My Guide Dog Family

This past weekend, I got to witness a friend of mine graduate with her 3rd guide dog, an adorable black lab named Figaro. This was also the first time I met my friend in person. You see, we connected through FaceBook as we are both alumni of Guide Dogs for the Blind and part of many of the guide dog related groups. The graduation was wonderful and as always brought out the emotions. It has provided me with an opportunity to reflect on my experiences with Guide Dogs for the Blind.

I have come to call GDB my family. This is for many reasons. It took me a while to realize just how interconnected GDB is in my life from my beginnings as a puppy raiser and now as a guide dog user and ambassador for GDB. Each and every person who is involved with GDB is kind, devoted, and give themselves and their time to help GDB advance their mission. I have not met one person who wasn’t genuinely down to earth and that includes all of the puppy raisers, staff, trainers, and volunteers. There is a certain quality you must poses in order to give yourself so freely. GDB brings together like minded people who also happen to love dogs and serve others. Another amazing thing about GDB is the longevity of the organization and it’s supporters. GDB is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year! Wow, they have been serving blind and visually impaired individuals across North America for 75 years. It is not uncommon to hear that people have been volunteering with the organization for 10+ years or they are raising their 30th puppy. Once you are involved you are hooked!

Of these people that are most special are the puppy raisers. They give so much of their time to love, care for, and train these wonderfully adorable puppies until they are just becoming nice companions and then they give them back to Guide Dogs for formal training to do what they were destined to do, become a guide dog to help someone who is blind or visually impaired. I am forever grateful for the dedication that Nabisco’s puppy raisers gave to shaping him into the wonderful dog he is today. I know exactly what it is like because I raised 5 puppies for GDB. I used to hear all of the time, “I could never give them up” and yes, while this is difficult and you do get attached, my answer was always the same. I used to explain first off that you go into it knowing it is not your dog and that you aren’t going to keep it. It is totally different than getting a puppy, thinking you are going to keep it for life, and then giving it away. Second, when you get to see the difference that dog makes in the life of a person who is blind or visually impaired, there is no going back, it makes it all worth it. I remember Nabisco’s raisers told me that after they saw how much he helps me, they decided to raise another one!

I have gotten to experience both sides of the leash and it is the most magical thing in the whole entire world. To give and then receive.

Giving myself to Guide Dogs for the Blind through puppy raising and then receiving my very own guide dog was amazing!

Back to my discussion about my GDB family. You develop connections and networks and relationships with everyone you meet. I am so grateful that I have been able to stay in touch with my puppy’s blind partners and that I am still in touch with and building relationships with Nabisco’s raisers and so many other puppy raisers I have met through my public speaking with GDB. When you are involved with GDB, you have an instant connection and you share a common purpose. Some of my closest friends in high school were from the GDB puppy raising program. And just as each human connection means so much, each of my puppies hold a special place in my heart. Clint is still working for his parter at the young age of 11 years old. I hope Nabisco and I can have such a successful career together!

I am so grateful to have GDB in my life for the past 13 years. I will continue to support the mission of this amazing organization and do whatever I can to foster the relationships that I have built and will continue to build in the future.

Guide Dogs for the Blind is an amazing organization that has the welfare and success of each and every dog at the forefront of their work. They go above and beyond to help teams be successful including paying for veterinary expenses.

It is sometimes hard to describe in words just what this organization and it’s volunteers means to me. The best way to describe it is family. You can count on them for anything.

GDB Family
A photo collage of my 5 puppies I raised for GDB and a picture of Nabisco and I working. Top left to right: Chief, Minnie, Clint. Bottom left to right: Brad, Griffey, Nabisco. 

 Thank you to all of those who support GDB!

PS. If you want to help support GDB, I encourage you to donate via their website or vote for Nabisco to be featured in their 2018 Calendar, by clicking here. By donating $1 per vote, Nabisco may be the next featured model.

Also, on a slightly unrelated note, but since I have not posted since his attack. I would like to report that Nabisco is doing fabulous! We worked through a bit of distraction, but he is working as well as ever. I am continuing to work through some anxiety, but am getting better with each positive dog interaction we have. And last, the attacking dogs were identified and I was able to report them to Animal Control and action was taken and we have seen a change in behavior as the dogs have not showed up at school again, that I have seen. All in all, a successful ending to a not so fun experience. Glad we are on the mend!

Therapy Dog vs Service Dog… What’s the difference?

I had the opportunity for Nabisco and I to be featured in a video, produced by Portland Public Schools on service dogs. The video turned out fantastic and I think it is great that they are supporting the important work that my guide dog and other service dogs do. To watch the video click here!

I love all of the opportunities that I get to educate my fellow staff and students about service dogs and service dog etiquette.

I would however, like to take a moment to describe the difference between therapy dogs and service dogs because there is a fundamental and extremely important difference as these two types of dogs serve VERY DIFFERENT roles. I hear my guide dog referred to so many times as a therapy dog and it bothers me as there is a significant difference.

THERAPY DOGS: Therapy dogs are pet dogs that are registered with local or national organizations (such as Pet Partners) that have passed basic obedience and tests to allow them access to hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and libraries to provide animal visitation to patients and children. While there are significant, research driven benefits of animal visitation and animal-assisted therapy, these dogs do not have public access and are not protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. People are encouraged to pet these dogs and they are brought into hospitals to give people comfort. Libraries have also developed read to the dogs programs to help children practice their reading skills.

SERVICE DOGS: Service dogs on the other hand are dogs that are specifically trained to perform a task to help mitigate a limitation posed by a person’s disability. These dogs are seen as medically necessary and are therefore protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act and are allowed in any public establishment that the general public is allowed. There are several different types of service dogs, these include guide dogs for the blind, hearing dogs, mobility assistance dogs, seizure response dogs, and medical alert dogs. It is important to know that business or persons of interest may ask a service dog handler two questions. 1) Is that dog your service dog? and 2) What specific task is it trained to perform? The task that it is trained to perform must be related to their disability and may not be stated as “emotional support”.

I had my first incident with a store clerk attempting to deny me access to the store because of my guide dog. Although the situation ended in my favor and the store owner actually came and apologized, the incident caused me great anxiety as the store clerk was encroaching on my rights.

I love my ability to work in the schools and reach so many individuals and teach them about the difference between service dogs and therapy dogs and the important work that Nabisco does for me.

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Service Dog

 

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Therapy Dog

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. 

 

 

Nevada Day Classic!

I had a wonderful weekend in Reno, NV this past weekend. I was asked by Guide Dog’s for the Blind’s Reno and Carson City puppy raising clubs to speak at their annual fundraiser for Guide Dogs for the Blind at the Nevada Day Classic 8k run and 2k walk/run. The event took place on Saturday and I spoke at the packet pick up on Friday evening. They did a wonderful job putting on this event and I loved getting to share my story as a guide dog user.

I was so proud of myself for accepting the offer to speak and getting on a plane, flying to Nevada all by myself where I didn’t even know anyone. I had a wonderful family host me for the weekend and play tour guide. I was so impressed with Nabisco and his ability to navigate the busy airports and he did a fantastic job on his first flight! He slept the whole time, even when it got bumpy. He is the best guide dog ever!

Nabisco and I participated in the 2k walk and we finished in about 27 minutes!! He was so good and we had so much fun. We even made it into the local Carson City paper!

I had a wonderful weekend in Reno, NV from October 28-30. I was asked by Guide Dog’s for the Blind’s Reno and Carson City puppy raising clubs to speak at their annual fundraiser for Guide Dogs for the Blind at the Nevada Day Classic 8k run and 2k walk/run. The event took place on Saturday and I spoke at the packet pick up on Friday evening. They did a wonderful job putting on this event and I loved getting to share my story as a guide dog user with the puppy raising and Reno/Carson City communities.

As a visually impaired person, going on a trip like this would have normally been very nerve wracking for me. At one point, navigating the airport and a brand new environment would have been worrisome and I would have been very anxious. But I have grown and learned so much over the years and traveling with Nabisco has decreased this stress by so much! With the use of Nabisco and an airport escort decreased the stress of navigating the airport and putting myself out there and challenging myself and by putting myself in new experiences has helped me to be more comfortable in new situations.

It is through these experiences that I gain even more confidence to do it again.

Incredible Opportunities!

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I am so excited to announce that I have some amazing opportunities coming up in the next few months! Guide Dogs for the Blind has given me the opportunity to share my story and support GDB at two of their upcoming fundraising events. I will be the keynote speaker at the Annual Portland Fall Luncheon at the Nines Hotel on November 4th and the Holiday Luncheon in San Francisco on December 1st at the St. Francis Hotel!

In addition to getting to speak, they are also creating a video documentary/fundraising video of me and Nabisco, showcasing our life together. I cannot wait to see how it turns out! The filming was so much fun!

I am so grateful for all that Guide Dogs for the Blind has done for me and I am so happy to share my story to help raise funds for this amazing organization.

You can check out more information about the events at GDB’s fundraising page: http://www.guidedogs.com/events/

I am also excited to use this opportunity to share and promote occupational therapy. Even if it is only a short sentence about what OT is, it will be a way to tell the general public about what OT is. It will be a great!

White Cane vs Guide Dog

So I realize that it has been quite a while since I have written a post. Life has gotten away from me, I suppose.

The other day I took my old yellow lab, Minnie, on a short walk around the block. That is about all she can tolerate these days, she is slowing down so much. Because she walks much slower than Nabisco, I had chosen to leave Nabisco home and go out with my white cane. This was the first time I had used my cane since getting Nabisco almost 6 months ago (has it been that long already??). WOW! What a difference he has made in my mobility. With my white cane, I was forced to walk slower, with my cane getting stuck in every small crack in the sidewalk. It was much more frustrating. When I walk with Nabisco, we fly! We can go so much faster and it is truly a much more relaxing way of going. I am so happy to have Nabisco and he has made such an amazing difference in my life.

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One thing I never considered when switching from my cane to a guide dog was the impact it would have on my relationship with my husband. Although it has not been significant, there has been a small change that we both have noticed. Prior to getting Nabisco, I used to hold my husband’s hand whenever we went out, now with Nabisco since he walks so fast and my focus is on him, I am not able to hold his hand as easily. This may seem inconsequential and seem like a good thing as I am not as dependent on my husband, but it has taken away one avenue of physical closeness that we shared together.

Our solution: we will work to incorporate time when we are able to go places or go for walks without Nabisco so I can hold his hand and my attention doesn’t have to be split.