Friday, December 18, 2015

A Guide Dog’s Night Before Christmas

By: GDB puppy raiser Jill Savino Nieglos (18 guide dog pups)

'Twas the night before Christmas, the kennels were still,
with most dogs asleep, having eaten their fill.
The labs were sprawled out, quite snug in their beds,
While visions of milk bones danced in their heads.
The Goldens and Labs were curled up on the floor,
some twitched in their sleep and some even did snore.
The dog food was stacked in the feed room with care,
in hopes that a trainer soon would be there.
Off by the window, a kennel cat lay,
surveying the lawn at the end of his day.
Something was different, that little cat knew -
something would happen, it had to be true.
That day as the workers had left to go home,
they'd wished "Merry Christmas" before starting to roam.
The dogs had all noticed that during their walks,
the trainers seemed happier and eager to talk.

In the mall where they worked amid people and stores,
there were decorations, music, distractions galore!
Most dogs pranced along without worry or fear,
some balked at the man with those fake-looking deer.
The cat was near sleeping when he first heard the sound,
a whoosh through the air and a jingle abound.
The sound of a collar when an animal shook,
but the sound just kept growing - he'd better go look.

From the ceiling there came a kind of a thunk,
As the kennel cat climbed up on a pile of junk.
But the dogs were still quiet, all sleeping so sound,
as this man dressed in red made his way to the ground.
He patted the cat as he climbed past his spot,
then made his way right to the old coffee pot.
A labrador sat up, not fully awake,
then a golden soon followed with a mighty loud shake.
That did it...the dogs filled the kennel with noise,
but in spite of the din, the old man kept his poise.
He filled the pot full and it started to brew,
then he pulled up a chair and took in the view.
Dogs all around him, so carefully bred,
he knew well their jobs, and the people they led.
Some had stopped barking and looked at him now,
while others continued their deafening howl.

Laying a finger in front of his lips,
the jolly old man soon silenced their yips.
He smiled, laughed, and took a short pause.
"You may not know me, but I'm Santa Claus,"
He filled up his mug with hot coffee and cream,
and said, "Meeting you all has been one of my dreams."
The cat jumped down to explore Santa's pack.
He said, "Sorry, kitty, I’ve emptied my sack."
Santa smiled, drank, looked in their eyes –
deep brown and gold, all wide with surprise.
Some of these dogs he'd seen just last year,
All in their homes - cute, full of good cheer.
He'd seen the effect of a pup on a tree,
but now they were here, just waiting to be.

"I didn't bring presents or bones to chew.
But I’ll tell you what’s better – and what you’re to do.
You’ll all worked hard and the trainers will share,
 both praise and correction, gentle and fair.
You'll go lots of places and face scary things,
you'll ride buses, planes, and hear sirens ring.
Cars will drive at you, you’ll know what to do,
Moving from danger, not moving into.
Then, when you think your trainer's the best,
the kindest, and funniest, just toss all the rest;
That trainer will leave you, and give you away,
handing your leash over despite your dismay.

The one who will feed you might see just a tad,
Or maybe it’s just that their focus is bad.
So you little buggers will work as their eyes
To be a great team and discover the prize.

The prize isn’t kibble, or even new toys,
It’s leading your partner, you good girls and boys.

Santa sipped coffee, looked over the brood,
But what he said next seemed just a bit rude.
“Some may not make it and won’t become guides.
But time here’s not wasted, no casting aside.
Some will be drug dogs and some will find bombs,
some will be pets with new dads and moms.

When the last drop of coffee had gone from his cup
Santa turned, and smiled at each wide-eyed pup.
"The best gift of all is to give something back.
And that's why there's nothing for you in my pack.
Draining his mug, he went to each pen,
Petting and scratching each dog yet again.
"The following years, even more after that,
you’ll all give great gifts wherever you're at.

You might lick a hand on a really bad day,
or notice a car and step out of its way.
You might catch a crook or discover some loot,
bring joy to a old man in a funny red suit.
Your master will love you and treat you with care,
knowing your training will always be there."
After the last had been petted and soothed,
He rinsed out the mug and made ready to move.

To the ladder he climbed for the door high above,
with a smile and a wave as he slipped on his glove.
All the dog's ears were pricked as he flew out of sight,
Saying, "Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"



Friday, December 11, 2015

GDB Puppy Raising Youth Scholarship Recipient: Hailey Elias Essay - Changing Lives One Puppy at a Time

Guide Dogs have a way of changing the world around them for the better. Whoever the dog is placed with, that person’s life is changed. It is not only the visually impaired who are impacted by these dogs, it is the family and community in which the puppy is raised that also benefits from a puppy in training.

I received my first guide dog puppy, Darice, when I was ten. I was one of the only raisers in my small town at that time. Everywhere I went, people stopped me on the street and asked me about my puppy. I was able to educate my community at a young age about puppy raising for Guide Dogs for the Blind. Within a few years, there were several people from my town that became raisers. Darice paved the way for many successful guides that were raised in my town. Darice went on to become a breeder
and whelped three litters and produced several guides.

Some raisers say that raising guide dogs is like potato chips, you can’t just have one. True to form, when I turned in Darice for her formal training, I couldn’t bear to leave empty handed. That day, I received my second puppy, Atlanta. Atlanta didn’t make it as a guide dog because she has a soft trachea, but is now my beloved pet. She has brought me so much happiness, and because she has impeccable house manners, has modeled good behavior for each puppy that has come into my house. I like to think of Atlanta as my co-raiser!

Hailey (wearing a pink t-shirt) poses next to her yellow Lab guide dog puppy (wearing the GDB green puppy coat).

My third puppy was Skyla, Darice’s daughter. Skyla was career changed in phase six for traffic sensitivity and relieving. However, Skyla has impacted one of our country’s heroes. When Skyla was in formal training, my family learned of a local veteran that suffered severe brain damage from explosions in Iraq who wanted a well behaved dog that he could train to be his service dog. We immediately knew that Skyla would be perfect for him because she is so gentle and calm. When we heard the news that Skyla was career changed, arrangements were made that day for her to be transferred to this hero’s home. Skyla now accompanies him to the hospital for his rehabilitation and is by his side when he is recovering from his numerous strokes and surgeries. I was so proud and honored to be able to provide a well trained dog that can help ease the suffering of someone who served our country so valiantly.

My fourth and fifth puppies, Vivaldi and Yolo, greatly impacted their visually impaired partners’ lives because both of my puppies went to first time handlers. Before, they relied on the use of a cane and the help of others for mobility. Vivaldi’s handler lives in Sacramento, California and works for the Braille and Audio library for the blind. Watching Vivaldi work with his handler was like watching a fine tuned car maneuver through an obstacle course. They walked speedily everywhere! I finally fully understood how much a guide dog can impact someone’s mobility. His handler doesn’t have to worry nearly as much about hazards around him with Vivaldi’s watchful paws guiding his every move. Yolo became a guide dog for a man in Scottsdale, Arizona. When I met the man he went to, my heart broke listening to his story. He had recently lost his wife and was mostly housebound because of his blindness. With Yolo, he now confidently goes on two hour walks around his neighborhood almost every day and is much more active in his community. He and Yolo have developed a very strong bond, and it is touching to receive updates from them occasionally hearing about their new adventures.

My sixth puppy, Porter, also went on to become a working guide. He just graduated this March with a man who lives in Fort Worth, Texas. His handler has had a guide dog before, and was nervous about making the transition to a new guide, but told me that he couldn’t have more happy with Porter. Once again, I was blown away with how much a guide dog changed someone’s life.

Hailey (wearing a pink t-shirt) kisses her yellow Lab guide dog puppy who is sticking out its tongue (wearing the GDB green puppy coat).

At the moment, I am raising Vashti, a wonderful dog who has all the makings of becoming a successful guide. Every time Vashti is in her jacket and I look down at her, I am reminded of how much her sweet little face will impact someone in a life changing way. I am a different person because of puppy raising, it has made me acutely aware of how much an ordinary person like me can impact the world. I hope to continue to raise puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind as long as I am physically able. I am enrolled in Sacramento State’s Mechanical Engineering program, and I can’t wait to introduce Vashti to college life. I know it will challenge and grow both of us. It is my hope that wherever my life will lead me, I will be able to have a guide dog puppy by my side.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Newshounds – Guide Dogs for the Blind in the News!

Charitable Crawford Shows Range Off The Field: Supports Organizations Like Guide Dogs for the Blind – http://m.giants.mlb.com/news/article/158064694/giants-brandon-crawford-focused-on-charities

Students Win at National FFA Convention: http://hanfordsentinel.com/news/lemoore/students-win-at-national-ffa-convention/article_b23059ac-c4a4-5f83-bf9e-685225d4d09b.html

GDB Graduate Jake Olson – A True Trojan: I Play Football With No Sight: http://www.greatbigstory.com/stories/blind-usc-football-player

Record-Setting $57,000 Raised at Sold-Out 2015 Guide Dogs for the Blind’s Oregon Fall Luncheon in Portland: http://www.societypage.net/2015/11/14/record-setting-57000-raised-at-sold-out-2015-guide-dogs-for-the-blinds-oregon-fall-luncheon-in-portland/

GDB Graduate Austin Clark: Visually Impaired Student Lacks Sight, Not Might – http://wkuherald.com/life/article_604c7dfe-8cc7-11e5-b9ce-e3b8608c1279.html 

Flying Blind: Alaska Event Allows Blind And Low Vision Customers To Familiarize Themselves With Flying: http://blog.alaskaair.com/alaska-airlines/alaskacares/flying-blind/

Guide Dog Puppies in Training Arrive at Dobie: http://m.yourhoustonnews.com/pasadena/living/puppies-in-training-arrive-at-dobie/article_4e50230c-26c8-53d4-9580-52a2ff259a3b.html?mode=jqm

Dinuba High FFA Chapter Has New Guide Dog Program: http://thedinubasentinel.com/articles/2015/11/19/news/doc564e631b5220c758889592.txt

GDB Graduate Trevor Thomas – Meet the Blind Man Hiking the Country’s Toughest Trails: http://www.outsideonline.com/2036766/meet-blind-man-hiking-countrys-toughest-trails

New Tech Helps Handlers Monitor Health, Well-Being of Guide Dogs: https://news.ncsu.edu/2015/11/roberts-guide-dog-2015/

Support Roles for Dogs Go Beyond Helping the Blind: http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/national-international/Service-and-Comfort-Dogs-Bind-Emotional-Support-314553871.html

Students Help Raise Guide Dogs: http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/houston/slideshow/Students-help-raise-Guide-Dogs-120241.php?cmpid=fb-mobile

Blind Long-Snapper Jake Olson Joins Trojans: http://espn.go.com/los-angeles/college-football/story/_/id/13661297/blind-long-snapper-jake-olson-says-join-usc-trojans-player

A Blind Football Player Joins His Trojan Heroes On The Field: http://www.npr.org/2015/10/14/448294462/a-blind-football-player-joins-his-trojan-heroes-on-the-field

Caltrans News Flash #51 - Spirit the Guide Dog: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=56CIq_o5NyY&feature=youtu.be

GDB’s Dog Days of Summer Benefit: http://www.examiner.com/article/dog-days-of-summer-benefit-this-friday

Petco Blog: Learning to "Dance" with Griff: https://community.petco.com/t5/Blog/Learning-to-quot-Dance-quot-with-Griff/ba-p/63805

Blind Hiker, Trevor 'Zero' Thomas, Completes Colorado Trail With Dog, Tennille: http://www.cpr.org/news/story/blind-hiker-trevor-zero-thomas-completes-colorado-trail-dog-tennile

Hiker Doesn't Let Blindness Keep Him From Challenges: http://www.9news.com/story/news/features/2015/06/18/blind-hiker-to-hike-colorado/28922705/

For This Hiker, Stunning Vistas Aren’t Required: http://www.durangoherald.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?aid=%2F20150730%2FNEWS01%2F150739985&template=mobileart

Blindness Just a Part of Life For Congressional Intern: http://today.ttu.edu/posts/2015/07/blindness-part-of-life-for-congressional-intern

Guide Dogs: A Powerful Partnership Thanks To Volunteers: http://www.centralvalleybusinesstimes.com/stories/001/?ID=28667

Ronald McDonald House Gets a New Furry Friend, Jax: http://www.everythinglubbock.com/news/ronald-mcdonald-house-gets-a-new-furry-friend-jax

It Takes A Community Of Volunteers To Prep Puppies For Service To The Blind: http://www.ocregister.com/articles/dogs-671829-puppies-valenti.html

Effort Underway To Help Guide Dog Teams: http://www.weau.com/home/headlines/Effort-underway-to-help-guide-dog-teams-335342181.html

Blind Teen Asked To Leave Bakery Because Of Her Service Dog: http://www.wfsb.com/story/30365732/blind-teen-asked-to-leave-bakery-because-of-her-service-dog

People Pets: Social Media Helps Missing Guide Dog Return to His Blind Owner: http://www.peoplepets.com/node/3152996

Training Dogs For Noble Causes: http://www.weatherforddemocrat.com/news/training-dogs-for-noble-causes/article_f92e376c-7848-11e5-931f-7bfb71e3fd3d.html

WSU Student Club Raises Puppies For Guide Dogs for the Blind: http://www.seattledogspot.com/dog-news/wsu-student-club-raises-puppies-for-guide-dogs-for-the-blind/

Giants’ Brandon Crawford Forms Special Connection With Guide Dog Puppy: http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2015/06/04/giants-brandon-crawford-forms-special-connection-to-4-legged-rookie-mvp-guide-dog-for-blind/



Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Gift

By: GDB graduate Joy Thomas

I sometimes find it ironic that one of the biggest gifts I’ve ever received was given to me by complete strangers. I usually reserve the most valuable, time-consuming presents for my close family members, so the idea that someone would put such great effort into a gift for a stranger is, at times, baffling to me; the idea that someone would prepare such a gift 38 times is downright mind-boggling.

But that’s exactly what my guide dog, Roja’s, puppy raisers did. They raised 38 puppies prior to Roja. Of course, not all of those became guide dogs and not all of them were long-term raising situations, but from what they shared, they have seen a significant number of their pups graduate as guide dogs. In Roja’s case, they actually co-raised her with another family, due to work scheduling issues. The cooperation of two remarkable families resulted in the creation of a very adaptable, calm guide dog, which is exactly what I needed.

My raisers’ hours of work and play with Roja resulted in a four-legged angel with a set of eyes that help me move smoothly through life. As if that gift weren’t enough, my raisers gave me other gifts on graduation day. They brought a toy they made for Roja, but more meaningful to me, they gave me the words I needed to hear that day. They told me that they could tell Roja was meant to be a guide dog from the time she was a puppy.

Before meeting them, I had been nervous that the interaction would be difficult, that maybe they’d be sobbing over the sadness of saying goodbye to her, as I had heard some classmates describe about their graduation day meeting with their previous dogs’ raisers. Such a reaction would have been understandable to me. I know that puppy raisers wake up in the middle of the night with their puppies in the early days, that they spend countless hours working with and training these pups that are constantly by their side and become part of their families. It wouldn’t have surprised me nor annoyed me in the least if there had been tears. One classmate told me that his first puppy raiser’s parting words were: “She may be our puppy, but she’s your dog.” I appreciated hearing the distinction put in those words.

And I appreciated the words of encouragement from Roja’s raisers. I think after raising so many dogs, they had learned to detach themselves emotionally, and maybe since she was co-raised, they weren’t as attached. But they put a tremendous amount of time and effort and love into a puppy that they eventually gave up for a complete stranger. And then, as if that weren’t enough, they drove several hours to send Roja off with a proper farewell, and they offered that same stranger the gift of letting yet another puppy go graciously and with meaningful words.

They later sent me an email, telling me that they both felt that Roja seemed happy with me. They had no idea that at times I had doubted Roja’s and my bond at the beginning, so the idea that they would encourage me in that exact area meant so much to me, especially since they had spent enough time with her as a puppy to assess whether she looked happy.

The interesting thing about receiving such a sizable gift from strangers is that there’s no suitable gift I can give in return that would be able to convey my gratitude. I gave Roja’s raisers framed pictures of Roja and myself, which seemed almost comical in its simplicity on graduation day, compared with the gift that would be leading me home. I can only hope that Roja’s raisers received an intrinsic gift as they watched Roja and me graduate. That watching a stranger gain newfound mobility, confidence and freedom as a result of their sacrifice made it somehow worth it for them. I have the sense that this must be true, or they wouldn’t have continued raising pups all these years. Even if it’s not an equal exchange, however, that’s the best part about gifts. When given genuinely, they are given without expectation, even to strangers.

Joy kneels down smiling next to her guide dog Roja (yellow Lab in harness) on a Fall day.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Alaska Airlines Collaborates with Guide Dogs for the Blind to Update Policy and Allow Service Animals in Training to Travel

Alaska Airlines, in collaboration with Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB), has updated their Accessible Travel Services policy to allow service animals in training to travel domestically at no cost.

“GDB is honored to partner with Alaska Airlines and we are thrilled that our guide dog puppies in training will now have the ability to practice traveling both in the airport and in cabin. This type of exposure helps to prepare them for the highest level of service dog work -- becoming a guide dog for someone who is blind or visually impaired,” said Christine Benninger, Guide Dogs for the Blind president and CEO. “We very much appreciate Alaska Airlines’ ongoing efforts to improve independent travel and customer service for all travelers, especially those with disabilities.”

Listed are some of the requirements:

-Travel is wholly within the United States.
-Space confirmed in advance.
-The service dog is being transported by their trainer/raiser.
-The trainer/raiser can provide a health certificate for the dog in training and an official ID card issued by the assistance organization.

“Making travel easier for our customers is a mantra at Alaska Airlines,” said Len Wolford, Alaska Airlines passenger service policy and procedure specialist. “When Guide Dogs for the Blind asked us to adopt a policy that would welcome ‘dogs in training’ on our planes, we responded quickly and waived our standard fee to allow service dogs-in-training to travel free of charge.”

Alaska Airlines and GDB recently hosted an exclusive event at Sea-Tac Airport for individuals who are blind and visually impaired, as well as GDB graduates and volunteers, to enhance the travel experience for all.
Alaska Airlines and GDB recently hosted an exclusive event at Sea-Tac Airport for individuals who are 
blind and visually impaired, as well as GDB graduates and volunteers, to enhance the travel experience for all.
GDB puppy raising volunteers raise puppies from age eight weeks to 16-18 months, at which point they can enter into formal guide dog training. During this time in the puppy raising home, families are responsible for providing their guide dog puppies with a well-rounded, nurturing environment. To support the puppy raisers, GDB offers a comprehensive puppy raising manual, organized training and socialization through meetings with other local Puppy Raising clubs, as well as staff that offer training and problem solving for the pups and their raisers. GDB currently has over 2,000 active puppy raising volunteers in the following states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Washington.

With several hundred puppies needing raiser homes every year, puppy raisers are a critical part of producing highly trained guide dogs and other service dogs. People interested in Puppy Raising can learn more here: www.guidedogs.com/puppy

To view Alaska Airline’s full updated policy regarding Accessibly Travel Services, specifically Service Animals in Training, please visit: http://www.alaskaair.com/content/travel-info/accessible-services/specialservices-support-animals.aspx

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

GDB Puppy Raising Youth Scholarship Recipient: Gina Phillipsen Essay

Raising Guide Dog for the Blind (GDB) puppies has provided many and varied opportunities for me to impact others in my community, and one particular instance stands out from the rest. Training of Carnival, my second GDB puppy, began at the start of summer so that by my second day of sophomore year I was able to introduce her to the challenges of attending high school. Walking into my last class of the day, Carnival was ready to fall asleep. Luckily, the teacher was still trying to figure the year out, and we were able to relax. At the end of the period, an earnest classmate I had never seen before approached me. Assuming she would just ask for Carnival’s name like countless others, I prepared myself to answer quickly and clearly. Instead, she surprised me by asking me about the program I was involved with and expressed interest in joining. I invited her to my club meeting that Friday, and Lexie has since become my best friend. We enjoyed a sleepover after every Friday GDB club meeting, working together to train Carnival to become the best GDB puppy imaginable. As Lexie’s parents were unsure whether or not their family would be able to raise a GDB puppy on their own, Lexie and I planned to submit a co-raising application once Carnival had returned to San Raphael. In the meantime Lexie became almost a co-raiser for Carnival, puppy sitting to get her hours, and working Carnival at meetings. Once Carnival returned to GDB, Lexie and I turned in our puppy raising application and waited patiently for word, while stressing together about Carnival’s phase number. After a few short weeks, we were informed of Carnival’s selection to become a breeder, and her graduation ceremony date at Guide Dog Fun Day. Lexie and her family attended Fun Day as well, to better prepare for their puppy and to enjoy the festivities. After presenting Carnival to her breeder keepers, Lexie and I were surprised with a puppy! This fluffy bundle of joy was Lloyd, a puppy from the Vernon and Carsey litter. We were so excited; we could not wait to begin training him! All too soon Lloyd was old enough to return to GDB, and although we are no longer co-raising a puppy, our friendship has remained as strong as ever.

My willingness to invest a large amount of time and emotional involvement in raising and training puppies that I know I will be giving up to improve a stranger's life places me in an elite group. Making the difference between dependent and independent lifestyles, a guide dog is truly a gift of love. What really makes me stand out from the crowd is that in addition to all the responsibilities associated with raising a puppy to specific standards, I also work very diligently to promote the GDB program. I am very proud of my guide dog puppies Jamaica, Carnival, Lloyd and Nepal and the GDB program, so I have invested significant time and effort promoting the program locally to help secure donations to GDB and to recruit volunteers into the program. Jamaica, Carnival, Lloyd, and Nepal have been present in all of my high school classes. I have taken each of my puppies-in-training to classrooms at nearby pre-schools, elementary and middle schools for promotional talks and presentations. I have also attended business networking association meetings to introduce Jamaica, Carnival and Lloyd and speak on behalf of the GDB program in order to raise funds for the program.

Over the past twelve months I have become greatly attached to Nepal, and have learned about the responsibility of taking care of a loving, living creature. I have taught her all of her commands and continue to reinforce her training if she encounters difficulties with a command. When my family and I take her back to GDB, tears of separation will become intermixed with tears of pride. For the next six months we will be happy if we do not hear any news of her, as that means she is doing well in her training. If Nepal becomes a Guide Dog I will not see her very often, but I will know that the blind person who receives her will love Nepal just as much as I have and she will still be in a good home. Every blind person who receives a Guide Dog seems overwhelmed with gratitude, and many aren’t able to imagine life without the dog once they have had one. I am involved with GDB because of the happiness of everyone whose life is touched by the puppies: the raiser, the raiser's family, the trainer, the blind person, and all of the people who have ever interacted with the puppy along its journey to a life of service.

Learning is one of my favorite activities, and I aspire to further my learning to the fullest extent in order to build upon the foundation of knowledge in my field. I plan on obtaining my degree at a 4-year university starting next year to major in engineering. As an Engineer, I will be able to invent solutions to fascinating problems, which will in turn benefit my society. I will be able to work towards safer lives and a cleaner environment. Once I have completed training in my chosen field of study, I would like to continue on the path of knowledge, either going into the field of research or teaching others such that they may love the subject as I do. I have tutored mathematics for three years, and I enjoy using my passion to help others. Raising GDB puppies has taught me the importance and responsibility of caring, selfless and meaningful contribution to others in my community, country and world. I aspire to become an engineer and dedicate my life to the goal of turning ideas into reality to increase quality of life for people while taking care of the earth.

Gina (wearing a red sweatshirt) smiles holding a young black Lab puppy in her arms.


Friday, September 25, 2015

GDB Puppy Raising Youth Scholarship Recipient: Jaclyn Bigley Essay

Except for the puppy part of Guide Dogs for the Blind, the experience of being part of this organization has been far more than I expected. I originally joined the program because I love animals, and I thought it would be a great way to help people. Many of my friends at the time I joined Guide Dogs for the Blind were joining National Charity League (NCL) because in our neck of the woods that was the thing to do. I went a different route because NCL was very high profile and required a significant financial commitment. I was shy, and I wanted something different, something that fit me as a person.

The program’s impact on me began immediately. The story of how Guide Dogs for the Blind started to change my life and those around me picks up when I picked up my first puppy to raise and experienced for the first time the monumental task and responsibility of caring for a guide dog day-in and day-out. Of course it is all second nature now even though there is more to learn, but in the beginning, I needed to understand my role and all the rules. And as importantly, I had to assert myself with my brothers when they would play or work with the dog in a way that was inconsistent with how I was taught. Dad even got off track on occasion, and I needed to remind him. We, quickly, as a family realized that we are in this together. It was not like playing a sport, or the piano, or having your own hobby. This was a life style choice. I knew right there and then that in order to be a successful puppy raiser, I needed everyone in the family to understand how important it was to do this together the right way.  And I needed to be confident enough to remind people of that.

Jenna was my first puppy and she successfully graduated from the program. She was given to a wonderful person named Sue Mangis who is a teacher. We have been friends ever since I met her at the graduation ceremony in San Rafael. Of the people my experience with Guide Dogs for the Blind has affected the most, I think Ms. Mangis would be around the top of the list. We keep in contact through email and she never fails to mention how amazed she is of the work I have done with Jenna and how well Guide Dogs for the Blind paired them together. Every time I think about them, I am so touched by her and Jenna. I realize that much of what Ms. Mangis is saying is because of the great job that the trainers and staff do in San Rafael, but it is still nice to hear anyway. Also, hearing her stories and her day-to-day activities made easier by Jenna and their relationship has truly shown me how big of an impact this organization makes. Although it is painful giving up a dog, Sue Mangis is one of those people who keeps me doing what I do for Guide Dogs for the Blind. I believe the work Jenna does and the relationship I have with Ms. Mangis has changed us all for the better.

My school and friends have also been impacted by my work with Guide Dogs for the Blind. Not a week goes by that somebody does not ask me about one of the dogs. In fact, if too much time passes for them without seeing the dog, they get mad at me for not bringing her to school. When the dog is not with me, people really want to know what is going on. Somehow they feel connect to the program through me and what “we” are doing because the students and staff at my high school think they are helping too. I am humbled by this. Most teachers and students openly welcome a guide dog into the classroom. Among other things, it has created a discussion and awareness of the blind. I am thankful that this has had such an affect in my school and with my friends.

Beyond being a puppy raiser, my experience as an intern in San Rafael was a milestone for me.  Stepping into an administrative role and living far from my home during part of the summer was an experience that I will never forget. People in a work setting depended on me and I depended on them.  After work, I needed to be self-sufficient and resourceful. I had freedom, but also responsibility, and it felt good to be part of something like that even for a short time to get a feel for the professional world.

I think I have found a piece of myself through Guide Dogs for the Blind that I was not sure existed.  People tell me “I have come out of my shell.” They credit Guide Dogs for the Blind for this and so do I. I feel more confident, more conscientious, and more in tune with what is going on with people around me because of my work in the program. I have had a chance to lead, to follow, to be on a team, to speak publicly, fundraise, put on parties and participate in many other activities that have helped me view the world from different angles and learn from each. I am grateful for this. From my experiences with Guide Dogs for the Blind I have learned about how beautiful it is to be unique. I have learned that it is okay to step out of my comfort zone and try something I might not think I can do or that my peers are not doing. I have learned that blindness or any handicap for that matter is a point of view. I learned it is not about what you cannot do, but what you can do that counts. I learned how vital it is to give in order to receive. I have learned, in spite of what your challenges are, you need to continue to move forward. I learned the value of hard work and making a commitment and sticking with it. I learned through the dogs about being disciplined and consistent. So for all the emotion, work, and the things I did to give, I received much, much more.

Guide Dogs for the Blind has and I hope it will continue to play a role in my life. It has helped to shape who I am today.  I want to pursue a career in business, but work in an organization that has a social purpose and some emphasis on helping humanity in some way. And like Guide Dogs for the Blind, it would be wonderful if animals were involved. Although I do not know what that specific career is yet, I feel that my experiences with Guide Dogs for the Blind has given me this vision of what I would like to do. I enjoy helping people and working with animals. In fact, that is why I chose to get involved with Guide Dogs for the Blind as a puppy raiser in the first place. I simply did not know where the journey would ultimately take me, and in the end I believe it has taken me where I need to be. It has helped me to mature in so many different areas.  It has allowed me to give something back that is needed.  And it has strengthened my interest in working in organizations who are more like this one.

Jaclyn smiles holding a young black Lab puppy in front of the Puppy Truck.

Jaclyn Bigley is from Fullerton, California and has been raising guide dog puppies for eight years. She is currently raising her sixth puppy, Anna. Jaclyn first got involved with GDB because she wanted to be able to help others with what she loves most, dogs. GDB has impacted her life in way she could have never imagined and she is very grateful for the opportunities it has brought her. In addition to puppy raising, Jaclyn swims, is the co-chairman of the Knights of Columbus Christmas Drive at her church, is involved in student government. Jaclyn will be attending the University of San Diego.




Friday, September 4, 2015

Nancy Bloyer Memorial Fund Scholarship: Winner for Outstanding Essay

The Nancy Bloyer Memorial Fund was created to support the GDB Puppy Raiser Youth Scholarship program for 2015 and in the future. After reading about the 2014 scholarship winners, puppy raiser Nancy Boyer saw each of them as truly amazing, strong, giving individuals who deserved a nice “thank you" for all their efforts to make a difference for others. As a result, the GDB memorial fund in the name of Nancy Bloyer was created. Nancy will be remembered as one of the givers – especially the love and guidance for the GDB pups entrusted in her care: Flair, January, Ella and Madge. Thank you very much to the Nancy Bloyer Memorial Fund donors for their generous contributions (these funds will also be available next year).

Nancy and Don Bloyer with yellow Lab guide dog puppy January in front of the Puppy Truck
Nancy and Don Bloyer with guide dog puppy January

Nancy Bloyer Memorial Fund Scholarship – Winner for Outstanding Essay: Laura Marchi

How has your experience in raising a GDB puppy specifically impacted someone else in your life or in your community?

I hop out of my car, dressed in a suit, purse over my arm, expertly avoiding an ever-present Oregon mud puddle. My heels click as I walk around to the tailgate, leading out a puppy whose tail is wagging. He has no regard for the wet weather or my nice clothes and hops out - right into the puddle I just avoided. I sigh, looking at the mud spots on my skirt. Luckily, I’m prepared for puppy antics. I pull a wet wipe out of my bag and clean off my suit and the rambunctious puppy’s paws before heading into the courthouse, laughing to myself.

Volunteer work has been a source of learning and satisfaction for me for many years. My most fulfilling volunteer job has been as a Puppy Raiser for Guide Dogs for the Blind. One of my favorite things about puppy raising is that I can participate in training and socializing my puppy while going about my normal life. It makes for a very flexible schedule, at least once the puppy is reliably house trained! I also devote my time to a local program called Roseburg Area Youth Services (R.A.Y.S.) Youth Court. Through this program, I serve as an attorney for high school and middle school students who have committed first offense misdemeanors, such as possession of alcohol or marijuana, petty theft, or harassment. I have been working for both organizations for four years.

Part of my job as an attorney for Youth Court is to serve as a mentor to troubled teens, but it can be really hard to connect with the teens that are assigned to jury duty as a sanction for their offense. Without meaning to, I often found myself taking the easy route and socializing with the other volunteers. It felt like my conversations with the sanctioned teens tended to end before they had begun. I wanted to reach out, but it was always hard to connect. Then, one day I came in to volunteer with the puppy I was raising for Guide Dogs, a fluffy golden retriever who was bright eyed, friendly, and had a tail that could clear a coffee table in under a second. As I began to wade my way through the cafeteria, kids perked up, staring and whispering. Some of these were kids that I had never seen look up from their phones or take off their headphones. These were the teens who usually stared listlessly at walls, annoyed or ashamed that they were here serving out their community service sanctions. They normally refused or avoided talking to me, but now they were looking at me and my dog. They began to tentatively ask questions and pet my puppy. I ended up sitting next to a girl that I had always wanted to speak to. After hearing her case for the first time and meeting her less than supportive parents, I wanted to help in some way if she would only let me talk heart to heart with her. She absolutely adored the golden puppy, and it was only a few weeks later that she began to open up to me and others, take advice from us, and really let her guard down. She’s now a strong attorney in the program, and has plans to graduate high school and enter college. It was the puppy that opened the pathway of communication, but it allowed me to make the decision to step up and make a dedicated effort to speak with her.

My leader, Terri Jo, always says that our puppies have a purpose. Even when they do not make it to be a working Guide, they will leave their mark in this world. Some dogs are meant to be Guides, to serve as a light to their handlers. But others serve as a beacon of hope to those in our communities that least expect it. This golden pup helped this girl long before he would ever be old enough to become a Guide, and to me, that is the true power of what we do with these puppies.

When you are in public with an irresistible puppy wearing a green Guide Dogs for the Blind training vest, everyone wants to talk to you. I have chosen a career in engineering, but being a public ambassador for Guide Dogs for the Blind has really helped me become a strong communicator and allowed me to look at my long term goals critically. I’m going to Oregon State University in the fall and I plan to continue as an active volunteer in the Guide Dogs program. I want to improve people’s lives and shape the world through engineering. Guide Dogs for the Blind and R.A.Y.S. Youth Court have opened my mind to the needs of different groups of people. Using both my passion for mathematics that I have demonstrated through school and my passion for helping others that I have developed through these volunteering opportunities, I have the tools to make change happen and apply my skills to my career goals.

Laura Marchi poses with Golden Retriever Kristoff near purple flower beds.
Laura Marchi poses with Kristoff 







Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Announcing GDB’s 2015 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. Congratulations to the following puppy raisers on their accomplishments!

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!

Nancy Bloyer Memorial Fund Scholarships

Laura Marchi poses with a Golden Retriever with purple flowers around them.
Receiving a $1,000 Guide Dogs for the Blind Puppy Raising Youth Scholarship, a $500 award in the Outstanding Essay category, and a $500 award in the Outstanding Creative category is Laura Marchi of Roseburg, Oregon who has been raising puppies for Guide Dogs for Blind since she moved to Oregon four years ago. She has trained and owned dogs her whole life, and GDB was a natural next step to give back to the community. She has raised two GDB puppies, Ken and Caribou, both black Labrador Retrievers. Both were career changes, Ken works in a home for troubled teens and Caribou stayed with a family in her club. She has helped co-raise most of the other puppies in her club. One Golden Retriever whom she helped raise, Kristoff, who was career changed, is now her 4H dog and they will compete together this year at the Douglas County Fair in agility, rally, obedience, and showmanship. She also owns a German Shepherd, Cleopatra, whom she loves dearly and shows in AKC events. She plans to continue raising Guide Dog Puppies through college, and will be attending Oregon State University for engineering this fall.


$1,000 GDB Puppy Raising Youth Scholarships

Jaclyn smiles holding a black Lab puppy in front of the Puppy Truck.
Jaclyn Bigley from Fullerton, California has been raising guide dog puppies for eight years. She is currently raising her sixth puppy, Anna. Jaclyn first got involved with GDB because she wanted to be able to help others with what she loves most, dogs. GDB has impacted her life in way she could have never imagined and she is very grateful for the opportunities it has brought her. In addition to puppy raising, Jaclyn swims, is the co-chairman of the Knights of Columbus Christmas Drive at her church, is involved in student government. Jaclyn will be attending the University of San Diego.




Gina smiles holding a young black Lab puppy.
Gina Phillipsen of Shingle Springs, California has been involved in raising puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind since 2001, and as a primary raiser since 2010. Gina’s two older sisters raised 5 guide dogs between them. Gina has raised 4 puppies: Carnival who became a breeder; 2 career change puppies; and Nepal (one of Carnival’s first litter). Nepal just returned to GDB for formal training. During her 5 years as Teen Leader of the El Dorado County 4H Guide Dog Project, Gina worked diligently to promote the GDB program by securing donations and recruiting volunteers. Gina’s puppies-in-training have been present in all of her high school classes and she has taken them to classrooms at nearby pre-schools, elementary and middle schools for promotional talks and presentations. In addition to GDB puppy raising activities, Gina has earned two varsity letters in Trap Shooting, competes in local, state and national mathematics competitions and served as 4H All Star Ambassador for El Dorado County for 3 years. Gina will attend the University of Nevada, Reno this fall to major in engineering.


Hailey smiles with her arm around a yellow Lab guide dog puppy wearing the green puppy coat.
Hailey Elias of Auburn, California has raised seven puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind: one breeder (Darice), three working guides (Vivaldi, Yolo, and Porter), and two career changes, one became a service dog for a US Veteran (Skyla), and the other is her beloved pet (Atlanta). Her current puppy is a female yellow lab named Vashti. Hailey’s passion is helping others, and she loves seeing the impact her guide dog puppies make on not only the lives of the visually impaired, but her community as well. Hailey also volunteers in the Special Needs ministry at her church, and enjoys helping children with disabilities. She finds her background with Guide Dogs for the Blind helps her have a strong connection and empathy with the children she works with. Hailey graduated a year early from high school as valedictorian. She will be attending California State University Sacramento in the fall, and she can’t wait to continue raising guide dog puppies in college.


$1,000 Harwell Family Scholarship provided by Greg and Kathy Harwell

Kylie sits on a dirt road next to a smiling black Lab guide dog puppy.
Kylie Peterson of Roseville, California has been actively involved with Guide Dogs for 5 years.  She currently is spoiling a career change, Geoffrey, which got her involved with Guide Dogs in the first place. In that time she has also raised 3 puppies: Alamo (therapy dog for marital counseling); Pecan (spoiled house pet); and Gamma her current puppy in training.  While finishing her senior year of high school, Kylie not only lead several meetings for her puppy raising club but also was a leader in her church youth group. She will be attending Sierra College in the fall to pursue a career in Canine Physical Therapy.


$1,000 Jenkins Scholarship provided by Steve and Kathie Jenkins

Christina smiles next to a black Lab guide dog puppy.
Christina Marelli of Rancho Palos Verdes, California is currently raising her fourth GDB puppy, Blair. She has been the President of South Bay Puppy Raisers, her local puppy raising club, for the last two years. Christina also completed her Girl Scout Gold Award Project entitled "Anyone Can Be A Puppy Raiser," where she dedicated over 90 hours to develop a video for GDB about the process of being a puppy raiser and presented to 130 youths about the merits of becoming involved with GDB. Christina will be attending the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the fall, studying civil engineering and architecture.


Puppy Raising Youth Scholarships provided by Guide Dogs for the Blind

Megan smiles holding a young guide dog puppy (black and brindle Lab).
Receiving $1,000 GDB Puppy Raising Scholarship is Megan Irving of Fullerton California. Megan has raised 8 puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind as part of Puppies 2 Partners puppy raising club. Stardust, Harlow, Avalon and Margene are working guides, Dakota & Sherbert are career change pets, Figaro was career changed and is now Megan’s family’s pet, and Irene became a breeder and just had her first litter of 8 puppies! Among Megan’s many extracurricular activities, she is a scholar athlete having served as team captain for her school’s lacrosse team for three years as well as a two time MVP. She earned her Girl Scout Gold Award by petitioning the Orange County Board of Supervisors to change the wording on the service dog affidavit for waiving licensing fees for service dogs to include puppy raisers. She will be attending the University of Notre Dame in the Fall to study Mechanical Engineering.


Mikaela smiles sitting next to a black Lab.
Receiving a $500 GDB Puppy Raising Scholarship is Mikaela Haglund of Gresham, Oregon. Mikaela has raised puppies for GDB since 2006. In that time she has raised six puppies. Two puppies, Georgette and Tessie, became breeders. Three puppies, Gavina, Farrah and Cider, were all career change dogs. Cider has become a member of their family. The most recent puppy, Luau, graduated last June and became a working guide. Mikaela is currently involved with Guide Dogs as a puppy sitter. She has a passion for volunteering; she enjoys seeing the fulfillment she can bring to somebody and the difference she can make in their life. She has also volunteered with various local organizations through National Honor Society and Key Club. The past two summers she was a camp counselor at Camp Adams. Aside from volunteering, she played varsity tennis for two years. Mikaela will be attending Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, WA this fall. She plans to minor in Spanish and major in biochemistry to pursue a career in forensics.


Delphine smiles with a yellow Lab and Golden Retriever guide dog puppy.
Receiving a $500 GDB Puppy Raising Scholarship is Delphine Medeiros, of Seattle, Washington. Delphine has been raising puppies since her freshman year of high school. Corbett (retired guide), Lawton (retired guide), Belay (breeder), Ontario (career change), and Ben (puppy in training) have accompanied Delphine to school every day and become a part of the Vashon High School community. She has been the secretary for her puppy raising club, which is both ASB and 4H, leading into being the club's president for two years. Delphine has worked on ASB and helped manage the girls volleyball and boys basketball teams at her school during her senior year. In the fall she will attend Washington State University and hopes to continue her work with animals.

Sam smiles with a yellow Lab guide dog puppy.
Receiving a $500 GDB Puppy Raising Scholarship for an Outstanding Essay is Sam Nelson from Bend, Oregon. Sam is currently raising his 7th puppy, Burke, who will be recalled by the end of this summer for formal training. Sam raised two working guides, Huey and Waylon. Sam participated in multiple clubs including Interact Club (a division of Rotary International), Speech, Jr. Quota, and Honor Society. Sam plays several sports including Cross Country running, Nordic Skiing, and Lacrosse. Sam will be attending the Honors Program at Georgia Tech in the fall, studying Materials Science Engineering to work with medical devices.




Ian smiles kneeling next to a Golden Retriever guide dog puppy.
Receiving a $500 GDB Puppy Raising Scholarship for an Outstanding Essay is Ian Miller of Salt Lake City, Utah. Ian has been involved with Guide Dogs for the Blind for four years, and raised two puppies. His first, Muir, is currently a working guide in Hawthorne, California, while his second, Pasha, has been selected for breeding. Last year, Ian was elected as an officer for the FFA puppy raising club, and this year was elected as Club President. Outside of his work with GDB, Ian volunteers with the Utah Refugee Committee, working to help newly arrived refugees settle in to life in the US. He also recently completed a Service Year with Youthlinc, during which he finished 80 hours of local community service before traveling to Cambodia over the summer to teach English lessons, provide medical care and build a preschool in a rural village. In addition, Ian graduated with recognition from the National Honors Society of Utah and a scholarship from the Service Learning Department for his years of work through his local high school community. In his time with the Humane Society of Utah, he has fostered over 250 cats and kittens, all of which have now found permanent homes. Ian will attend Northeastern University this fall in the Honors Mechanical Engineering program on both a Dean’s and Presidential Scholarship.


Honorable Mentions (received $100 gift cards to Staples to assist with school supplies):
Monica Magdaleno
Allison Hance
Marina Mehta
Sarah Ferrell


May 2015 Breeder's Digest


Litter Announcements

Labrador Retrievers
Golden Retrievers

New Breeders:

Labrador Retrievers
Magpie – UT
Whitley – TX

Golden Retrievers
Pasha – UT

Lab/Golden Crosses
Reagan – UT & CO

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Southwest Bright Eyes Puppy Raisers Support GDB Graduate Trevor Thomas on The Colorado Trail

By: Sue and Jim Mooney

July was a very special time for the Southwest Bright Eyes puppy raisers of Durango, Colorado. We don't often get to meet a working guide dog team, so we were thrilled when we were able to welcome Trevor Thomas and his guide dog Tennille to our town when they finished hiking the 500 mile Colorado Trail! Trevor, Tennille, and Dave Baumgartner started their journey from Denver in mid June; all along the way, puppy raisers like Paul and Nancy Lucacovic, acted as trail angels bringing supplies to specified points every four to five days. When the team reached Lake City, it was time for us to help out. We are a small club, but we have lots of dog lover friends, and Dick Dahl, Donnie Moffatt, and Amy Scott rose to the occasion for two of the drops. We had the pleasure of meeting this intrepid trio on beautiful Molas Pass. The guys wolfed down the sandwiches and cokes we supplied, and Tennille was very pleased with a snack of baby carrots and a banana.

Two Southwest Brighteyes puppy raisers and their guide dog puppies pose with Trevor and Tennille (black Lab) in the wilderness.

The following Thursday, they arrived at the end of the Colorado Trail. Our local TV station and newspapers were there to greet them, as well as Mary Monroe from Trails 2000 (a local trails non profit connecting people to the outdoors), and our puppy club, with puppies in training, career change dogs, and many well-wishers. Nancy and Paul were here from Denver, and we had the honor of driving the tired but happy hikers around to get what they needed to get rid of the trail dust of 42 days, before the Chamber of Commerce reception at Santa Rita Park that evening. Durango pulled out all the stops, with a deli tray, refreshments, and gifts from several local merchants. Trevor was great at answering any and all questions, and Tennile sat quietly by his side  such a good example for our pups! After the reception, 10 people and four dogs traveled over to The Palace Restaurant for another opportunity to get to know each other. I am happy to report that the dogs and people were all very well-behaved!

A Southwest Brighteyes puppy raiser poses with her black Lab puppy.

Two Southwest Brighteyes puppy raisers pose with their guide puppies.

What an amazing experience it was for all of us getting to know Trevor, Tennille, and Dave! We are often asked how can we give these pups up. Our answer is that we raise them to change lives, and we know what great matches GDB makes. This team is an outstanding example of that! We will miss you, Trevor and Tennille, but we look forward to new adventures that you'll be up to. Again, the connections made this summer prove that "We are Family."

Three Southwest Brighteyes puppy raisers smile with Trevor and Tennille (black Lab) in the wilderness.



Friday, August 7, 2015

Yay for the ADA

By: GDB graduate Deanna Lewis

Being blind can be a drag
But, I just have to brag
Thanks to the ADA
I am able to go on my way
If I head to the museum
My guide dog is free to come
On a college campus
While riding in a city bus
Whether out to eat
Or on a spa retreat
Riding in a taxi cab
Or in a hospital lab
At any place of retail
To walking on a nature trail
While in a shopping mall
Or at a stadium watching football
Inside my local pharmacy
Or at the nearby library
While out to see a movie
I’m free to have my guide dog with me
In a swanky resort
And waiting in an airport
Daily trips to the gym
And at the city pool for a swim
Anywhere the public can be
So can my guide dog and me
At work, I can get the software I need
To do my job well indeed
The ADA gives me these rights
So that I can avoid many fights
So the most important thing I can say is
Yay for the ADA!

Deana's official GDB graduation photo smiling while posing with her guide dog Mambo (yellow Lab in harness).
Deanna with guide dog Mambo

Deanna submitted this poem in a local (Cincinnati, OH) writing contest in honor of the 25th anniversary of the ADA. The poem won FIRST PLACE, and she recently had the honor of reading it at a public celebration in downtown Cincinnati. Congratulations, Deanna! 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Retirement: The Process and Emotions of Retiring My First Guide Dog

By: GDB graduate Nicole Schultz-Kass

For a number of reasons, I have waited to announce to all of you, that Picassa, my sweet girl, my first guide dog, will be retiring in the Fall. Many of you have been able to see and follow some of our experiences through posts on GDB's Alumni Chapter Mommies with Guides' Facebook page, so it seemed only appropriate, and perhaps helpful, that you could experience some of this process with us as well. I announce Picassa's retirement with sadness, but also with great respect for all she has done for me so willingly, and with excitement for the next phase of both of our lives.

In the earliest days of this conversation, I went looking online for others’ experiences. I found a beautiful video about Cricket, Becky Andrews’ retired guide dog, which you can see here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tWtPPSFe8yI. But, there wasn’t a great deal from other guide dog handlers' perspective on the process of retirement. Guide Dogs for the Blind  provided information and resources, however there wasn’t much out there by other people with guides. Next, I went to friends, and the women and men I’ve met through Mommies with Guides and they were such a huge help and comfort to me. They shared their experiences about retirement: the process, the decision, and the emotions. It was in those conversations that I realized opening up and sharing parts of this experience with you may be helpful, to even one guide dog user out there, and to those of you as puppy raisers, volunteers, and staff, as insight into the process of retirement with your first guide dog.

It was March 2011 on "Dog Day" during my training at GDB, I felt something akin to being on a blind date. I was about to meet a dog who would be my partner, my eyes, and my friend, for years to come.  I didn’t know her name, her personality, or whether she would like me!  The last thing on your mind when you’re about to begin the journey with your first guide dog, is what the end of that working partnership looks like.  The last thing you want to think about is the “R” word. Of course, there were people in our class who were training with a successor dog (meaning they had retired their previous guide), so I knew...logically I knew retirement was inevitable.  But, a couple of friends had guides who were eleven years-old and working like young sprouts, so I hoped that would be us and left the topic to wander far, far into the back of my mind — planning only to bring it out when I was forced to.

Nicole smiles (wearing a black dress and shoes) with Picassa (yellow Lab in harness) on graduation day on the Oregon campus.

Fast forward to April 2015, and I felt my pulse speed up and my fingers tremble just a bit as I wrote, nervous even then, to Picassa’s trainer.  I was sitting in the Las Vegas airport with Picassa, having left my husband at his work conference to travel home, and I knew I needed to begin a conversation with GDB, a conversation I wasn’t sure I wanted to begin….What if they couldn’t help me fix this?  What if they said…. the “R” word?  They wouldn’t dare. These trainers can do anything—they’re miracle workers. They’ve got this — there will be no “R” word for us.

Picassa had been slowing down for some time, something we had been working on at each annual check-in, and an issue we were typically able to address with additional techniques, encouragement, and reward.  In the last few months, however, she had been responding less regularly to my attempts and we traveled at a snail’s pace together most of the time. The Vegas trip not only amplified what was happening in our work together, but our travel there made it evident that this would quickly become a safety issue. I found myself scared to cross streets because I couldn’t rouse Picassa to cross the intersection within the allotted amount of time. I found myself growing frustrated as I realized….my world is speeding up, everything around me is speeding up, my children, my work, my activities, but we are slowing down. I realized as I walked through that airport, thankful I had given ample time because we were moving so very slowly, that I needed to write that email. It went a little something like this:

Dear Trainer,
Help!  Picassa’s pace is becoming a huge issue—my grandma could run me off the sidewalk and lap me on any given route—and she has ceased responding to the techniques that previously would get us moving a little faster.  Not even beef jerky could get this girl to go.  Please help me fix it…  and whatever you do, don’t even mention the “R” word.  She’s my first guide, my girl, and we belong together like sprinkles belong with cupcakes.
Forever grateful,
Nicole

I wrote when I did for a couple of reasons.  One:  the walk through the airport had made this issue so pronounced, so in my face, that I couldn’t ignore it.  I felt this knot in my gut that compelled me to send “the email.”  I’m also a compulsive email checker when I’m dealing with something important like this… come on, you know what I’m talking about and I bet several of you do it too!  You click “send” and within two minutes you’re already refreshing your Inbox to see if you’ve heard back ridiculous — but true. I knew I wouldn’t be able to check my email the duration of that flight, and I knew I had to give my trainer time to respond. When her response came, it was something like this:

Dear Nicole,
It’s been awhile since we’ve seen each other!  I want to help in any way I can—what you describe with Picassa is really complex and could be many things—let’s talk and see how I can help!  I know you love your girl and she loves you—it will be ok.
Always kind and amazing,
GDB Trainer

*I should note, there was no mention of the “R” word — yet — I swear the trainers at GDB are skilled not only in their training, but also in the emotional and inner dynamics of these human-dog relationships.

This all sounds very cut and dry, especially with my abbreviated and somewhat silly versions of our email exchanges, but every email I sent to our trainer had me in tears. The “R” word was off limits, but it was implied. It sat there, just under the surface, and somehow when I wrote that first email, I knew. I wasn’t sure, and I was hopeful that our trainer would have a miracle technique to address what was happening with Picassa and me, but there was just something as I wrote the first email, something as Picassa and I walked together that weekend and in that airport, that told me where this was going.

I will sing praises of GDB here. I sing their praises often, but throughout this process I desperately wished I had a gift for our trainer, just something to show her how genuinely appreciated and how truly adored she was for her work with us and her understanding and kindness as I took this in, with lots of tears, and gradually came to accept it and move to embrace it. Our trainer spoke with me on the phone extensively, and when an opportunity presented itself that made sense (which happened to be within a week of us beginning this conversation), she came and spent over five hours working with Picassa and me to determine not only what was going on, but also how we might address it.

During that visit we went on a route, a simple route within my neighborhood, which ended up taking two hours. We tried talking, and silence, and leading, and rewards, and break-offs, and all sorts of tricks she had up her trainer sleeve, and still, Picassa, much like a fifteen year old kid, was set in her pace and demonstrated with perfection that she is one strong-willed chick who would do what she wanted to do, and what she wants to do is take life at a perfectly lackadaisical pace, slower than a granny. During that visit, we talked about options, including the word “retirement.” We praised my girl for all she has done in the last four plus years, her impeccable skills, and recounted some of the great experiences we have shared as a team. We laughed and took joy in talking about her personality and the strong relationship Picassa and I have developed, not something everyone shares with their first guide, and something I am so grateful for. And we giggled, just enough, about how my grandma could have run circles around us on that walk around my neighborhood.

Ultimately, that evening came to an end with the decision to try a few additional things, but with the likelihood that we would retire Picassa. I began the application process for training with a successor dog the next day, and I kept in contact with Picassa’s puppy raiser. I had contacted her earlier so that she was aware of the conversation that was taking place — I think we share a pretty great friendship and I’m so glad that we were connected through our sweet Picassa, and I wanted her to know and feel a part of this process as best we could while we are far apart geographically. Her responses were more than I could have asked for — she helped me to accept this change and to feel confident in these decisions and what was best for Picassa, and for me.

One thing I can tell you about retirement is this — the emotional process of it is different for everyone and there are many factors that play a part in how it will feel. My experience has been what it is because Picassa and I have shared a very close bond since early on in our relationship. I’ve always felt she was a perfect match for the time in my life that she worked in service to me. I have two children and a husband who are totally and endlessly in love with her and see her as an irreplaceable part of our family. And, I’m a pretty emotional chick, seriously, even my daughter’s “graduation” from kindergarten had me through a quarter of a box of kleenex. Some people are less emotional.  Some people have had huge challenges with their guides that have impacted their relationship.  Some people are not as connected to the dog for one reason or another.  So, for some this process may involve a lot of tears, some time to accept, and a process of transition and adjustment to go through. Time has been my friend in this. As we finalized the decision for Picassa to retire, and I began to let go of the questions and guilt I had been feeling, I came to recognize that these decisions were about respect for my girl and the gifts she has given me, and giving her the best and most enjoyable life in every possible way.

After working with us, our trainer made it clear that this was a preference for Picassa, not something I did or her saying she didn’t want to work for me. This transition would mean respecting her and allowing her to move to the next adventure: retirement. My family and I began discussing Picassa’s retirement and what it would mean for each of us — especially decisions we would need to make about what was next for Picassa. And, I began to make decisions about her work — traveling with her when pace was not an issue or we would not encounter major intersections or time sensitive situations, and using my cane for other travel. While some retirements are urgent and immediate, some can be gradual — Picassa's guide work is still very strong, so we are allowed to work until I return to GDB for a successor dog, but I have to take her pace and safety into consideration with any travel. This means that Picassa is also beginning the transition — from my constant worker and companion, toward being one retired, relaxed, chill pup who can play with her toys whenever she wants and lounge around as she sees fit.

What’s next? Watch for another post soon as Picassa and I move from retirement to seeing the next adventure retirement is going to mean for my girl, and for me.