Thursday, July 26, 2012

Marly: Gone But Not Forgotten

By Juliet Cody
(Note: Guide Dog Merl, known as Marly)

Marly is gone but not forgotten. She will be in every fragment of my memory, because from the first day we met at GDB, she changed my life. Our adventures started three days after graduation when we took off to an NFB National convention across the country in Philadelphia. While there, I touched the liberty bell, and my own liberty bell began to toll for Marly and me, proclaiming our new horizons.

The convention taught me many ways to adapt, and being blessed with a Guide Dog like Marly, blindness seemed to have disappeared. The ultimate flavor was when I tasted freedom jogging on the beach without worrying about tripping or falling because Marley’s beautiful eyes were seeing for me. Now marly has left, and blindness has returned. We had eleven miraculous years filled with adventures, trials, love and dedication for one another. SHE left me a legacy that I have written about in my upcoming book, "Building More than Sand Castles." She has also left me knowing that blindness is not devastating; rather, it is what you make of it. Therefore she is compelling me to get another Guide Dog in the near future.

The emptiness, the aching heart, and the tears are not yet healed. Nevertheless, on a warm summer sunset as the waves were breaking, I swam into the ocean with a handful of marly's ashes and rose petals. The wave broke along with my heart when I let my precious guide go. I heard myself saying, "Marly, I will be back to surf with you every Sunday." When I reached the shore, my GDB alumni family was waiting with tears, rose petals and love.

I want to thank the staff at GDB with my deepest appreciation for giving me Marly, my GDB family, and all of the support that anyone could ask for.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

One of the Greatest Guide Dog Retirement Jobs Ever!

Rebekah and her Guide Dog Leslie

By Rebekah Brod 

Leslie was my first Guide Dog who gave me the freedom of moving safely, gracefully, and quickly in my environment without the stress that accompanies vision loss. Leslie had an incredible sense of adventure. When we traveled abroad, her guidework was perfect, never missing a beat. We had an incredible partnership for nine and a half years.

Rebekah with Leslie and Duke
When I came home with my second Guide Dog, Duke, it was a difficult transition for all of us. Leslie would run to the door with Duke to try to get into the harness. It was hard leaving her at home. I needed to find her something to do because she still wanted to be working in some capacity. I found her the ideal job at Santa Monica College (SMC). My husband, Garry, who was Leslie's driver, said, "Leslie was as excited as a puppy with a new toy when we went to SMC."

Leslie with Rebekah and Garry in the carAs soon as the automatic sliding glass door opened, Leslie was there to greet each student as they entered the SMC Center for Students with Disabilities office. Her job was to provide comfort and support in exchange for love, hugs, kisses, and treats. During crisis situations Leslie worked wonders by having a calming effect on both students and staff.

After working a year at SMC Leslie struggled with glaucoma, resulting in surgery and the loss of her right eye. The students related to her in a new way, by identifying with her disability and observing that it did not effect her job in any way. She will be greatly missed. October 14, 1997—May 24, 2012

Thank you so much for the greatest gift in my life, my Guide Dog Leslie. I am so grateful to Guide Dogs for the Blind for their dedication to excellence.

See the SMC Center for Students with Disabilities tribute video to Leslie here:

SMC Center for Students with Disabilities Staff with Leslie

SMC Center for Students with Disabilities Photo (Above)

  • Front row, left to right: Jo An Joseph-Peters, Nathalie Laille, Kennisha Green, Leslie, MaryJane Weil, Judy Schwartz, Colin O’Brien
  • Second Row, left to right: Andrea Kremer, Ingrid Carlson, Steven Zucker, Elena Throckmorten, Georgia Farber, Billie Puyear, Lisette Rabinow-Palley, Lynn Fugua
  • Not shown: Ellen Cutler, Tom Peters, & Ava Gawranski

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Mathew: The Dog with a Heart of Gold

By Marilyn Lind

Mathew, my first guide, was a love with a heart of gold. Not that Mathew is the only guide I've had, or currently have, with a heart of gold, but he was something special.

When I left for my class training at GDB, my dad wasn't sure I was doing the right thing. While I was in class he'd call me saying he didn't feel good. After I brought Mathew back home, my dad loved him and he understood what Mathew did for me. Mathew also loved my dad. They seem to have some type of bond separate from the bond Mathew and I held for each other.

One morning I received a call from my dad saying he was sick; my brother took him to the hospital. When I arrived, the doctor said that my dad only had a few days to live and he was placed in the ICU. During that time, Mathew and I would stay with my dad all day (Mathew as the first dog to ever be allowed in this ICU). My dad would pet Mathew and talk to him. One afternoon I told my dad I needed to find a green spot, and my dad responded by saying "Be careful." Those words - be careful - were the last words I would ever hear from my dad. He lost consciousness shortly thereafter. From then on, I'd put my dad's hand on Mathew's head and do a stroking movement. The nurses started doing the same thing when they discovered that my dad's monitoring rates would go down and that he would relax.

Not only did Mathew help my dad in those final days and hours, but I'm convinced that my dad also helped Mathew in a couple of ways. Prior to my dad getting sick, Mathew had been experiencing some health problems of his own. Mainly, his nose would start running for no reason. Our vet was unable to determine what was wrong with him, so I was talking with GDB's Dr. Patti to see if she could help solve the mystery of the running nose. During our time at the hospital with my dad, I'd always take Mathew out to the same place to relieve, and sure enough, his nose would start running.

After my dad passed away, we went to the funeral home. When we got into the building, Mathew's nose started running like a faucet. Immediately following the funeral, I got a call from Dr. Patti, saying she had set up an appointment for Mathew to go to Kansas State Vet School for diagnosis and treatment. I feel like this was my dad's way of helping his friend out.

It was finally determined that Mathew was allergic to a ground cover plant called hostice - which is prevalent in Kansas, but doesn't grow in Oregon where Mathew was trained. Mathew's allergy was so unusual that there wasn't anything that could help him out. Fortunately, a cousin of mine who lived in Oregon adopted Mathew; he and his wife treated Mathew like he was their son. When Mathew died, it was a very sad day for everyone. But we'll always have our memories of this special dog with a heart of gold.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Remembering Havarti

By Barbara and Jerry Edwards (Havarti's puppy raisers)

Havarti as a young puppy
On July 13, 2010, we picked up the most adorable 9 week-old puppy at GDB's California campus in San Rafael, and before the kennel staff member brought her out, she asked if we liked cheese. We thought that was an unusual question but our response was "yes" and she said, "Good - because your puppy's name is Havarti." Our immediate reaction was that she was given an odd name and thought about giving her a nickname, but over time, the name Havarti grew on us. When we took her on outings it was always comical to hear the responses from people when they asked her name. As soon as we said, "Havarti, like the cheese," many of the responses were, "that's my favorite cheese." She did eventually get some nicknames: Little Peanut, Little Cheese (GDB kennel staff) and Little Cheesecake (Andrea Christensen).

We couldn't have asked for a better puppy to raise. She certainly had her moments the first couple of months and we were beginning to wonder if she was going to make it. She was very demanding of our attention to the point she would do whatever she needed to get our attention to play with her. With some diligent training and lots of patience we were able to get over this hurdle and she grew to understand her boundaries. Havarti was very food motivated so she was willing to please us in order to get the food reward when it was appropriate.

During the 16 months we raised her, she had so many opportunities to experience life. We are retired so we were able to take many vacations that allowed us to include Havarti. Her one-year birthday was spent at Disneyland where she got to meet Goofy and Pluto. She loved our camping trips, playing on the jungle gym at the campgrounds, going to the beach and going to the snow. She was extremely well behaved on all of our public outings and knew that when she had her puppy jacket on, she was expected to show good manners. But she also knew that once we were home and the jacket came off, she could relax and frolic around the house.

Havarti with Andrea and the Edwards on graduation day
Graduation Day
One of Havarti's favorite pastimes was getting her daily belly rub. Our routine after dinner was a game of tug. When it was time to stop, we would tell her, "That's enough," and she would let go of the toy and proceed to roll over onto her back for a long belly rub until she fell asleep. She loved her belly rubs so much that when a stranger would lower their hand to pet her, she would slide down onto her back for a belly rub. Of course, that became a training issue and her belly rubs were limited to off training times.

In October of 2011, we received the notification that she would return to the GDB campus in November for her formal training to become a guide. She progressed quickly through the program and completed the phases in early February 2012 but was held back until she could be matched with the right person. That special person, Andrea Christensen, arrived at the GDB campus on March 11 and on March 14, Andrea and Havarti were united and their long-awaited adventure began. It was love at first sight for both of them. They worked well together and Andrea said that Havarti would get excited when she saw the harness in Andrea's hands. On March 31, 2012, Andrea and Havarti graduated during a beautiful ceremony. When we walked up to present Havarti to Andrea, it was evident that Havarti had a strong bond to Andrea as she looked up to her new "mom" and wagged her tail.

Prior to graduation, we noticed during our meet and greet with Andrea that Havarti didn't seem to be herself - not her usual energetic self - but we thought maybe it was due to all the excitement of the day. On Monday, Havarti started showing signs of distress and it was evident that something was really wrong. She was taken to a local vet in Andrea's home town and it was quickly determined that Havarti was extremely sick and needed to get to an animal hospital immediately. On April 3, her health rapidly declined and within a few hours of arriving at the hospital, she passed away. It was later determined that she had developed a very aggressive form of leukemia that goes undetected until the symptoms appear in the very last stage of the disease. There was no way for anyone to have known she had this disease.

A close friend of Andrea's (Glenna Williamson) wrote this about the connection between Andrea and Havarti:

"Andrea called me several times throughout her three weeks of being away from family and each time we spoke, she was thrilled beyond words of the connection and affection she felt towards her new escort. One might have to have an inside look to know and understand that Andrea is full of life and although blindness has been a thorn in her side, she never complained about this obstacle in her life, but she kept determination and with a full blown 'Attitude Ahead,' she was ready to meet, greet and move forward in life with Havarti. Oh how she instantly bonded with Havarti with a new sense of life's direction for both of them. Andrea had a song in her heart of Amazing Grace as she could now sing 'I once was blind but now I see' - of course that being in doggie language.

"Andrea stayed by Havarti's side until the end. For Andrea thought Havarti was there for her, but in actuality...God turned the tables, as Andrea was there for Havarti."

Andrea told us that in the short time she had Havarti, she performed her guidework with excitement and enthusiasm. We all are very saddened that Havarti succumbed at such a young age and wasn't able to fulfill her long time purpose as a Guide Dog for Andrea. She touched so many hearts in her short life and she will always hold a special place in our hearts.

Havarti, you were a special puppy and you made us very proud of your accomplishments. We feel blessed that GDB gave us the opportunity to have you for 16 months as you warmed our hearts with your many puppy antics, and your enthusiasm to please any one. You will forever be remembered as the energetic puppy who loved belly rubs, would do whatever any one asked of you, and loved everything life brought to you.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Thank You, Firestone

yellow Lab guide

Thank You Firestone

For your loyal and steadfast guidework,
The joy you brought into my life,
The laughter and shenanigans,
The companionship, the love, the confidence,
All given unconditionally.

I’ll wrap myself in the warmth of the memories and smile.

-Gail Paulson

Monday, February 13, 2012

McKenna, My Hero

His name is McKenna. I call him McKenna Bear or just Kenna-Bear. He is Ron’s Guide Dog and has been for almost 7-1/2 years. He is a hero because he has been guiding Ron to work throughout those 7-1/2 years, in pouring rain or sunshine, in minus 40 winters and plus 30 summers. When Ron hung around a little too long for his coffee breaks McKenna would put both paws on his lap and quietly remind him that it was time to go back to work.

During those 7-1/2 years McKenna guided Ron on a cruise to Alaska, on a cruise to Mexico, on a cruise through the Panama Canal, on airplanes, trains, buses and metros. He guided him to tune pianos, to the gym, to lawn bowling, to shopping centres, to doctors and dentist appointments and, a little less willingly, to the vet’s office. I could count on one hand how many times McKenna had to take a sick day. He was always raring to go.

Ron retired on September 30th 2011. McKenna will be retiring on March 25th 2012. McKenna has decided that he wants to be a plain ordinary old dog from now on. He will be retiring in Portland Oregon and will be spending his last years with my retired Guide Dog, Gladys, who was once the love of his life. Gladys sent me an e-mail at Christmas time telling me that she has the figure of a 2-year-old and she is anxiously awaiting McKenna’s arrival in Portland. She plans to be there at the airport to meet him.

Thank you, big boy, for being a hero and for always bringing Ron home safely.

Christine Pelletier

Friday, February 10, 2012

Remembering Jojo

On Friday, December 16, my guide dog Jojo was taken by her angels into paradise. With her as my guide, we traveled to many interesting places. She was my guide, companion, and my best friend. I miss her very, very much.

I would like to extend a warm thank you to the puppy raisers who lovingly and diligently prepare puppies to be good citizens. Jojo was my third guide dog. Each one of them was admired about their behavior, intelligence and loving attitude. I dedicate this poem to you:

You were sent to me from heaven
You’re an angel sent from God
You were sent to guide my footsteps
And to fill my heart with love
You’re a guide dog by all measure
You’re the star that lights my way
You lead with such great pleasure
As we travel day by day
One day the angels called you
Far beyond the setting sun
Where you live in peaceful splendor
Your life has just begun

Most Sincerely,

Sally Dodge
Belchertown, MA

Friday, February 3, 2012

Remembering Glisten

To All Her Cool Friends, Wonderful Family and Her Fans,

She asked me to write a message to you all. Yesterday, at approximately 1 p.m., my beautiful girl went up to Heaven to be with her best friend Katela and my Mom. I made the extremely difficult decision to put her to sleep because she was getting uncomfortable in her own skin. She was growing weaker in her back legs and she had been having some accidents in the house. It was a very peaceful transition and I know she is in a better place. I was with her for the whole transition and she thanked me for it.

We had a lot of wonderful years together as a working team. She was the best Guide Dog I could have ever asked for. Many fun trips together, too. I remember fondly our vacation to Minnesota and Wisconsin. And then there were our annual trips to the casinos in Laughlin, Nevada, so that she could take me to her favorite store to get her chocolate covered dog biscuits. She also loved the slot machines. She was a pretty good good-luck charm for me.

I know that she is up in Heaven with all her other four-legged friends and that my Mom is taking care of her feeding her all the apples, bananas and other treats she so justly deserves. I will miss her terribly, but I know she is much happier and no longer in any distress.


Rochelle Haagen

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Remembering Susan Prnjak

Susan with puppy

Susan Prnjak became our Human Resources Director in 2008 after having served on our HR team for more than five years. She was known for her love of dogs, her faith in our mission, her sometimes raucous sense of humor and her affection for the people on our team.

A mountain biking accident on November 12, 2011, left her in a coma. Although she received quality care and was surrounded by her friends, family and co-workers, she never recovered. Last night at 8:22 p.m., Susan passed away.

While we will grieve her death and the loss of her friendship, enthusiasm, wisdom and laughter, we are thankful that she is now at peace. Guide Dogs for the Blind is richer for Susan's having shared a part of her life with us. Her laugh, compassion, honesty, and love for a certain black Lab named Moose will always be with us.

At Guide Dogs for the Blind, January 3 will forever be remembered as Susan Prnjak Day.