Guide Dogs for the Blind Holiday Luncheon Keynote Speech

I had the wonderful opportunity to share my story with the Guide Dog community at both the Oregon Fall Luncheon in Portland, OR and the Festive Holiday Luncheon in San Fransisco, CA this year to support Guide Dogs for the Blind in their fundraising efforts. Please click on this link and enjoy listening to my story shared at the Holiday Luncheon earlier this month. I am so proud to be a part of the Guide Dogs for the Blind family!

Enjoy!!

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Photo Credit: Guide Dogs for the Blind 
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How do you identify a working guide dog?

I frequently get asked when I am out and about with Nabisco”are you training him”? My usual response is “no, he is my working guide dog”. I feel the general public and even business owners are not able to identify a working guide dog. I understand that in instances where they ask me “is that your service dog”, they have the right to ask that question as outlined by the ADA, but I do find myself thinking “isn’t it obvious, he is a guide dog for the blind.” Maybe it is to me, but not others. So, I wanted to take a moment to explain the difference between a working guide dog and a puppy in training.

How do you identify a working guide dog?

A working guide dog wears a special harness with a long U shaped handle that the blind partner holds on to. This is now the dog and handler communicate about obstacles or changes in elevation. Different guide dog organizations issue different looking harnesses, but the general shape and concept is the same. No other service dog wears a harness that looks like this.

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Nabisco’s harness looks like the one in the top two pictures. It has a white handle and a sign on it that reads “Guide Dogs for the Blind”. Some harnesses are made of solid leather, like the one in the bottom picture.

How do you identify a guide dog in training?

If you live in an area near a guide dog training school such as San Fransisco, CA, Portland, OR, or New York, you may see a guide dog in harness that is working with a guide dog trainer, but generally speaking if you see a dog wearing the special guide dog harness, they are most likely working for a blind or visually impaired person.

Guide dog puppies in training wear special vests to identify them and those being raised by volunteer puppy raisers for Guide Dogs for the Blind can be found in the Western States of WA, OR, CA, ID, NV, UT, CO, NM, AZ, and TX. These dogs wear a green coat that says “Guide Dogs for the Blind Puppy in Training”. Pictured to the left is the old puppy coat from Guide Dogs for the Blind from when I was raising. The picture to the right is one of the newer coats. They are still distinct, but do not have as large of a graphic on them.

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Other guide dog training schools may have different vests to identify their puppies in training. The role of the volunteer puppy raisers in the making of these wonderful guide dogs is essential. They teach them basic obedience skills, good house manners, and socialize them to a variety of sights and sounds to prepare them for work as a guide dog.

So next time you are out and about and see a working guide dog or a puppy in training, you will know the difference. Please take a moment to read my previous blog post about what a guide dog does to learn more about how you can help a guide dog team or a puppy in training be more successful!

What does a guide dog do?

After a recent incident this week involving, in my opinion, an uneducated dog owner, I am inspired to write this post.

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Photo Credit: Guide Dogs for the Blind

A little background on the incident, on Wednesday, I was walking from the bus stop to one of my schools and we came up on a gentleman walking his two large dogs on fairly long leashes. He made no attempts to pull them back towards him or step over to the side as I approached. As I stopped and put Nabisco in a “time out” as he was distracted, the gentleman’s dogs pulled towards Nabisco growling, barking, and snarling. I sternly told the gentleman to get his dogs away from Nabisco and that he is my working guide dog. He didn’t understand what I was saying until I explicitly said “I am blind and this is my guide dog”. He retorted with “you have a problem lady”. It was only after my explicit explanation that he moved the dogs away and we were able to continue on.

It is situations like this that cause me great anxiety and scare me for the safety of Nabisco and I.

I truly feel like the general public does not fully understand how a guide dog team works and the implications of distracting a team while they are working. I want to take a moment to write an educational piece about guide dogs and the best ways that the public can interact with us.

What is a guide dog’s job?

A person who is blind or visually impaired may travel with a guide dog or a white cane to help them accommodate for their decreased vision and ability to see. Guide dog and cane users have a wide variety of vision, not everyone who uses a cane or guide dog is totally blind. A guide dog’s job is to get his blind handler from point A to point B safely. To do this, he is trained to stop and alert his handler to street crossings, any changes in elevation (curbs, stairs, large cracks in the sidewalk, ect), take his handler around obstacles in their path, ignore distractions such as squirrels, children, or other dogs, and respond accordingly to cars through intelligent disobedience. A blind or visually impaired handler puts all of his/her trust in the dog to keep him or her safe. A guide dog team is a reciprocal relationship. The dog takes on responsibility to keep the handler safe and keep them out of harms way, but it is the handler’s job to know where and how to get to where they are going and give the dog the correct directions to do that.

Why is it important to not distract a guide dog?

Since a guide dog’s job is to keep a blind/visually impaired handler safe, it is essential that they are not distracted by other people or dogs. It is vital that people ALWAYS ask before petting, feeding, or engaging with a guide dog. When walking your dogs, DO NOT allow them to interact with a guide dog, especially if they are walking down the street. This could severely distract the dog and put the handler’s safety at risk. If a guide dog is attacked or has a negative experience with another dog, it could cause fears in the dog and end his or her career as a guide dog!

What should you do if you are walking your dog and you see a guide dog team approaching?

The most ideal thing to do is cross to the other side of the street. This avoids any interaction between the guide dog and your dog and avoids any potential negative interactions and allows the dog to keep his focus on guiding his handler safely. If you are unable to cross to the other side, it is best to step off to the side of the sidewalk and keep your dog close to you on a short leash. It is NEVER okay to allow your dog to approach a guide dog, even if your dog is friendly.

What should you do if you see a guide dog getting distracted?

Guide dogs are not robots and especially young guide dogs like Nabisco can sometimes still get distracted by other dogs. Handlers (at least those who graduated from Guide Dogs for the Blind) are trained to do what is called a “time out” and this is an exercise where if the dog is distracted the handler stops, brings the dog close to their left side, and does not give them any interaction for ~10 seconds to take away any positive or negative interaction. This allows the dog to regain their focus and after the 10 seconds, the handler will continue on with guide work. If the dog does what is expected and regains meaningful work, the handler will usually stop and praise and even give a treat to let the dog know they did the right thing. If you are walking with your dog and a guide dog handler has to stop and do a “time out”, they are not stopping to allow their dog to interact with yours. Please keep moving past the team and let the handler work through the situation without you and your dog present.

I strongly urge you to respect the work that a guide dog does and help guide dog teams to be successful! Do not distract the guide dog from working by petting, talking to, or feeding. Do not allow your pet dog to interact with a guide dog. These things can put the handler’s safety at risk and it could potentially end the guide dog’s career if they have a negative encounter with another dog.  

Exciting News to Share!

“If you don’t ask, you will never know”

This is my life motto. I have been given so many amazing opportunities in my life because I have dared to ask the questions that others would not. Although, this is not necessarily an instance of asking a question, but more of following my dreams and passions and pursuing continuing education that is going to put me where I need to advance and pursue my career goals!

I just received notification that I have been accepted into the Low Vision Graduate Certificate program for occupational therapists through Western Michigan University!!! I am so excited for the opportunity to continue my education in the field of occupational therapy and low vision. I will be starting classes in February. Although it is one more thing to take on, I am so passionate and excited it might not even feel like work, wait a minute… am I really saying that! Either way, I can’t wait to start this new journey.

In order to make this dream come true, I am requesting assistance through my GoFundMe campaign to help cover the cost of tuition, books, and travel expenses as the graduate certificate program does not qualify for federal student aid. Please follow the link to check out my GoFundMe campaign and consider donating! I greatly appreciate any donation, small or large. 

In other news, we just returned from a wonderful trip to San Fransisco where I got to share my story with the Guide Dogs for the Blind community down there at their annual Holiday Luncheon. I spoke to an audience of about 530 people. It was a great event and I feel honored to be chosen to speak. I had several people come up to me and congratulate me and say that it was the best luncheon they have attended in the past 30 years because of my speech. That makes me feel good! Guide Dogs for the Blind has released the video that accompanied my speech! It was such a fun experience working with Todd from Jump Cutters Video and they did a phenomenal job editing and putting the video together. I am proud to get to share it with all of my friends, family, and blog readers! Enjoy! Please click here to watch the video.