Thursday, September 11, 2014

A City Dog gets to Work and Play

By Katie Crocker

Katie Crocker and her black Lab Jetty

Every August, as part of my job, I record an event that is held at the Massachusetts state house.  My job at this event is to set up audio equipment, record speakers and audience discussion, and ultimately, turn that audio into a radio show.  The event features a yearly program run by the Massachusetts agency for the blind.  In any case, this was the first time I've attended this event with a guide dog since 2011.  Jetty and I have been a team now for about 15 weeks; he is by far the youngest dog I have ever taken to this particular event (I've attended this yearly since 2006).  This involves tons of people, many with white canes, several with guide dogs, tables, crowds, food, the whole nine.  In addition to these distractions, I also had many situations where Jetty needed to do a sit/stay or down/stay, while I untangled wires, tested audio equipment, etc.  This also involved him helping me trace along walls to find wires, and tape them down to avoid tripping hazards, much of this was just him and I, without sighted assistance.  Let me just say, Jetty was a total rock star! He did an amazing job, weaving me past tables, podiums, other people who could not see us, led me past curled up wires, even stopping patiently while I rearranged wires along the wall so others without sight would not trip.  His work was exemplary; never before have I seen such restraint and focus in such a young partnership.

Another thing I found amazing was Jetty's ability to read me before I gave any commands.  As I've been behind the scenes at this event for multiple years, I know the surrounding area quite well.  It only took Jetty a trip or two to figure out: A, where my assigned chair in the audience was, B; where the podium we needed to connect to was, C; where our recording devices were (in a separate room, D; where the press media ports were in the room.  We needed to frequent these places periodically, as the recording requires two separate speaker systems.  There were folks there who were deaf/blind, so we also needed to account for an FM transmitter to accommodate listening devices.  This was my first time making on the spot changes to our rig, but it worked out for the best!
There were a number of guide dogs there.  One belonged to MCB commissioner, another belonged to the ADA coordinator of the state house.  Then there were several in the crowd.  One I knew from my previous guide dog school, and a few from our own GDB.

Jetty was a gentleman, through and through.  He targeted the areas I needed, with very little verbal cues, which I found amazing! He and I are getting into that  "mind reading" phase, where before I can utter a command, he seems to already know!  We move like a fluid force, together. At every step he seems to know what I need, and in turn, I feel through all things what he needs.  We have been a good team so far.  Of course there have times where we have had to figure each other out, but it seems like with each trip out the door we get better and better.  We are learning more about each other every day.  But, we are staring to respond to each other on a level that is almost surreal.  Sometimes it's nonverbal.  Sometimes a gesture, or my pace, or...I don't even know what, will prompt my boy to do move in a way where we just flow.  It completely takes my breath away.

The minute we get home, and the harness comes off, Jetty turns into a goofy, sloppy teenager. He grabs whatever toy is closest, snorts, and will do backflips right into you.  He likes keep away games, loves to chew, and loves, more than anything else, to feel needed and important.  When I sit on the floor, he will curl up in my lap, and he seems to feel at peace.  He needs both work, and play, in that order.  If Jetty can't guide, he really doesn't feel like himself.  But when we are out and about, he is his happiest.  This is an amazing dog.....

The streets of Boston are loud and chaotic.  At every turn there are crowds, buses honking their horns, construction, you name it.  But nothing ever phases Jetty, or gets him worried.  He is the most confident city dog I've ever had.  GDB did a wonderful job pairing us together, and I can't thank them enough for this amazing gift!  I look forward to every day as an adventure with this boy by my side! This is how we/have grown.  I feel so blessed!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Breeder's Digest for June 2014

Breeder’s Digest
June 2014

Litter Announcements 

Labrador Retrievers
Golden Retrievers
Labrador Retriever-Golden Retriever Crosses
New Breeders
Labrador Retrievers
  • Aida: raised in AZ
  • Arbor: raised in CA
  • Belay: raised in WA
  • Harlem: raised in CA
  • Lovely: raised in CO
  • Namiko: raised in CA
  • Novel: raised in CA
  • Quince: raised in CO
  • Ronnie: raised in WA
  • Vesta: raised in CO
  • Vikram: raised in CO

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Just Ask

By: Jake Koch, GDB graduate and alumni representative

My guide dog and I stood at the front entrance of a commercial jetliner bound for Spokane Washington. It was the Thanksgiving holiday and I was taking a trip to visit my family for the long weekend; well, almost. As I stepped through the door, a flight attendant stopped in front of me, halting my progress. The attendant informed me that there was a seat for me located just behind the bulkhead. I thanked the crewmember  for the offer and asked to be seated several rows back. The attendant appeared not to hear my request and again informed me of the available seat behind the bulkhead. Wanting to be polite, but finding myself annoyed at the persistence of the flight attendant, I calmly explained that my dog enjoys laying under a seat while flying, and I would rather put my dog in a place where she can rest without being bothered by a large number of curious holiday travelers. After another couple minutes of back and forth discussion with the flight attendant, and a small line of passengers beginning to form at the front door of the aircraft, the attendant seemed to understand and offered me a seat several rows back.

Today’s society is becoming increasingly more safety and lawsuit conscious; employee training programs in industries that serve the public, such as airlines, hotels and restaurants have been greatly expanded to address what seems like every safety and or lawsuit concern that might arise.  With all of this extra training, service personnel sometimes forget to just ask a person about what their needs, wants and expectations of the service are. This feeling of receiving impersonal customer service is sometimes magnified for people with disabilities. This observation is not to put blame on employees working in the service industry, but rather to encourage positive dialog between a customer, regardless of abilities and the service personnel.

With the increasing expansion of training protocols that must be mastered by service employees, it is easy to forget about disability specific laws, regulations and preferences. Many people with disabilities and disability advocates are quick to point out the apparent “ignorance,” that they believe is held by service industry workers. Although there is undoubtedly some “ignorance,” held by employees in the service industry, it is important to note that nobody could possibly remember every provision, regulation, or preference pertaining to people with disabilities. A positive solution that you won’t find in many blog posts that are critical of service industry employees is to Just Ask. If you are at all affiliated with the service industry, and you are working with a person who has a disability, welcome them to your establishment. Then, simply ask how you may assist them. People with disabilities are people first, and want to be able to communicate their needs, wants, and expectations as a consumer; just like everybody else.

Let me provide some real-world examples:

• Referring to the personal anecdote above, when offering the availability of  a bulkhead seat on an aircraft to a guide dog handler, understand that some people enjoy sitting in different places other than the bulkhead section of the aircraft, depending on the needs of the dog and handler; some people enjoy sitting farther back, while others enjoy sitting in the very front. 

• When waiting on a customer with a disability at a restaurant, address the person with the disability directly; do not ask his or her partner. 

• If you are assisting a blind or visually impaired customer during check-in at a hotel, ask them if they need any assistance. Sometimes people who are blind or visually impaired may ask for an orientation to the hotel’s amenities, including the room they are staying in. In other instances, they may simply ask for the room number, feeling confident in getting around the hotel without assistance.  

Giving a person with a disability the opportunity to explain their own preferences will often result in a positive experience for the service employee and the person with a disability. It is not necessary for employees of the service industry to memorize every rule and regulation pertaining to people with disabilities; instead it’s necessary to treat them with respect and offer your assistance in a positive way, even if their preferences may differ from employee instruction. Likewise, it is foolish to expect employees of service establishments to know and understand very specific laws, rules, and regulations pertaining to a specific disability. When working with a person who has a disability, it’s helpful to remember this phrase: don’t assume; Just Ask. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Use of Science and Technology in Breeding Management

By: GDB Breeding Manager Jenna Bullis

Guide Dogs for the Blind is more than an industry-leading guide dog school; we are a passionate community that serves the visually impaired. With exceptional client services and a robust network of trainers, puppy raisers, donors and volunteers, we prepare highly qualified guide dogs to serve and empower individuals who are blind or have low vision.

One aspect of how GDB leads in the industry is our breeding program. In our earliest days, most of our dogs came from animal shelters. It soon became evident that we were looking for something very specific: dogs that not only had excellent health, intelligence, and temperament, but also exhibited a willingness to work and thrive on praise. Our specialized breeding program was started in the late 1940s in an effort to ensure consistent availability of dogs with these desirable traits and to improve future generations of guide dogs.
Technician aliquots (divides out) a sample of saline.

The method used to make long-term genetic changes in our colony is called selection. The selection process determines which dogs join the breeding colony, who they are mated with to produce puppies, how many puppies they have, and how long they remain in the breeding colony. The idea behind selection is simply this: to let the dogs with the best set of genes reproduce so that the next generation has, on average, more desirable genes than the current generation. It is also important to remember that “best” is a relative term and there is no one best dog for all situations. The traits that make one guide dog suited to work in New York City might be quite different than for a guide dog working in a quieter more rural area.

Technician pipettes (placing a drop) of dye onto a slide.

Today our breeding program applies a wide range of scientific tools and techniques in our selection process. In addition to using health, temperament, and genetic (DNA) tests to assess each individual dog we also use population genetics to make genetic predictions. Population genetics allow us to use the extensive data stored on all the relatives of an individual to calculate Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs). EBVs allow for comparison between the predicted breeding values of dogs in the colony. At GDB we calculate EBVs for a variety of measurable traits including success as a guide dog and a number of health conditions.

Over time, a closed breeding colony becomes more interrelated, consequently while managing the colony it is also important to maintain genetic diversity. This can happen in a number of ways: bringing in puppies that may mature into breeding stock, acquiring adult breeding stock, or by breeding to outside dogs via natural or artificial means. GDB looks for breeding programs which have selected dogs for similar traits to ensure high success as working guides. This typically means we work with other guide and service dog schools. GDB has a large number of collaborative breeding relationships around the world and routinely exchanges genetic material to maximize the genetic diversity of our colony, contribute to the global development of guide dog services, and to promote sharing knowledge, experiences, and camaraderie. 

Technician looks through microscope at a slide.

Sharing genetic material internationally often occurs by shipping frozen semen. GDB began collecting, freezing, and storing all studs in our colony in the late 1990s. Today, all semen cryopreservation is conducted in our breeding lab by our highly trained staff. This extremely valuable genetic material is frequently used for collaboration and is occasionally used within our current colony to bring back valuable traits from proven stud dogs of the past.

Close-up of microscope optics.

Remaining on the cutting edge of reproductive and selection technologies is a critical component to the ongoing success of GDB’s mission. By carefully managing our breeding colony, we are able to produce exceptional dogs that with time and training can fulfill a life-changing role for our clients. Our international collaborations also enable us to positively impact visually impaired individuals around the world. Breeding is both an art and a science and we are proud to be among the leaders in our industry.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

20th Annual Guide Dog Puppy Travel Day!

By: GDB Puppy Raising Leader Pat Whitehead

What began 20 years ago when a GDB Teen Leader wanted to do "something different and invite everybody" has evolved into an annual excursion for the Pacific Southwest area. With the sincerely appreciated cooperation of both MetroLink and MetroRail as well as the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, guide dog puppy raisers, their families, and potential raiser families enjoyed a day "riding the rails" to Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. Then, a short walk took everyone to the El Pueblo de Los Angeles State Historic Park, otherwise known as Olvera Street. After a welcome and group photo, participants enjoyed visiting friends, finding littermates, sightseeing, shopping, enjoying the native dancers, and a delicious lunch before making the return trip home. All appreciated the work of L. A. Southwest Guide Dog raisers in facilitating this annual event. People also looked forward to having time for those special tips from GDB Community Field Representative (CFR) Rick Wilcox.

Participating groups this year included: Antelope Valley Guide Dog Puppy Raisers; BAARK; Diamonds in the Ruff; Glendale Pups to Partners; High Desert Guide Dog Puppy Raisers; Los Angeles Southwest Guide Dog Raisers; North Orange County Puppies to Partners; PRIDE; South Bay Guide Dog Puppy Raisers; South Orange County Paws for Independence; VIP3; Yuma Guide Dog Puppy Raisers. Thank you, all!

Puppy raisers pose on the sidewalk with their guide dogs puppies (one yellow and three black Lab).

A puppy raiser gives one of her cards to someone interested in GDB as her yellow Lab sits calmly at her side.

Two puppy raisers kneel down posing with their yellow Lab guide dog puppy.

Puppy raisers with a black Lab and golden Retriever puppy stand near the signs that say "To Union Station West" the floor is a colorful intricate pattern and the mural above is of children of different ethnicities.

Big group photos of puppy raisers with their guide dog puppies on steps - beautiful sunny day with palms in the background.

Puppy raisers pose in front of the MetroLink train.

A yellow Lab puppy looks up at the camera while tucked under the seat on the train.

Two Golden Retriever guide dog puppies and one Yellow Lab on an elevator.

Puppy raisers with a black Lab and golden Retriever puppy stand near the signs that say "To Union Station West" the floor is a colorful intricate pattern and the mural above is of children of different ethnicities.