Tuesday, May 19, 2015

K9 Buddy Dogs and their Families

By: Kathy Featherstone, GDB Dog Placement Coordinator

For the past year, it has been my privilege to coordinate the K9 Buddy Program placements here at Guide Dogs for the Blind. This unique program was established more than a decade ago to partner youth who are visually impaired with a career change dog as a pet companion. I get to spend time with wonderful dogs and match them up with a recipient that may live as far away as Colorado. Unless it’s a local placement, one of our Community Field Representatives (CFRs) will do the home visit and bring the dog to the family when the time arrives. I live vicariously through photographs, emails, and phone calls pre and post adoption. All of our K9 Buddy families are so grateful to the puppy raisers for allowing them the gift of a career change dog with the capacity to enrich the life of their child, their family, and their communities. Katie, whose daughter received K9 Buddy Widget said, “This whole experience with Guide Dogs for the Blind has given us so much joy and hope. When we went to a Puppy Raising class we were overwhelmed at the care and willingness other people had in raising a guide dog puppy. We could not believe the K9 Buddy program was available to us at no cost. The gift of Widget is one that we will never be able to repay all of you for. Just know that whatever part you had in providing this dog for our family, you have made an incredible impact on our lives. We do not take it for granted for one moment and see this as a blessing we will cherish for a long time.”

Here are a few K9 Buddy families who wanted to share their story with all of us:

Bluebell, a four year-old retired guide dog is a calm, sweet natured female black Lab. She was matched with Claire, a young girl in Colorado and her family, consisting of older sister Stella and parents. As mom Marlo explains: “In April of 2014, we met Bluebell for the first time. We felt like we had waited forever for her to arrive. Bluebell makes our family so happy. Claire’s favorite thing about Bluebell is that she is soft, cuddly, cute, and sweet. Claire loves snuggling next to her to read books. Older sister Stella’s favorite thing about Bluebell is that she is playful and always happy. We love that Bluebell greets everyone in the morning. Bluebell walks with us to the bus stop every weekday morning and afternoon; our bus driver always gives her a treat. We love taking her on walks and watching her play in the snow. Even though we don’t think she has ever lived in a snowy place, she just can’t get enough of the snow! Bluebell sleeps calmly every night, well maybe not calmly because she snores. We are so happy that Bluebell is in our lives.”

Young Claire smiles sitting next to Bluebell (black Lab) in the woods with trees in the background.
Claire and Bluebell
Ella, a female Golden Retriever completed a portion of formal guide dog training and was then career changed. She is a very sweet, calm, sensitive-minded girl that loves to please her people and cuddle when the opportunity presents itself. Ella was matched with Sarah, a teenager from Colorado. Sarah’s parents and her younger siblings all wanted a dog in their life. Marianne, Sarah’s mom describes having a K9 Buddy companion: “Owning Ella has really been like adding another kid to our family! It is an adjustment to have another responsibility, but such a blessing to see the love and bonding between the kids and Ella. It is really touching as a mom to see children show love to an animal, and learn to love them by caring for them, and then see that animal show compassion in return! It has really given Sarah a friend that was much needed. Having Ella as Sarah’s K9 Buddy dog has really been so great for teaching Sarah the responsibilities and lifestyle of having a dog. I love that Ella will listen to me when no one else is up to paying attention to me. When I’m lonely, I can talk to her. I love to walk with her; she keeps me company when I go on walks at the park. We all LOVE her. If there is anything our whole family can agree on, it is that our dog is the best and deserves every bit of love we can give her. We LOVE that she is already trained so that all we do is continue to reinforce the training, we did not have to start from scratch. Even if we did, Ella would be more than worth it.”

Sarah and her sister pose with Ella (Golden Retriever) in their yard on the grass.
Sarah and Ella
Gia is a female Golden/Lab cross that also completed a portion of formal guide dog training. Gia is very affectionate, enjoys physical attention, a quiet lifestyle, and staying close to her favorite people. She was matched with Annabelle, an 8 year-old girl who lives in Marin County, CA. It was my pleasure to do the home visit and place Gia with the family. Annabelle says: “My favorite thing about Gia is that she is the cutest dog in the world. She’s very, very nice to me and I just love her. She’s really sweet.” Annabelle’s parents could not be happier with their new addition to the family. Laura, Annabelle’s mom said: “Gia has brought so much love into our family. Annabelle is very proud to have Gia as her K9 Buddy and she became so comfortable with her so quickly. If Annabelle is going through a hard time, she goes to Gia for comfort. Annabelle has expressed interest in having a guide dog when she becomes a teenager, and having Gia is perfect for her now. She enjoys telling people about Guide Dogs for the Blind and about Gia’s special training. Annabelle is outdoors more and exercising more thanks to Gia.” Annabelle agrees, “Gia changed my life, because now we have a dog and now I have much more fun.”

Annabelle poses with Gia on their deck with chairs and beautiful pots in the background.
Annabelle and Gia
Widget, a female yellow Lab completed most of formal guide dog training before becoming career changed. She is sweet, smart, confident and easy going. She was matched with Hallie, an 8 year-old girl living in Colorado. This is an active family that includes two younger brothers ages 6 year-old and 22 months. Katie, Hallie’s mom, writes: “The day we got Widget, Hallie had so much excitement, adrenalin, and anticipation built up on what the experience would be like. After the initial greeting and walk, we gave Widget a tour of our house. Hallie finally got to have a moment to really settle in and sit with Widget. As Widget’s warm body snuggled into Hallie, that’s when she said something like, ‘My anxiety was at 100% but now that Widget is here it’s at 0%. My heart is now 100% full of love instead.’ Widget sleeps on Hallie’s floor each night and will follow Hallie up to her room when she knows it’s getting close to bed time. Hallie drapes her arm over her bed to pet her furry companion as she falls asleep; her room is quiet and calm. Before Widget, this was not the case for bedtime. Hallie has always had a hard time falling asleep and was usually ‘stir-crazy’ at night until about 10:30-11pm. We have tried EVERYTHING to help Hallie; medicine, homeopathic items, music, calming exercises…EVERYTHING.  For the last five nights Hallie has been quiet and sleeping by 8:30. This is a miracle! This extra sleep will only be good for Hallie’s mood and health!!! It is incredible to my husband Adam and I how much work went into this dog. She is so well behaved, listens not only to our commands, but takes direction from both Carter (6 years-old) and Hallie (8 years-old). She’ll seek Hallie out to snuggle. She has seamlessly slid right into our family, only enhancing our lives.”

Hallie lies in Widget's bed with her arm around the adorable yellow Lab (a green plush toy that says "FOREVER" is next to them).
Hallie and Widget
Katie also shared some of Hallie’s comments about Widget, her new best friend:

“Didn’t God make Widget with so much love inside her!?”

“Widget’s heart beams love into mine.”

“When she greets me with her tail wagging it’s like she’s putting fairy sparkles everywhere.”

To Hallie, Widget has filled our home with magic.

Thank you to everyone who contributed some “magic” into these families lives!

To learn more about our K9 Buddy program, please visit: www.guidedogs.com/site/PageServer?pagename=programs_youth_k9buddy

2 comments:

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  2. These are beautiful stories. The wonderful dogs make life so much better for these little kids. The "career change" dogs are selected by God to do a job equally as important as those who finish training to be guide dogs for the blind. And, to be a best pal for a child doesn't get any better than that.

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