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!

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Low Vision OT

As I embark on my Graduate Certificate Program in Low Vision Rehabilitation for Occupational Therapists starting February 1st, I am getting more and more excited to pursue this specialty area of practice. I sure hope everything works out as I am thinking it will and I will land a job in this specialty area soon! Fingers crossed.

As an individual with low vision myself, I find that I can relate to my low vision clients and I am so excited to work with this population and be able to share my insights and experiences, promote the proficient use and training in assistive technologies both low tech and high tech, and get my clients back to doing the activities that are most meaningful to them.

I have started reading one of my books, Macular Degeneration: The Complete Guide to Maximizing and Saving Your Sight, and I am loving what it has to say so far. First of all, it has mentioned occupational therapy several times in general and in regards to low vision rehabilitation and that is exciting to me. Second, it is describing all of the things that are important to know about when first diagnosed with Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD), as it was written for patients with AMD. It describes how depression is common with a diagnosis of vision impairment as it is with any major life change or stressor. It talks about how important getting connected with low vision rehabilitation right away will help clients learn new ways of doing things and coping with their change in vision. Good exercise and becoming connected with support groups are also essential. And that one should not be ashamed of their vision loss, not hide it or isolate themselves from others in fear, but embrace it, laugh at yourself, and know that those around you love you for who you are despite your decreasing vision and ability to do things as independently as you once might have been able to do.

This reminds me a lot of my growing up years as a child with low vision. I always wanted to hide my visual impairment and I didn’t want to stand our from my peers. It wasn’t until high school that I truly embraced my vision impairment and my story and accepted it as part of who I am. It was with the help of a great vision teacher and a friend who was also visually impaired that I was able to make this transition. I truly believe I wouldn’t be where I am today if I had not accepted it and was willing to use the tools I needed to be successful and I would most definitely not have my wonderful guide dog, Nabisco!

I still feel like I have a lot to learn when it comes to using my adaptive tools (magnifiers, monoculars, VoiceOver, etc) but I sure have come a long way since I was younger. I recently received my training in VoiceOver and while I use it quite a bit on my iPhone/iPad and feel fairly proficient, I havn’t used it as much on my computer and so I feel like the skills I did learn havn’t stuck as well as they should. It just goes to prove that if you don’t practice a new skill, you will never learn it and you will never become proficient. This is a great thin for me to remember as I enter into the low vision field as an OT!

I am so excited to start my program and meet my cohort! I am so curious what brought them into the low vision specialty program and what practice settings they work in or plan to work in. I will be sure to keep y’all updated on my progress through the program.

I am still looking for financial assistance to be able to complete my Low Vision Certificate program, so if you are willing and able to help me out, I would greatly appreciate it! I can’t wait to start helping others with low vision. Click here to access my GoFundMe page to donate. Thank You!

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. 

 

 

New Low Vision Tool

New Low Vision Tool!

I am so excited to share that I will be receiving a new low vision tool! I will be getting a pair of telescope mounted spectacles. This is a 6x telescope mounted on a pair of glasses. This allows me to have a hands free way of using a monocular to increase my distance viewing! The company who makes these is Ocutech Inc. I am excited to have these for both work and use in the community. It will make me more efficient for doing observations in a variety of school environments. It will make me faster at my job. These will also be helpful in the community for reading signs, walk signals,  and for concerts and reading menus.

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Once neat fact about these telescope mounted spectacles is that individuals with low vision in Oregon can be licensed to drive if they meet specific requirements using these devices. They must go through specific training and take a special test to prove competency.

I am not intending to use these glasses for driving, just for general distance viewing.

As an occupational therapist with a strong interest in low vision rehabilitation, if I work as a low vision OT, part of my job would be to train clients in efficient use of these glasses in preparation for driver training.

A basic training protocol to teach in preparation for driver training would consist of task analysis and grading, such as:

  • Demonstrate basic understanding of the bioptic function
  • Demonstrate the ability to spot through the bioptic by aligning the bioptic with the target and spotting through it.
  • Demonstrate the ability to return gaze from the bioptic to carrier lens in a smooth and efficient fashion.
  • Demonstrate good horizontal and vertical scanning technique.
  • Spot and identify the characteristics of stationary targets of varying size and
  • distance from a stationary position
  • Spot, identify, and track moving targets of varying size and distance from a stationary position.
  • Spot and identify stationary targets of varying size and distance while moving.
  • Spot and track moving targets of varying size and distance while moving as a passenger in a car, bus, or other vehicle.

The important thing is that you start with easier to harder tasks, such as start with user stationary, target stationary; user stationary, target moving; user moving as passenger, then driver; target stationary; and user moving as passenger, then driver; target moving.

I am so fascinated by low vision OT and hope to be able to practice in this setting one day!

Here is a link to the website for Ocutech Inc if you want to learn more about their various products. https://www.ocutech.com

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!