Thursday, September 15, 2016

Remembering Jerri

By: Susan Zubillaga - leader of Gold Rush Guides of Sacramento

Jerri Bitler was my best friend for 18 years. It seemed like we knew each other forever until recently, now it seems like it was only a short while.  I first met Jerri when she came to a puppy club meeting.  I was raising Ultra, an unruly black Labrador that seemed to love Jerri!  I remember handing Jerri the leash and her saying “What do you want me to do with this?” We both laughed, and that started the best friendship anybody could ever ask for.

We would talk every day; she is the one person I could call with anything on my mind and she would just listen – sometimes that’s all you need to feel at peace.  No matter how my life was going, Jerri was there on both the sunny days and through the thunderstorms. She was someone that you could always count on to be there.  She was a great person to be around, somebody that would take the time to talk to everybody in the room, no matter how long she had to be there.  She always made people feel like they knew her forever, even if it was the first time they had met.
My heart hurts, I feel so lost without my friend, my “other mother.” I miss her so much already and wish I could hear her voice and laughter just one more time. I love you.

Jerri (wearing sunglasses) smiles with her arms around yellow Lab guide dog puppy Ursalyn in front of the pond on the San Rafael campus.
Jerri with guide dog puppy Ursalyn

Jerri passed away peacefully on September 5, 2016. She was a puppy raising leader with the Gold Rush Guides of Sacramento for almost 15 years and raised several puppies for GDB. We are forever grateful for her dedication to our mission and we extend our deepest condolences to all who knew and loved her. Thank you, Jerri – you are truly missed.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Remembering Michelle Miller

Michelle and her guide Golden Retriever Tango on a beautiful beach
“Happiness is like a butterfly.  The more you chase it, the more it eludes you.  But if you turn your attention to other things, It comes and sits softly on your shoulder” – Henry David Thoreau

 Remembering our friend Michelle Miller –

Guide Dogs for the Blind Alumni Association Board Secretary

 Memorial by Becky Andrews, Past Chair GDB Alumni Association Board, and Leanne Bremner, Vice-Chair GDB Alumni Association Board
It is with great sadness we said good bye to our dear friend Michelle Miller who died unexpectedly this February.  Michelle was devoted to her golden retriever guides, first Tuft who she worked with for 11 years, then Tango who has been her partner since 2008.  

Michelle was well connected to the GDB family.  She was involved in her local Alumni Chapter and puppy raisers.  Michelle served as a dedicated member of the GDB Alumni Board from June 2011 until her passing in February 2016. 

Michelle was respected and loved by our Alumni Board and all who knew her.  She quickly became a leader in this organization serving as our secretary for the past three years and on various committees.  Her ability to capture the notes of a busy meeting were appreciated and admired. Michelle was a gifted and articulate writer not only as she served on the board but in her professional life as well.

Michelle served on numerous committees and was the one you could count on to step in and go above and beyond.  Michelle was the chair of the last Alumni Reunion, Paws Around the World in September 2015 which was held for the first time in Portland.  She kept the Board on task with her organizational skills, sense of humor and leadership.  Her email closing line reminded us the value of working together as it read:  ‘teamwork is dreamwork.’
Michelle flashes one of her beautiful smiles and has her arm around her guide


Michelle had a warmth and genuine kindness that was infectious.  She was patient, confident, resilient and tenacious.  She truly embodied her guiding principles – a life filled with constant enrichment, integrity and a love of sharing life’s gifts. 

Michelle had a way of lifting your spirits whether you were with her in person or connecting with her online.  She was known for her encouraging emails that always included an inspiring quote at the end.  One of her most recent ones was from Mark Twain:  Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.  She would often insert *smile* into her email message, which brought a sparkle and a warmth to the message she was conveying.  If you were fortunate enough to have been around Michelle, you left your time with her feeling good about yourself. 

Michelle had many hobbies and interests, including writing, urban ministry, cooking and shopping, and a love for travel.  She visited many exotic places throughout the world. 

She had a passion for butterflies - their uniqueness, colors, and exquisiteness.  She felt that butterflies were symbolic for all new endeavors and adventures.  Another favorite quote she would often share, “Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you” - Nathaniel Hawthorne.

While Michelle had a soft voice, she was a strong advocate.  She inspired us all to find our voice and be heard.  We are committed to keeping her beautiful spirit and memory alive.  We can do this by being kind and inclusive to those around us just like Michelle showed us.  We can share our voice in a positive way advocating just as Michelle demonstrated to us.

We love you Michelle.  We miss you.  We thank you for your many contributions to the GDB Community. 

2015-2016 Guide Dogs for the Blind Alumni Board

GDB alumni board

Thursday, October 1, 2015


By Lynn Kelleher (Class 476 R)

Ever watchful, ever caring
Ever loving, ever sharing
Guardian of my wandering pace
You brought me safely place to place
Your memory will linger on
From now and through eternal dawn
From now and through eternal dawn
O ever joyful in the morn
When walks we took them short and long
Your ever loving watchful eye
Has kept me safe when walking nigh
O how I miss the time we shared
Those happy days without a care
Your memory will linger on
From now and through eternal dawn
From now and through eternal dawn
One cannot measure kindness
One cannot measure care
One cannot measure loyalty
Until no longer there
Yet I will keep your memory
And it will linger on
From now and through my passing life
And through eternal dawn
And through eternal dawn

Friday, July 17, 2015

In Memoriam: Kazoo (January 2005 - July 2015)

By: James Bluhm

Kazoo was a male yellow Labrador and my guide in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada (Oregon class OR128 September, 2006).

What a great boy! Some called him "Kaz", others "Zoo" but Kazoo loved his name and his temperament suited it perfectly. Whenever his name was acknowledged, he responded with an enthusiastic wag of the tail and a desire to get better acquainted with a new or old friend. He worked for almost nine years guiding me to work, school, and many travels to far-off places. He performed his duties as a service animal professionally, but there was always a touch of zeal lurking behind his demeanor. He was ready, on a moment’s notice, to explode with a, “its great to be a Labrador!” He had a love of life, people, animals, food, and blue latex gloves that will be truly missed. What a great boy!

We met in Boring Oregon in 2006. For those of us who received training at their facility, we found it far from boring. Kazoo was my second guide dog and I expected him to replicate all of the inimitable elements of his predecessor’s style. While this was often true as evidenced by how well he guided me safely to wherever we were going, he did not prove to be a flawless replica. He did not automatically know where my house was even after we had visited it several times. It took weeks for him to confidently arrive at home without taking detours around interesting parts of the neighborhood. He did not automatically know who my wife was either. We would go shopping to a large store and he would follow her for awhile but then, for whatever reason, he would find another pretty lady to tuck behind and follow. I still recall my wife calling “Kazoo” from a long way off to get him to return to her. He had a right fixation; while guiding me, he chose to hug the right side of the street as closely as possible. Why you may ask, would this be a problem?  Imagine walking across a bridge every morning with very fast moving traffic immediately to the right, just a step off the sidewalk away. Now imagine walking it with your eyes closed, positioned behind a rookie guide dog, who kept you immediately beside that curb, weaving his way around lamp posts and traffic signs that we encountered in our path. He always returned to his course, inches away from the right drop, despite ongoing attempts to persuade him to walk in the middle of the sidewalk. Roller coasters have no thrills compared to this. So there is little doubt that he was not a perfect dog, but he was damn near one.

He loved to work. He was always ready to spring to the door when it was evident that I was about to leave. He loved to learn new routes and once learned, he never forgot them. He loved to travel. He especially loved sniffing Hollywood’s walk of fame and the embedded stars of the great actors found there. He was less enthusiastic about whale watching off Vancouver Island only because of the hammering the boat took as it caught up with the whales. He took a cruise visiting many countries around the Gulf of Mexico which he found to be interesting, even though the facilities on the boat were less than ideal for a dog. You never saw a pup happier to see a palm tree surrounded by green, firmly planted on solid ground, at each of our destinations. Wherever we went, he always identified obstacles and changes in elevation that could have been dangerous if I had encountered them unawares.

He loved people; he had many friends at our office. When I retired, we spent two years at Carleton University earning a BA in English and many more new friends. By then, he had mastered “eye contact.” As a professional service animal, he could not go over to meet all of the pretty girls at the university who so obviously wanted to get to know him better. But with a practiced, steady contact with his eyes, he could often entice them to come over and say “hi” to him; he could not be blamed for that. He loved my wife Denise, and each time he found her, even after a brief absence, he reacted with a bout of near ecstasy. He especially loved church; he had so many friends who knew him for a long time. Following a church service, it would be bedlam as many people from the very young to old would want to respond to his wagging tail. Some of the tried and true guide dog school rules were thrown by the wayside in the turmoil. Happily, it never ruined him as a true professional guide dog.

What was it about blue, latex gloves? We never knew.  Perhaps they were used at the veterinary clinic where his puppy raiser worked and where he spent much time growing up. Perhaps, the vet and others at Guide Dogs for the Blind used them while making a fuss over him. Whatever the reason, he loved blue, latex gloves with a passion and would automatically go into play mode whenever somebody donned them. You might not think of this as much of a problem except when you realize that they are part of the normal attire of airport security staff. Kazoo loved going through airport security. As soon as the security staff put on their gloves, and as he was about to go through the metal detectors, he reacted with joy and enthusiasm. Much of my time at security was spent preparing staff for what they were about to encounter. I doubt if many other travelers requested security personnel that liked dogs because they were about to frisk a dog that absolutely loved each and every one of them. These were interesting experiences that I am sure staff of airports throughout North America still talk about today.

There are still so many stories to tell. The time he fell, thunderbolt in love with Princess Fiona at Universal Studios, the time he met a baby alligator on a tour bus in Florida, his love of carrots and ice cubes as special treats, his love of wading Black Creek (adjacent to our home in the Niagara), encouraging him to chase ducks trying to set up residence in our pool, sleeping on the front porch, in the back yard, under desks and wherever else when it was appropriate to do so, his treks from Professor Keen in Brit. Lit. II to Professor Beecher in Brit. Lit. I...the stories could go on and on.

He was such an amazing personality. We had no idea of how ill he was. He stayed just long enough to go to our convocation, wearing his well-earned gown and acknowledging his personal recognition by the president of the university. I will miss you my friend.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Carnation Crossed the Rainbow Bridge

It is with a heavy heart and much sadness that I bring you the news that my sweet Angel Carnation crossed the Rainbow Bridge Thursday Afternoon on April 23, 2015.  She lived a long and happy life and had just passed her fourteenth and one half birthday on Saturday April 18th.  She was happy and alert till the end and I was with her and she knew I was with her, and that it was OK for her to leave; I would be fine as long as she continues to watch over me. I know she is watching and I am happy she is no longer suffering or in pain and can run free, play keep away, and see all of her human and doggie friends who have waited for her.

The past month has been horrible as we learned from an ultrasound that she had a tumor in her liver. I opted not to have a biopsy or any further treatment as it would only give a little more time and we wanted her to enjoy the time left.  So, she got to eat whatever she wanted, go for walks when she wanted to, go for rides in the car, and stay in the yard enjoying the fresh air and flowers. She totally controlled her destiny to the end including deciding when it was time to do things or what she would eat or drink and when. We humans were sometimes frustrated, but she was totally in charge.

Roxanne (wearing a purple jacket) poses with Carnation (yellow Lab) in a studio portrait.

Princess Carnation was my first guide dog. We met later in my life and she gave me freedom and confidence that I had never known while using a white cane; I was able to go places alone where I would have never gone using a cane.  I could go anywhere with Carnation by my side and was never afraid. My Zaga took her place when retirement came for Carnation after nine long years of work. Carnation was jealous because she didn’t want anyone else to do her job, but eventually, she settled into her new lifestyle and enjoyed four years with other people and dogs who became her family too. She was alert and happy and lived life to the fullest and never gave up her professional duties of being a guide dog. She could still leash guide after all those years and was happy to do it.

My sweet Carnation, rest in peace and enjoy the love and contentment you have earned. We will meet again, so wait for me. We have so many wonderful memories of things we did together and I will never forget a minute of our times together. Watch over me and Zaga too, because we are all together and will never lose sight of each other.

Roxanne and Zaga

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Dog of Honor

By: GDB graduate Becky Andrews

It has been almost seven years since my first guide dog, Pantera, died at the age of 11 1/2,working as a guide for nine of those years. The pain of her loss has turned to such sweet memories and celebration of an incredible life well lived. Pantera was a devoted, loving companion up to the day she died. I remember with such joy receiving her on September 17, 1997. Experiencing the freedom and ability to walk joyfully again was incredible. I wanted to just keep walking. Pantera held her head high and was so proud working as a guide. She helped me hold my head high and once again walk confidently and conquer so many things.  

I soon learned I did not only gain a beautiful guide dog to enhance my mobility and independence, many doors were opened up in my life. This included being a part of the GDB family and friendships with so many including her puppy raiser. The pictures below are Pantera as the dog of honor at her puppy raiser, Meg's wedding. After that day, Pantera was referred to as our Dog of Honor.

I remember well the day Meg called to ask if I would be her Matron of Honor and Pantera the dog of honor.  I was busy catching a bus to go to class - living the independent life with my guide dog.

Pantera lived her life with honor loving and serving. When my family and I reminisce about Pantera, we often talk about how much she loved to serve as a guide dog and her devotion. Thank you, Pantera, for your example and for opening my world back up as a young wife and mother. I carry you in my heart forever.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

About Miss Laura

By: GDB graduate Karen Strudwick
It is with the deepest sadness and sense of loss that I am sharing this news.We said a final good-bye to dearest Laura on Thursday, March 13, 2014. She turned 14 last month but her ongoing struggles with arthritis in her hind legs, respiratory issues, and other challenges of a very senior dog  were getting the better of her. Despite our best efforts, it had become clear that, if we wanted her to leave us on a high note, we had to help her to take this last step.
Last Tuesday, spring arrived on Marrowstone Island where Laura was happilly relaxing at her home-away-from-home with Jeff and Newbe. Zarek and I joined them and we all enjoyed walking in the woods , relaxing on the bluff above Heart Rock Beach, and generally spoiling our darling girl one last time. Then, on Thursday morning , Jeff's plum treee burst into bloom. That afternoon, lying on her blanket and sheepskin on the sunny lawn, nibbling at a banana, with Jeff and I and the vet kneeling at her side, Laura went into a deep and peaceful sleep and her spirit gracefully floated away, unfettered by earthly ailments. I like to think that she bounded across a field of daisies toward a welcoming committee led by my mum--with a banana in hand.

Laura (Yellow Lab) stands in grass with the sun on her back.
Laura (Yellow Lab) stands in grass with the sun on her back.
Jeff's student tenants helped us to lay Laura to rest beside several other canine, feline, and fish friends in a small secluded garden surrounded by 7-foot-tall ferns and shaded by a dogwood tree. Both Newbe and Zarek attended the burial. Zarek sat leaning against my leg, as if trying to comfort me. We believe that Newbe played her own special role as well. Named after the canine-like Egyptian god who guided the recently deceased through the underworld,  our own Anubis made sure that her dear old friend did, indeed, reach that welcoming committee on the other side.
Through Guide Dogs for the Blind, Laura and I joined forces in 2001 when she was only 18 months old. Over the next 10 years, we were seldom apart. She guided me at work, attended social and cultural events with me, made sure we collected Stephen safely from after-school activities, wrapped my mother around her little paw, and charmed the world. With Laura at my side, I confidently traveled to big and little, crowded and remote places across the United States, Canada, and Australia. She literally saved my life on more than one occasion--the first time witnessed by neighbors as we tried to cross a busy intersection only a week or two after we came home from training as a new team.
Laura was a "talker" who used various vocal intonations to respond to people, and she knew exactly how to get whatever she wanted in her disarmingly determined way. She didn't care much for motorcycles or German Shepherds--not even a metal sculpture of a dingo in Sydney escaped her notice. In her youth, she loved to run free on a big lawn like a thoroughbred racehorse. Throughout her life, she enjoyed water and snow in equal measure and had her share of adventures in both elements (giving Jeff and I our share of grey hairs as a result).

Laura rests her head on a lap with her eyes closed.
Laura rests her head on a lap with her eyes closed.

I couldn't have asked for a more loyal or loving partner. I never dared to get sick for more than a day because Laura refused (and could not be persuaded otherwise, even by GDB) to go anywhere on leash with anyone but me. Jeff and I eventually solved that problem and that led Laura to three wonderful years of town and country life in retirement with two people who loved her with all their hearts.
The past few days have been very difficult for us, Including Stephen who could only share in this long-distance. Added to thaht, Jeff is now in Cleveland with his mum, 96, who is nearing her own finish line. So if I haven't responded to a call or email, please excuse me. But I do want to sincerely thank those of you who, in one way or another, learned of what was happening and reached out to us. And I want to assure you all that, though we feel a huge void in our lives, we also are at peace with Laura's passing because we believe it was her time and she was ready. She lives on in our hearts.

Wishing you the best,