Friday, January 16, 2015

A Boy and His Special Dog

By: Jim Zuegel

My daughter Devon and I originally raised Oakland as puppy raisers for Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB). Oakland ended up being career-changed and since our teenage son Jeffrey is on the autism spectrum, we considered looked for an Autism Service Dog organization for Oakland. Paws As Loving Support (PALS) was an organization willing to take a career-change; plus, it also happened to be a program located within a reasonable distance from our home. Nancy Pierson, the President/CEO, founded PALS and the Service PALS program to help children with autism and their families to assist with daily needs, both in the home and community. Nancy was flexible and very accommodating to schedule visits to our home so she could learn more about Jeffrey and his special needs, develop a program specifically for Oakland and our family to meet Jeffrey’s needs, and then successfully take us through training and the certification process.  

Oakland (black Lab) sitting in a photo booth with Jeffery, who is looking at him (both are smiling),

My son Jeffrey benefits from being able to bring Oakland everywhere as his service dog; to paraphrase his big sister, Devon, “Jeffrey is calmer because he can bring a comforting piece of home with him.” This is important because Jeffrey previously had severe behavioral outbursts in unfamiliar public situations or darted away without warning. In public, Jeffrey is now connected to Oakland with a harness and therefore cannot “disappear”; furthermore, Jeffrey holds a leash with his left hand and has the responsibility of being mindful of Oakland’s safety and well-being, as well as his own (with me holding a separate leash to supervise both of them). Since Jeffrey has delayed speech development, he works with Oakland to improve his verbal skills by giving timely and appropriate commands; Jeffrey also has learned and uses commands to practice being responsible, for example: feeding Oakland, and putting him into a “curb” position when he approaches or tries to cross a street. One of the last things Jeffrey does every night is to have Oakland lie on or against his legs in bed; this has a calming effect and helps Jeffrey to fall asleep. Thank you to GDB and PALS for our special dog Oakland.

See Oakland and Jeffrey in action in this YouTube video:

To learn more about Paws As Loving Support (PALS) Assistance Dogs visit: 



Friday, January 9, 2015

Newshounds - Guide Dogs for the Blind in the News!

Robinson Students of Texas to Socialize Guide Dogs as Part of FFA Class:

Robinson Students of Texas Will Train Future Guide Dogs for Next 18 Months:

BUZZFEED: 19 Puppies on First Day of School: 

Top 14 of 2014: Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, Featuring GDB Guide Dog Aziza: 

CBS KPIX 5 Local: Where’s Roberta?

Service Animal Fraud. Problem? Featuring GDB graduate Camille Jassny:

Blind Vet's Guide Dog Temporarily Banned From VA Hospital:

PARADE Magazine: Sully Sullenberger: Be the Captain of Your Own Healthy Life:

PARADE Magazine: The Giving Season: 

Joan Rivers' Will Designates Portion Of $150 Million Fortune To Charities, Including Guide Dogs for the Blind: 

CNN: Hero Dog Saves Two People: 

BUZZFEED: 29 Dogs Who Will Make you Want to Do Better:

Service Dogs Helping Veterans with Physical and Mental Disabilities:

Las Cruces Students to Train Future Guide Dogs for the Blind: 

Vote for San Francisco's Favorite Charity: Top 7 Finalists: 

MARIN IJ “Movers & Shakers”: Oakland Man Promoted as Guide Dogs for the Blind's Director of Philanthropy: 

Meet the SFO Wag Brigade (including a GDB black Lab Career Change):

GDB Board Member Deborah Kendrick Commentary: Independence is Having Control Over One’s Plan, Seeing It Through:

A Lifeline for the Blind: Flagstaff Volunteers Helping CocoPups:

Advocates for Blind, Deaf Want More from Apple (features GDB graduate Jonathan Lyens):

A Click from the Start: Karen Pryor Academy and Guide Dogs for the Blind Team Together to Bring Positive Training to Puppy Raising: 

MARIN IJ “Movers & Shakers”: Guide Dogs for the Blind Appoints New Chief Financial Officer:

Soquel ROP Students Train Puppies for Future as Guide Dogs: 

GDB Graduaute and Blind Texas A&M Student Chimes in on Campus Navigation:

Diagnosis Leads to Amazing Friendship, Running Adventures for GDB Graduate Becky Andrews and Friend: 

Play it by Ear: Baseball for the Blind (featuring GDB graduate):

DoveLewis: Animal Assisted Therapy & Education: 

MARIN IJ "Movers & Shakers": San Rafael's Guide Dogs for the Blind Appoints New Director of Information Technology: 

Friday, January 2, 2015

“Pins for Pups” Rolls in Dollars to Support Guides and Puppy Raisers

The Rocky Rovers GDB alumni chapter in Colorado held its Third Annual Pins for Pups and have raised nearly $6,000 over the past three years to support Colorado GDB alumni and puppy raisers and national Guide Dogs for the Blind projects.

Seventeen GDB alumni, puppy raisers and their friends and family came out to Crown Bowling Lanes in Denver to participate in our chapter fund raiser. We had a ton of fun as well!  Two lanes were set up with rails for those folks who were totally blind to be able to find their way to their lane and hopefully send the ball down on the correct lane.

Members from the Rocky Rovers GDB alumni chapter pose with their guides (in the background are the bowling lanes).

Our guide dogs and puppies-in-training sat patiently while their handlers rolled down the lanes in hopes of winning prizes for the highest overall score. The top award for guide handler went to our chapter president, Andre Van Hall. Michael Brobst won the prize for highest score for the puppy raisers. The grand prize for raising the most funds by a guide handler was a weekend night for two at the Hyatt, Downtown Denver and was won by Richard Faubion. The top prize for the puppy raiser who raised the most money was Barb Wells.

Funds raised by Pins for Pups, as well as special donations from Colorado alumni, puppy raisers and their friends, were donated to GDB to support the new dorm facility at the San Rafael campus, $1,545. Funds have also been used to buy two harnesses, $700 total, to honor two local puppy raiser clubs who have raisers active in the Rocky Rovers group: Have Paws, Will Travel and Liberty on Leashes.

With over $2,900 in our chapter account at the end of 2014, these funds will help underwrite our annual Holiday Party; $500 is planned to be donated to GDB for the new Whelping Complex in San Rafael; and a $500 scholarship will be offered to a guide dog handler who would like to attend the Portland Alumni Reunion in 2015.

We request that any Colorado guide user who has a request for support to please contact the Rocky Rover’s leadership by calling 720-207-8362. Our GDB Colorado Rocky Rovers chapter continues to have wonderful social events while raising money to make a difference for folks impacted by vision loss across Colorado and the United States!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Marlaina Lieberg: Celebrating 50 Years as a Guide Dog Handler

Marlaina Lieberg of Burien, Wash., is nothing if not tenacious. As a young 7th grader in the 1960s, she was the first and only student who was visually impaired at her school, and the principal would not allow her to participate in PE classes. With the indignation of a preteen and the determination to participate in all of the same activities as her classmates, Marlaina did what any smart and sassy 12 year-old would do: she wrote to President John F. Kennedy. At the time, JFK was promoting the President's Council on Physical Fitness and its role to serve all Americans, so Marlaina requested that he compel her principal to reconsider. To her delight (but not surprise), the President did just that, and in due haste Marlaina was playing dodgeball with her peers.

It was about that same time that Marlaina met a man with a guide dog. From the moment she heard his story, she knew that traveling with a dog was in her future. She started her campaign to be paired with a guide dog as a teenager almost immediately. “It took a bit longer to get into guide dog school than it did for the President to help me with gym class,” Marlaina said, “but after two years of back and forth letter-writing, my parents and I were invited to the facility for an evaluation. Three months later, I was in class, and on July 9, 1964, I met my first guide, a small female German Shepherd named Scamp. Never will I forget how I felt that first time I took her harness in hand and said, ‘Scamp, forward!’ The very first thought I had was, ‘this must be what it’s like to see; look at me!’”

Flash forward to 2014, and Marlaina is celebrating a golden anniversary: 50 years as a continuous guide dog handler, and she’s still as exhilarated today as she was in her youth. “Working with a guide dog gives me the freedom to move about efficiently and effectively,” she said. “I’m told that when I walk, I have a smile on my face and my head is held high. The ability to move around obstacles without even knowing they were there in the first place is amazing!”

Marlaina (wearing a black hat) kneels down smiling next to her guide Agnes (yellow Lab).

She has certainly seen her fair share of changes in guide dog training over the years, and she’s had to learn and grow with the times herself. “It was a hard leap for me to make to give my dog food rewards,” Marlaina said (a practice introduced in recent years at GDB as part of our positive reinforcement training techniques). “However, this old woman can learn new tricks, and now there isn’t a day that I leave home without my dog’s treat pouch or a pocket filled with training treats. It is so joyful to fix a situation with love, respect and encouragement.” In addition, “The fact that I can teach my dogs custom things these days, like locating crosswalks in the middle of a block, or finding a particular often-used door, adds immeasurably to my independence, and to how sighted society views my confidence and competence.”

That being said, Marlaina recalls being in training with her guide Madeline at GDB’s California campus in 1998, and working with instructors much newer to the field than she. “I was absolutely thrilled with how much respect the training staff showed me,” she said. “One instructor pointed out that I had been working dogs longer than some of them had been alive, and posed to me the question, ‘So why wouldn’t we listen to you?’ The atmosphere was not only one of intense work, but of family and support and laughter.”

Marlin trained with her current guide, Agnes, at GDB’s Oregon campus in 2006, where once again, “the support during my stay was amazing; I believe that GDB has the most respectful and respected trainers and staff in the business.”

So what else is there about GDB that keeps her coming back?

“Is it the fabulous food? Is it the beautiful facilities? Is it the amazing dedication of trainers and staff?” she questioned. “It could be all of those, but I think always the fondest memory is when I meet my new partner. I cannot tell you how emotional meeting the new dog is for me. I am totally blind, and so it isn’t until they bring the dog to my hands that I see who I’m meeting. Usually, the dogs are excited and want to play and lick. I run my hands all over the dog’s body, quickly trying to get to know her, then sit there and cry like a baby while the instructor tells me who I have and what she looks like. Then, spending the next couple of hours alone with my new dog just patting and touching and trying to share my heart and hear hers are times I will never forget.”

Marlaina also enjoys being a part of the community that comes along with being a GDB alum.  “When you meet new people who have dogs from GDB, there’s an instant spark of friendship,” she said. “Additionally, graduates support each other through Alumni Association events, email lists, conferences and more. And I can’t forget the puppy raisers! I am so proud that GDB encourages its graduates and raisers to stay in touch if both wish to do so. I love each and every puppy raiser out there! They really can’t fully know how impactful their efforts will be on the life of a blind person. I am always honored and humbled when I’m asked to speak to puppy groups. They are all truly amazing people, and I’m glad to count many of them as my friends.”

Having been paired with eight dogs through the years, Marlaina is no stranger to the process of retiring a guide and being paired with a new one - which isn’t quite as easy at it might seem, especially from an emotional perspective. Agnes will be 10 in February, so Marlaina is preparing herself once again for the transition.

“As Second Vice President of the American Council of the Blind, I travel extensively from coast to coast to various conferences and conventions. I am also very active at home. Due to my activity level, I do not like to work my dogs past age 10,” she said. “I believe that every day after age 6 is a gift; these dogs are asked to do some very complicated things, and I think they deserve a happy and healthy retirement. So, Agnes will retire in the spring, and she will become our pet and my husband’s dog.

“No matter how many times one goes through the retirement and then the new dog process, it’s hard; it’s hard to say goodbye to the partner in whom you’ve trusted completely for many years, and it’s hard to psych yourself up to start all over again with that new dog.  However, my husband and I are already talking about things like where Agnes will have her bed and where ‘new dog’ will have hers; where ‘new dog’ will lie in the car, and who’s going to eat first each day. Talking about it ahead of time helps me move along the path that will lead me to my next partner.”

Marlaina has two words for anyone considering getting a guide dog: do it! That’s putting it simply, but she believes that putting in the work and making the commitment to the guide dog lifestyle pays rewards in spades.

“Becoming a guide dog handler isn’t easy, but it’s well worth the effort,” she said. “It’s true, you have to take the dog out in all weather; you have to feed and care for the dog; and, you may occasionally meet that uninformed business owner who tells you that dogs are not allowed. However, what you gain cannot be measured. Working through crowds, automatically finding elevator doors, your house, your hotel room, and the ability to follow someone from whom you are getting directions but who has no clue how to do sighted guide - these are just a few of the things you’ll receive from your dog. I think of my dogs as my magic carpet to freedom of movement; with my guide, I’ll go just about anywhere and do so with confidence.

“But above and beyond all this is the love and oneness of spirit that you and your guide will develop together. You have to trust in those four paws, two eyes and that one brilliant brain. In turn, the dog has to trust that you would never knowingly ask it to do something unsafe. I know of no other relationship, human-to-human or human-to-dog, that is built on these precepts. The key is total trust at both ends of the harness. It’s a joy to give it, and it’s a joy to feel it! If you want all of that in your life, a GDB dog is for you!”