Friday, January 29, 2016

GDB Puppy Raising Youth Scholarship Recipient: Mikaela Haglund Essay

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.

Mikaela sits smiling on a rock path (surrounded by beautiful flowers) with her arm around a black Lab.

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.

Friday, January 22, 2016

GDB Puppy Raising Youth Scholarship Recipient: Ian Miller Essay

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.

Ian smiles posing with a Golden Retriever guide dog puppy with a green field and trees behind them.

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.

Friday, January 15, 2016

GDB Puppy Raising Youth Scholarship Recipient: Christina Marelli Essay

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.

Christina sits on a brick stairway smiling with her arm around a black Lab guide dog puppy.

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.

Friday, January 8, 2016

GDB Puppy Raising Youth Scholarship Recipient: Kylie Peterson Essay - A Journey of Self Discovery and Gratitude That Impacted Many

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.

Kylie sits smiling on a dirt road with her arm around a black Lab guide dog puppy.

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.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Thriving After Retirement

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.”

Marjorie and Golden Lab Rosellen (wearing a blue vest) position themselves for James to brush Rosellen.
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.