Friday, December 9, 2011

In Tribute to Charlie

yellow Lab and young girl nestled under her bunk bed
by Jeff Harrington

This is a tribute to my retiring guide Charlie AKA (Prince) or (Chuck) if he has been in trouble. Thanks for your 8+ years of work and many miles of safe travels. Enjoy your retirement with Megan (my 8 year-old daughter). Life has never been so good!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

All My Guides

by Deborah Armstrong

Nadia was an elegant black-and-tan shepherd who lead me everywhere on the U.C. Berkeley campus where I took classes in the early 1980s. Slender and low-slung, she glided up even the steepest hills leaving my college friends out of breath when they attempted to match our pace. She was my first guide, and having just reached drinking age myself my nights were full of partying and my days filled with not only studying but keeping up with three part-time jobs. The only time we were in the dorm was spent sleeping. We were a high-energy team who didn't always follow the rules.

In those days, GDB didn't train us on escalators, but I wanted to ride them, primarily because my rapid transit commute was difficult with only one remote stairway in the station. My girlfriend, Sheila had trained with her shepherd on escalators at The Seeing Eye (TSE), so I asked her to show me how it was done.

Leaving Nadia at home Sheila, her shepherd and I practiced using my cane as Juno until I got the knack of how one rides escalators The Seeing Eye way.

Then Sheila and I took Nadia out to escalators where we practiced following her dog. Nadia quickly picked up on the technique, which in those days involved jumping on and off the moving stairs to protect the dog's feet. She got praised for every ride, and soon became an escalator trooper, eager to go wherever I could find an escalator for her to guide on.

However, there was one small complication. Because I'd been careful to praise and work her following all TSE cautions, Nadia developed a positive craving, one might even call it an addiction to escalators. If we were passing one in a department store, she'd wag so hard her entire furry body would gyrate.

Finally Nadia took it in to her head that she could indeed joyride. In Berkeley and San Francisco, rapid transit is underground, and the entrances are simply a pair of escalators at street level. So we'd be trotting along, minding our own business and we'd be passing an escalator, when Nadia, quick as lightning would swerve left, leap on to the escalator, and there was nothing I could do but follow, to be whooshed underground in to the bowels of some building. And of course, I praised her for it, which made her want to do this even more.

A few years later, when Nadia and I had both become a bit more sedate, we attended an ACB national convention where many representatives from GDB were manning a booth in the exhibit hall. The quickest route was the escalator, and Nadia and I came flying down it in our usual uninhibited fashion, than who would be standing at the bottom of the escalator but Don Frisk, my former class supervisor! In class, I had been young and impulsive, and Don had needed to be quite strict with me so I would develop in to a consistent and competent handler. But this time, all he said as we went zooming past was "Hey there, you two are looking mighty fine today." And later, passing him in the convention hall he called my name and said "Looking good." To this day, I don't know how I managed to dodge that bullet: I felt like a driver who had almost gotten a speeding ticket.

I was at a different convention with Nadia where a famous author was speaking. I wanted his autograph, but each time I stopped by his booth the line was hours long. In the evening, I was sitting in the hotel bar with friends when I suddenly discovered Nadia was missing. We searched high and low, and finally located her just ten feet away, sleeping peacefully on the famous author's foot. He got to pet her and I got my autograph!

Yet another funny Nadia story involves another time I was careless about holding on to her leash. I rode BART, the Bay Area Rapid Transit daily both to work and to school, and like to read while waiting for the train. One day, I was so immersed in the book, I hadn't noticed the train's arrival. Nadia calmly stood up, took herself to the train, paused in the doorway, entered and sat next to our regular seat. The train left the station with Nadia, but without me.

I got a fellow passenger to contact the BART police, who dispatched a canine officer to fetch Nadia. She calmly heeled off the train with him at the next stop, politely sat before entering his police vehicle, and rode back to the previous station without fuss. He said it was the most well-trained dog he'd ever handled!

By the time I got Duchess, my second guide, also a shepherd, I'd matured. I ran my own business and traveled a great deal. And GDB was training us on escalators then. Duchess was somewhat cautious and timid, and after Nadia I felt kind of let down to have such a scaredity dog. But in reality I was actually traveling in far more challenging environments than the simple college town of Berkeley. I had to navigate airports, bus and train depots, unusual street crossings and chaotic unfamiliar cities. Nadia's apparent confidence came from going to the same jobs, friends apartments, parties and classes every day, whereas Duchess had to constantly contend with different situations. Her caution kept me safe, but it was not until two special instances that I fully realized how lucky I was to have her.

We were in a hotel one morning and on calling the elevator she refused to step inside. I coaxed, I cajoled, and I'm ashamed to admit I corrected Duchess, who continued to refuse to budge. Suddenly, another business traveler was grabbing my arm and forcing me back "There is no car there," he told me. The elevator door had opened in to an empty shaft, a six story straight drop down. No wonder Duchess had refused to ride.

A few weeks later, back in my familiar stomping grounds of Berkeley, I was passing the Shattuck hotel, when Duchess suddenly went berserk. She literally dragged me off the sidewalk and in to the middle of the street. Cars were whizzing by everywhere, and I couldn't understand why she would disregard all of her training.

Then I was grabbed again by a stranger who told me that my dog had just saved my life. It was October 17, 1989, and the Loma Prieta earthquake had struck. I had been so busy scolding my dog, I hadn't noticed we were having an earthquake! But some of the hotel's windows had shattered and a huge slab fell to the sidewalk from the hotel's marble facade, landing where just a second before we'd been walking. Never again did I accuse Duchess of being phobic.

Duchess loved people, and on one airplane flight, she got bored sleeping under the seat. Noticing that I too was sleeping, she began to creep backwards, slithering under the seats behind us. Finally, about ten rows behind us, she located a businessman she liked. He was reading with a newspaper spread before his face, when suddenly what should appear at the top of his newspaper, but a pair of furry shepherd ears. There was Duchess, sitting between his legs, all perky and wiggling, no doubt saying "I need a pet from a human who is actually awake."

He let out a screech, dropped his paper, and needed quite a bit of assurance to understand that the shepherd was friendly. Duchess was suitably scolded and stuffed back under her assigned seat but all through the flight, you could hear various passengers chuckling.

By the time I trained with Glade, my third guide, I owned a house, worked full-time and had a fairly settled life. Glade absolutely loved children: she was a beautiful Golden Retriever who spent her first year trying to jump on them she got so excited. So I started taking her to the library when kids went there after school and asking preteens to help me train her not to jump. They'd come up to Glade and were asked to pet and talk with her softly. If Glade became too wound up, we simply went outside, and she got the same sort of time-out any unruly child would have received in the library. So she learned the best way to get kids to pet her was to sit quietly. I participated in many school programs, talking with kids about guide dogs, and I'm sure Glade influenced many teenagers' decisions to choose a career working with dogs or at least to raise puppies for GDB.

Glade also loved elderly people, and there was a nursing home down the street from us, where she was eager to visit. She loved it so much in fact she jumped a six-foot fence in my yard, went to the nursing home, pushed open the doors to people's rooms and visited them right in their beds. After an escape, I'd run over to the nursing home to collect Glade and the staff would beg me to leave her there. The only good that came out of her escapes was that I had to start leash relieving her again, and when she retired she formally joined a therapy dog group where she faithfully visited patients until she herself became too old to walk.

While Glade was still guiding, but after I had stopped trusting my fence, the neighbor children were having an outdoor party they wanted Glade to be a part of. But I had a phone call and needed to go back inside. I tied Glade up in my front yard, knowing the children next door would be watching her. It is important here to also note that I lived on a cull-de-sac; the only cars on the street were usually driven by residents.

A few minutes later, an animal control officer was knocking on my door, asking why the lady's guide dog had been left tied in the yard. He happened to be on his rounds, noticed the beautiful golden staked out, and the children had assured him it was a guide dog. thinking this was some sort of abuse case, he immediately knocked on my door to find out why.

Everything was quickly straightened out, and the parents holding the party apologized profusely for the misunderstanding. Animal control was delighted that this case had such a happy ending, and Glade went back to being a social butterfly without any idea of the chaos she'd caused.

Glade was a serious escape artist. Once when a friend was supposedly watching her at an office party, Glade snuck out of the building and went to another company's office party happening next door. Wandering around in her harness, well-behaved and not particularly food-motivated, most people at the party simply assumed she belonged to an employee. People petted and fussed over her, and she wandered that entire building, while we vainly searched our building for her. Finally she was located sleeping peacefully next to a photocopier, in the other company's building, blissfully unaware that she had caused so much stress and confusion.

Another adventure I had with Glade was while exercising. Because I took the same walk to and from work each day and had become less active, I was gaining weight and decided to start walking around a lake near my work at lunch. This was a boring two-mile concrete path encircling the lake, and I could put on my headphones and relax. There was no traffic to listen to, no curbs to watch for and only the occasional jogger or bicyclist to avoid. Though I found the exercise pleasant, Glade was bored. Being an intelligent beast, she decided to liven up the trip by inventing imaginary obstacles. Suddenly our lake walk became much more active. It seemed like she was constantly avoiding near misses with pedestrians and trash receptacles. When a sighted friend accompanied us, I discovered Glade was deliberately seeking out obstacles to circumvent or, if the path was free, she'd zig-zag around spots on the concrete. Each time she dodged around something, she got praised, so clearly she was asking for a little more attention.

Another part of my exercise route caused Glade to detour off the sidewalk and in to the street. I tried hard to get her to stay on the sidewalk, but many times she refused. When my GDB field manager came out to investigate, he discovered a forest of trees whose limbs stretched above the sidewalk, and Glade's sensitivity to overhead clearances was causing her to find the busy street safer. Undaunted, my field manager simply took some giant pruning shears out of his trunk and solved the problem immediately.

Once when we were in a restaurant, and my husband was waiting for me to come out of the restroom, he heard two little girls arguing about the doggy in the bathroom. "Silly," the older girl scoffed, "Doggies can't come in restaurants and they aren't allowed in the bathroom." "There is, too, a doggy in the bathroom right now," her little sister countered.

Though my first two guides developed arthritis and retired early, Glade lived to be nearly seventeen. She got to the point that though free from pain she was completely unable to walk, and had to be transported by us pulling her around on a large blanket or towel. Glade loved to go for rides on her towel: at the office where I worked, the floors were quite slick and I'd haul her around to say good morning to all of her friends. She'd wiggle and wave her front feet in the air like a puppy, and act for the world like riding on a towel was the most natural thing in the world.

Boston, my fourth guide was also a golden, and his two big loves in life were guiding and squirrels. I worked and worked with him insisting he ignore his favorite distraction. Unfortunately, I work full-time on a 112-acre college campus, where squirrels are in every tree. Boston got to the point where he could be distracted but hide it well. We'd be walking along, and suddenly he'd speed up just a little. Then he'd zig and zag, but just a little. So I'd think we were going around a few extra obstacles. My sighted husband said that when he'd guide like this, his head would be turning to watch the squirrel but he'd be moving forward and mostly staying in a straight line. Basically, he learned to sneak in squirrel watching while on the job. But every once in a while we'd start running -- zooming around poles, parked cars, and bike racks, and I'd realize that we were actually trying to chase squirrels while guiding, two activities which are not usually compatible! I'd stop, make him sit and focus on me, and as soon as he realized the game was up, he could be made to settle and become serious again.

At that time, GDB had just started clicker training, and reading about it, I wanted to try it too. So I started clicker training Boston to do tricks at home. This was immensely successful: I found that if while guiding, he got hopelessly distracted, I could remove his harness, ask for a few tricks, and it seemed to relieve his need to be flighty. He'd usually be a focused and thorough guide if I simply remembered to do a few tricks with him throughout the day.

Boston also loved to bark. My husband taught him to woof when he blew across the top of a beer bottle, and later he changed the cue to Speak. I found that I could use Speak as a reward, and if he'd had a hard day guiding, we'd go outside for bark breaks. If he took me to a particularly challenging destination, before going inside we'd take a quick bark break. He'd bounce and bark, and act all silly, and once we went inside he'd be calmer and more settled because he'd had his chance to be a goofball!

When Boston retired he became a therapy dog at Kaiser hospital and medical facility. He loved to do tricks, but barking was inappropriate, so we broke out the beer again to teach him to whisper. My husband would blow on the bottle, and we'd give Boston a treat every time he cranked down the volume. pretty soon he was emitting the cutest muted little woof, and soon he would whisper whenever cued to do so. When we made presentations to children, we'd often demonstrate with 'speak' and 'whisper' that he had both an outdoor and an indoor voice.

He was a great favorite with the hospital staff, who loved to rush up to him and ask him to whisper. Boston would oblige and an entire audience would form around him, petting and requesting further whispering.

Boston got so much attention for Whisper that I'd often find him wandering the house quietly whispering to himself. The best part of all of this is that we'd cured his occasional former nuisance barking by working with him in a positive and affirming way.

Boston loved to show off. He proudly wore his pumpkin costume at Halloween and we have pictures of him dressed like a pumpkin in the middle of a patch of real pumpkins. He also dressed on some Halloweens as "Dogula", with a black cape and a skull cap that his golden floppy ears kept popping out of.

One Christmas we were shopping at Marshall Fields while he was wearing his reindeer antlers and prancing along in harness. I heard a daddy telling his child about all the decorations, the lights, the ornaments and the giant, multi-story tree. He turned the corner, saw us and without missing a beat continued, "Why they even have Christmas dogs in the store!"

Boston developed cancer and grew unable to put his weight on his left front foot. So my husband pushed him around the hospital for therapy visits, but it was hard to know who was getting the greater therapy, Boston or his patients. Though the vet told us that he felt great pain in his affected paw, he always offered it to every patient and nurse to shake while he balanced his weight on his remaining three feet. On his therapy days, Boston seemed to hardly be in pain at all. We have many photos of Boston riding proudly in his wheelchair, his great golden flag-tail sweeping behind him, handing his afflicted foot to strangers and giving their faces a happy slurp.

Buckets of tears were shed when the cancer finally took Boston, but it did not deter me from signing up for a new guide. As my years with further dogs continues, I am sure I will have many funny stories to share in the future.

My Eyes, My Friend

By Wendy Mae Hunter/Phillips

A yellow Lab is all I have
To guide me on my way,
But trust and love and faithfulness
She gives to me each day;

Like God above she gives her love
To help the blind to see,
To keep me safe protecting me
A special guide to be.

My eyes, my friend, I never knew
Could be so possible,
God created this little dog
Trained to be responsible;

Time well spend to teach this dog
The blind her eyes to be,
This yellow dog was sent from God
My eyes and friend to me.

For eight full years she was my guide,
And then to friends did go;
To live her last days happily,
To others loving so.

And now she goes to lands unknown
Her life well lived in love;
She gave so much to those she touched,
And now she lives above.

I want to thank those in her life,
Who sacrificed their time
To give their love to Bandana,
Phyl’s dog and also mine.

Bandana, March 7, 2000 – Dec. 1, 2011
You were loved by many and will be missed

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

In Memory of Darlene Wahl

Darlene with German Shepherd Fayette A former national park ranger who inspired an entire generation of school children on San Juan Island and throughout the region died Friday (November 4, 2011) in her San Juan Island home following a two and half-year fight with cancer.

Darlene Wahl was born July 10, 1961 in Madison, WI. Sight-impaired at birth, Wahl never allowed her disability to stand in the way of a multitude of achievements including higher education, world travel and work that provided adventure as well as the richness of experience.

"She once told me (her disability) wasn't something that stopped her," said her husband, Ken Arzarian. "She just had to figure out a way, to do the things she wanted to do."

And she did just that, graduating in 1979 as co-valedictorian of her class at Queen of Apostles High School in Madison, where she also lettered in varsity cross-country and track. This was followed by a Bachelor's Degree in Anthropology from Morehead State University and a Master of Science Degree in Outdoor Education and Recreation from the University of Wisconsin, LaCrosse.

Fluent in Spanish, Wahl completed a portion of her graduate studies in Spain and Guatemala, and then volunteered as a teacher for a school for the blind in Costa Rica.

When Wahl wasn't studying or competing, she played the guitar and sang; went canoeing, kayaking, hiking, rock climbing, caving, downhill and cross-country skiing; and rode horses and taught horseback riding. Her cross-country skiing skills resulted in her selection for a 500-mile, 45-day expedition in March-April of 1982 across Lapland. The trek through Russia, Finland, Sweden and Norway culminated in audiences with the kings of Sweden and Norway.

Wahl also developed a passion for lighthouses, and compiled a body of knowledge broad enough to result in an invitation to present a paper at a National Park Service symposium several years ago.

Wahl's anthropology studies opened the way to her selection as a Field Leader for Earth Watch winter archaeological digs in Belize, Central America from 1984 to 1987. She also worked as an archaeological technician at the National Park Service's Midwest Regional Archaeological Center in Lincoln, NE in 1991-1992.

But being a park ranger was always Wahl's first love. Before arriving at San Juan Island National Historical Park in 1999, she was a seasonal ranger at Isle Royale National Park, MI, and an NPS volunteer lighthouse keeper at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, WI.

On San Juan Island, Wahl worked with local teachers in developing the "Habitats" curriculum for the Friday Harbor Elementary School, a program that stemmed from the self-guided walk she authored for the Jakle's Lagoon/Mount Finlayson trail network.

She was also an enthusiastic living history re-enactor, developing a camp-follower character that dispensed tobacco and other sundries to soldiers. Wahl and her Guide Dogs, Fayette and then Ingrid, marched together in the 1860s color guard formations in the Friday Harbor Memorial Day and Fourth of July parades in Friday Harbor and Eastsound. Wahl and her dogs also participated in the annual Encampment at English Camp.

Darlene and German Shepherd Ingrid marching with color guard
"Darlene was as game as anyone I've ever worked with," said Mike Vouri, San Juan Island National Historical Park chief of interpretation. "She had a great sense of humor as well as an acute sensitivity and perceptiveness that made her the ideal NPS interpreter. Our visitors always knew they were welcome when Darlene staffed the counter, conducted a guided walk or encountered them on the trails when she was out with Fayette or Ingrid."

Moreover, Wahl's sight impairment was an inspiration to school children, said Vouri. "In addition to explaining the role of service dogs and how people should behave toward them, Darlene also told them not to allow anything to stand in the way of pursuing their dreams," he said. "She certainly did not."

She was preceded in death in fall 2008 by her well-known and beloved Guide Dog, Fayette.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Remembering Denver

German Shepherd wearing red scarf
by Bonnie Finsthwait, co-leader, Auburn Foothills Guiding Eyes

In 1998, I received a fluffy, 8-week-old German Shepherd puppy to raised named Denver. I had been raising Guide Dog puppies since 1985, and knew from the minute I held Denver in my arms that he would go onto a great career as a working guide. Denver was energetic, smart, and quick. He loved to work and found such joy in being with people. It was a pleasure to handle him and as I watched him step forward into life as a working guide in September, 2000, I was very proud.

His first blind partner loved him immediately and they did very well together. They lived in a small rural town in Nevada with no sidewalks, and little traffic. Unfortunately, this gentleman died suddenly in May of 2001 and Denver was returned to GDB.

After a month's retraining, Denver was placed with another gentleman, to graduate in July, 2001. Denver continued this career for the next eight years in the Sacramento Area with lots of traffic, living in an apartment building and heading off to an office each day. He adjusted well to this new environment as I knew he would.

In late 2009, I received a called that Denver was being retired, and was given the opportunity to adopt him as my pet! What a joy it was to see him again and know that we had come "full circle" together! And, after not seeing each other for eight years, he remembered me and was as overjoyed to see me as I was him!

Denver spent the next year and a half on our ranch in the Sierra Foothills "at pasture" enjoying the freedom of our land and "educating" the new Guide Dog puppies I have continued to raise. In July of this year, Denver died of natural causes in my arms. His big heart just stopped...

I have always felt so fortunate and privileged to raise these wonderful dogs, and Denver gave me the gift of his love in his puppyhood and then in his elder years. He worked hard, played hard and loved much...he was a sweet soul who gave his all to his people. Goodbye Denver.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Remembering Nutmeg and Luge

by Michael Dickerson

It is with great sadness that I have to inform you of the passing of Nutmeg. She left us on September 17th of this year. Nutmeg, and her buddy Luge, were with me for 13 years each. They were inseparable from each other as I was with them. They were the best friends a person could ever hope for and that I've ever had. They filled my life in ways I hadn't thought possible. Not a day goes by that I don't think of them.I will miss them terribly. Thank you for letting them come into my life.

yellow Lab Nutmeg


yellow Lab Luge


Friday, October 7, 2011

Remembering Spreckles

black Lab lying on a carpet
by Linda Freund

October 6, 2011

Dear Friend,

Sunlight streams through the window pane
Unto a spot on the floor….
Then I remember,
It’s where you used to lie,
But now you are no more.
Our feet walk down a hall of carpet,
And muted echoes sound…..
Then I remember,
It’s where you paws would joyously abound.
A voice is heard along the road,
And up beyond the hill,
Then I remember it can’t be yours….
Your golden voice is still.
But I’ll take that vacant spot of floor
and empty muted hall
And lay them with the absent voice
And unused dish along the wall.
I’ll wrap these treasured memorials
In a blanket of my love
And keep them for my best friend
Until we meet above.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Jazzy Shulleeta

black Lab Jazzy among red tulips

June 15, 2000 – July 7, 2011
By Sheila Shulleeta

My retired guide, Jazzy, died from lung cancer on July 7, 2011. She was my first Guide dog, my loyal friend, my teacher, and my “love-dog”, as I liked to call her. The wise folks at Guide Dogs for the Blind were the matchmakers for our partnership. They knew Jazzy and I were meant to be together and, thankfully, ignored me when I said, “All I want is one of those yellow Labs.”

My Jazzy-Girl became the center of my universe at the moment we met. There was no more “I” or “me”; it instantly became “we” and “us”. We were in-tune, in-sync, and in-love. My Jazzy-Girl gave me love, independence and the confidence to get out and do whatever I wanted.

Our first summer together we flew from Portland to Albuquerque, boarded a train to Las Vegas, NM, and then bounced around in a jeep as it navigated up 8,000 ft. to a remote, stunningly beautiful, and ecologically balanced section of the mountains of northern New Mexico. Jazzy was barely 2 at the time and handled everything with grace and ease. She kept me on the trails and skillfully guided me from campsite, to mess hall, to meditation hall, and to the ladies room. When it was time to go home, the other retreatants thanked me for bringing Jazzy’s awesome healing energy to the setting.

The following year we cruised to Alaska together. After just a day of adjusting to the new relieving situation, Jazzy was soon guiding me all over the ship and ports of call. Every night when our cabin steward turned down my bed he did the same for Jazzy; folding her favorite blanket back and leaving a kibble in the center. Jazzy brought him joy every day with her wagging tail and happy spirit. There were tears in his eyes as he said goodbye to her at the end of the cruise.

Jazzy was also a devoted hospice volunteer. Her calm, loving nature brought smiles to dying patients’ faces. They loved to rub her silky ears and feel her cold nose in their hands. Jazzy’s presence stirred the patients’ memories of dogs they had loved throughout their lives and they were sometimes able to share those stories with me.

Another time, again in hospice work, we met a young boy who had just lost his father. He had Asperger’s and struggle with human relationships. He fell in love with Jazzy and Jazzy loved him right back. She just knew how to “be” with him. My sweet Jazzy eased his pain.

These are just a few examples of what Jazzy did every day of her life. Whether we were on some big adventure or simply riding the bus to get groceries, Jazzy was there for me. She helped me grow and change into a better person. She brought me happiness, love, and independence. She gave me her eyes--and so much more--while keeping me safe. While my heart aches from missing her I can also smile thinking about the time we spent together. Jazzy lived a rich, interesting, fun, and meaningful life as part of my family. She will live on forever in my heart.

black Lab Jazzy near flowershop flowers

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Path With a Guide Dog

Larry in rocking chair with his arm around yellow Lab Galleon
by Larry Marcum --a tribute to his retired guide Galleon

Two months ago I retired my first Guide Dog Galleon after more than nine incredible years of him guiding me. Since retiring him I have had to go back to using the white cane, which I rarely used since receiving Galleon in January of 2002. Going back to the cane has been frustrating to say the least, but more than anything I have realized that I again feel like a blind man. That may sound strange, but I had not totally realized over the nine years with Galleon that he took so much stress out of my travels, how much he was truly guiding me, how there must have been so many obstacles that he effortlessly took me around that I did not know were there, that I now find with my cane. Now the tired shoulder muscles, headaches, and hunched back have returned. I now realize that while Galleon guided me I was able to walk standing straight up with confidence and being able to forget, at least during the time that we were walking, about my blindness and really allow my other senses to take in and enjoy our surroundings.

Galleon became such a part of me that I now realize how much we became one - a team. Although I always had my left hand holding a harness handle, it became so natural that I did not feel blind while out in public. Over the years we became so attuned to each other, it got to where I rarely needed to give him commands, he just seemed to know where I wanted to go.

Galleon and I flew over 20,000 miles together. On one trip we flew to Washington D.C., where Galleon guided me to stand at the Lincoln Memorial, which was a lifelong dream of mine. Galleon guided me up the steps of our nation’s Capitol, and to stand at the wrought iron fence surrounding the White House. As Galleon guided me to the Vietnam Memorial Wall, because of my small tunnel of vision, all that I first saw was a wall just a few inches tall. But as he guided further along, the wall was soon looming way over my head, with so many names on it that boggles the mind. Galleon guided me around the World War II Memorial where I was privileged to see our veterans reminisce together about that war. With my limited vision I got to see the never-ending hills of Arlington Cemetery that hold our freedom fighters of past wars.

We traveled together on planes, trains, buses, taxis, and boats. We walked on beaches, trails, cities and parks. He was at my wedding, several funerals, parties, church and meetings. We won awards together, played in the snow, walked in the rain, and sweated in the heat. He has come and sat at my side when I cried, and danced with me in joyous times. For more than 3,000 nights he has been at my bedside all night, every night, never once getting up and wandering until my feet hit the floor in the morning.

My greatest realization about guide dogs is that a guide dog does more than guide; a guide dog helps a person to live their dreams. Thank you, my Galleon for helping me to live so many of my dreams!

Galleon continues to live with my wife Ida and I, enjoying retirement here at our mountain home, and oh, how he will enjoy the company of my new guide in October! You see, because of so many caring, giving and dedicated people associated with Guide Dogs for the Blind, I am blessed to get to return there September 25th to begin the path with my next Guide Dog.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Remembering Judson

by Shelley L. Rhodes, M.A. CVRT with Ludden black Labrador Guide Dog

Judson was first and foremost my Guide Dog, my first Guide Dog, but he was also my friend, my protector, my confidant, my comforter and space heater on cold nights in college. Judson taught me me things while I was working with him, while we were partners -- things I still remember and use to this day.

I remember like it was yesterday, (though now eleven years have passed), when I went into the library at Guide Dogs for the Blind with the empty leash hoping to meet this mysterious dog that they wanted me to work with. I couldn’t wrap my mind around the name Judson. What kind of a dog name is that, I wondered. How am I going to handle a Golden Retriever and all that hair? Is this guide dog thing really for me?

Mark came in leading Judson, a large, beautiful, reddish gold dog, who promptly walked up to me, held out a paw, gave a huge sigh and then lay down at my feet. I was kind of surprised, and asked if this was normal. Mark said it was for this dog. And that was when I got my first lesson from Judson: whenever possible take a nap -- or as we called it in later years the “we stop; he drops off to sleep” procedure. Smile.

Judson taught me about trust, patience and persistence when he and I would work together. Ever since I was a child, I never liked going out at night -- I couldn’t see after dark. On our first night route together, a trip from the bus through San Rafael to the lounge, I had to put my full and complete trust in him as a guide. And he didn’t let me down. He walked confidently, guided me to the curbs and street crossings and soon we made it to the lounge. He only made one mistake. He knew where we needed to go, but I wasn’t quite sure and thought he was wrong. But he was right, as I would find to be usually the case. When I got to the lounge I gave him a huge hug.

That started our partnership that lasted for seven years. In that time, Judson gave me the courage to go away to college eight hours from home. He gave me the courage to volunteer for and get paid for a job I truly loved -- being a tour guide at campus, with Judson, of course, as secondary tour guide. Okay, so the customers liked him better... Smile. And he gave me the courage even to travel to big cities and places that I would never dream of going coming from the small town of Corry.

With Judson by my side, I traveled to New York City to see several Broadway plays including Beauty and the Beast (he didn’t like the fireworks), Chicago, Rent (where he defended me against a homeless guy who wanted to know who had the guide dog), and Les Miserables, (where Judson thought the cannon fire was real, and the bells they used in the opening song were going to attack him.) We walked through Central Park, went to Ground Zero, and walked in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (where, of course, he thought all the cheering and clapping was for him alone, not that guy called Kenny G. on our float or that guy called the Mayor, but for beautiful Judson). He pranced down that route with pride! He went to Washington D.C. with me, toured the White House, and didn’t get arrested for peeing on the lawn -- he did have to go, after all. We traveled to Seattle to a conference where I gave a presentation for the first time. He discovered that sea otters are, in his mind, strange water dogs; I think the sea otters were thinking he was a strange otter. We went to New Orleans, and went to Bourbon Street -- nope, the dog did not drink anything and we avoided the puddles.

I never dreamed I would live or work in a large city. My dad says that Judson traveled and flew more miles than most people do in their lifetime and I know I wouldn’t have done all that traveling without my guide. I knew if we got lost or stranded I wasn’t alone; there were two of us to figure things out.

Judson lived with me through a lot of changes in my life, from my first time away from home for a long period of time, when I went to Kutztown University, an eight hour drive from my home, to my adventures in graduate school in Kalamazoo, Michigan, using buses on a regular basis, and my internship in Ohio. From losing my grandfather, finding out what my visual impairment was and the other medical and health problems I had in college. And finally my first job, in Boston, Massachusetts, where thankfully, although I had never learned to use subways, Judson knew exactly what to do and was willing to teach me.

My mom and dad were confident I would be okay on all of these adventures because I had Judson beside me. He was a truly good judge of character. If he didn’t like someone, he would give that person dirty looks and would growl under his breath, just enough to let me know what he thought. He also wouldn’t let someone he didn’t think was good or safe pet him. So if you were allowed to pet him you were a good person in his book.

Judson also took fame in stride. He was one of the canine stars on a Nature program called Dogs: the Early Years, ended up on FOX, Philadelphia, as a canine Tour Guide Dog, and CNN for the same. He appeared in the Kutztown University passbook, advertising the College of Education. He also received a Certificate of Service from the College of Education for his efforts recruiting new students, for his volunteer work and for providing morale therapy in hard times, such as during September 11, and when one of our classmates died in a car accident my senior year. He also wore his own cap made especially for him by the College of Education on graduation day in 2004.

Judson also was my teaching assistant. With my fifth graders he was a willing ice breaker to get the students talking; students would come approach him if they had problems. With my sixth graders, he helped me teach them science concepts such as physics (A heavy dog will exert pressure down on human attempting to hold him up, while human struggles to exert equal amount of pressure to keep dog up in air). In English, we did an essay called “What would Judson do?” and learned about patience in hard times. With my visually impaired kids, he taught them that dogs can be friendly, safe and good friends. He taught one young lady who was away from home for the first time that it was okay to be scared, that there were always friends in strange places, and to properly throw a Frisbee. He taught another girl from Haiti that dogs are friendly and they don’t have sharp claws like cats do. He taught another student that perhaps a guide dog might be a partner for her someday, and that trust is allowing a new person to brush your teeth (with the handler’s supervision, of course).

He also taught me persistence. He was usually correct in the route we should take but would be patient while I figured it out. He would try to get me to play ball with him instead of doing my homework -- after all, all work and no play made Judson a dull dog. And he taught me unconditional love, working, I think, several more months after he no longer truly enjoyed the work, but because I dependend on him.

Judson retired on August 12, 2007, and has enjoyed a long and happy and well-deserved retirement as a pet with my parents. He tolerated my second dog Guinevere and welcomed my third guide Ludden into our home. He tolerated and understood me when I was on crutches after breaking my ankle, was willing to go for slow and careful walks with me to rebuild my strength and flexibility in my foot. He loved his fetch and retrieving games. And every morning as Ludden, my current dog, and I went off to work, I swear he thought, “Have fun, you sucker. You have to go to work, while I sleep in. Ah, the life!”

But the years of work finally took their toll. Judson’s left hip could not support him anymore, and his right wasn’t any better. He was getting tired, wasn’t playing anymore, showing interest in food (he was normally an alarm clock you could rely on when he was younger) and he couldn’t get up and do the things he wanted to. On Thursday, he was not able to get up to get water, although he tried very hard to. We knew it was time.

Yesterday, he slipped away peacefully to Rainbow Bridge, where I know he is swimming in the clean, clear river under the bridge, playing fetch with the children there and rolling in the grass with his pals: Shadow, Lindy and all the dogs who have gone before him. I know he is free from allergies, aches and pains and I know he will be waiting for me at the Bridge when I cross someday.

I miss you Judson. There is a hole in my heart where you used to be. But I know you have left me in good paws with Ludden. I love you dog, my partner, my guide and my friend. You are a reflection of God’s love. After all "dog" backward is "God". Be free.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Saying “Goodbye” to a Hero

by Michael Hingson

It is strange for me to be writing this article while I have feelings of both sadness and joy in my heart. Nevertheless, it is something which must be done.
I have the solemn obligation to inform you that my hero Guide Dog, Roselle, who was with me in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, passed away last evening, Sunday, June 26, 2011 at 8:52 PM. I am sad, of course, because I will miss Roselle so very much, more than any of my other Guide Dogs. I write with joy because Roselle is in a better place, no longer feeling pain, leaving me with so many fond memories of her and a life forever changed by our shared experience.

Roselle was born on March 12, 1998 at Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael, California. Right from the start, she was quite a mischievous little puppy. Raised by several puppy-raising families in Santa Barbara, she spent many joy-filled days with Kay and Ted Stern, who introduced her to airplane travel, New York, snow, and even the theater. I must say that I think the culture did rub off on her.

After her time with puppy raisers, Roselle returned to Guide Dogs for the Blind for training. Our first meeting was November 22, 1999. Roselle was my fifth Guide Dog. It was obvious from our very first walk together that we were a perfect match. What took me a few days to discover was that Roselle was also quite a character; I constantly referred to her as a “pixie.” Roselle had a penchant for stealing socks. She didn't chew them up; she just carried them around and then hid them somewhere only to bring them out later just to taunt me. She was always willing to give them up undamaged and ready-to-wear although a little bit damp. Her tail wagged through the whole experience. In fact, her tail hardly stopped wagging during the almost 12 years I knew her (I also discovered that she was a loud snorer. The Stearns told me later that even as a puppy, she could snore with the best of them).

When I brought Roselle home to New Jersey on December 2, 1999, she met my retired guide, Linnie. Linnie and Roselle seemed a bit uncomfortable with each other that night and into the middle of the next day. I decided that this awkwardness had gone on long enough and brought out a rope tug bone. I made each of them take an end and I grabbed the middle of the rope. They started off by teaming up and tugging against me. After about 20 seconds of this with mouths inching up toward my fingers from both sides I release the bone and let them go at it alone. From that moment on they were inseparable until Linnie passed away on July 4, 2002.

I would not be alive today if it weren't for Roselle. On September 11, 2001 Roselle and I were in our office on the 78th floor of Tower One of the World Trade Center when it was struck by American Airlines flight 11, hijacked and under terrorist control. Our escape from that tower moments before its collapse is story that has been told around the world and is still an inspiration to many. This amazing story is the subject of my new book called “Thunder Dog” co-authored with Susy Flory, which will be in bookstores and available on my website soon. All I want to say here is that Roselle did an incredible job and is a true hero. She remained poised and calm through the entire day, giving kisses and love wherever she could, while working valiantly when she needed to do so. Roselle’s service on 9/11 was a testimony not only to the Sterns and the others who raised her, but to her trainer, Todd Jurek, the entire Guide Dogs for the Blind training staff, and all the people who make up that wonderful organization. Most of all, what Roselle did that day and in fact every day she and I were together is nothing less than the most powerful evidence I can provide of the enduring value of trust and teamwork.

In the aftermath of 9/11, in January 2002, Roselle and I began an exciting journey, serving as the National Public Affairs Director for Guide Dogs for the Blind. Roselle and I spent countless hours speaking to the media, officiating at events, even riding on a float in the Rose Parade on New Year's Day. Over the next 6 1/2 years Roselle and I traveled hundreds of thousands of miles throughout the United States and the rest of the world speaking about trust and teamwork, guide dogs, and blindness. Our goal was to help people understand that the real “handicap” of blindness is not a lack of eyesight but a lack of proper education about blindness. Roselle took every trip with poise and confidence whether it was to Kansas or Korea. She was an incredible traveler.

She met many dignitaries and celebrities, including President George W. Bush, Queen Noor, Hilary Rodham Clinton, the Prime Ministers of Ireland, New Zealand and Canada, Senators Chuck Schumer and Barbara Boxer, Larry King, Regis and Kelly, and many others. She received numerous awards and was even honored in the US Congressional Record by Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey.

In 2004, Roselle was diagnosed with immune mediated thrombocytopenia, a condition which caused her body to attack her blood platelets. It was thought that her condition may have been brought on by exposure to the contaminated air at Ground Zero. Through medications, we were able to control the disease and Roselle was able to continue guiding. As usual, she worked like a trooper and never once exhibited pain or discomfort.

On the home front, from the time that Roselle lost her tug companion, Linnie, in 2002, we cared for several foster dogs from GDB until Fantasia came to live with us in 2006. In Fantasia, Roselle found an inseparable friend and made the most of it. She still swiped the occasional pair of socks, but Fantasia was her main interest. Roselle taught Fantasia how to bark every time the doorbell rang and how to beg for treats, which became a regular household ritual for both dogs especially when 8:00 PM rolled around.

In February 2007 during a normal checkup we learned that some of Roselle's kidney values were changing for the worse. It was decided that the medication regimen on which Roselle had been placed as well as the stress of guiding were putting her health at further risk. Roselle retired from guidework in March of 2007. It was a sad day for all of us, but Roselle took it in stride and soon made it very clear that retirement suited her well. After retirement, Roselle loved to take walks most of the time, she loved her meals, her treats, playing Battle of the Bone with Fantasia and later with my current Guide Dog Africa, and of course barking at the ringing of the doorbell. Roselle was the loudest barker of the bunch. I have fond memories of Roselle, Fantasia, and Africa all tugging on the same rope, all battling each other across our living room giving no care to whatever was in their way.

In 2010, Roselle began exhibiting some chronic back pain. While speaking at the annual convention of the American Animal Hospital Association, I introduced Roselle to Doctor Robin Downing, an expert in dog pain management. Robin noticed Roselle's pain and while I gave three consecutive workshops she spent time with Roselle. I think they got to know each other pretty well that day because right after the workshops Doctor Downing, right there on the floor in the front of the conference room, gave Roselle a back adjustment which clearly helped Roselle and made her back feel somewhat better. Upon our return home, we immediately took Roselle to her vet and started her on a treatment of acupuncture, back adjustments, and herbs which altogether mostly eliminated her chronic back pain.

Earlier this year we noticed that Roselle was beginning to have a harder time standing up on her own, although once she was standing she loved to continue her daily walks. She stopped playing tug bone with Fantasia and Africa, but she still enjoyed lying in the sun, eating, kissing everybody in sight, and barking at the doorbell. Her ability to stand on her own grew worse throughout the first half of this year.

Last week she began exhibiting some other signs of distress and pain. On Friday, June 24, 2011, she had to be taken to her vet, who suspected that somehow she had developed a stomach ulcer. Also, it was discovered that her red blood cell count had dropped significantly. Friday evening she was taken to the Pet Emergency and Specialty Center where she was well known by Doctor Harb and the other staff. Yesterday, Sunday, June 26, we visited her in the evening only to see her condition continuing to deteriorate. She was in a lot of pain and discomfort. There was no one cause for her discomfort, but Doctor Bowie of the PESC felt that some of her immune-related conditions had returned in addition to the possible stomach ulcer.

After much consultation and discussion we all came to agreement that the best thing we could do to help Roselle was to assist her in crossing the Rainbow Bridge and go to her friend Linnie. At 8:52 last evening she crossed that bridge and, I am sure, she is now pain-free, enjoying socks and other games, barking at doorbells to her heart’s content.

How can I possibly say goodbye to a dog who is done all Roselle has done and who lived life to the fullest? How can I ever do justice to her life, work, and memory? Roselle has been one of the greatest blessings and gifts I have ever had the joy of receiving. God surely broke the mold with Roselle. I have had seven Guide Dogs including Africa, my seventh, and also I have had the opportunity to see thousands of them at work around the world. Roselle is unique without a doubt. She worked through the most trying time in our nation’s history, and she was right there unflinching for all of it. Her spirit never diminished and, in fact, grew stronger through the years after 9-11, helping me become a better person today.

I thank God for the time my wife Karen and I were allowed to have with this wonderful creature. She touched everyone whom she met in a special way, giving unconditional love wherever she went. She kissed firefighters in the World Trade Center as we descended the stairs, a memory that moves me to this day. She inspired us all and will continue to do so.

Roselle’s passing coincides with the formation of “Roselle's Dream Foundation,” which has been in development for several months. The purpose of the foundation is to educate people about blindness, and to assist blind children and later blind adults to obtain new technologies to empower them to learn, work and engage in life more fully. Shortly the website will be up and running. I invite people to honor Roselle by making donations in her memory to the Roselle's Dream Foundation to help us in our work.

My goodbye prayer: Roselle, your memory will always be with us and your spirit continues to touch us. I know you're nearby, watching us. Your memory inspires us to be better people and dogs, to be the best we can be. I hope you're feeling better now. You have shown us what real love and service look like, setting the bar high for us to follow. Be at peace and know that we shall try to love each other as much as you loved each of us during your time with us on earth.

Love, Michael

Thursday, June 16, 2011

“Freida” Kennedy

yellow Lab Freida with legs crossed
November 10, 1998 – June 16, 2011
by Vickie Kennedy

My precious Freida, my first guide, my companion, my partner and my soulmate, crossed the Rainbow Bridge on Thursday, June 16th at 2:35AM(HST). Freida was with Jim and my son, George, when she went with the angels. Ironically, at the time I was staying in the dorm at our San Rafael, California campus, to attend a couple of Guide Dogs’ meetings. Jim told me that in her last moments, she gave a big labby stretch, a beautiful smile came across her face, and then she peacefully crossed the Rainbow Bridge. She was a Lady till the very end.

Guide Dogs for the Blind gave me an incredible gift. Freida was my first guide and she was not only an extraordinary guide, but she was also such a sweetheart.

Some of you may recall that back in 2000, I was first partnered with Nettles, a very good guide, but she had to be career changed after five days. Charles Nathan then went looking for another guide for me and found Freida. At that time, Freida had only started in her eighth phase of training, but with some special catch-up training he got us working together beautifully. That was indeed a match made in heaven. Thank you, Charles!

Freida was puppy-raised in Mesa, Arizona, by Sandy Thomas. Sandy told me that of the 13 puppies she has raised, Freida was her easiest puppy. Thank you Sandy! When returned to Guide Dogs, Freida was trained by Kelly Chadwick. Thank you Kelly for getting Freida to be the perfect guide! Freida never needed a correction – she just knew!

Some of you may not have known this, but the day after Freida and I graduated, a rather large growling German Shepherd made an attack run on Freida. Fortunately Jim interceded and ended up scaring the dog away. But Freida was scared out of her wits! It took Paul Keasberry and his faithful Rottweiler, Albert, to give Freida confidence to work again. God bless you Paul and Albert!

I remember Paul doing one particular annual assessment. Turns out that Freida had listened to Paul’s instructions to me to turn left or right at an upcoming intersection, over a hundred feet away. When we got to that intersection, Freida remembered and, before I could even give her a command, she prepared to turn as Paul had instructed a minute earlier. Paul said that Freida was so smart, she could “multi task!” :o)

Freida was truly a Lady, always crossing her paws, her trademark, whenever she would be lying down. She had an elegance about her that everyone admired and loved. Her demeanor drew lots of “aaaaahhhhss.”

In March of 2006, Freida had a mast cell tumor and Doc saved her life by going in wider and deeper to get it all out. The biopsy results showed that she had over an inch of clear margins and she remained in good health until her passing. Thank you Doc, and the whole veterinary team, for taking great care of my Freida and giving us the gift of five more wonderful years with Freida.

While we are not sure exactly what took Freida from us, we believe that her cancer had finally returned. Her blood work a month ago suggested that might be the case.

In November of 2007, Freida took on a second career as a pet visitation dog at our Queen’s Medical Center where she visited every Friday, sometimes as many as 30 to 35 patients a day. Her visits there became to be known as “Freida Fridays” as Jim and I took Freida in at 10:00AM and often stayed as long as 4:00PM. (NOTE: she got lots of love, her favorite rice cakes and small carrot treats and potty breaks). The patients as well as staff benefited from her visits. Freida loved seeing everyone and in her very quiet and ladylike way, she brought so many smiles and joy to everyone she met. Then in March of 2008, we became involved with two St. Francis Hospice facilities and in her first year there Freida got their “Volunteer of the Year” award. There, she brought joy and smiles into the hearts of the dying patients and helped the family members cope with the difficult times. During the visits, she helped each patient escape from reality for the five to 30 minutes of time we were with them. We estimate that Freida made about 3,000 patient visits over the past few years. Can you believe it!

This is a very difficult time for us trying to cope with Freida’s passing. Our hearts ache as she has left a huge hole in them. But, there are a lot of happy tears as we are getting so many beautiful tributes to Freida from many of our friends who knew her and loved her. Jim and I are recalling so many wonderful and fun memories with Freida over the 11 years she was with us. All of you saw her as the Lady, the quiet professional that she was, but she also had the fun side of her as she would do the “play bows” and the “Labrador scooch” around our house … and sometimes even at the hospital! :o)

Freida retired as my guide in February of 2008. Then wonderful Angela became my guide. I truly believe that Angela rejuvenated Freida. They were both so very close and loved each other so much.

When Freida passed, I was staying in the dormitory at GDB as I had a couple of meetings there. Jim told me that Freida was having trouble eating and seemed a little stiff, so he took her to the vet clinic here. She sort of trotted into the clinic but, at the same time, she was shaking like a leaf as she always did at GDB’s vet clinic. She loved the people there but hated what could go on in the place. :o)

That evening, she did not want to get up anymore. Jim and I talked and cried. We did not want her to suffer anymore … she deserved much better than that. As painful as it was for us, we agreed that the next morning we should have our vet come to our home to help Miss Freida across the “Rainbow Bridge.” Before we hung up, I had Jim put the phone by Freida's ear so I could tell her how much I loved her, thank her for all she did for me and tell her it was okay to let go. (Since the day we graduated on June 24, 2000, I always kissed her goodnight and thanked her for guiding me).

Bless dear Freida’s heart, she spared us having to help her across. She passed away early morning, with Jim and George, the two favorite men in her life, at her side. They were lovingly petting her and whispering their great love as she began her new eternal journey.

I had asked Jim to check with the vet to see if they could keep Freida so I could get to say goodbye and have closure when I returned to Honolulu the next day. The vet staff here was terrific about letting us do this!! Straight from the airport we decided to stop by the house first so Angela would find that Freida was not there, and so she could sniff around a lot, which she did. Then we went to the vet’s office. In a private room, they had Freida on a beautiful red velvet blanket, with a white blanket covering all but her crossed paws and her head. Just Jim and I went in first, so I could be myself emotionally, not having to worry about upsetting Angela. Then afterward, I asked Jim to walk my mom and Angela into the room. It worked out perfectly. Angela sniffed only a little, then backed away. She knew something was not the same, but did not seem to be terribly upset or spooked. In fact, as we walked out of the vet’s, her perky tail was swishing away as usual. To be sure, Angela can be subdued at times, but from that first day back home, she started dragging out some toys to play with. What an easy-to-please, exuberant, doggie!

We are overwhelmed by the incredible, warm responses of the organizations Freida had volunteered with as a Pet Visitation doggie. The Sisters of St. Francis, at a hospice volunteer meeting we attended one morning, started with a prayer, and with a short memoriam comment about having lost a great volunteer, Freida. They had an enlarged color photo of her that was draped with a beautiful orchid lei. The Hawaiian Humane Society (which had to clear Freida for the Pet Visitation work) has just posted a mini-tribute to her on their Facebook page . Now, they tell us that they are thinking about saying something special about her in their next Annual Report. And, Queen’s Medical Center is planning a memorial service there, with a presiding chaplain, to honor Miss Freida. Freida was once referred to as a most amazing new “chaplain” who expressed so much love, didn’t care about denominations, listened patiently and was always the quiet professional. That was my girl!

You have heard me say this many times before, but I feel the need to say it again. When I graduated with Freida, she not only gave me confidence and mobility of independence, but she gave me the peace of mind and an inner strength to do whatever I set out to do. Freida was truly an extension of me and she was the next best thing to having my sight back. Now, my exuberant and sweet Angela will continue to do guide me safely.

Thank you EVERYONE in our Guide Dogs’ family for this precious miracle of a gift called Freida. I miss her so much but her beautiful demeanor and love will be forever in our hearts!

Love and aloha,

Vickie, Jim, Angela and Freida-angel

P.S. Jim wrote a beautiful poem tribute to Freida last night which I really want to share with you. I think it captures the spirit of my dear girl.

Gentle lady though she was
Crazy doggie she could be.
With paws crossed daintily,
Always there for you and me.

Easiest one was ever trained,
So, well earned her being entrusted,
She guided her mommy so unrestrained.

Shaking only near vet and dog,
All other times a “calma doga*”.
Unlike cute Angela’s “Hello, I’m, here!”
T’was gentle Freida’s gracefulness so dear.

Chaplain Freida, all will say,
With wide grins and playful play,
Made all smile day to day.
Helped Queen's patients and at St.Francis
Preparing them, and she and we,
For the day our bridge crossing be.

Oh, dear God, now what's the matter?!
Oh no, not now! Not now!
Oh how … we will … so miss her patter!

Then she did pass that early morn,
With her love’s last breath
Bringing tears and mourning.

Though leaving da Peanut and we behind
She’ll always, always be near of mind.

Gone our sweet lady she is now
To romp again and do play bow.
In heaven where she was destined
Our precious angel is now a rest'n.

*Captain Fabio Amitrano of Princess Cruises “anointed” dear Freida with this sweet term of endearment on our 2004 Alaska cruise aboard the Regal Princess.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Remembering Chaya and Adagio

by Marla Burns

I am a long time Guide Dog user. My first guide was Adagio. She was with me for about nine years. Then, I got Chaya, who was only with me for a short time. Adagio and Chaya were so funny! Chaya did her little dance first thing in the morning to wake me up with her small barking and moaning and her love of bananas. I would call her "Banana Anna." Adagio was just as bad as Chaya, with her little dances also and her milk bone face looks. Beloved Guide Dogs. We will truly miss them.

Chaya 12/28/2006-3/15/2011; Adagio 5/24/1997-12/14/2007

Monday, March 21, 2011

Guide Dogs Baltic, CD, RN, CGC, TDIEVA

By Karen Saunders

Guide Dogs Baltic, CD, RN, CGC, TDIEVA
2-11-1998 - 3-13-2011

GDB career change dog Baltic, a black German Shepherd dog
I was lucky enough to be the puppy raiser who received a ball of black fluff named Baltic on Easter of 1998. We worked hard on her puppy skills and quickly mastered sit, down, and stay as she visited every situation we could think of to help her on her way. She was recalled for “big dog training” at one year, but a few months later we got the call that she was being career changed, did we want to keep her? I have had three other German Shepherds, and although I would have preferred that Baltic be a guide to help someone else, if she couldn’t do that I wanted her back.

And so we started retraining Baltic and realizing her big heart and wonderful temperament needed to be used, not stay at home and not be able to go places with me. Baltic began her new life as an obedience and rally show dog and, more importantly, as a therapy dog. In her career of eight years as a therapy dog with Therapy Dogs International she made more than 460 visits.

Baltic visited nursing homes and hospitals; children read to her at the library; she visited schools and worked with children with Downs Syndrome, Autism, Spinal Bifida and a host of other problems. She was a bombproof dog--nothing ever worried or bothered her. A child screaming, jumping at her, fire engines with was all just a matter of course. It was not unusual for her to be out visiting three times a week with either my husband or me. But her favorite work was at the Sycamores-Hathaway home for neglected and abused teenage boys.

For some of these teens, Baltic was the first living being they could give all their love to and have it returned. She never judged them. She never was repelled or upset by the things they quietly told her about their home life and growing up. She listened. Even if they said something mean to her, she still loved them.

Baltic has been credited many times with changing a boy’s emotional situation from being on suicide watch to being allowed to go out with her and a care taker. And as they hugged and talked to her, they were able to take control of their emotions and come down from their crisis, able to laugh and smile once more as they reached the mental state they needed to cope with their world. Baltic worked with unresponsive teenagers who could only curl into a fetal position, unable to talk or function. She burrowed her nose into their sweatshirt hoods and found their faces to lick them until they could uncurl and tell Baltic all their troubles. She never complained, she never whined or shied away. She was there for them.

I will miss her calming nature with people and other animals (she even got a panicked kitten to relax and go to sleep curled up next to her) and although I am crying I can only say I was lucky to have owned such a wonderful big-hearted dog as a member of our family. We all loved her.

The entire Saunders family will miss her. Thank you, GDB, for the privilege of puppy raising two of your dogs and for allowing us take our career changed dog back and help her reach her potential to help so many others.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Tribute to GDB Graduate Evelyn Burris

by Field Service Manager Emily Simone

Evelyn Burris sits next to her yellow Lab Guide Dog, Colusa, on a bench
Guide Dogs for the Blind has lost a wonderful friend this month. Modesto graduate Evelyn Burris graduated from our program in June of 2004 with her beautiful yellow Lab Colusa. I had the great fortune to have Evelyn in my field service territory and from the day she came home with her Guide Dog, it was Evelyn’s personal mission to give back to GDB in any way she could.

Evelyn embraced our Speakers Bureau and often gave presentations various social clubs and classrooms of school children all over the greater Modesto Area. She hosted a women’s golf tournament fundraiser for GDB which generated some generous donations. Evelyn was also a guide dog advocate and worked hard to get access at several challenging restaurants in the area. She loved to travel and she and her husband Rex regularly took cruises and relaxed on the beaches in Hawaii. She was a kind and compassionate woman who provided emotional support and generous friendship to other local GDB graduates in the area.

She called me regularly to sing praises about her beloved Colusa. She even had a t-shirt custom embroidered with her favorite quote: “Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our life whole”—Roger Caras. As a field manager, I learned some valuable lessons from Evelyn, about resilience, generosity and the joy of giving back. Evelyn Burris, you will be missed but never, ever, forgotten. Thank you for all you’ve done for us!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Remembering Ferdie

by Scott Carlisle

On February 21, 2011, Ferdinand, yellow Lab Retired guide, Class 583R, CA joined his friends waiting for him on the "Rainbow Bridge."

Ferdie became my third guide in June 1998 and also took on the duael task of helping restore my confidence as a handler, as I had to retire my second guide after only eight months. Ferdie did both jobs admirably, for was a solid and loving partner for just shy of seven years.

He was retired the end of April 2005 and went to live with a dear friend Larry Robbins and his wife Colleen, who gave Ferdie exemplary love and care right up to the end.

Ferdie passed in Larry's arms, and will always be remembered and missed.

Friday, February 18, 2011

In honor of Paka's service

Yellow Lab retired Guide Dog PakaA little bit about Paka, my Guide Dog who is retired.

I received Paka October 17, 2001 and graduated November 10, 2001. She was an excellent guide for eight and a half years. Together we traveled coast to coast in Canada and I have a lot of praise about her behavior and guidework. Paka even walked with me in the Remembrance Day Parade. I do a lot of volunteer work and it was nice to have her by my side. She was a good friend and she comforted me when I was down. My husband Richard adopted Paka, so she will still be with us.

Vivian Berkeley

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

In Tribute to Sir George Shearing

by Joanne Ritter

Jazz pianist George Shearing with his Golden Retriever Guide Dog, Lee
A part of GDB history died today. George Shearing, internationally famous jazz pianist passed away of congestive heart failure at the age of 91. In addition to his incomparable musical talents, George was a delightful man with a keen sense of humor.

George had one Guide Dog, a beautiful Golden Retriever named Lee, whom he loved dearly. George and Lee traveled together for over ten years, until Lee’s death in 1975. He described Lee as, “a marvelous companion with a great temperament,” and wrote fondly about his experiences training with Lee in his book Lullaby of Birdland: “I’ll never forget the day I could feel the wind in my face as Lee and I walked across the Golden Gate Bridge together. What an exhilarating experience!”

George was a strong supporter of Guide Dogs for the Blind and traveled the country with Norah Hamilton Straus, helping to raise awareness and support through media interviews on radio and television. Norah related, “Between the three of us, it was hard to say who was the biggest scene stealer. I remember one radio show to which George had been invited primarily to play the piano. I was tagging along to put in a few words on behalf of Guide Dogs for the Blind. Well, every time George paused in his playing, I started talking about the school. I had so much to say and so little air time to say it! I guess it would be fair to say I got carried away. The announcer was very nice and let me do it. So did George Shearing. The only thing he was more devoted to than Lee, however, was his music. As we were leaving the radio station after the show, I turned to him nervously and asked how he thought it went. He gave me a good natured smile and said, ‘Next time, Norah, I’d like a little less Hamilton and a little more Shearing.’”

George and his wife, Ellie have supported Guide Dogs for the Blind for many years. He will be missed.

Read this piece in the Wall Street Journal's Remembrance section about George Shearing.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Honoring the memory of GDB Alumnus Seth Webster

GDB graduate Seth Webster hugs his black Lab Guide Dog Bamboo
Seth Webster and his guide Bamboo were regulars on the California campus, giving tours, attending graduations and making friends for GDB in his easy-going way. He was a frequent contributor to our online community. He will be missed.

A video honoring his memory was produced by puppy raisers Matt and Amie Chapman:

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Remembering Marlon

Marlon, male Yellow Lab Guide for June Boyley of Parksville BC (CA 587 – October 1998) was a terrific Guide Dog and very well loved. He lived a life full of adventure traveling with June on four cruises and spending time in Arizona, Mexico and the Panama Canal. He passed away peacefully on Monday, January 10th at the age of 14. He loved to sit near the bay window and let June know when guests were arriving, never with a bark or growl, just with excited snuffs and wags. During the summer time he enjoyed long naps under the apple tree in the backyard. Marlon rests now in a beautiful green earn in his special spot in the bay window. He will be dearly missed by all, but most especially by his long term partner, June.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


by James Bluhm

Nimh asleep among some flowers
Nihm, retired male yellow Labrador guide of James Bluhm, Ottawa, On,., Canada, California class 580, March 1998.

Nihm was a great dog.

He loved to work. For nine years, he guided me safely through many obstacles. He did his job in the city and in rural areas. He could be professional at gatherings involving a thousand people or in a one-on-one meeting. He took the 59 bus into downtown Ottawa and back almost every working day of his career. He was smart continually amazing me with his knowledge of routes, locations and commands.

He loved to travel. Nihm went to New York, Florida, New Orleans, San Francisco, Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg and throughout Manitoba, Toronto and throughout Ontario, Quebec City and throughout Quebec, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. He settled in comfortably wherever his fleece, his food bowl and I were to be found. He loved long rides which were always celebrated with a good nap. Wherever he went, he was so photogenic.

He loved to play. Sticks were the best toys; you can really sink your teeth into them. Walks were always good, especially to the horse farm where they could be combined with the most interesting smells. Wet feet from the rain, lake or ocean made him want to run forever. And, in his opinion, it was impossible to have your ears scratched too much.

He loved to eat -- by far his favorite activity and hobby. You knew it was breakfast and supper time because Nihm made sure you knew. He was sneaky and successfully snatched food from time to time. Of all the many restaurants he went to, he found the Dairy Queen was the best because it was the only place he was taken where the result would be an ice cream cone for him.

He loved living things, both two legged and four legged. His friends included almost every dog in the neighborhood except those that excluded him from establishing a friendship. He got along well with Kazoo who succeeded him in guiding me although he never really understood him. The cats of our house produced a similar reaction. He had people as friends at work, at church, with family and casual relationships. He particularly liked "chicks" who were drawn to him like a magnet. He enjoyed everyone, but Denise was special and would get his tail wagging at any time.

He will be missed. Rest well, my friend.

Tribute to Nesbit

By George Kerscher

Nesbit: May 1997 to August 2010

Nesbit and I graduated from Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael, California, in February 1999, Class 591. At 21 months old, Nesbit became my first guide dog, and over the years we traveled together safely throughout the world.
George and Nesbit on graduation day
Nesbit warmed and wagged his way into the hearts of people everywhere we went, but he had special eyes for Gail, my wife (his significant other). While still in training in February 1999, Gail visited me. Nesbit and I were on the stairs at the GDB dorm when Gail arrived – Nesbit was so excited he started to go ballistic. Maureen, the trainer, witnessed the meeting and finally asked that I get my dog (and my wife) under control; it was like that throughout our wonderful years together. I was his boss, and Gail, who loved him dearly, was the sunshine of his life.

My work involves a great deal of travel both national and international, and Nesbit guided me. However I was not able to have Nesbit with me on every trip – it was extremely difficult to get a dog, even a guide dog, into some countries. Also, some of my business travel requires excruciatingly long flights – sometimes I would make the journey alone in order to save Nesbit from the prolonged discomfort of being under my seat.George and Nesbit in front of Paris's Arc du Triomphe
1st "Million Miler" Guide Dog
Nesbit was Delta Airlines' first guide dog to become a "Million Miler". At a special event held one evening at the 2008 CSUN Conference, Delta personnel presented Nesbit with his own frequent flyer card and a plaque hallmarking his "million mile" accomplishment. Actually, we had both become Million Milers, but Nesbit was the first dog to reach that benchmark.
George hugs Nesbit outside the CSUN Conference
Although that was Nesbit's last CSUN Conference (he retired shortly afterward) he had attended many over the years. Everywhere he would go at CSUN he would see people he knew. He had the floor plans and layout memorized – it was almost like coming home for Nesbit.

A Job Well Done
Nesbit's job was to guide me and keep both of us safe, and he was brilliant at his job. I recall Nesbit guiding me through the streets of Rome. Cars were moving very fast and furiously whizzing past in a chaotic sea of movement. Nesbit was rock solid and steady. He never faltered in the chaos of Rome or any other congested city.

I am sincerely grateful to Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael, California for the brilliant training they provided. A huge thanks goes to all the staff, volunteers, and donors who make having a guide dog like Nesbit possible.

In some ways dogs are like people – some like to lead, and some prefer to follow. Nesbit liked to lead the group, he always wanted to be first. If we started out walking at the back of a group of people, before we reached our destination Nesbit would have managed to squeeze between the others, taking me to the front to lead the pack.

Nesbit had a wonderful life. We traveled the world together but he also loved his time in Montana, especially at our cabin on the Clearwater River. He loved to swim and would go into the water even on the coldest of days. Lilly, our pet yellow lab, was his lifelong canine companion. I cannot forget the experience of taking them for a brisk morning walk in the woods, them bounding over logs, dashing through the trees, and then heading back for breakfast.

Nesbit guided me continuously through March 2008, when I returned to Guide Dogs for the Blind to get Mikey. He had spent his retirement years with Gail, me and Lilly, at our home and at the cabin he loved so much. Nesbit passed away in the most peaceful of situations in our home with Gail and me tenderly beside him. There will never be a dog as wonderful as Nesbit. Only I understand the relationship that I had with Nesbit through the handle of the harness that led me safely through so many cities around the world.