Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Giving Thanks for Retiree Rose Ramirez

Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) cook and caretaker Rose Ramirez, who was well known for the amazing care she provided for the students in training, recently retired after working at GDB’s San Rafael campus for over 22 years. From grocery shopping and cooking delicious meals to learning each student’s individual needs and giving gentle pats on the back, Rose proved to be an integral part of the heart and soul of GDB.

GDB Support Center generalist Ken Altenburger has known Rose for over 17 years. “I can honestly say that she is one of the treasures of GDB,” said Ken. “I have been on the receiving end of her care and kindness from a client’s perspective and I also enjoyed working alongside her as a fellow staff member. Rose always greeted you with a warm smile and it was clear that she cared very deeply for the students in each class – she worked tirelessly for the benefit of anyone needing assistance.”

Rose smiles while gently patting a student on the back during lunch (other students and guide dogs are in the background at another table).

Rose moved to the United States from Mexico as a young adult and learned to cook at her brother’s restaurant in Martinez, CA for 15 years before coming to GDB. Rose said she served the students in the best way she knew how in order to make sure they had everything they needed, even if it is small. “Rose is so thoughtful and always remembered everything about you,” said GDB graduate Keith Breaux. “I truly appreciated the way she took care of me during my stay. I will always remember her as being one of the best parts about coming to GDB for training.”

From the students and instructors to the nurses and the rest of the GDB staff, Rose was someone who always made everyone feel welcome. “I was very lucky to work at GDB,” said Rose. “One of my main goals while I was at GDB was to make sure the students were as comfortable as possible. I wanted to make sure it felt like a warm home when they came for training.”

Rose (wearing a beautiful red pattern jacket) poses in the GDB kitchen with freshly baked cookies.

While it can be exciting for students to work with a new partner, there is also the reality of being away from home and family, meeting and working with new people and participating in a comprehensive training experience. “Having the support of someone as warm and caring as Rose took any stress that I had away, said GDB graduate Penny Hardin. “Rose showed genuine concern and interest in our well-being and her cooking was amazing! Her friendly smile and encouragement were constant reminders of how much she cared about us. It’s clear to me that Rose was a very important part of the GDB team who, along with the instructors and nurses, helped us to be successful every day.”

Over the course of more than two decades, Rose has had a tremendous impact at GDB and she will always be remembered for her incredible and thoughtful work ethic. “Some people talk about wanting to serve – Rose truly does serve, every day of her life,” said Ken.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Halloween Costume Contest Goes to the Dogs!

By: Patti Ehle, GDB Utah Alumni Chapter Vice President of Greatest Paws on Earth

This Halloween costume contest clearly went to the dogs. On October 25th, approximately 50 puppy raisers and guide dog users joined together in Salt Lake City, UT for the third year of an outrageous Halloween costume contest. Special thanks to the GDB puppy raising club, Paws to Love, who led the event! Also making an appearance was Lauren Ross, GDB Field Service Manager from Chicago who has been working in Utah with guide dog users this month, and Lauren Grimditch, GDB Community Field Representative, who was there visiting from Colorado.

Guide dog puppy Marigold wears a yellow and orange flower wreath on her head. A young girl in a princess costume is next to Marigold.

puppy raisers Megan and Haley with their puppies Paris, Denmark and Dinah dressed as Flora, Fauna and Merryweather, the three godmothers in Sleeping Beauty.

GDB grad Scott Wilcock and guide dog Senator (black Lab) wears a colorful tie.

Every one of the 25 dogs was dressed and ready to shake a hula skirt or balance a coffee cup on their head for the judges. Everyone had clever costumes like GDB graduate Morris Bowman and his guide Daniel who wore formal wear with real doggie tails. Other highlights from the puppy raisers included: a Star Wars themed dog costume, Little Red Riding Hood, and Kermit the Frog. Puppy raisers Stephanie and Myka dressed Marigold with a marigold flower crown, and Karen Fuller's dog was dressed as a travel brochure. One of the youngest dogs was entered by The Davis family who dressed up Will, a very young Golden Retriever, in a football jersey that said “wide retriever.”

Black Lab puppy Gwen dressed as a coffee with a sleeve and lid as the Starbarks costume (handled by puppy raiser Hannah Thompson dressed as a barista with a green aproon).

Yellow lab puppy Lisbon dressed as a Lisbon travel brochure.

Yellow lab puppy Smitty dressed up with three fellow Star Wars characters.

For the contest, there were 3 categories of costumes: Namesake, Halloween and Team. First place for the Halloween category was Gwen with the Starbarks costume (handled by puppy raiser Hannah Thompson). First place for the Team category was Smitty's Starwars costumes, and first place for the Namesake category was Rocket. The overall costume contest winner went to puppy raisers Megan and Haley with their puppies Paris, Denmark and Dinah dressed as Flora, Fauna and Merryweather, the three godmothers in Sleeping Beauty.

Black lab puppy rocket dressed as a white rocket with black sunglasses and colorful paper flames at the end.

Yellow lab puppy Penne dressed as Little Red Riding Hood looks up at the camera.

Yellow lab puppy Trivia smiles up at the camera dressed as Kermit the Frog.

Prizes ranged from a large dog bed and dog treats to all sorts of dog goodies to make any puppy cheer!  Even a Kindle was a huge surprise to the puppy raiser who excitedly received it. All prizes were generously donated from business like: R.C. Willey, Petsmart, Great Harvest, North American Pet Company, and many other wonderful supporters. Thank you all for coming out in style!

Young yellow lab puppy Will in a black jersey poses with a boy holding a football.

All photos by: Lisa Thompson

Friday, October 31, 2014

GDB Puppy Raising Scholarship Essay Submission: How Do You Give Them Up?

By: Sophia Hamilton (2014 GDB Puppy Raising Scholarship Recipient for Overall Achievement)

“How will you give her up?” Everywhere I went this question was posed about Almond, the little guide dog puppy that stood by my side. Truthfully I had asked myself this same question countless times, and in the beginning I had no idea what the answer was.

Almond was the first of three puppies I raised for Guide Dogs for the Blind. I began raising puppies in 2009, when my 8th grade teacher assigned the project I was to complete over the course of my final year in grade school. I decided that training a guide dog puppy would be perfect. Becoming part of this organization has been one of the most enjoyable and rewarding things I have done thus far in my life.

Throughout my four years of high school, I had puppies on campus with me from time to time. People would ask me all the time about the program and what my specific duties with these dogs were. Through this program I made connections with many people at my high school and in the community in general. One of my now closest friends, Kailee, and I met through GDB. She is a year below me in school and was inspired to join our local puppy club after seeing me at school with my second pup, Shimmer. Before joining the club, Kailee, like just about every other person asked the question, “How do you give these dogs up?” This time I finally had an answer, and I told the story of Almond’s graduation:

“Standing on stage, holding Almond’s leash in my hand for the last time, a shiver rippled down my spine. My fingers tightened around the leash as I fought back the tears that were threatening to overtake me any second. I was not ready to let my little girl go. As I listened to the voice of the woman who was to receive her, a wave of pride came over me. She said, ‘Without her, my dreams would never be fulfilled. Now I can go home with my little Almond and do all the things I want to without worrying how I will do them.’ I knew right then that I was able to give her up because all along she was never really mine to keep. I had raised her for a greater purpose, to give a person who is blind her mobility, and that day I let Almond go for the last time, knowing I had done just that.”

This story really inspired Kailee to go forward with her desire to raise a guide dog as she saw just how rewarding it can be.

My work with guide dog puppies has taught me persistence, perseverance, and patience. It has contributed greatly to who I am today, as it has shown me the joy that results from selflessness. Through my experiences I have found a passion in serving others. Although I am not certain of the career path I will follow, I know that many of the values and work ethics I will carry with me came from my involvement with GDB. Raising these dogs has shown me just how valuable serving and working with others is. Upon witnessing the strength and love of the partnerships of these individuals and their guides, my goal and desire to help improve the lives of others has been further solidified. I want to continue to experience the joy I get from taking part in changing a life.

Check out a video project Sophia created entitled, “Raising Three Guide Dog Puppies: Sophia’s Story,” on GDB’s YouTube channel here: http://youtu.be/vmQCP98hnTE

Thursday, October 23, 2014

GDB Puppy Raising Scholarship Essay Submission: The Triumph of Raising a Guide Dog Puppy

By: Skyler Howard (2014 GDB Puppy Raising Scholarship Recipient for Outstanding Essay)

Three freshman girls were sobbing uncontrollably in the school bathroom. “Why would he do it?” cried one. “How could this have happened?” whispered another. The news spread like wildfire throughout the school. By the end of the day, everyone had heard what happened: a freshman boy had killed himself.

The next morning, the hallways were silent. Words were either whispered or sobbed silently into a friend’s shoulder. The first bell rang and the noise was so loud it hit the walls and shattered into a million pieces. I made my way to English class with Triumph, the guide dog puppy I was raising, who was moving slowly by my side. The teacher was kind and decided not to give us a lecture. The class began to work on other homework or draw silently. Ten minutes into the period, three seniors drifted into the room and made a beeline toward Triumph. The quietly greeted me and Triumph, and then sat down on the floor with him. They stroked his paws and his head as he stared up at them with his large, understanding eyes.

“I wish I could stay here all day,” said one of the girls. The others agreed.

In spite of the tragedy of the situation, I couldn’t help but smiling a bit. When I looked at Triumph and the three seniors gathered around him, I could see the comfort he was giving to my classmates. Petting Triumph and sitting with him was making them hurt a little less. I could see that in their small smalls and hear that in their hushed voices directed toward the dog.

While raising a guide dog puppy, I have learned that it’s impossible for a puppy to influence just one person. Instead, a guide dog puppy influences a whole community. Triumph came to school with me every day and throughout the year he spent with me, I noticed just how much of an impact he made on my fellow students.

In my Japanese class, Triumph was the star of multiple skits. In my art and economics classes, he liked to sleep on the rug right in front of the door so that students were forced to stop and pet him when they walked into the classroom. In the hallways, many of my friends began to greet Triumph before even saying hi to me.

On the last day I had Triumph at school, my Japanese class had a party for me. We went out onto the tennis courts and everyone sat in a circle. Triumph slowly made his way from person to person, wagging his tail and calmly sniffing the face of each student. When class was over, everyone stood in two parallel lines and touched hands with the person across from them, forming a human tunnel for Triumph. The students cheered him through, and when he reached the middle he stopped and stretched. Butt in the air and tail wagging, he looked up at all the smiling faces above him. Everyone was so happy.

I began raising guide dog puppies because I have always loved dogs, but that is not why I continue to do it. Now I raise puppies because they have the ability to teach me so many things. Triumph taught me that sometimes a wagging tail is more comfort than another human voice, that people you barely know will stop and ask about your little dog in the green vest, and that an entire community can come together around a single dog.

Triumph also helped me discover what I want to do in my future. I plan to study animal behavior in college, and when I graduate I want to work at an animal shelter or train service dogs. Because of my experience raising guide dog puppies, I know that continuing to work with animals as an adult is what I want to do. Seeing the impact that a dog can have on a person’s life and on a community is truly amazing, and I know that I want to continue experiencing this miracle.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Foggy Doggies Enjoy a Day at Angel Island

By: Maile George, Alumni Association Board Co-chair

Autumn is one of the best times of year on the San Francisco bay, and the Foggy Doggies day on the bay began promising pure magic. Members of this San Francisco Alumni chapter and their friends traveled via bus, rail, para transit and private car with their guide dogs from counties south, east and north of San Francisco and arrived on ferry docks in Oakland, San Francisco and Tiburon. Guide dogs confidently led their handlers along piers onto creaky gangways, beside other passengers and onto the ferry to seats where they were exposed to the salty air.

When the boats arrived, the guide dog teams disembarked and ranger/interpreter Casey Dexter Lee welcomed the Foggy Doggies ashore. One interesting fact about Angel Island is that no dogs are allowed except service dogs. After introductions, the group walked to picnic tables on which Casey had previously arranged various specimens of plants. The group enjoyed smelling, touching and looking at Eucalyptus pods and leaves, Toyon, Bay Laurel, Buckeye, Norfolk pine, Oak and many other native and non-native plants.

Ranger Casey Dexter Lee greets the Foggy Doggies group on a beautiful sunny day with the bay in the background.

To illustrate the long history of Angel Island in a tactile way, Casey allowed each person to touch representative symbols of the history of Angel Island. She asked the group to identify what each object represented. There was a slightly concave wooden platter that was used for proofing bread, a canteen that could have belonged to a World War 1 veteran, a replica of a Japanese poem carved into the wall at the immigration detention station, and a Nike running shoe to symbolize the Nike Missile Base located on the island from 1954 until it was decommissioned in 1962. Finally, Casey treated the group to homemade silver dollar sized pancakes made from acorn flour she’d processed by pounding acorns into a meal.  She processed it in a similar way to how the earliest inhabitants of Angel Island, the Native American Miwok did.

After this unique science and history lesson, Casey turned the group loose to eat lunch in Ayala Cove. Once again, guide dogs expertly guided  their handlers past visitors eating grilled hot dogs and hamburgers, fish tacos, oysters on the half shell, chili, and sandwiches purchased from the cafĂ©. After lunch, some guide dog teams headed off for a hike, while others relaxed, enjoying the natural beauty of the San Francisco bay.

Members of the Foggy Doggies Alumni Chapter pose with their guide dogs on Angel Island next to a palm tree.

All too quickly, it was time to head back to the ferry dock where the Foggy Doggie teams would travel home via their various modes of transportation, the dogs anxious for their well-deserved dinners! One chapter member commented that he had never had the opportunity to go to Angel Island, and he was grateful to be a part of an alumni chapter that provided him with an opportunity to do something he’d always wanted to do and to make the trip independently. Other members expressed some trepidation ahead of time about traveling to a new area, but felt that with the support of other guide dog handlers, they were excited about taking advantage of the opportunity to have some fun.