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.

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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!

Guide Dog Attacked

I hoped that I would never be the one to have to experience this, but alas, it happened… The whole situation makes me so angry. What has come to our society? Here is what happened.

On Wednesday, I was walking to one of my schools (Abernethy Elementary School), and my guide dog, Nabisco, was attacked and bitten (drew blood) by two large dogs on fairly long leashes in front of the school. I was walking about a half a block behind the man and as we closed the gap, but not within passing distance, the dogs turned around and attacked; completely unprovoked and it happened extremely fast. As I screamed, “I am blind and this is my guide dog, get your dog off mine”, the man walked away only stating that his “10 year old was holding the leash”, like that even matters. He left me calling for help and Nabisco bleeding. When I told him that his dog bit mine and that he was bleeding, I got no response from the man. Nabisco had to be taken to the vet to care for his wounds on his muzzle. No one stopped to help me and the parent walked away without acknowledging the incident or asking if I was okay or needed help. I was eventually helped by the PE teacher arriving to work. It all happened so fast and no one was able to identify the individual. At this time, the individual has still not come forward and he has still not been identified. We are pretty sure that it is a parent as staff report seeing the dogs frequently tied up in front of the school at drop off. I sure hope the gentleman can be identified so I can hold him accountable. What if it is a child next time?

As I write this out, it reminds me an awful lot of an incident I wrote about at the same school back on December 9th that sparked my post What Does A Guide Dog Do? Do you agree it seems similar?

I am absolutely appalled that the man did not ask if me and my dog were okay, acknowledge that his dog bit mine, or even seemed to remotely care. What has our society come to?

Nabisco’s wounds are healing and he is being monitored closely by myself and Guide Dogs for the Blind for training implications this traumatic event may have on him. They have been really supportive through this process. Unfortunately, many people don’t realize that a dog attack on a guide dog can be career ending.

I filed a report with animal control on Thursday and have not heard from anyone. I am starting to feel like law enforcement is not taking me seriously and since the man has still yet to be identified, i’m not sure what can be done.

Nabisco’s veterinary bills were covered in full by Guide Dogs for the Blind. If you are reading this and are as upset and appalled at this whole situation as I am and feel the need to do something, I am encouraging people to make a donation to Guide Dogs for the Blind. They go above and beyond to provide veterinary expense assistance to all of their program dogs. Guide Dogs for the Blind operates solely on generous donations of its donors and does not receive any government assistance. They use donations to support all operating costs and to train and provide these amazing guide dogs and their equipment free of charge to blind and visually impaired individuals like myself. If you feel so inclined, please make a donation to Guide Dogs for the Blind “in honor of Nabisco” and state that the funds should be used for the Veterinary Financial Assistance Program. Thank You!

I am using this opportunity to further educate my school communities about what a guide dog is trained to do and respectful etiquette when you see a guide dog working, especially when you are walking with your pet dog.

I sure hope that Nabisco and I are able to heal and move on from this incident with no lasting implications on our ability to work as a team.

Blind Chick Moment 1,357…

As with many blind and low vision individuals, I often find myself doing stupid stuff because I misread a sign or label or just plain missed something. I thought of this often this morning as my husband I were both working in the kitchen trying to get lunches made and breakfast eaten before heading out the door to work.

My husband is often cleaning up after me as I don’t see that I spilled something on the counter tops, especially because they are a crazy black, white, and gray granite, talk about low contrast and busy patterned background. This morning it happened to be that I spilled sugar on the counters which also happened to land on his cell phone… let’s just say that didn’t make him too happy. At least we can laugh about it now.

I have bought the wrong type of milk or other ingredient at the store because I misread the label.

I have almost walked into the men’s restroom more times than I can count, but luckily I now have my guide dog, who to my amazement takes me to the woman’s restroom (even in a strange airport or restaurant) about 99% of the time!

I have often missed a hello from a friendly co-worker or classmate because I didn’t see them wave to me in the halls as we passed by. Or I may miss the discreet head nod of a teacher point out a student to me because I didn’t pick up on the detail of their gesture.

Once, I was opening a bottle of wine and my face was too close to the cork and opener as I pulled the cork out, leaving a huge goose egg of a bump on my forehead.

Luckily I havn’t done anything too embarrassing, yet…

For my blind and visually impaired friends, do you have any stories to share? Leave them in the comments!

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!

Micro-Preemies

I just finished reading Juniper: The Girl Who Was Born Too Soon. It was a memoir written a couple about the birth of their premature daughter, Juniper, at 23 weeks gestation. As I read through the pages, I could relate so closely to the stories of my own birth and 6 months stay in the NICU that my parents shared with me. From the nights of almost losing me and my Dad spending countless hours reading to me and the dedication and care that the nurses and doctors gave me or my Mom’s dedication to making sure I had her breast milk to eat. I am thankful to the authors for being willing to share their story. I am amazed at the strong willed nature of those born too soon like myself and Juniper.

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Thinking back on the stories of my early birth and stay in the NICU I am reminded of the amazing opportunity I had in 2009 when I got to participate in the NICU Reunion at Minnesota Children’s Hospital. It was amazing to be surrounded by so many strong and talented people who share a similar story to myself. I was thankful for my ability to give back by participating in their 20 year follow up study on the outcomes of micro-preemies like myself. Again in 2014, I had the opportunity to observe Dr. Ronald Hoekstra and nurse Lois Gilmore in the NICU Follow Up Clinic at Minnesota Children’s Hospital and I even got to read through my chart from when I was in the NICU and went through the follow up clinic. It was amazing to see that. I am so thankful to all of the doctor’s and nurses that cared for me and supported my family.

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Growing up, I was always reluctant and embarrassed to share about my prematurity and I didn’t want to share about my story as I didn’t want to be seen as different than others. I soon came to realize that my prematurity, vision impairment, and all that comes with it is just part of who I am and it is my story. I am now proud to share my story and about my struggles and adaptations that I have had to make in my life. I would not be who I am today without living this life. I truly feel that in order to survive what I did, I had to have the tenacity and “me do it”attitude that helped me through it. These personality traits have stuck with me and contribute to my drive to go after my dreams. I am so thankful that my parent’s supported me and never held me back from pursing what I wanted to pursue because I coudn’t see as well as others. I am lucky that my vision is my only remaining complication of my prematurity and that I got to take advantage of the early lung studies that were happening at that time.

I was born at 25 weeks gestation, weighing 1 lb, 6 ounces and I was 12″ long. My head was the exact size of a tennis ball and I could wear my Dad’s wedding ring as a bracelet.

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During my OT internship at Minnesota Children’s Hospital in 2014, they wrote a blog story about me describing my NICU stay and return to Children’s for the internship. You can read the story by clicking here

When I lived in Tacoma, WA, I volunteered in the NICU, rocking babies. I really miss this opportunity since I moved back to Portland, OR. I felt as though baby rocking in the NICU was my one way of giving back… of silently sharing my story.

I have always wanted to work as an OT in the NICU, but I know this is a very difficult setting to get into. Maybe at some point in my career… I do have a long career ahead of me. I want to find a way to share my story with others to provide just a little bit of hope to the parents going through so much with their little one. To say, it can turn out okay in the end.

Another book I really enjoyed reading was Before Their Time: Lessons in Living from Those Born Too Soon by Daniel Taylor and Ronald Hoekstra. This book had special meaning to me as Dr. Hoekstra was the one who was on call at the hospital the night I almost died.

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To all the parents out there who have faced a stay in the NICU due to the premature birth of their child, my thoughts are with you and may you hear my story and gain a little hope that your child too will make it.

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 

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!