Friday, May 13, 2016

Newshounds — Guide Dogs for the Blind in the News!

Here's the latest round of news coverage about Guide Dogs for the Blind and the GDB community.

San Ramon Man Giving Back After Guide Dog Changed His Life:

Fun and Education for Visitors at Jelly Belly:

Eyeraisers 4-H Members Train Partners for the Blind:

12 Outstanding Students to be honored at Commencement:

4-H Members in Oregon Train Their Canine Partners for the Blind:

Lemoore FFA Student Wins State Competition for Raising Guide Dogs:

Puppy Love: Nevada Union and Bear River FFA Students Raising Guide Dogs for the Blind:

Puppies Take the Bus to Train as Guide Dogs:

93-Year-Old Puppy Sitter Honored for Service:

Guide Dog Puppies Take Washington Square by Storm:

Meggie the Guide Dog Graduates After Growing Up in Gridley:

Tech Students Help Raise Puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind:

A Four-Legged Field Trip:

Paws and Effect: Training Guide Dogs for the Blind:

University of Arizona Club Helps Train Guide Dogs:

Man Gives Voice to People With Disabilities:

This Hiker isn’t Letting Blindness Slow Him Down:

Guide Dogs In Training Introduced to Challenges of Air Travel:

Texas A&M Using Wind Chimes to Help Visually Impaired:

When You Train Puppies, It’s Not Easy to Say Goodbye:

Central Point Providence Medical Clinic Gets New Guide Dog:

Puppy Training in the Inland Empire:

Future Guide Dogs Train at Highland High School:

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Gaya's Legacy: By Breeder Keeper Peter Michael Miller

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, a golden retriever, top, mentors a golden retriever puppy as they snuggle and play together with a pink toy.

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, a golden retriever, lies on the ground and looks up at the camera as she is surrounded by a group of six yellow lab puppies playing together.

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!

Friday, February 26, 2016

GDB Puppy Raising Youth Scholarship Recipient: Megan Iriving Essay

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.

Megan smiles proudly holding guide dog puppy Aiden (black and brindle Lab)

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.