Friday, December 12, 2014

Marlaina Lieberg: Celebrating 50 Years as a Guide Dog Handler

Marlaina Lieberg of Burien, Wash., is nothing if not tenacious. As a young 7th grader in the 1960s, she was the first and only student who was visually impaired at her school, and the principal would not allow her to participate in PE classes. With the indignation of a preteen and the determination to participate in all of the same activities as her classmates, Marlaina did what any smart and sassy 12 year-old would do: she wrote to President John F. Kennedy. At the time, JFK was promoting the President's Council on Physical Fitness and its role to serve all Americans, so Marlaina requested that he compel her principal to reconsider. To her delight (but not surprise), the President did just that, and in due haste Marlaina was playing dodgeball with her peers.

It was about that same time that Marlaina met a man with a guide dog. From the moment she heard his story, she knew that traveling with a dog was in her future. She started her campaign to be paired with a guide dog as a teenager almost immediately. “It took a bit longer to get into guide dog school than it did for the President to help me with gym class,” Marlaina said, “but after two years of back and forth letter-writing, my parents and I were invited to the facility for an evaluation. Three months later, I was in class, and on July 9, 1964, I met my first guide, a small female German Shepherd named Scamp. Never will I forget how I felt that first time I took her harness in hand and said, ‘Scamp, forward!’ The very first thought I had was, ‘this must be what it’s like to see; look at me!’”

Flash forward to 2014, and Marlaina is celebrating a golden anniversary: 50 years as a continuous guide dog handler, and she’s still as exhilarated today as she was in her youth. “Working with a guide dog gives me the freedom to move about efficiently and effectively,” she said. “I’m told that when I walk, I have a smile on my face and my head is held high. The ability to move around obstacles without even knowing they were there in the first place is amazing!”

Marlaina (wearing a black hat) kneels down smiling next to her guide Agnes (yellow Lab).

She has certainly seen her fair share of changes in guide dog training over the years, and she’s had to learn and grow with the times herself. “It was a hard leap for me to make to give my dog food rewards,” Marlaina said (a practice introduced in recent years at GDB as part of our positive reinforcement training techniques). “However, this old woman can learn new tricks, and now there isn’t a day that I leave home without my dog’s treat pouch or a pocket filled with training treats. It is so joyful to fix a situation with love, respect and encouragement.” In addition, “The fact that I can teach my dogs custom things these days, like locating crosswalks in the middle of a block, or finding a particular often-used door, adds immeasurably to my independence, and to how sighted society views my confidence and competence.”

That being said, Marlaina recalls being in training with her guide Madeline at GDB’s California campus in 1998, and working with instructors much newer to the field than she. “I was absolutely thrilled with how much respect the training staff showed me,” she said. “One instructor pointed out that I had been working dogs longer than some of them had been alive, and posed to me the question, ‘So why wouldn’t we listen to you?’ The atmosphere was not only one of intense work, but of family and support and laughter.”

Marlin trained with her current guide, Agnes, at GDB’s Oregon campus in 2006, where once again, “the support during my stay was amazing; I believe that GDB has the most respectful and respected trainers and staff in the business.”

So what else is there about GDB that keeps her coming back?

“Is it the fabulous food? Is it the beautiful facilities? Is it the amazing dedication of trainers and staff?” she questioned. “It could be all of those, but I think always the fondest memory is when I meet my new partner. I cannot tell you how emotional meeting the new dog is for me. I am totally blind, and so it isn’t until they bring the dog to my hands that I see who I’m meeting. Usually, the dogs are excited and want to play and lick. I run my hands all over the dog’s body, quickly trying to get to know her, then sit there and cry like a baby while the instructor tells me who I have and what she looks like. Then, spending the next couple of hours alone with my new dog just patting and touching and trying to share my heart and hear hers are times I will never forget.”

Marlaina also enjoys being a part of the community that comes along with being a GDB alum.  “When you meet new people who have dogs from GDB, there’s an instant spark of friendship,” she said. “Additionally, graduates support each other through Alumni Association events, email lists, conferences and more. And I can’t forget the puppy raisers! I am so proud that GDB encourages its graduates and raisers to stay in touch if both wish to do so. I love each and every puppy raiser out there! They really can’t fully know how impactful their efforts will be on the life of a blind person. I am always honored and humbled when I’m asked to speak to puppy groups. They are all truly amazing people, and I’m glad to count many of them as my friends.”

Having been paired with eight dogs through the years, Marlaina is no stranger to the process of retiring a guide and being paired with a new one - which isn’t quite as easy at it might seem, especially from an emotional perspective. Agnes will be 10 in February, so Marlaina is preparing herself once again for the transition.

“As Second Vice President of the American Council of the Blind, I travel extensively from coast to coast to various conferences and conventions. I am also very active at home. Due to my activity level, I do not like to work my dogs past age 10,” she said. “I believe that every day after age 6 is a gift; these dogs are asked to do some very complicated things, and I think they deserve a happy and healthy retirement. So, Agnes will retire in the spring, and she will become our pet and my husband’s dog.

“No matter how many times one goes through the retirement and then the new dog process, it’s hard; it’s hard to say goodbye to the partner in whom you’ve trusted completely for many years, and it’s hard to psych yourself up to start all over again with that new dog.  However, my husband and I are already talking about things like where Agnes will have her bed and where ‘new dog’ will have hers; where ‘new dog’ will lie in the car, and who’s going to eat first each day. Talking about it ahead of time helps me move along the path that will lead me to my next partner.”

Marlaina has two words for anyone considering getting a guide dog: do it! That’s putting it simply, but she believes that putting in the work and making the commitment to the guide dog lifestyle pays rewards in spades.

“Becoming a guide dog handler isn’t easy, but it’s well worth the effort,” she said. “It’s true, you have to take the dog out in all weather; you have to feed and care for the dog; and, you may occasionally meet that uninformed business owner who tells you that dogs are not allowed. However, what you gain cannot be measured. Working through crowds, automatically finding elevator doors, your house, your hotel room, and the ability to follow someone from whom you are getting directions but who has no clue how to do sighted guide - these are just a few of the things you’ll receive from your dog. I think of my dogs as my magic carpet to freedom of movement; with my guide, I’ll go just about anywhere and do so with confidence.

“But above and beyond all this is the love and oneness of spirit that you and your guide will develop together. You have to trust in those four paws, two eyes and that one brilliant brain. In turn, the dog has to trust that you would never knowingly ask it to do something unsafe. I know of no other relationship, human-to-human or human-to-dog, that is built on these precepts. The key is total trust at both ends of the harness. It’s a joy to give it, and it’s a joy to feel it! If you want all of that in your life, a GDB dog is for you!”

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Giving Thanks for Retiree Rose Ramirez

Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) cook and caretaker Rose Ramirez, who was well known for the amazing care she provided for the students in training, recently retired after working at GDB’s San Rafael campus for over 22 years. From grocery shopping and cooking delicious meals to learning each student’s individual needs and giving gentle pats on the back, Rose proved to be an integral part of the heart and soul of GDB.

GDB Support Center generalist Ken Altenburger has known Rose for over 17 years. “I can honestly say that she is one of the treasures of GDB,” said Ken. “I have been on the receiving end of her care and kindness from a client’s perspective and I also enjoyed working alongside her as a fellow staff member. Rose always greeted you with a warm smile and it was clear that she cared very deeply for the students in each class – she worked tirelessly for the benefit of anyone needing assistance.”

Rose smiles while gently patting a student on the back during lunch (other students and guide dogs are in the background at another table).

Rose moved to the United States from Mexico as a young adult and learned to cook at her brother’s restaurant in Martinez, CA for 15 years before coming to GDB. Rose said she served the students in the best way she knew how in order to make sure they had everything they needed, even if it is small. “Rose is so thoughtful and always remembered everything about you,” said GDB graduate Keith Breaux. “I truly appreciated the way she took care of me during my stay. I will always remember her as being one of the best parts about coming to GDB for training.”

From the students and instructors to the nurses and the rest of the GDB staff, Rose was someone who always made everyone feel welcome. “I was very lucky to work at GDB,” said Rose. “One of my main goals while I was at GDB was to make sure the students were as comfortable as possible. I wanted to make sure it felt like a warm home when they came for training.”

Rose (wearing a beautiful red pattern jacket) poses in the GDB kitchen with freshly baked cookies.

While it can be exciting for students to work with a new partner, there is also the reality of being away from home and family, meeting and working with new people and participating in a comprehensive training experience. “Having the support of someone as warm and caring as Rose took any stress that I had away, said GDB graduate Penny Hardin. “Rose showed genuine concern and interest in our well-being and her cooking was amazing! Her friendly smile and encouragement were constant reminders of how much she cared about us. It’s clear to me that Rose was a very important part of the GDB team who, along with the instructors and nurses, helped us to be successful every day.”

Over the course of more than two decades, Rose has had a tremendous impact at GDB and she will always be remembered for her incredible and thoughtful work ethic. “Some people talk about wanting to serve – Rose truly does serve, every day of her life,” said Ken.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Halloween Costume Contest Goes to the Dogs!

By: Patti Ehle, GDB Utah Alumni Chapter Vice President of Greatest Paws on Earth

This Halloween costume contest clearly went to the dogs. On October 25th, approximately 50 puppy raisers and guide dog users joined together in Salt Lake City, UT for the third year of an outrageous Halloween costume contest. Special thanks to the GDB puppy raising club, Paws to Love, who led the event! Also making an appearance was Lauren Ross, GDB Field Service Manager from Chicago who has been working in Utah with guide dog users this month, and Lauren Grimditch, GDB Community Field Representative, who was there visiting from Colorado.

Guide dog puppy Marigold wears a yellow and orange flower wreath on her head. A young girl in a princess costume is next to Marigold.

puppy raisers Megan and Haley with their puppies Paris, Denmark and Dinah dressed as Flora, Fauna and Merryweather, the three godmothers in Sleeping Beauty.

GDB grad Scott Wilcock and guide dog Senator (black Lab) wears a colorful tie.

Every one of the 25 dogs was dressed and ready to shake a hula skirt or balance a coffee cup on their head for the judges. Everyone had clever costumes like GDB graduate Morris Bowman and his guide Daniel who wore formal wear with real doggie tails. Other highlights from the puppy raisers included: a Star Wars themed dog costume, Little Red Riding Hood, and Kermit the Frog. Puppy raisers Stephanie and Myka dressed Marigold with a marigold flower crown, and Karen Fuller's dog was dressed as a travel brochure. One of the youngest dogs was entered by The Davis family who dressed up Will, a very young Golden Retriever, in a football jersey that said “wide retriever.”

Black Lab puppy Gwen dressed as a coffee with a sleeve and lid as the Starbarks costume (handled by puppy raiser Hannah Thompson dressed as a barista with a green aproon).

Yellow lab puppy Lisbon dressed as a Lisbon travel brochure.

Yellow lab puppy Smitty dressed up with three fellow Star Wars characters.

For the contest, there were 3 categories of costumes: Namesake, Halloween and Team. First place for the Halloween category was Gwen with the Starbarks costume (handled by puppy raiser Hannah Thompson). First place for the Team category was Smitty's Starwars costumes, and first place for the Namesake category was Rocket. The overall costume contest winner went to puppy raisers Megan and Haley with their puppies Paris, Denmark and Dinah dressed as Flora, Fauna and Merryweather, the three godmothers in Sleeping Beauty.

Black lab puppy rocket dressed as a white rocket with black sunglasses and colorful paper flames at the end.

Yellow lab puppy Penne dressed as Little Red Riding Hood looks up at the camera.

Yellow lab puppy Trivia smiles up at the camera dressed as Kermit the Frog.

Prizes ranged from a large dog bed and dog treats to all sorts of dog goodies to make any puppy cheer!  Even a Kindle was a huge surprise to the puppy raiser who excitedly received it. All prizes were generously donated from business like: R.C. Willey, Petsmart, Great Harvest, North American Pet Company, and many other wonderful supporters. Thank you all for coming out in style!

Young yellow lab puppy Will in a black jersey poses with a boy holding a football.

All photos by: Lisa Thompson

Friday, October 31, 2014

GDB Puppy Raising Scholarship Essay Submission: How Do You Give Them Up?

By: Sophia Hamilton (2014 GDB Puppy Raising Scholarship Recipient for Overall Achievement)

“How will you give her up?” Everywhere I went this question was posed about Almond, the little guide dog puppy that stood by my side. Truthfully I had asked myself this same question countless times, and in the beginning I had no idea what the answer was.

Almond was the first of three puppies I raised for Guide Dogs for the Blind. I began raising puppies in 2009, when my 8th grade teacher assigned the project I was to complete over the course of my final year in grade school. I decided that training a guide dog puppy would be perfect. Becoming part of this organization has been one of the most enjoyable and rewarding things I have done thus far in my life.

Throughout my four years of high school, I had puppies on campus with me from time to time. People would ask me all the time about the program and what my specific duties with these dogs were. Through this program I made connections with many people at my high school and in the community in general. One of my now closest friends, Kailee, and I met through GDB. She is a year below me in school and was inspired to join our local puppy club after seeing me at school with my second pup, Shimmer. Before joining the club, Kailee, like just about every other person asked the question, “How do you give these dogs up?” This time I finally had an answer, and I told the story of Almond’s graduation:

“Standing on stage, holding Almond’s leash in my hand for the last time, a shiver rippled down my spine. My fingers tightened around the leash as I fought back the tears that were threatening to overtake me any second. I was not ready to let my little girl go. As I listened to the voice of the woman who was to receive her, a wave of pride came over me. She said, ‘Without her, my dreams would never be fulfilled. Now I can go home with my little Almond and do all the things I want to without worrying how I will do them.’ I knew right then that I was able to give her up because all along she was never really mine to keep. I had raised her for a greater purpose, to give a person who is blind her mobility, and that day I let Almond go for the last time, knowing I had done just that.”

This story really inspired Kailee to go forward with her desire to raise a guide dog as she saw just how rewarding it can be.

My work with guide dog puppies has taught me persistence, perseverance, and patience. It has contributed greatly to who I am today, as it has shown me the joy that results from selflessness. Through my experiences I have found a passion in serving others. Although I am not certain of the career path I will follow, I know that many of the values and work ethics I will carry with me came from my involvement with GDB. Raising these dogs has shown me just how valuable serving and working with others is. Upon witnessing the strength and love of the partnerships of these individuals and their guides, my goal and desire to help improve the lives of others has been further solidified. I want to continue to experience the joy I get from taking part in changing a life.

Check out a video project Sophia created entitled, “Raising Three Guide Dog Puppies: Sophia’s Story,” on GDB’s YouTube channel here:

Thursday, October 23, 2014

GDB Puppy Raising Scholarship Essay Submission: The Triumph of Raising a Guide Dog Puppy

By: Skyler Howard (2014 GDB Puppy Raising Scholarship Recipient for Outstanding Essay)

Three freshman girls were sobbing uncontrollably in the school bathroom. “Why would he do it?” cried one. “How could this have happened?” whispered another. The news spread like wildfire throughout the school. By the end of the day, everyone had heard what happened: a freshman boy had killed himself.

The next morning, the hallways were silent. Words were either whispered or sobbed silently into a friend’s shoulder. The first bell rang and the noise was so loud it hit the walls and shattered into a million pieces. I made my way to English class with Triumph, the guide dog puppy I was raising, who was moving slowly by my side. The teacher was kind and decided not to give us a lecture. The class began to work on other homework or draw silently. Ten minutes into the period, three seniors drifted into the room and made a beeline toward Triumph. The quietly greeted me and Triumph, and then sat down on the floor with him. They stroked his paws and his head as he stared up at them with his large, understanding eyes.

“I wish I could stay here all day,” said one of the girls. The others agreed.

In spite of the tragedy of the situation, I couldn’t help but smiling a bit. When I looked at Triumph and the three seniors gathered around him, I could see the comfort he was giving to my classmates. Petting Triumph and sitting with him was making them hurt a little less. I could see that in their small smalls and hear that in their hushed voices directed toward the dog.

While raising a guide dog puppy, I have learned that it’s impossible for a puppy to influence just one person. Instead, a guide dog puppy influences a whole community. Triumph came to school with me every day and throughout the year he spent with me, I noticed just how much of an impact he made on my fellow students.

In my Japanese class, Triumph was the star of multiple skits. In my art and economics classes, he liked to sleep on the rug right in front of the door so that students were forced to stop and pet him when they walked into the classroom. In the hallways, many of my friends began to greet Triumph before even saying hi to me.

On the last day I had Triumph at school, my Japanese class had a party for me. We went out onto the tennis courts and everyone sat in a circle. Triumph slowly made his way from person to person, wagging his tail and calmly sniffing the face of each student. When class was over, everyone stood in two parallel lines and touched hands with the person across from them, forming a human tunnel for Triumph. The students cheered him through, and when he reached the middle he stopped and stretched. Butt in the air and tail wagging, he looked up at all the smiling faces above him. Everyone was so happy.

I began raising guide dog puppies because I have always loved dogs, but that is not why I continue to do it. Now I raise puppies because they have the ability to teach me so many things. Triumph taught me that sometimes a wagging tail is more comfort than another human voice, that people you barely know will stop and ask about your little dog in the green vest, and that an entire community can come together around a single dog.

Triumph also helped me discover what I want to do in my future. I plan to study animal behavior in college, and when I graduate I want to work at an animal shelter or train service dogs. Because of my experience raising guide dog puppies, I know that continuing to work with animals as an adult is what I want to do. Seeing the impact that a dog can have on a person’s life and on a community is truly amazing, and I know that I want to continue experiencing this miracle.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Foggy Doggies Enjoy a Day at Angel Island

By: Maile George, Alumni Association Board Co-chair

Autumn is one of the best times of year on the San Francisco bay, and the Foggy Doggies day on the bay began promising pure magic. Members of this San Francisco Alumni chapter and their friends traveled via bus, rail, para transit and private car with their guide dogs from counties south, east and north of San Francisco and arrived on ferry docks in Oakland, San Francisco and Tiburon. Guide dogs confidently led their handlers along piers onto creaky gangways, beside other passengers and onto the ferry to seats where they were exposed to the salty air.

When the boats arrived, the guide dog teams disembarked and ranger/interpreter Casey Dexter Lee welcomed the Foggy Doggies ashore. One interesting fact about Angel Island is that no dogs are allowed except service dogs. After introductions, the group walked to picnic tables on which Casey had previously arranged various specimens of plants. The group enjoyed smelling, touching and looking at Eucalyptus pods and leaves, Toyon, Bay Laurel, Buckeye, Norfolk pine, Oak and many other native and non-native plants.

Ranger Casey Dexter Lee greets the Foggy Doggies group on a beautiful sunny day with the bay in the background.

To illustrate the long history of Angel Island in a tactile way, Casey allowed each person to touch representative symbols of the history of Angel Island. She asked the group to identify what each object represented. There was a slightly concave wooden platter that was used for proofing bread, a canteen that could have belonged to a World War 1 veteran, a replica of a Japanese poem carved into the wall at the immigration detention station, and a Nike running shoe to symbolize the Nike Missile Base located on the island from 1954 until it was decommissioned in 1962. Finally, Casey treated the group to homemade silver dollar sized pancakes made from acorn flour she’d processed by pounding acorns into a meal.  She processed it in a similar way to how the earliest inhabitants of Angel Island, the Native American Miwok did.

After this unique science and history lesson, Casey turned the group loose to eat lunch in Ayala Cove. Once again, guide dogs expertly guided  their handlers past visitors eating grilled hot dogs and hamburgers, fish tacos, oysters on the half shell, chili, and sandwiches purchased from the cafĂ©. After lunch, some guide dog teams headed off for a hike, while others relaxed, enjoying the natural beauty of the San Francisco bay.

Members of the Foggy Doggies Alumni Chapter pose with their guide dogs on Angel Island next to a palm tree.

All too quickly, it was time to head back to the ferry dock where the Foggy Doggie teams would travel home via their various modes of transportation, the dogs anxious for their well-deserved dinners! One chapter member commented that he had never had the opportunity to go to Angel Island, and he was grateful to be a part of an alumni chapter that provided him with an opportunity to do something he’d always wanted to do and to make the trip independently. Other members expressed some trepidation ahead of time about traveling to a new area, but felt that with the support of other guide dog handlers, they were excited about taking advantage of the opportunity to have some fun.

Friday, October 17, 2014

GDB Puppy Raising Scholarship Essay Submission: What a Difference a Dog Makes

By: Maddie Hall (2014 GDB Puppy Raising Scholarship Recipient for Outstanding Essay)

When Anthony first started living in my house, he was clearly terrified. And who could blame him? As a 7 year-old child in yet another foster home, he not only had to assimilate into our family, but he also had to switch schools for the third time in a year. That would be overwhelming for anyone. Although Anthony’s a great kid and quickly became a lively part of the family, he struggled in school to keep up with the curriculum and make friends.

That began to change when one day my mom brought our then-current guide dog puppy, Blaine, with her to pick Anthony up from school. Anthony ran out of the classroom to say hello to Blaine, and within a couple of seconds, Anthony and Blaine were surrounded by a swarm of Anthony’s dog-loving classmates. All the other kids wanted to talk to Anthony, ask him questions about “his” dog, or tell him about their pet dog at home. One of the kids even wanted to spend the night at our house so they could spend more time talking about dogs.

Anthony loved the attention. For the first time, he had found his place in the classroom. Being “the kid whose dog picks him up from school” was a way for him to connect to his classmates in a way that he hadn’t been able to before. The impact that Blaine’s presence had on Anthony’s life was simple yet significant. Anthony felt more comfortable going to school and began to make new friends.

Blaine is now my pet dog and Anthony is back with his mom, but he still occasionally comes to visit. There continues to be a special bond between them. Blaine helped Anthony navigate through an awkward time and helped him become more confident.

Blaine taught me that sometimes all you have to do to help someone is to just be there for them. Blaine helped Anthony do better in school just by showing up. Raising guide dog puppies in general has taught me a lot about helping other people. When I started this adventure, I thought that being part of my local GDB puppy club would be a fun way to benefit others, but in reality, most of the benefit of my experience has been for me. Each of my dogs has impacted me and helped shape who I am. Eichler taught me how to be ready for anything, Blaine taught me how to be sensitive to others, and Nevada is currently teaching me patience.

Unfortunately, neither of my first two dogs made it as guide dogs and are now both pets. Eichler is living with a wonderful family, and Blaine is my pride and joy. Nevada is currently9 months old and is my last hope before college of raising a dog who becomes a guide. My goal when I started raising puppies was to have at least one of them become a guide. I knew the statistics and I knew that sometimes dogs have issues beyond my control, but that’s all I wanted. It was difficult for me to watch my first two dogs get so far and then be career changed, but I have high hopes for Nevada. I now think of my first two tries not as failures, but as evidence that sometimes what I think should happen - like having all my dogs become guides - isn’t what’s meant to be. Eichler and Blaine are living great lives as pets and I believe they are both very happy with that job.

In the fall, I will be attending the University of Oregon as a pre-business administration major. I am thinking about an emphasis in marketing, but I’m not quite sure about that yet. My dreams for the future just get more blurry from there. I don’t know what I want to do with my life except to be happy and do good. Wherever I end up though, I know that I want to keep supporting and raising guide dog puppies. My mom has even suggested that I try to get a job working for GDB when I graduate, and I think I would be very happy doing that. Guide Dogs for the Blind has had such a big impact on my life that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stop giving back to the organization that has given me so much.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Mommies with Guides – Alumni Chapter Update

By: GDB graduate Tracy Boyd

Spring and summer were packed full of events for Mommies with Guides (MWG)! After making a splash in our Real Simple magazine article and appearing on the Portland area news, our focus turned to grass roots work. In May, MWG was privileged to be invited to the Guide Dogs for the Blind Pinot and Pups Gala in which record breaking funds were raised to support GDB programs.

Four members of Mommies with Guides pose at the GDB Pinot and Pups Gala

Two events in June included substantial walks with our guides, families, and friends. The Rose Festival Grand Floral Parade walk was four miles long and the dogs did a fantastic job! We were proud to represent GDB and pleased with the number of observers and news outlets that recognized GDB. The second event in June was the Glen Neighborhood Fair, where we did some fundraising – selling our beautiful bracelets as well as print copies of the painting “The Guide” which is a wonderful depiction beautifully capturing the independence a guide dog provides to a mother of young children. Our Final June event was the Oregon Vision Walk for the Foundation Fighting Blindness. That walk was only three miles and we were joined by many new faces to MWG.  Our group was over 50 participant’s strong including family and friends. MWG even took away three awards for largest group, most team spirit, and best t-shirts! It was very satisfying to lend our support to the Foundation Fighting Blindness, the Oregon Vision Walk, which raised $39,000 (MWG is proud to say we raised $1,100), plus we had fun contributing to such a worthwhile cause. We also received a generous sponsorship for 60 MWG t-shirts from Gresham Ford.

Seven members of Mommies with Guides pose with their black and pink t-shirts and guide dogs

Mommies with Guides took a collective break in July so members could recharge and spend time with family. Our work takes on a different intensity when the kiddos are home in the summer and it helps to keep them busy with activities. In late August, members of MWG attended Oral Hull Fund Day. Oral Hull is a park located in the outskirts of Portland, Oregon which is designed specifically for the low vision and blind community. This event was the primary fundraiser for the park and included: a BBQ lunch, many vendors, games for kids and live music. As fall quickly approaches, MWG intends to keep up the pace. A picnic was planned in late September at a member's home and it was a chance to just socialize and not worry about an organized event. Tentative plans this month include a Harvest weekend at Oral Hull park for members and our families. MWG will join the Alumni Chapter Raining Canines for a couple of events in November and December. Other events are likely to be scheduled as the season progresses. In between these events, MWG members meet via conference call on a monthly basis. Our group is unique as it includes mommies with guide dogs in many different regions of the United States, although the founding members are from the Portland area.

We look forward to sharing experiences with and supporting each other as well as educating the general public around us! You can also check us out of Facebook:

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

GDB Puppy Raising Scholarship Essay Submission: Valuable Life Lessons from a Puppy Named Alan

By: Caitlin Berge (2014 GDB Puppy Raising Scholarship Recipient for Outstanding Essay)

In my sophomore year of high school, I was bullied ruthlessly by a girl who used to be my best friend. This caused me to withdraw from my high school, and enroll in an online high school. This meant I was home alone - a lot. I became lonely, and decided to go to work with my mom every day. She is a preschool teacher at our church. At this time, I had completed my puppy sittings and attended training meeting and was ready to get my first guide dog puppy.

My puppy Alan arrived on March 5, 2011. His named seemed quite serious for a puppy as goofy as him. But I quickly grew to love him and he became my best friend. Alan quickly got used to my daily routine, which included going to my mom’s classroom. That year, my mom had an especially sensitive student by the name of Will. Will’s family was experiencing some changes, causing him to be quite emotional at times. Will grew close to me, but more so to Alan.

Alan provided him a sense of security. Will knew Alan was always going to love him, and that Alan would wag his tail every time someone hugged him. Alan became a member of our class. He was always included in class pictures, he would go on field trips, and even sit on the rug for story time.

Alan is a very special dog. Almost everyone would say that about their dog, but Alan truly is special. He is more human than dog. He understands what you say to him, he understood what was being asked of him. But more amazing than that, he knew what someone needed before they knew it themselves. He knew when bad news was coming. Before the news came, he would come sit beside you, resting his head on your shoulder or lap, looking at you with his ever attentive eyes. He would sit there and wait - you could tell him “okay,” releasing him to do what he wanted - but he would just sit. If you moved, he moved. Whether it was me, or Will, or a stranger, he would wait. He wanted nothing more than to be there so you didn’t feel alone. Alan is the best friend everyone wishes they had.

He not only taught us about kindness, but also about selflessness. When Alan was recalled, we were all devastated. Kids in the classroom cried. I cried. My friends cried. It was almost like a death for some, because he was just gone. We all wanted him back so desperately.

A few months later, we finally got good news: Alan had been partnered with Vicky Nolan from Ontario. Vicky is a former rower on Canada’s Paralympics team, which is very impressive. But even more special for us, she is also a teacher for children with special needs.

When Alan first went back to the GDB campus, I had my selfish thoughts: He was my dog; I raised him. Why should someone else get him? But then we met Vicky. Every bit of selfishness disappeared. Meeting a person who is a perfect match for your dog, and is even more grateful for that dog than you are, is absolutely incredible. Alan was made for Vicky. I am sure of that.

I was taught the importance of selflessness and was lucky enough to instill that in the minds of a class of 4 year-olds. They understood that helping others makes you happier than anything else. It’s better than Christmas morning. And even better than your favorite dessert. Seeing a smile that you put on someone’s face is better than anything in the world.

Through the end of the school year, we remembered Alan. We talked about the field trips that he came on, and the stories that we read to him, and when he played at the role of a pickle in the class play. It was decided that we would make a memory book of Alan for his new family, so with the help of the preschoolers, we made a book for Vicky - specifically for her own two kids. We added pictures from the time Alan was 8 weeks old to when he was recalled.

At such a young age, this was a perfect level of giving. A book is something you can physically hold and pass on, which seemed to help younger kids grasp concepts. They all understood that all our hard work that was put into the book was going to be enjoyed by someone new, someone they had never met.

Alan not only taught me so many valuable lessons, but he gave me the chance to pass those along to those much younger than me. Although they were younger, I do believe they are lessons that will stick with them throughout their lives.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

GDB Puppy Raising Scholarship Essay: My Experience as a Guide Dog Puppy Raiser

By: Emily Mason (2014 GDB Puppy Raising Scholarship Recipient for Overall Achievement)

Raising guide dog puppies has a way of impacting people. Whether that person is me, my family, or whoever receives the puppy, there is no doubt in my mind that my puppies have impacted the lives of many.

I think those that are the most directly impacted by my puppies have been the people who have received them as guides. A wonderful man named Terry received my first puppy in training, Virgil. Terry live-in Oklahoma with his wife, three daughters, and two granddaughters. Terry is an amazing man, who I still keep in touch with today. Virgil impacted Terry because before Terry received Virgil, he had been living without a guide for months. When Terry arrived at home with Virgil, he and Virgil began adjusting to one another, becoming an unbeatable team, and creating a strong bond. Terry and Virgil have gone on a few backpacking trips and frequently go sailing.

My third puppy, Tommy, who I raised as a transfer puppy, has significantly impacted his handler, Brian. Before Tommy, Brian had never had a guide dog before and had relied on a cane and the help of others to travel. Brian’s life was significantly changed when he received Tommy, because he can now travel alone and be independent, with the thought in mind that Tommy is by his side, watching for any hazards.

Guide Dogs for the Blind has also significantly impacted my community. Virgil was the first guide dog puppy raised in my town, Oakdale, in a very long time, and most businesses were unsure about the program and having a dog in their facility. However, by introducing them to Virgil and explaining the program, Virgil was allowed access to all the businesses in town! Virgil helped pave the way for the ten puppies that have been raised in Oakdale since.

Another huge impact GDB had on my community was at my school. Virgil was also the first dog to attend Oakdale High School, and not long into my sophomore year, Virgil was ready to join me. My school and superintendent were unsure at first about having a dog on campus, but I was fortunate enough to have had a vice principal who had previously taught at a school that allowed puppies ingraining, so he helped me get the puppy raising project approved at my school. Having a puppy at school was a challenge at first, being that so many people were unaware of the etiquette toward a puppy in training. It was also a hard task adjusting to all of the students being around the puppy. But Virgil set the standard, and five more puppies have since followed in his paws.

Raising guide dog puppies has taught me many things, and over time, it has helped me grow. Raising guide dog puppies has taught me to be responsible. Since caring for a puppy is a lot like caring for a child, I have had a lot more responsibility than most of my friends. Raising puppies has helped me learn to put the care of others before myself - taking care of a puppy can be a full time job. Raising guide dog puppies has taught me the feeling of accomplishment through reaching goals, whether those goals are successfully teaching a puppy “down,” or having a puppy become a guide dog. GDB has taught me what it is like to accomplish a long-term goal. Raising guide dog puppies has helped me understand the gift of giving, because no matter how much I love each of my dogs, there’s no doubt in my mind that I want nothing more than to see them succeed. It was truly amazing feeling to stand on stage and hand Virgil’s leash over to Terry.

Lastly, raising guide dog puppies has majorly impacted my future career goals. Since I was a small child, my dream was to become a veterinarian. I was fortunate enough to be secreted for GDB’s summer internship program where I got to work in the vet clinic for two weeks. Working alongside the veterinarians and clinic staff was like a dream, it is a time in my life I will always cherish. I had such an amazing time working and learning from such experienced professionals. My internship helped confirm my goal - becoming a veterinarian is no longer the dream of a small child but a goal set by a young adult. Being alongside the veterinary team at GDB helped me know for sure that being a vet is what I want to do with my life.

Guide Dogs for the Blind has given me many life experiences and taught me many things. I have been able to watch my community and school grow as they became accepting to guide dog puppies. Through this wonderful experience I have been able to grow as a person and experience the amazing feeling of being able to give someone a gift like a guide dog. GDB is a wonderful organization, and I’m so grateful to have been a part of it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Announcing GDB’s 2014 Puppy Raising Scholarship Awards

Annually, GDB awards scholarships to puppy raisers in their senior year of high school who have outstanding scholastic achievement and volunteer experience within GDB and their communities. For 2014, we were pleased to award $3,000 in scholarship funds. Congratulations to the following puppy raisers on their accomplishments!

$1,000 Scholarships for Overall Achievement:
Sophia Hamilton of Ukiah, Calif., currently raising her third puppy
Emily Mason of Oakdale, Calif., currently raising her fifth puppy

$500 Scholarship for Outstanding Essay and Outstanding Creative Project:
Maddie Hall of Castro Valley, Calif., currently raising her third puppy

$250 Scholarships for Outstanding Essays:
Caitlin Berge of Normandy Park, Wash., currently raising her third puppy
Skyler Howard of Vashon, Wash., currently raising her fourth puppy

The bios of the scholarship winners are included below. In the coming days and weeks, we’ll share the winning essays and creative projects from the scholarship winners here on the blog, so stay tuned!

Sophia sits posing with a Golden Retriever in front of the GDB pond
Sophia Hamilton of Ukiah, Calif. has been raising puppies for Guide Dogs for Blind for five years. She has always been a dog lover, and has enjoyed the value and joy of serving others that being involved with GDB puppy raising has brought to her life. She has raised three GDB puppies: Almond (a working guide); Shimmer (a breeder who recently whelped her first litter of 10 puppies); and her current puppy, Fauna, who will be returning for formal training this fall. Sophia has also served as the teen leader of her puppy raising club, Mendocino Pathfinders, for the past two years. In addition to puppy raising, Sophia is also a dedicated student athlete. She is a three-year varsity water polo player and a two-year varsity swim and dive participant. She is a 2014 All American in swimming and diving and the recipient of the 2014 United States Army Reserve National Scholar Athlete Award. Sophia will be attending the University of California Davis in the fall.

Emily sits with her black Lab guide dog puppy on the ground surrounded by leaves
Emily Mason of Oakdale, Calif. has raised five GDB puppies: three are working guides, one is in formal training, and her current pup, Cloud. Emily enjoys working with animals, and aspires to one day become a veterinarian. Emily is vice president of her puppy raising club's 4-H program. In addition to her puppy raising activities, Emily has also been the  assistant coach of a little league softball team. Emily will be attending Columbia College, in Sonora, Calif. in the fall.

Maddie wears a University of Oregon green sweatshirt and puts her arm around a yellow Lab smiling.
Maddie Hall, of Castro Valley, Calif., has been raising GDB puppies since her sophomore year in high school. She is currently raising her third puppy, Nevada. Her previous puppies were Eichler and Blaine, both career change dogs and Maddie’s pride and joy). As a member of her local 4-H club, Maddie also raised and showed mini Lop rabbits for many years. Maddie will be attending the University of Oregon in the fall.

Caitlin poses in front of a vintage red truck with her black Lab guide dog puppy.
Caitlin Berge, of Normandy Park, Wash., has been involved in puppy raising since she was 14. She is currently raising her third puppy, Wesley. Her first puppy, Alan, is a working guide, and her second, Havarti, is currently in formal training. Besides volunteering with Guide Dogs for the Blind, Caitlin is also an active participant in her church's youth group, with which she has gone on mission trips for the past six years (this summer she went to Belize, her fourth mission trip to that country). Caitlin received her Associate of Arts degree while still attending high school; she will attend the University of Washington-Tacoma in the fall.

Skyler smiles while holding a young yellow Lab puppy.
Skyler Howard of Vashon, Wash., has raised four guide dog puppies since she was a freshman: Tanny, Triumph, Berlin, and Whisper. Triumph and Berlin are both working guides. Skyler is a member of the National Honor Society and has volunteered in rural villages in Laos and Peru, as well as at a local veterinary clinic. She plans to attend Carroll College in Helena, Mont. this fall. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A City Dog gets to Work and Play

By Katie Crocker

Katie Crocker and her black Lab Jetty

Every August, as part of my job, I record an event that is held at the Massachusetts state house.  My job at this event is to set up audio equipment, record speakers and audience discussion, and ultimately, turn that audio into a radio show.  The event features a yearly program run by the Massachusetts agency for the blind.  In any case, this was the first time I've attended this event with a guide dog since 2011.  Jetty and I have been a team now for about 15 weeks; he is by far the youngest dog I have ever taken to this particular event (I've attended this yearly since 2006).  This involves tons of people, many with white canes, several with guide dogs, tables, crowds, food, the whole nine.  In addition to these distractions, I also had many situations where Jetty needed to do a sit/stay or down/stay, while I untangled wires, tested audio equipment, etc.  This also involved him helping me trace along walls to find wires, and tape them down to avoid tripping hazards, much of this was just him and I, without sighted assistance.  Let me just say, Jetty was a total rock star! He did an amazing job, weaving me past tables, podiums, other people who could not see us, led me past curled up wires, even stopping patiently while I rearranged wires along the wall so others without sight would not trip.  His work was exemplary; never before have I seen such restraint and focus in such a young partnership.

Another thing I found amazing was Jetty's ability to read me before I gave any commands.  As I've been behind the scenes at this event for multiple years, I know the surrounding area quite well.  It only took Jetty a trip or two to figure out: A, where my assigned chair in the audience was, B; where the podium we needed to connect to was, C; where our recording devices were (in a separate room, D; where the press media ports were in the room.  We needed to frequent these places periodically, as the recording requires two separate speaker systems.  There were folks there who were deaf/blind, so we also needed to account for an FM transmitter to accommodate listening devices.  This was my first time making on the spot changes to our rig, but it worked out for the best!
There were a number of guide dogs there.  One belonged to MCB commissioner, another belonged to the ADA coordinator of the state house.  Then there were several in the crowd.  One I knew from my previous guide dog school, and a few from our own GDB.

Jetty was a gentleman, through and through.  He targeted the areas I needed, with very little verbal cues, which I found amazing! He and I are getting into that  "mind reading" phase, where before I can utter a command, he seems to already know!  We move like a fluid force, together. At every step he seems to know what I need, and in turn, I feel through all things what he needs.  We have been a good team so far.  Of course there have times where we have had to figure each other out, but it seems like with each trip out the door we get better and better.  We are learning more about each other every day.  But, we are staring to respond to each other on a level that is almost surreal.  Sometimes it's nonverbal.  Sometimes a gesture, or my pace, or...I don't even know what, will prompt my boy to do move in a way where we just flow.  It completely takes my breath away.

The minute we get home, and the harness comes off, Jetty turns into a goofy, sloppy teenager. He grabs whatever toy is closest, snorts, and will do backflips right into you.  He likes keep away games, loves to chew, and loves, more than anything else, to feel needed and important.  When I sit on the floor, he will curl up in my lap, and he seems to feel at peace.  He needs both work, and play, in that order.  If Jetty can't guide, he really doesn't feel like himself.  But when we are out and about, he is his happiest.  This is an amazing dog.....

The streets of Boston are loud and chaotic.  At every turn there are crowds, buses honking their horns, construction, you name it.  But nothing ever phases Jetty, or gets him worried.  He is the most confident city dog I've ever had.  GDB did a wonderful job pairing us together, and I can't thank them enough for this amazing gift!  I look forward to every day as an adventure with this boy by my side! This is how we/have grown.  I feel so blessed!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Breeder's Digest for June 2014

Breeder’s Digest
June 2014

Litter Announcements 

Labrador Retrievers
Golden Retrievers
Labrador Retriever-Golden Retriever Crosses
New Breeders
Labrador Retrievers
  • Aida: raised in AZ
  • Arbor: raised in CA
  • Belay: raised in WA
  • Harlem: raised in CA
  • Lovely: raised in CO
  • Namiko: raised in CA
  • Novel: raised in CA
  • Quince: raised in CO
  • Ronnie: raised in WA
  • Vesta: raised in CO
  • Vikram: raised in CO

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Just Ask

By: Jake Koch, GDB graduate and alumni representative

My guide dog and I stood at the front entrance of a commercial jetliner bound for Spokane Washington. It was the Thanksgiving holiday and I was taking a trip to visit my family for the long weekend; well, almost. As I stepped through the door, a flight attendant stopped in front of me, halting my progress. The attendant informed me that there was a seat for me located just behind the bulkhead. I thanked the crewmember  for the offer and asked to be seated several rows back. The attendant appeared not to hear my request and again informed me of the available seat behind the bulkhead. Wanting to be polite, but finding myself annoyed at the persistence of the flight attendant, I calmly explained that my dog enjoys laying under a seat while flying, and I would rather put my dog in a place where she can rest without being bothered by a large number of curious holiday travelers. After another couple minutes of back and forth discussion with the flight attendant, and a small line of passengers beginning to form at the front door of the aircraft, the attendant seemed to understand and offered me a seat several rows back.

Today’s society is becoming increasingly more safety and lawsuit conscious; employee training programs in industries that serve the public, such as airlines, hotels and restaurants have been greatly expanded to address what seems like every safety and or lawsuit concern that might arise.  With all of this extra training, service personnel sometimes forget to just ask a person about what their needs, wants and expectations of the service are. This feeling of receiving impersonal customer service is sometimes magnified for people with disabilities. This observation is not to put blame on employees working in the service industry, but rather to encourage positive dialog between a customer, regardless of abilities and the service personnel.

With the increasing expansion of training protocols that must be mastered by service employees, it is easy to forget about disability specific laws, regulations and preferences. Many people with disabilities and disability advocates are quick to point out the apparent “ignorance,” that they believe is held by service industry workers. Although there is undoubtedly some “ignorance,” held by employees in the service industry, it is important to note that nobody could possibly remember every provision, regulation, or preference pertaining to people with disabilities. A positive solution that you won’t find in many blog posts that are critical of service industry employees is to Just Ask. If you are at all affiliated with the service industry, and you are working with a person who has a disability, welcome them to your establishment. Then, simply ask how you may assist them. People with disabilities are people first, and want to be able to communicate their needs, wants, and expectations as a consumer; just like everybody else.

Let me provide some real-world examples:

• Referring to the personal anecdote above, when offering the availability of  a bulkhead seat on an aircraft to a guide dog handler, understand that some people enjoy sitting in different places other than the bulkhead section of the aircraft, depending on the needs of the dog and handler; some people enjoy sitting farther back, while others enjoy sitting in the very front. 

• When waiting on a customer with a disability at a restaurant, address the person with the disability directly; do not ask his or her partner. 

• If you are assisting a blind or visually impaired customer during check-in at a hotel, ask them if they need any assistance. Sometimes people who are blind or visually impaired may ask for an orientation to the hotel’s amenities, including the room they are staying in. In other instances, they may simply ask for the room number, feeling confident in getting around the hotel without assistance.  

Giving a person with a disability the opportunity to explain their own preferences will often result in a positive experience for the service employee and the person with a disability. It is not necessary for employees of the service industry to memorize every rule and regulation pertaining to people with disabilities; instead it’s necessary to treat them with respect and offer your assistance in a positive way, even if their preferences may differ from employee instruction. Likewise, it is foolish to expect employees of service establishments to know and understand very specific laws, rules, and regulations pertaining to a specific disability. When working with a person who has a disability, it’s helpful to remember this phrase: don’t assume; Just Ask. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Use of Science and Technology in Breeding Management

By: GDB Breeding Manager Jenna Bullis

Guide Dogs for the Blind is more than an industry-leading guide dog school; we are a passionate community that serves the visually impaired. With exceptional client services and a robust network of trainers, puppy raisers, donors and volunteers, we prepare highly qualified guide dogs to serve and empower individuals who are blind or have low vision.

One aspect of how GDB leads in the industry is our breeding program. In our earliest days, most of our dogs came from animal shelters. It soon became evident that we were looking for something very specific: dogs that not only had excellent health, intelligence, and temperament, but also exhibited a willingness to work and thrive on praise. Our specialized breeding program was started in the late 1940s in an effort to ensure consistent availability of dogs with these desirable traits and to improve future generations of guide dogs.
Technician aliquots (divides out) a sample of saline.

The method used to make long-term genetic changes in our colony is called selection. The selection process determines which dogs join the breeding colony, who they are mated with to produce puppies, how many puppies they have, and how long they remain in the breeding colony. The idea behind selection is simply this: to let the dogs with the best set of genes reproduce so that the next generation has, on average, more desirable genes than the current generation. It is also important to remember that “best” is a relative term and there is no one best dog for all situations. The traits that make one guide dog suited to work in New York City might be quite different than for a guide dog working in a quieter more rural area.

Technician pipettes (placing a drop) of dye onto a slide.

Today our breeding program applies a wide range of scientific tools and techniques in our selection process. In addition to using health, temperament, and genetic (DNA) tests to assess each individual dog we also use population genetics to make genetic predictions. Population genetics allow us to use the extensive data stored on all the relatives of an individual to calculate Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs). EBVs allow for comparison between the predicted breeding values of dogs in the colony. At GDB we calculate EBVs for a variety of measurable traits including success as a guide dog and a number of health conditions.

Over time, a closed breeding colony becomes more interrelated, consequently while managing the colony it is also important to maintain genetic diversity. This can happen in a number of ways: bringing in puppies that may mature into breeding stock, acquiring adult breeding stock, or by breeding to outside dogs via natural or artificial means. GDB looks for breeding programs which have selected dogs for similar traits to ensure high success as working guides. This typically means we work with other guide and service dog schools. GDB has a large number of collaborative breeding relationships around the world and routinely exchanges genetic material to maximize the genetic diversity of our colony, contribute to the global development of guide dog services, and to promote sharing knowledge, experiences, and camaraderie. 

Technician looks through microscope at a slide.

Sharing genetic material internationally often occurs by shipping frozen semen. GDB began collecting, freezing, and storing all studs in our colony in the late 1990s. Today, all semen cryopreservation is conducted in our breeding lab by our highly trained staff. This extremely valuable genetic material is frequently used for collaboration and is occasionally used within our current colony to bring back valuable traits from proven stud dogs of the past.

Close-up of microscope optics.

Remaining on the cutting edge of reproductive and selection technologies is a critical component to the ongoing success of GDB’s mission. By carefully managing our breeding colony, we are able to produce exceptional dogs that with time and training can fulfill a life-changing role for our clients. Our international collaborations also enable us to positively impact visually impaired individuals around the world. Breeding is both an art and a science and we are proud to be among the leaders in our industry.