Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Guide Dogs for the Blind bring joy and independence

Guide dog puppy in training  

3/30/16 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

I love dogs! At our house, sunshine and happiness radiate from two little red Dachshunds. They get up happy in the morning and go to bed tired at night. All day long they bring a joy into our lives that is beyond measure. They are ready to join us in almost any adventure; they alert us to danger, their tails seldom stop wagging and they offer kisses when they sense when we are sad.

Today I’m going to introduce you to an organization that brings that same companionship, joy and security to the visually impaired. Guide Dogs for the blind (GDB) was established in 1942 to provide guide dogs for veterans returning from World War II. It has no  government funding and there is no charge for services. All services, including the cost of the dog ($50,000), are funded by gifts.

Recently my friend Charlene invited me and my husband to a presentation in Eugene by this organization. Charlene has long been active in GDB but this was our first introduction to how long it takes a village to turn a puppy into a guide dog.

We learned that the mission of GDB—matching the visually impaired with the perfect puppy— is not magic. It is hard work that begins when puppies are born on their San Rafael, Calif. campus. It actually begins before the pups are born when their parents are bred for good health and temperament. The Breeding, Veterinary and Neonatal staff ensures that the pups are happy and healthy from the get-go.

Once they're born, the fun begins as volunteer puppy socializers cuddle and pamper those precious babies. Everything is exciting so they gently introduce them to their new world People, sights, sounds, dirt, grass and pavement are all waiting to be explored.

Just about the time they’re getting familiarized, they board GDB’s puppy truck to new homes all up and down the west coast where they are eagerly awaited by puppy trainers. Some pups land in Eugene but others have found loving homes from San Francisco to Bend. All trainers volunteer their time, food and toys!

At the meeting we were greeted by two adorable puppies in training. A Golden Retriever and a Golden Lab arrived in Oregon on the Puppy Truck in early Feb. to live with their volunteer puppy trainers until they’re 14-16 months old. These pups were well behaved and so cute I wanted to smuggle one home.

Their two veteran Eugene puppy trainers have trained about 13 pups between them. Here are some things you’ll need to know if you’re thinking of being a puppy raiser:
*The dogs go everywhere with them that is open to the public.
*They are taught good house and public manners.
*They practice positive re-enforcement
*Bad behavior is ignored.
*Pups are on a strict natural balance diet. No table food or treats.
*Good behavior is rewarded with “one” piece of kibble.
*A working dog wears a jacket and a Gentle Leader in public.
*No, you should not pet a working dog without permission.
*Puppies are puppies! Even though they have lots of training they can play in the yard, etc.
*Puppy raisers want confident, happy, successful dogs!

At the end of their training time here in Oregon, the two golden pups will return in the GDB puppy truck to San Rafael or the Boring, OR campus. Tears will flow but new pups will take their place. Now the formal guide dog training begins. The pups will be made comfortable and meet their new trainer who (over the next year) will teach them the specific skills needed to guide a blind person.

This is where the rubber meets the road. GDB will find out if the pups are suitable for the job. Someone said, “Dogs are like high school students. Some are ready for college and some are not. Those who do not meet the requirements needed are described as making “career changes.” Perhaps they are divas who need a more sedentary life or they might be inclined to police work. There will always be a place for them

Once the dog’s guidework training is finished, there is a celebratory graduation that the public is invited to attend. Then it is time to be paired with a human partner. Some people like quiet dogs. Others prefer those who are active and ready to go at a moment’s notice. We were told that the right personalities just click.

 Our speaker of the day was athletic, vivacious and vision impaired. She told her story with her dog (a large black Lab) at her side. She is an active young woman who began losing her vision about 12 years ago. She lived in Texas and had a high profile job. One day while she was driving she noticed that her vision was compromised. Fuzzy. And no matter what she tried, it didn’t clear up.

Her vision tested at 20/50 and deteriorated from there. Eventually she had to give up her
driver’s license and move back home to Portland where her twin sister and family live. It was hard to get around and using a cane was difficult. Life was depressing. At the Oregon Commission for the Blind she learned about the Guide Dogs for the Blind program.

She said, “I was open to anything to give me independence. I went to Boring for two weeks of training and the whole experience was amazing. It was the start of a new beginning for me.” She and her big black Lab became a great pair, walking the neighborhood, crossing Portland’s bridges and riding the bus to work. 

Then she had a near death experience. She wanted to cross a street and tried to step off the curb but her dog wouldn’t let her. Then a car whizzed by. “She over-rode me with her intelligent disobedience. She’s the smart one. She moved me from an unsafe situation to safety,” said this grateful woman.

Now the couple happily walk, work and play together 10-15,000 steps a day! If they are any example, it looks like our little Golden puppies have a happy and active life ahead of them.

         Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.