Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Donna Permar & Kyle

By Jim Price

Born with cataracts, she always had poor vision and it continued to decline. She was a good cane traveler, however, and she knew how much work dogs could be. She was fine without one, and at the end of the day all she had to do was lean her cane in a corner by the door.

But then Donna Permar had to negotiate the busy streets of Washington, DC. She was a college senior at the University of North Carolina and living in DC on an internship at the Library of Congress. "I dreaded crossing K Street," she said, shaking her head at the memory. "It was always so busy that my heart was in my throat. But then I met this woman with a guide dog and he just took her right across, no problem at all. For the first time I thought, maybe a guide dog is for me."

Donna has her arm around guide dog Kyle looking at the camera

That was five dogs ago. Now 55, Permar was in Oregon recently to get Kyle, a strapping young Yellow Lab who, just 10 days into the two-week course, had already earned her trust. "Maybe it's just that he's my fifth one and I know what I'm doing, but things are going extremely well. I had to become accustomed to his gate, which is different from Nan, my fourth dog. Of course she is a lot older, but he is also taller and longer. It's maybe like going from driving a small car to a minivan. The training is different now, we use food a lot more, and I'll tell you, it works. All Labs like food – it keeps them motivated and focused. And you can't compare dogs. Each one is different. My only expectation is he gets me safely from one corner to the next. So far he has been perfect. The only mistakes have been mine."

 As she talked, within just a few minutes Kyle had fallen fast asleep on the floor at her side. He will need that ability to settle quickly back in Durham, NC, where Permar is the administrative assistant to the director of the intensive care unit at Duke Medical Center. "My dogs have to be well groomed and well behaved to work in a hospital environment," she said. "Hospitals can be not-so-happy places for people and my co-workers tell me that when I come in with a dog in the morning people just smile. I figure anything I can do to make things a little better is good." She said Nan, who is 11 and a half and a Black Lab, had a perpetual smile on her face that people just loved. "She is so very sweet, always with a happy disposition." She has decided to keep Nan as a pet and she began to tear up  just a bit talking about that first morning back home when she will head off to work with Kyle and have to leave Nan at home.

 Also at home is her husband, Glenn, whose partner is a guide dog from GDB, Yellow Lab named Wally. She said they are avid cross-country skiers and have travelled all over with a group called Ski For Light, a program for people who are visually impaired. Glenn plays Beep Baseball and they also travel with his team to tournaments, including to Taiwan one year. She said their first love, however, is anything to do with water and they waterski whenever they can. Glenn even bought a wakeboard recently.

Donna and guide dog Kyle walk down the street next to a GDB bus

Donna loves telling stories about her dogs. Like the time she and Nan were walking home from work after a big storm along a sidewalk they knew very well. Suddenly Nan stopped and no matter what she did, Permar couldn't get Nan moving. Suddenly a lady came running up to help. She had been driving by and saw what was happening. "There was an electric cable down across the sidewalk and apparently Nan knew it could be dangerous." She smiles at another story of Nan slowing down then surging ahead along one stretch of lawn. She was timing the circular sprinkler so they didn't get wet.
 Her first three dogs were from an organization back East, but at numerous conventions with lots of guide dogs she began to notice a trend. "If I was on an elevator, for example, with a number of dogs and they were all pretty giggly except the one quiet one in the corner, I would ask that person where they got their dog. Invariable they would say Guide Dogs for the Blind. After a few years I saw a pattern developing. Also, at many of the events we go to GDB sends puppy sitters and it doesn't matter what school the dog is from, they will take care of it. That shows a lot of class." She also admits with a grin that one of the reasons she picked GDB was she wanted to visit San Francisco and Portland.

 Permar said she's learned one huge fact over the past three decades – all the times she's had to go out in the rain, or take time to groom her dogs, or do anything else she would rather not bother with, were worth it. "My friend put it well. She said it's stressful when you first get a new dog, and it's very hard at the end. But the times in the middle are just wonderful."

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Leadership Change at Guide Dogs for the Blind

Dear Friend of GDB,

On Monday, July 15 Bob Burke was named interim president and CEO of Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB). Burke replaces Paul Lopez, who has resigned to pursue other opportunities. A nationwide search will begin immediately to find a new president and CEO.

Burke has served on the GDB board since 2008, most recently as board chair. As interim president and CEO, he will work closely with the full board, staff, volunteers and the Alumni Association board.

“It’s a pleasure to be a part of such an important, world-class organization and I look forward to serving in this interim role,” said Burke. “I’m also looking forward to working with the board, staff and our partners on the search for a new president and CEO.”

George Kerscher, who currently serves as GDB’s vice chair of the board, will take on the interim role of board chair. “We’re grateful to Bob for taking on this expanded role as we search for a new president and CEO,” said Kerscher.

As a first order of business, Bob Burke and the board will be designing the search process in the next few days. GDB will share additional information regarding recruitment efforts as the organization develops a search committee process and timeline; and GDB will communicate regularly with partners, supporters, volunteers and peer organizations locally, nationally and internationally as we conduct our search.

We look forward to continuing GDB’s important work and to announcing a new president and CEO. Thank you again for your continued support of GDB’s work and mission.

Guide Dogs for the Blind Board of Directors

Thursday, July 11, 2013

My Plan D

By: Patsy Acker

Little did I know that a chance encounter with a lady carrying a puppy in our local market one evening about six years ago would lead to an ongoing relationship with GDB. To use the word “chance” is stretching the truth, because when I see a puppy, any puppy, anywhere, in anyone’s arms or walking down the street, there is nothing chance about what is going to happen.  No matter what it took, I was going to pet that puppy. I shop in an electric cart, and it took me a few aisles and a few u-turns  to just happen to run into her again. “Oh, you have a puppy.  May I pet him?” And thus began my education and friendship with GDB.

The lady told me that she had just returned from the GDB campus in San Rafael and the puppy was their newest training project.  A brief conversation and the exchange of a few phone numbers and I knew what I wanted to do. I was 78 years-old at the time and slightly disabled.  In my mind my days of owning a dog were in the past, but my new friend told me of other opportunities to be with dogs.
A phone call to the director of the dog training families in my area resulted in an invitation to join them and their puppies for a training outing at the Railroad Museum in Sacramento.  She explained that there are always more dogs than people to walk them, so I could have a dog for the day. To say I was thrilled is an understatement. When the day finally arrived, well, I had found my world.  There were dogs everywhere.

The training that day included walks through the museum and a ride on a train. My favorite part of the day was when we went to lunch. There were six of us going together and each of us with a dog.  This ought to be interesting, I thought. We were seated at a table barely large enough for our group.  To my amazement the six dogs went under the table and went to sleep. The only way anyone would know there was a dog in the room was the sight of six tails sticking out from under our table.   As the day ended I was encouraged to explore the opportunity to become a sitter for dogs in training when their families had to be away for brief periods.   My yard and I both passed inspection and I was on a roll.  Having dogs in my life was not over after all.  It was actually just beginning.

Before I could offer to sit for anyone, I suddenly became a dog rescuer.  One day my son, Chris, called to tell me we were going to go rescue two dogs that were to be euthanized if we didn’t go get them.  “What kind of dogs?” I asked. St. Bernards, there are two of them.  I know my son:  one for you, Mom, and one for me.  Murphy and Bella, as we named them, ended my dog sitting plans and everything else to do with GDB I thought. Wrong again.

 They were beautiful, sweet, fun and BIG!  Rescuing them was done at the request of a St. Bernard Rescue organization in another state, with the provision that if we could not keep them we would take them to the ranch.  It only took a couple of months for me to admit what everyone else knew from the start. I could not manage Murphy and Bella was not a good fit for Chris’ family with four kids, including two year old twins.  We took them to the rescue ranch where they were later adopted by appropriate families.  I loved Murphy and had I been 20 or 30 years younger would have happily provided a loving home for him.  That was not the case, so back to Plan A:  Dog Sitter.
The director of the training families in my area, Kim, had become a friend, so I called her and said I was available as a sitter again.  Not to be.  A surprise gift from son Chris on St. Patrick’s Day put an end to Plan A – again!  “What is it, Chris?” I asked as I looked into the bag to which a balloon was tied.  My initial thought was:   Oh, good grief!  I had to give up Murphy so he has brought me a hamster.  “It’s a dog, Mom.”  And indeed, it was; an eight week old, four pound ball of white fluff that was to become my constant companion and a trainer for GDB.

Duffy sits on the couch

I couldn’t believe my eyes as I gazed at this adorable little creature with eyes the size of ping pong balls. He immediately snuggled into the crook of my neck and buried his head in my hair. Chris had learned of a litter of eight Shih Tzu puppies, and when there were only two remaining, went with his wife to select one.  One look at those two puppies and Chris said I knew I could not take one and leave the other; so he took them both and I received my treasured St. Patrick’s Day gift.

Now I had to make another phone call to Kim, this time to tell her my dog sitting plans were back on hold again and why.  Kim and I stayed in touch, and I continued to report the wonders of my new little friend, now responding to the name of Duffy.  And there was much to report.  Duffy assigned himself the job of taking care of me.  He reached hero status about two years ago when I fell outside and was unable to get up. I wasn’t badly hurt but my prosthetic leg came off, I split my eyebrow and was behind a bush and under a tree, not visible to anyone passing by.  I yelled “Help” a couple of times and Duffy took over.  He went to the curb and sat there and howled for ten minutes until a lady two blocks away decide something must be wrong somewhere.  She got in her car and drove until she found Duffy and then me.

Kim learned of Duffy’s heroics and asked if I would bring him to one of their puppy training sessions and tell the story.  At the same time she could use Duffy as a distraction for the dogs in training.  That sounded like a fun evening for both of us and I readily agreed.  Duffy and I arrived at the warehouse they use for the training exercises when only a couple of dogs were there.  Duffy thought I had really planned a great surprise.  He approached each dog in his usual manor:  Let’s play!  Nothing!  
Within a few minutes other dogs began to arrive, lots of them.  I knew what was going on in Duffy’s mind:  Well, this is more like it.  It’s like the park Mom takes me to, only inside; I can play with all of them.  Kim had laid out different surfaces for the trainees to walk on, some obstacles to walk around, stairs to climb and other items and conditions a guide dogs was likely to encounter, such as another dog.  Enter Duffy, The Distraction.

Kim took Duffy everywhere there was a dog, up and down stairs, around obstacles, over different surfaces, and he sniffed every dog he met.  Nothing, again.  Duffy is not a barker but this situation in his mind seemed to require some verbal  encouragement, so he began to bark. Nothing, again.  After about 15 minutes of effort on Duffy’s part to persuade a dog, any dog, to play with him, Kim brought him back to me.  Duffy doesn’t have to be able to talk for me to know what he is thinking.  He heaved a sigh, rolled his big eyes and lay down beside me.  The equivalent was:  “I tried Mom.  They just don’t want to play with me”.  I’m not sure if he understood my explanation as to why they wouldn’t play.

We have made a second visit to a training session, but this time I warned Duffy they probably wouldn’t play again.  He did everything he was supposed to do and the trainees did what they were supposed to do – ignored him.  He didn’t seem as disappointed the second time around.  So now Plan A is on permanent hold.  Plans B and C never even got a name. My favorite is Plan D.  “Distraction” could well have been Plan D, as that is the job he does so well.  But in my mind and heart Plan D will always be D for Duffy.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Laura Ann Grymes and Dyson

By: Jim Price

The car was so close she felt the heat. The driver was going way too fast, exiting the bank at a blind driveway. Her dog instantly pulled her backward and she was experienced enough to go with him.  He saved her, himself, and the trainer from possible injury. And Amazingly, Laura Ann Grymes had just met her new guide dog, Dyson, less than 48 hours earlier.

 "I don't want people to be afraid about coming to get a dog because this almost never happens," she said, preparing to tell the story. "But he was amazing. I couldn't help it, when we settled down a bit I just bent down and hugged him and burst into tears." Telling the story, she cried again, pointing out she already felt a very close bond to her new dog.
Laura Ann Grymes hugs her guide dog Dyson

 Grymes was at the Oregon campus of Guide Dogs for the Blind to get Dyson, a male Yellow Lab, her fourth guide dog. "From the puppy sitters to the trainers, they did such a good job with him," she gushed in a noticeable Texas twang. "In fact, all my dogs have been just perfect for me. I don't know how they do it." At her side Dyson settled for a snooze, oblivious for a few minutes as she reminisced. Later when she rose, he was instantly on his feet, ready to go to work keeping her safe on the busy streets of Portland.

Grymes, 44, spent her early years in a combination of schools, ranging from public to private, Christian to a school for the blind. That mix served her well at Texas A&M (she is very quick to let anyone know she is an Aggie!) where she earned a degree in elementary education. She even taught for a time, but soon realized her passion was not in education, but in the health and wellness field. So now she is a massage therapist at Walker Chiropractic Center in Bryan, Texas. She's licensed to do everything from cranial-sacral to deep tissue Swedish massage. "I'm very passionate about what I do," she said. And she does it best with a guide dog at her side.

 "My first dog was Danna, a female yellow Lab," she explained. "I had her nine years," and just that simple memory was enough to choke her up for a second. "All my dogs were wonderful. Each was different but she was just perfect for me on campus. I had to retire her for age-related issues but my mom adopted her so that was good."

 Next was Rally, another yellow Lab, who she had for more than seven years. "Even though he was bigger, he was more sensitive," she said. "He was more careful and he did really good work." While she had Rally she and her mother, Lucile, created a very successful pet sitting business in the College Station, Texas, area. "He was so calm I remember one time he held absolutely still as a litter of kittens crawled all over him."

 She said she and her mom make a great team. "It's not a matter of me taking care of my mom, or me living at home with my mom. We are best friends and thoroughly enjoy each other." Managing their pet-sitting job, Grymes did all the paperwork, the interviewing, and the scheduling. Once on site, her mom scooped kitty litter or prepared meals while she played with them or took the dogs for a walk. Using a waste walker she could handle two dogs at a time. She said their busiest day, a Christmas, kicked off at 6:30 a.m. and finally ended at 11:30 p.m., "With a stop at Denny's for dinner - Merry Christmas!" They gave up the business when her mom developed breast cancer, but Grymes was happy to report she is now cancer free for more than five years.
Laura Ann Grymes and guide dog Dyson walk down the street

 Her third dog was Dasher, also a male yellow Lab, who she described as very careful and her most sensitive yet. "We had to spend a lot of time in the hospital and he was so well behaved. Once again, GDB did an amazing job of matching us up. At work, he got to roam free while I was working and he became kind of a therapy dog. Our patients loved him."

 When she isn't taking away pain or helping people relax, Grymes can by studying the local birds. She calls herself an amateur birder, but since she can't do it with sight, she uses sound. She has a number of apps on her phone that identify bird calls. And she said it's very common for wild birds to answer the recorded call. She's also a Christian singer and she plays the guitar.

 Back home in Texas she said they had a good flight home. "He was a little nervous when we took off from Portland but he quickly settled down and we had a great flight. Unfortunately they wouldn't let me relieve him at our stopover in Denver so he had to go 10 hours, but he handled it very well and we got home with no accidents."

 She was especially thankful to her puppy sitters, Megan & Alex Minkiewicz of Bend, Ore. "Megan had flown with Dyson on business so he was used to flying. The people around me at work just adore him and he's getting along great with Dasher. We are quite a site out walking with my mom and our two dogs. I couldn't be happier."

 Neither could Dyson.