order to create safe and happy working teams, the Training staff adopted a model of positive reinforcement training back in 2007 and since then, the results have been remarkable! Staff immediately saw how much more willing and adaptable the dogs were when food was used during crucial parts of training. Consequently, the dogs met the training goals faster than ever before. The Training Department's success triggered a new surge of interest in these positive training techniques and soon other staff and volunteers wondered what ways they could implement some of these methods to improve the work they do with all of our dogs. Naturally, our own Michele Pouliot, Director of Research and Development, answered the call! Michele and other members of management created a committee of various dog-related staff to discuss some short and long term goals regarding how to implement more positive reinforcement tools in all areas of dog care and management. We named this group the “R+ committee” and it is comprised of staff from both campuses – combined they bring a wealth of knowledge and experience. 

Michele Pouliot gives a puppy a food reward for good behavior.

An enlightening first step in the process was a seminar we attended at the Oregon Campus in January 2013 where the R+ committee and the Community Field Reps from Puppy Raising Department had the opportunity to be part of a hands on workshop with positive reinforcement training guru, Kathy Sdao ( Here’s what the R+ committee members had to say about the workshop:

Sharon Kret, Puppy Program Specialist for Canine Community Programs:

“The workshop conducted by Kathy Sdao and Michele Pouliot helped to demonstrate the powerful and positive impact that these training techniques can have when working with our dogs and puppies at GDB. I walked away from the workshop feeling energized and excited about all the possibilities. It is a little overwhelming to think about all that we need to do and what we have yet to learn, but I am truly looking forward to the challenge.” 

Jenna Bullis, Director of Breeding:

“Michele and Kathy were able to customize our training day to really address the things that were relevant in each of our departments. We all benefited from each other’s perspectives and it was awesome to see how excited and enthusiastic everyone is about using more positive reinforcement techniques in our program.” 

Jeannine May, Canine Welfare Kennel Manager:

“I really appreciated the opportunity to be part of the Kathy Sdao workshop and get a chance to work with fellow staff from other departments that I don’t normally get to interact with! It’s super exciting to be part of a group that is expanding and maximizing the use of positive reinforcement throughout the organization. Kathy is a great presenter and I really look forward to incorporating some new ideas in the kennels with both staff and volunteers, and in the OR Foster Care Program.”

Pat Cook, Canine Resources Manager:

“The Community Field Representatives (CFRs) really enjoyed the opportunity to learn from Michele and Kathy Sdao, and were also very appreciative of the opportunity to work with staff from other CCP departments.  It was a rare opportunity for field staff to work dogs alongside staff from Foster Care, Dog Placement, Breeding and Kennel department. The CFRs are very enthusiastic about the R+ project and excited at the direction Puppy Raising is taking! We were able to come up with lots of ideas for working with puppies in raiser homes. I look forward to the implementation over the next few years.”

Kathy Featherstone, Dog Placement Coordinator:

“I really enjoyed the combination of Kathy’s enthusiastic, insightful and scientific approach with positive training techniques, along with hands on practice throughout the two-day seminar. It allowed all participants to equally share in the experience and gain a better understanding of the methods that were discussed. It was very motivating and exciting to work alongside such a knowledgeable group of people!”

Kathleen Fischer, SR Kennel Supervisor:

“This was my first clicker workshop and it was fun and fascinating!  Kathy and Michele made it look all so effortless.  The hands on portions I found invaluable and it made me realize that the real challenge lies in training me!”

Rebecca Hornick, Foster Care Coordinator:

“This was a great educational opportunity for me since I love doing this type of training with personal dogs, but imagining the possibilities here with GDB dogs are limitless! The seminar and R+ committee discussions have helped me brainstorm about the many ways this type of training will benefit the huge variety of dogs that go in and out of Foster Care each year. I can’t wait to share some of these techniques with my pool of eager volunteers!”

Michele Pouliot, Director of Research and Development:

“I have had the pleasure of working closely with Kathy Sdao since 2006, when GDB’s Training Department began using her as a consultant for our change over to clicker training. In the past two years I have co-presented seminars with Kathy for the dog sport community and always learn something new from her wealth of knowledge.

GDB instructor rewards a guide dog for stopping at a curb.
Bringing Kathy back to GDB to help our Canine Community Programs (CCP) departments kick off their positive training project was not only a great idea (thanks Pat Cook!) but motivating for everyone present. This two-day seminar was extra special for GDB staff because it was tailored specifically for GDB’s R+ Project goals.

Now that you know the members and purpose of the R+ Committee, please don’t hesitate to ask us questions, make suggestions and generally celebrate with us as we take GDB staff and other dog care constituents to an even greater level of dog handling, training and management. The dogs are already thanking us!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department - Bring Your Child to Work Day By: Mary Guilliam

Children visit San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department
Children visit San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department
As a puppy raiser for Guide Dogs for the Blind I was asked to do a presentation of what a guide dog puppy learns and any information about Guide Dogs for the Blind. I am in the process of raising my third puppy for Guide Dogs and currently am raising Fianna, an nine month old yellow lab. I asked my co-leader Ron Chrisman if he’d like to participate in the demonstration with his puppy Velvet (14 months old).  Ron was more than happy to help spread the word about puppy raising for Guide Dogs for the Blind.

There were 17 children and approximately 10 adults present for the demonstration and participation at the event. We were able to talk about why we teach puppies everything we do and the reasons behind those teachings. The children were so fascinated with how well behaved our puppies were and how they would do anything that was asked of them. Several of the children asked wonderful questions about how Guide Dog for the Blind works and said they might be interested in raising a puppy someday.

Captain S. Dicus, Captain D. Gregory, Ron Chrisman, and Mary Guilliam

Captain S. Dicus, Captain D. Gregory, Ron Chrisman, and Mary Guilliam

After our presentation we took Fianna and Velvet out to 40-King (Sheriff’s Department Helicopter) and they were allowed to explore the helicopter after it had sat down and was turned off. Fianna and Velvet showed no apprehension towards the helicopter, further demonstrating that our puppies are not afraid of anything. 

After having brought all of my puppies to work over the last four years it was such a nice gesture for my department to ask that a demonstration be part of the Bring Your Child to Work Program. The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department has been so very supportive of Guide Dogs for the Blind. 

Amelia and Valeria

By: Jim Price 
She's never seen a single thing and she wouldn't have it any other way.
Amelia Diaz, 25, of Anaheim, Calif., was at the Oregon campus recently to get her second dog, female black Lab Valeria. She has been blind since birth. "Being blind isn't better than being sighted," she said, her animated gestures and strong voice broadcasting her earnestness. "But it isn't worse, either. It's just different. Sure, it would be nice to see someone across the room, but sighted people miss a lot, too."

What about that morning sunrise? "Sighted people see it, but I hear the birds and other morning sounds. I smell the plants and feel the sun. And yes, we may have to work harder sometimes to get what we want, but that just makes us appreciate it more.

 "And if I were sighted, I wouldn't have Braille," she added, her excitement obvious. "I love reading, and there is just something about reading with my fingers that I don't think I would get reading sighted. I'm a writer and I need to write in Braille. And if I were sighted I would miss the partnership of a guide dog. They become part of who you are. Having a dog is very freeing. You walk a lot faster. Even by blind standards I'm a huge klutz and a dog helps keep me from tripping over everything."

As her new partner talked, Valeria sat comfortable but alert at her side, taking in every word. "It's only been a week and half and we are already bonding," said Diaz as she stroked Valeria’s head. "She is the dog I have always wanted. She's conscientious, focused, happy, and she loves to please. When she makes a mistake and I show her how to do it right, she is attentive and she gets it right away. I already feel a strong bond and it gets better every day."

Amelia and Guide Dog Valeria walk down the street

 Diaz graduated last winter from California State University, Fullerton, with a major in English and a French minor. She plans to attend graduate school and hopes to become a, "translator of little-known French literature into English, and vice versa. I just love the French language," she gushed, "ever since I was a little girl. I got that from my aunt. More than half the music at our house is in French." Her family is originally from the Dominican Republic. "I grew up speaking English and Spanish but I think I'm more comfortable now speaking French than Spanish."

 She lives with her "sisters," two other blind young women to which she has grown very close. To Diaz, being around other blind people comes naturally. "I was really lucky in that I grew up living close to the Braille Institute. My mom was our driver and she took my friends and me to just about every event. She was great. She even learned Braille so she could help me." At the institute, Diaz took part in tap dance, choir, skiing, rock climbing and, "just hanging with my friends."

 It was with one of those friends, Christina Jones, who she went with to get her first dog at the Oregon campus of Guide Dogs for the Blind. In 2007 she received and trained with yellow female Lab Binny. She said Binny was a wonderful dog but even after five years she never felt the bond she expected. "I was too young to get a dog," she admitted. "It was like going to summer camp – way too much socializing and I wasn't as focused on my dog as I should have been." After the training she let the GDB standards slip and before long her relationship with Binny was more like having a pet.
 "Not this time," she vowed. "When we get home, Valeria will not be allowed to play with my roommate's dog, for example." She said that for the first few months Valeria will be allowed little interaction with other dogs and people so they can concentrate on bonding with each other. "I will be the one who feeds her, plays tug with her, works her. When the time is right to loosen up and let her play off-leash, I will."

 When she was a child, her family raised a puppy for Guide Dogs of America. “I’ve wanted a guide dog all my life and when it came to picking the right company, I had heard so many good things about GDB that it was an easy decision. They are really good at matching people with just the right dog. And here is living proof,” she grinned, giving Valeria a hug.