In March, 2016, I participated in a quiet but very meaningful event. The story started 17 years ago, when a very red Golden Retriever puppy named Gaya was born at Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael, CA. At 8 weeks of age she was sent to Salem, Oregon to be raised by a married couple, both former teachers, who were volunteer puppy raisers. For the first year of her life, the couple exposed Gaya to noises, people, traffic, and the general business of life. All these experiences would be important if she were selected to be trained as a guide dog to help a person who is blind or visually impaired better deal with life experiences, especially mobility. Gaya was the 7th puppy from Guide Dogs that these volunteers took the time and responsibility to raise. They just received their 18th!
Gaya did well during that first year, and her health, intelligence and personality were so outstanding that GDB selected her for its breeding program – dedicated for five years to mate with male breeders and produce more potential guide dogs. I was fortunate to be selected as her “breeder keeper” – a volunteer whose job it is to house and care for these special dogs when they are not at the GDB campus for breeding. I was extremely fortunate. Gaya and I formed a close bond – she was quiet but alert and intelligent; receptive to her environment but not at all disturbed by young children, noises, or strange settings. She was very affectionate, but not demanding – happy with everything that went on around her. She had some special skills – such as recognizing antagonistic circumstances between dogs or between dogs and children – and would run to separate the two parties and bark to explain her reasons for playing referee. Even more, she was extremely effective for 8 years working as a mentor dog at Guide Dogs, where she would go into an enclosure with 6-8 weeks old puppies, support them, correct them, and play with them for two hours each week. The puppies with the most challenging personalities were separately paired with Gaya to make sure they understood the rules of the group.
Gaya died two years ago, leaving a legacy of 5 litters and 35 puppies. Some of her pups were also chosen to join the GDB breeding program, and she now has many grand-puppies, great grand-puppies, and great great grandpuppies. And here is where my story comes full circle. My friends, Gaya’s puppy raisers from Oregon, came to the GDB campus in Northern California and picked up one of those great great grand-puppies to raise – once again in the hopes of helping to change someone’s life. The puppy is a red female, sweet and affectionate and calm. I look forward to the next cycle in the legacy of my Gaya!
My experience raising guide dog puppies, especially my second puppy Harlow, has benefited others in my community. Harlow was a pretty easy puppy, other than her tendency to swallow socks whole. Harlow’s graduation was the first opportunity I had to meet a recipient of my hard work in raising guide dogs. Her new owner, Philip Doblado, shared with my family and I the difficult transition he had when deciding to get a guide dog. Philip lost his eyesight a few years before deciding to get a dog and was apprehensive about putting all of his trust into a dog, but his friend Linda Becker convinced him to give it a try. When Philip went to train at San Rafael, he passed up the first dog he was paired with because something didn’t feel right, so Harlow advanced in her training and was paired with Philip. The connection that Philip and Harlow had was instantaneous.
We were lucky enough to see Harlow a few times even after graduation. Once, while at the Braille Institute with our puppy club, we ran into Philip and Harlow taking some classes to help Philip adapt to everyday living with visual impairment. It was exciting to see how Harlow helped Philip to be more confident and enabled him to do things he never could without her by his side. We invited Philip and Harlow to our club’s annual holiday party and got to catch up with them, hearing about their travels and adventures they had faced during the year. Philip told us about the time that Harlow saved him from walking into an open manhole and once when he believes she protected him from potentially being robbed. He said it was the first and only time that he had heard Harlow bark. Sadly, Philip and Harlow moved to Texas, but they still keep in touch with us. Philip wrote to us to tell us of how Harlow once steered him around a rattlesnake. All of these stories really showed me how much my work can impact someone else positively.
Another popular question I get is "How can you give them up?" and my answer is hard for people to understand. I always cry on the days leading up to and the nights after giving my dog back. It's not an easy thing to do, but having given eight dogs back to the Guide Dogs for the Blind organization, and having seen the extraordinary results of my hard work benefit someone else, I can definitely say that the benefits outweigh the heartache. The people who ask this question have never been to a guide dog graduation ceremony, and witnessed how these dogs completely change the life of the blind person. The relationships that guide dog users have with their dogs are bonds much stronger than any fully abled person could fathom. Getting a note in the mail from the owner of our second dog, Harlow, explaining how Harlow saved him from walking into an open manhole was one instance that helped me to truly understand the value of this program.
Through raising guide dogs I have learned things like confidence, patience, people skills, and communication, but most of all I have learned that I can’t control everything. Of the eight dogs I’ve given back to GDB, three have been career changed. I have learned that just because my dog “failed” doesn’t mean that I failed.
By participating in demos, working at club events, and leading 4-H meetings, I learned quite a bit about communication and people skills that I wouldn’t have learned without being involved in Guide Dogs.
Taking my dog out in public has helped me to develop a more outgoing and confident personality. I am used to people giving me funny looks or just staring at me because they've never seen someone with a dog in Target before. Each time I take a dog out with me, I have to answer questions. The typical ones have to do with the dog's age, name, and purpose. Those are easy questions. The questions that are a little more surprising are the ones along the lines of "So you're training a blind dog?" or "Are you totally blind or just partially blind?" Hearing these questions time after time has helped me to remember to be patient with people and that I really can teach someone something new every day.
Keith Gillard recently graduated from GDB. He was teamed with Golden Retriever, Newburg, who was raised by Sierra Hayes of College Station, Texas and the Harrison family of Tracy, California. Below is Sierra's touching and funny speech from the graduation ceremony.
is a firecracker of personality and there was never a dull moment. Seriously,
he woofs in his sleep.
everything I have learned about Keith, I am so excited to see this new, quirky,
dynamic team work together and see the emergent properties that come from their
shenanigans as well as their hard work in raising awareness and making the
world a more accessible place for everyone.
said goodbye to Newburg Oltrix Caspian 26 weeks ago and I've been
dreaming about this day ever since. The only thing more unthinkable than him
leaving me was him staying, and the only thing more impossible than him staying
was him leaving. It has been a highlight of my life to be a part of something
bigger than myself and know everyday I am somehow making a difference. While
Newburg was with me, he made a difference in my community, and had a huge
impact on my life. On a 40 acre campus with over 60,000 cute golden retriever
puppy deprived college students, Newburg and I got a lot of attention.
Sometimes we got to educate the public about service dogs, etiquette, or GDB
and sometimes Newburg just lifted their broken spirits after a hard test. I
could not be more honored to have raised and trained a silly, goofy, loving,
hard working dog.
you have been by my side, inseparable. You were there next to me when the dawn
broke, and you were right next to me at night in the library when I
broke. Since the day I met you, our souls have been woven together, time
can change many things, but not that. I believe that you are who you surround
yourself with, and I am beyond grateful your soul is the one that has colored
outside the lines on the pages of my life. You are truly my best friend. You
were there during so many of my college memories that wouldn't be the same
without you. You made the good days better and the hard times easier-no matter
when I am with you I'm never alone, and together we've taken on the world.
meeting you I was a very involved, high strung college student who saw my self
worth only as what certifications and grades I had. You forced me to slow down.
You taught me so much emotional intelligence, you read my every move. I had to
practice being calm before tests so that you wouldn't thrive off my stress,
little did you know I'd been struggling with panic attacks and severe test
anxiety. You taught me that if you love someone you can't hold them back, even
if that means getting left behind. I'm so happy you went searching for your own
answers and found your destiny.
of you I now value my worth by the amount of good I put into the world.
helped me discover so much about who I am, and who I want to be. Now it's
finally time that you discover who you are. I hope you go into the world with
Keith and do well, but more importantly go into the world and do good.
Shakespeare once said: "The meaning of life is to find your gift, and the
purpose of life to is to give it away." How lucky am I that you were mine
to receive and give.
Image Description Top:
GDB Grad Keith Gillard and Puppy Raiser Sierra Hayes sit side by side with Keith's guide Golden Retriever Newburg.
Help us celebrate audio description, technology, and access for all. Guide Dogs
for the Blind is thrilled to help Disney-Pixar celebrate its latest innovation
in motion pictures. Today, with the in-home release of The Good Dinosaur,
Disney-Pixar has fundamentally changed the movie-viewing experience for people
who are blind. The Disney Movies Anywhere (DMA) app will include a free
audio descriptive narration feature for low-vision and blind audiences for the Good Dinosaur as well as sixteen other Disney-Pixar titles.
from Guide Dogs for the Blind along with members from other leading blindness
organizations, SF’s Lighthouse for the Blind and Blind Babies, have played a
critical role in helping shape Disney-Pixar’s audio descriptive narration app.
This ground-breaking app provides visually impaired audiences with the unique
experience of being able to enjoy watching/listening to a film alongside their
family and friends. Key visual elements of the film are inserted as an audio
guide to help low-vision viewers get a more comprehensive understanding of the
film.Several hundred members of the Bay
Area’s blindness community got a preview of the new technology in December at
Pixar’s studios in Emeryville and it was a memorable and profound experience with
tears and laughter present in equal measure.
Outreach Manager for Guide Dogs for the Blind was one of those in tears as shared
her thoughts with the audience at the White Canes, Red Carpet event. As she
reflects back on that evening now, she says “I have always loved the "movie" experience, but that love
has faded over the past few years as my vision has deteriorated. I have
watched movies at home with audio description, when available, but it isn't the
same as sitting in the theatre with your family and friends, enjoying the movie
in real time, or being able to talk about the movie in depth after viewing
it. The new Disney-Pixar audio description app. finally makes this dream
a reality. The app puts accessibility directly into my hands rather than
hoping the theatre I am going to offers this accommodation. When I
watched the Good Dinosaur using this app, I cried for the first time in a very
long time during a movie because I was no longer missing the emotions expressed
on the characters faces, or the amazing cinematography.It was all described in such beautiful
soft launch of this app via the Good Dinosaur, Disney-Pixar hopes to gain
valuable input from the blindness community that will further enhance the
movie-going experience for people of all abilities. Disney-Pixar plans to make
this a standard offering for all future titles. Please share any feedback you may have by reaching out to firstname.lastname@example.org . We
will aggregate any feedback we receive and share it with Disney-Pixar in the
Disney-Pixar has provided these tips
on how to best enjoy their new app:
Consumers will need to have a Disney Movies Anywhere App downloaded onto
an iPhone® or iPad® running
iOS 7 or above in order to use this technology. Consumers can activate
“Audio Description” on their iPhone® and iPad® by going to the “Access” section under “Settings”
in the Disney Movies Anywhere App. Once activated, they can find supported titles
through the Audio Descriptive (AD) button on the featured tab.
Once a film is chosen and playing on any separate platform the user can
push the “Sync & Play Audio” button within the Disney Movies Anywhere App
to initiate syncing and playback of the accompanying narration, creating an
audio guide of the film. Now all families can enjoy Disney-Pixar movies
There are 16 Disney-Pixar
feature films that are available via the DMA app: Toy Story (1995), A
Bug’s Life (1998), Toy Story 2 (1999), Monsters,
Inc. (2001), Finding Nemo (2003), The
Incredibles (2004), Cars (2006), Ratatouille (2007), WALL•E
(2008), Up (2009), Toy Story 3 (2010), Cars
2 (2011), Brave (2012), Monsters University (2013), Inside
Out (2015), and The Good Dinosaur (2015).
Photo Description top: GDB Outreach Manager Jane Flower and Pixar Producer Paul Cichocki along with Jane's yellow Lab/Golden cross Anja stand in front of the Good Dinosaur promotional signage at the White Canes, Red Carpet event at Pixar.
I was 15 years old when my grandfather moved in with my family. He was 93, blind, deaf and didn’t have use of his hand because of his neuropathy. Although we had been raising guide dog puppies since I was 11, I never fully appreciated what a service dog could do for people with disabilities until I lived with my grandfather on a full time basis.
My sister started raising a guide dog puppy as a senior in high school. While watching her raise Dominic, then I as helped with Melissa, Huey, Joseph, and Dean, I made the decision to try to raise a puppy on my own. I co-raised Waylon with my parents, and this year, finally, am raising Burke, on my own.
Our guide dog puppies would go over to my grandfather, and he would reach out to stroke them, and that action seemed to make him very happy and content. Although he didn’t want a guide dog, because of his age and inability to walk, he was happily entertained by our raising of them and I could see how great it would have been for him to have had a guide dog of his own when he was younger. I take raising more seriously now, because I can see the incredible help a service dog would be for people with loss of sight, limbs, wheelchair bound individuals and even those with PTSD.
I have been accepted to Georgia Institute of Technology, and will be studying Materials Science Engineering with a Biomaterials emphasis. I want to create materials that will help individuals like my grandfather by replacing failing organs and other body parts with man-made synthetic materials that will help them live more easily with their disabilities.
Raising guide dog puppies has influenced me in many ways. I have learned a tremendous amount of patience, and how to put another creature’s needs before my own. I have learned leadership and how to create boundaries when taking Burke to school and work, and learned teaching by explaining to other students how to act and react to people and their service dogs. I have had to be strong, and although sometimes feel uncomfortable with enforcing the rules, I’ve benefited by having to do so.
Many people my age leave the house in the early morning and head out for a full day of high school classes. For some students, traveling to school is a time to wake up fully; to reflect on tests to be taken, and assignments due. Bleary-eyed “commuter kids” traveling by themselves may have the luxury of balancing to-go mugs of hot coffee or cocoa in their laps – something to get them through the ferry to the bus, from the bus to our school. My school days have been a little bit different. My hands are too full for drinks and breakfast bars on the ferry boat, because accompanying me on my forty minute commute everyday is a guide dog puppy. These dogs are more than just puppies in training, they are also my friends. At my side all the time,these puppies get to help me educate the public about Guide Dogs for the Blind, and what it means to be a Puppy Raiser.
My Puppy Raising club, “Eyes of the Future”, is one of the few high school-based Guide Dogs for the Blind clubs in Washington State. I have had the honor to be president of this club for the past two years. The majority of our raisers and puppy sitters are fourteen to eighteen years old. On a normal day, we will have around seven puppies at school for students in the Guide Dog program to take to classes. The guide dog puppies bring fun and love to the students’ learning. They also provide a calming presence around the campus. The ability of our extraordinary dogs to calm and heal others became very apparent in my sophomore year.
In October 2012, we were shocked and grief-stricken when a freshman boy from our school killed himself. It happened on a Thursday -- word spread very fast around my school during morning break. Our entire student body was devastated. Students were given the option to go and sit in the library; there were adults available to talk with. Several of the freshman left school early to go home and be with friends and family. The absence of some students and the shock and grief of others contributed to an unnatural silence in the halls. Then, more and more students began exiting their classrooms to go sit with their thoughts and feelings in the library. I left my English classroom to join other students there. At my side was my very first Guide Dog puppy, Corbett. Corbett entered the solemn, tear-filled library with his usual calm, sweet demeanor and happy face. We sat down with our friends, Corbett resting his head on another student’s leg. One by one, students gathered around Corbett. He gave everyone a sense of love, serenity, and life. This was, for me, an intense example of how sharing Guide Dog puppies with my school, and throughout our community, brings comfort, happiness and joy to so many people.
As I raise these special puppies, I am proud to be dedicating my time and my love to care for them, as they prepare to give freedom and independence to their forever-partners. I raise these puppies for the community, for the fulfillment they give to everyone, and for the forever companions these puppies will love and serve in whatever path of service is chosen for them. I continue to be a puppy raiser, so that I can give back to the community that has nurtured me and my vision, and to give someone the gift of sight. I am excited to continue my work with Guide Dogs as I attend Washington State University and join their puppy raising club, WSU Guiding Paws. Being an intern at GDB last summer helped me to realize that in the future I would love to work at Guide Dogs for the Blind and continue helping the organization that has been such an important part of my high school years.
I raised six puppies with my family over a period of eight years of volunteering for Guide Dogs for the Blind as a puppy raiser. Two were selected to become breeders and one recently became a working guide. Those that became breeders have in turn had puppies which have led to fourteen active working guides, with more puppies still in training. We also adopted a career change dog, Cider, who is an integral part of our family.
Aside from seeing other puppy raisers success at graduations, my family and I had not had the opportunity to experience presenting a fully trained guide dog to a blind person. That was until our sixth guide dog, Luau. She was a fun-loving, golden retriever cross with a warm personality. It was because of Luau that I was able to experience the impact I had on someone else in my community. That someone was Dawn, a kind woman who had the personality to mesh with Luau's. It was a truly remarkable experience to hear firsthand from Dawn the impact we, as puppy raisers, had on her and all of the others receiving working guides that day at graduation from all across the U.S. When speaking on stage, Dawn said that, "You allow us to spread our wings and the opportunity to have sight again." I gained the fulfillment that I contributed to a priceless gift - a special bond of trust, love and companionship - that granted Dawn a new independence. I also gained a new awareness of the influence I can have in my community - one that spans the continent!
The impact a guide dog can have on one's life is incredible, not only on the life of the blind person receiving the dog, but also on the life of the raiser. It's a labor of love, one that I began in the third grade not knowing where it would lead me today. As a puppy raiser I have had the opportunity to be a part of this journey. I ultimately got to witness a missing piece being restored to a blind person when they receive their guide dog. This furry assistant brings them a life of mobility and independence, allowing them to do basic tasks that many of us take for granted each day. Knowing the joy and freedom a guide dog brings to someone visually impaired makes the experience and dedication to the task all worth it. What these dogs truly do for blind people is beyond what words can explain.
My experience in raising a guide dog puppy has greatly influenced the life of someone blind in my community. It has brought someone basic necessities that many of us take for granted everyday such as mobility and vision. It provides them with the opportunity to create a unique, lifelong partnership with a dog that they can trust and depend on to navigate them safely through this complex world. It enables them to travel more effectively and faster. Anyone who receives a guide dog forms such a strong relationship with their furry companion; it is as if the dog becomes a part of them.
Through the puppy raising experience, I have learned the importance of the larger vision of GDB, that not all the dogs have the passion or what it takes to be a guide. It is our task, however, as a group or team of raisers to help make those determinations and care for all the dogs for wherever their path may lead them. I learned by sticking to this concept for the long term and with multiple raisers that ultimately we help GDB meet their goals. I gained a new appreciation for commitments to goals and the importance of my role. I will apply this lesson to other aspects of my life.
This fall I will be heading to Pacific Lutheran University to major in biochemistry with a minor in Spanish. I hope to use my education to become a forensic scientist. Though I will not be directly involved with Guide Dogs while at college, I plan to continue to volunteer in my community. My experiences from Guide Dogs have encouraged me to continue living out my passion for volunteering, social action and impacting others in my community. I am committed to investing time in helping others and learning from those experiences. The unique experiences I have gained through my time with Guide Dogs have shaped my individuality. They have instilled in me generosity and a continual desire to help those around me in my community.
On May 31st, 2015, I will have to walk Pasha, the female golden retriever I am currently raising, up on to the puppy truck, placing her in a crate and say my goodbyes. It will be an intensely emotional time, and I am certain that I will be deeply saddened. I’ll say goodbye to Pasha, however, knowing that she’ll make someone’s life so much better, not just as a guide but also as the friend I know her to be.
Fundamentally, Pasha will become an excellent service dog. She has the unique combination of two traits; her extreme desire to please people and her absolute love of food rewards. Beyond being a working dog, however, she’ll make a lifelong companion. Pasha is the happiest being I have ever encountered. I have raised before, and while she wasn’t the best behaved dog I ever had (at first), I had never seen any dog with the level of enthusiasm, joy and pure happiness that exists daily in Pasha. Every person she meets is instantly a friend; pet her and you’re automatically at the top of the list. Because of this, raising Pasha has allowed me the opportunity to greatly impact other people both in my personal life and the community as a whole.
I attend West High, an inner-city school with nearly 3,000 students. It was in class and in the halls that I first realized exactly how special Pasha is in her interactions with people. On a daily basis, while I am in class, people who have had a rough day, are stressed about a test or are just generally in a bad mood will sit down on the floor with Pasha, who instantly walks up to them and nuzzles her way onto their lap or by their side, where she rolls over and falls asleep. It is the universal and unspoken truth that very few things cannot be fixed by a few minutes rubbing the tummy of a dog, and Pasha provided that service willingly and unquestioningly to many fellow classmates. To be fair, the other puppy I raised, Muir, first demonstrated this concept to me. Every day on my way to class, I walked by the special ed classrooms, and one severely autistic student stopped to pet Muir every time he saw him. I never spoke to him, never learned his name and never knew anything about him other than the fact that his eyes lit up every time Muir came trotting down the hallway. This was my first experience in understanding the power that these dogs have, and the first time that I truly felt that I was having a positive impact with the people around me. Two years later, I learned that Pasha not only embraced this concept of companionship, she loved it.
My mother works with the school district, coordinating plans and accommodations for students who are disabled or require special attention in the classroom. She spends considerable time at a school called Parkview Elementary, where the district houses its extremely disabled program classrooms. Recently, I took Pasha to visit several classrooms at Parkview. The first classroom I visited had kids who were being monitored for potential learning disabilities, and were, on the surface, perfectly normal kids. They loved Pasha, and spent lots of time petting her, laughing and occasionally pulling on her tail. Despite all of the young and excited people surrounding her, Pasha remained calm and loved the attention. From there, Pasha and I stopped in two more classrooms, each time repeating the regiment of petting, laying down and demonstrating some of her obedience commands. Our final stop was is considered the highest tier of attention, where educators match students one to one. It was in the classroom that we met with students who were quadriplegic, had birth defects or had other highly special needs. I was somewhat nervous, as I was unsure of how Pasha would respond to the large, electric wheelchairs, necessary support equipment and the shaky and unpredictable actions of the students themselves. My fears, as it turned out, were completely unfounded, as Pasha stuck to her default of greeting everyone with an open heart and wagging tail. While I abandoned the short speech I had gave in the other classrooms on what Pasha was and the organization she was being raised for, the students nonetheless saw, or in the case of the blind girl there, felt, the effect of service animals and Guide Dogs for the Blind.
My time raising two puppies for GDB has influenced the lives of others not only through meeting the dogs themselves. Working with GDB has been a core part of determining who I am and who I want to be. Committing to such a large service project has inspired me to do work with other organizations in my community. Last summer, after completing 80 hours of local community service, I traveled to Cambodia, where I spent several weeks building a preschool and giving free English lessons and seminars to the public. I have also continued my work with the Utah Refugee Committee, a nonprofit aimed at acclimating refugees to their new lives in Utah, and with the Humane Society of Utah, fostering cats and kittens in my home while also working at the shelter walking dogs and working community outreach events. I know that my experiences with GDB over the past three years have had a permanent effect on my attitude towards volunteerism.
I will be attending Northeastern University this fall, a private college in Boston. There, I will study Honors Mechanical Engineering, hopefully working with a partner of Northeastern, Tesla Motors. While my career path is far from set, I hope to pursue automotive engineering, designing and testing cars. More specifically, I am interested in the electric racing field of automotive engineering, and aim to build electric powered sports cars for either mass production or racing events. While these objectives may seem dichotomous from my work with Guide Dogs for the Blind, in actuality it is the patience and dedication I have learned from raising two puppies that I believe will be crucial to helping me achieve my goals. I know that wherever I go, no matter what I do, service to others and being an active member of my community will be crucial.
Simply put, there is no way that I could quantify the number of people the guide dogs that I have raised have effected, nor the degree to which they have affected them. Dogs have the enormous capacity to change someone’s attitude in a matter of seconds. While I have highlighted a few examples of what Pasha and Muir have been able to do, these are only the interactions I have remembered. There must be countless of interactions, be it a friendly wag or loving kiss, in which Pasha made someone’s day better. Muir’s quiet stoicism served as an emotional rock for those that knew him well, and he emanated his stability to strangers constantly. I wish that I could number the people they have touched, or attempt to convert their effect into something tangible. For now, however, I must rest with the notion that for all of the good that they did to those around me in the year that I had them, they will be doing years and years of good in the future.
The first day I brought Joanne to school was nerve-wracking. I felt anxious and concerned about what people would think. Walking down the school hallways with her, people would blatantly stare at me and the four-legged canine walking beside me, in obvious confusion. This was by far not the ideal situation for me, a shy and confidence-lacking high schooler, to experience.
Six years ago my family and I started attending meetings at South Bay Puppy Raisers, our local puppy-raising club for Guide Dogs for the Blind. When we were finally trained and qualified, I got my first guide dog puppy-in-training, Bliss. That first puppy was an eye opening experience because I didn't realize how much work and responsibility it was to raise a guide dog puppy. At 8 weeks old she was just a baby and she had no house manners or training. It was tough getting up with her in the middle of the night to take her out. By far the hardest part was balancing my schoolwork and activities with training a guide dog puppy. What I realized is that training a dog is really about training yourself; it takes consistency, focus, follow through and dedication.
We had Bliss for almost a year and a half until she was recalled for her formal service training. Two months later we found out that she did not meet the strict requirements for being a guide dog, but was highly desirable for other service work. She was trained with another agency, Pawsitive Teams, to be a therapy dog in a special education school. This 40-pound, lovable, yellow fur ball - a dog I had raised and trained for endless hours - was doing amazing things with these handicapped children. This was the pivotal point when I realized how much I had made a difference by raising and training a dog. This fueled my desire to do more.
It became all about how much I could do and how much I could influence others to give back as well. When we received our second puppy, Waimea, I ran for and was voted Secretary of the puppy-raising club. I wanted to expand my leadership outside of our local puppy raising club and prepared educational materials for Guide Dogs for the Blind. Using Waimea as the star, I put together a comprehensive program to engage young adults into service work with Guide Dogs for the Blind.
We visited schools, community groups and scouting meetings with the battle cry for volunteerism and giving back. I also created a video for the Guide Dogs for the Blind website, which they published as part of their marketing efforts. When we got our third puppy, Joanne, I ran and was elected to be President of our puppy-raising club. I brought Joanne to school regularly. Although it was a tremendous amount of work and responsibility to have her in the classroom, we both benefited from the experience. Together we continued to spread the word about Guide Dogs for the Blind, with my leadership and dedication for this important cause shining through.
Without raising guide dogs I would not be the person I am today.Yes, the first day I brought my guide dog puppy-in-training to school with me was tenuous, but she soon became part of my identity and daily rituals - getting her outfitted in her vest and leash after I was dressed, grabbing her water bowl along with my books, and greeting my friends and her fans every morning at school. Not only have I increased my leadership presence with Guide Dogs for the Blind, in the community and in my school, but also I have gained a sense of responsibility and maturity with my hard work and dedication while making a difference in the sight-impaired community. The leadership and communication skills that I have developed, as well as the confidence gained through raising puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind, will be extremely beneficial to me as I pursue my civil engineering education at University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.
When I first noticed dogs walking around a store I thought, that'd be so cool to take a dog everywhere. Little did I know just how much of a life changer it is to have a dog by your side. I started my life changing journey with Guide Dogs for the Blind, when we adopted Geoffrey, who ironically was originally from Guide Dogs but got career changed from Dogs for Diabetics. From that day forward, I eagerly awaited the day when I too would be able to raise a Guide Dog puppy,not only because these dogs save lives, but they change lives around us.
First, I want to give you an insight into my life and how Guide Dogs has forever changed me. I was adopted from Russia when I was less than a year old, since then I only knew my family, but something wasn't right. I was always a very shy kid and it took me a while to open up to people. Then on Monday, June 28th 2011, I reluctantly walked into Fry's Electronics for my first puppy club meeting. I sat down quietly and didn't say much, then Anne handed me Ernie. I immediately fell in love with the big goofball and felt as if his big brown eyes were saying "It's okay, we'll do this together." From that day on I felt like I could conquer the world with a dog by side. Now, Mondays are the highlight of my week because I get to see my second family, Placer 4for2 Guides. I have never felt so welcomed or loved from a group of people and I am honored to be able to be apart of it. One day that I will never forget, was Mother's Day 2013. It had been a rough day, then all of a sudden we heard the doorbell ring. I opened the door and my heart stopped. Sitting on the porch was a little yellow lab puppy with a big blue bow round his neck. My group leader then proceeded to say "Happy Mothers Day, you're going to be a mom!" Holding that little puppy in my hands, I knew that Alamo would not only change my life but many people to come.
After attending all five of my meetings, I immediately started the process of being allowed to bring dogs with me to school. I of course started with the principal, whom I scheduled a meeting with, brought brochures from Guide Dogs and received a few pointers from Anne. He decided that he wanted to meet one of the dogs that I would be bringing in. It just so happened that I was puppy sitting a dog for about two weeks, so I brought her to back to school night. She was a petite white lab female named Citrus. After receiving my class schedule, the principal walked up, I put Citrus in a sit and began talking with him. At the end of the conversation he complimented her behavior then proceeded to say that he would be glad to allow me to bring Guide dog puppies. After about 3 weeks in school, I was ready to bring my first dog. This was a big deal, because it was the first service dog in training that the school had experienced and also happened to be my first year there. I ended up bringing Joanna and the day went perfectly. That whole year I brought dogs to school and I became more and more social, with a furry companion by my side. At the end of my sophomore year of high school, a new chapter in my journey with Guide Dogs began, with my first Guide Dog puppy Alamo. Having already brought dogs in the previous year, I confirmed with the principal and was good to go. To my surprise, I noticed another Guide Dog puppy as I entered school, I introduced myself and asked what club they were apart of and what their dog's name was. Her name was Regal, and he went on to explain that because I brought dogs in last year, their family decided to raise a dog. At that moment I had no idea how one dog, could make such an impact on an entire community. One day I noticed that there was this girl in my class that moved out of the way every time I walked by and would constantly be looking at Alamo. I walked up to her, said hi, then proceeded to ask if she would like to pet him. She then responded, "Oh, that's nice but I am actually scared of dogs." So I replied, "Well there is nothing wrong with that, Alamo is a big goof who loves cuddles, so let me know if you ever want to pet him." She said "Okay, thanks!" Later that week she approached me and started asking questions about him. Happily I responded then she asked to pet him. I held his collar and face so she could just pet his back without Alamo trying to say hi. This continued throughout the school year till the last day of school, she walked up, hugged Alamo and thanked me for changing her whole view on dogs and taking the time to talk to her. I couldn't help but smile as I looked down at Alamo, realizing how much impact we have had on people's lives and I felt so lucky to be on the other end of the leash.
Ever since I was a little kid, I always had a dog by my side, whether it be a stuffed animal or our golden retriever. Maggie, our golden retriever, would never leave my side. So I thought I was a hot shot, with my big dog protecting me, so we would go on adventures in the yard. Anytime we went to the store, I went straight to the toy aisle and found the Veterinary kits. Almost every halloween I would dress up in my vet outfit and have Maggie be my patient. From there my fascination with Veterinary work only grew. When I started puppy sitting for Guide Dogs that's when I knew for sure I wanted a career that involved working with dogs. I started looking at different career paths and I recently decided that I want to become a certified Veterinary Technician, then study Canine Rehabilitation. Without having these amazing dogs right by my side, I am not even sure I would have chosen to pursue a Veterinary career.
During my journey with Guide Dogs for the Blind, I look back and cherish all the lives we have touched. My family and I were at the Guide Dogs San Rafael Fun Day, two years ago, and I got a call from Anne saying "Hurry down to the venders, there is someone I want you to meet." By this time, Geoffrey had been apart of our lives for almost three years now and we always wondered who his puppy raisers were. I had no idea that within a few minutes that unknown would become very clear. My family and I walked down to the vendor area and I saw Anne and this couple standing there with tears in their eyes. I was confused at first, the Anne said, "These are Geoffrey's puppy raisers." I immediately started getting tears of overwhelming joy in my eyes, I finally got to meet the people who gave me my best friend. We spent about an hour talking about Geoffrey, exchanging pictures, and expressing our gratitude towards them. Since then they have visited our house and we keep in touch via email. I had big hopes for my first Guide dog Puppy, Alamo, but unfortunately he was career changed for luxating patella. He is now living the life of luxury and will be getting trained to assist in marital counseling. I am lucky enough to stay in contact with his new family and have become good friends in the process. Although Alamo could not be a Guide Dog, he definitely has changed many lives and will continue to. Guide Dogs has provided me with life long friendships that I can cherish for the rest of my life, and for that I am forever grateful.
We often celebrate our career change dogs — those puppies who don’t quite meet the requirements to become a guide dog that go on to excel in a range of other service areas. But often, our guide dogs retire from service and experience a career change of their own. Here’s a wonderful story about Rosellen, a retired guide dog that found a new way to help people.
Rosellen was Walter Oi’s guide dog — she was actually his fifth, as he had been an active and influential part of the GDB community for over 40 years. When Walter passed away in 2013, his wife Marjorie gained ownership of Rosellen, and helped her find a new purpose.
Today, Rosellen and Marjorie team up to serve people with cognitive disabilities. Marjorie recently wrote to us telling us about their experience:
“Rosellen and I are now certified as a therapy dog team and she continues to use her excellent training from Guide Dogs in an innovative program working with cognitively disabled individuals at the Ontario County, NY ARC facility in the Pet Connections program. The Pet Connections program was developed by Gail Furst and uses dogs and dog training with adults with a variety of developmental disabilities. Rosellen and I volunteer primarily at the Eberhardt Center where Rosellen is a motivator in the occupational therapy program with severely disabled adults.”
ARC’s fundraising calendar showcases Rosellen as “Miss March.”
We’re so grateful to Marjorie for sharing her story. It’s a great reminder that a guide dog can, even after retirement, continue on using their talents to do more great work throughout life. And it’s another brilliant example of how the power of partnership extends beyond guide dogs and graduates to their entire community.