Without a Guide Dog, it was like being in a canoe against a current, but with a Guide Dog, it was like being in a sailboat gliding smoothly along on my travels.  Everyone agrees, we guide dogs are amazing.

Profession: Guide Dog

Tell me about how you decided to be involved with Guide Dogs for the Blind:

Guide Dogs for the Blind chose me. Actually, I was born to be a guide dog, as were my parents, and their parents before them.  I don’t remember my first 8 weeks, but when I was that age, my 5 littermates and I were separated. Wendy was selected as my family to raise me. Her family has been raising puppies for a long time. The family got started raising guide dog puppies when the young boy in the house wanted to raise a guide dog to fulfill his school’s community service requirement. When he decided to raise a pup, everybody in the family became a part of it. When a boy goes to school, I could go along some days, but not all and that’s when parents get involved. It was such a rewarding experience for me growing up with Wendy and her family. The family went on to continue to raise guide dogs, one after the other. I was their fourth.

This is our first non-human feature. Tell us some fun facts about you.

When I was a tiny puppy, my ears were so long I hadn’t grown into them and I couldn’t eat without getting my ears into dog food. I am an amazing athlete. I can catch a kong over my shoulder, like a football player catching a pass!  And, I can jump over couches, but my family frowned on it. I had the chance to play in the snow in California, and to frolic in the sand at the beach, enjoying the feeling between my toes. I learned a lot.

I have some lessons to pass along to other pups and to people everywhere. Each new day is exciting. There is a whole world out there. Be sure to notice and enjoy the wonders of the world. My most important priorities in life are: meals, being loved, giving love, playtime, sleep time. Belly rubs are nice too. I encourage everyone to not sweat the small stuff: a chewed newspaper is not important. Also, even though my people didn’t like the day I decided that playtime that included grabbing the toilet paper roll and racing thru the house, what someone thinks of as fun, may not apply to everyone.  I love helping my person navigate the world. My person needs me. I love and I am loved. This is the true nature of ‘Giving’.

What’s the training process like to become a Guide Dog?

First, I went to live with my family. It’s was fun but very rigorous. I had to show a lot of focus and  learn to perfect obedience skills. I was socialized around all the places that people go. I learned to weave in and out of a crowd so I practiced by going to the mall or walking up and down steps. One of my first lessons to master was to only go to the bathroom on command. My family insisted on it before they would take me to fun places because they wanted me to know not to go in the middle of Nordstroms on those expensive shoes!  I also needed to know when to be quiet so I practiced sleeping quietly through meetings when my mom took me to work (sometimes I would whimper in my sleep and that cuts the tension in the room).

Of course, I also had lots of fun. I loved going for walks in the woods and playing with leaves. My family got to see adventures with me  – the surprise of the first rain and learning to swim. Then, at 16 months old, I left our house and went to advanced training. In “college,” I was matched with professional trainers who taught me the higher level skills of helping a blind person navigate the world. I learned so much and I loved my trainer!

What is the most rewarding of training moment and why?

Graduation – there’s so much pride. It means I’ve grown from a puppy into a confident dog to be an assistant to my Forever Person. In college, I got to meet my person and then she becames my soul mate, and I, hers.

At my graduation, I was matched with my Darla, my forever Person. She lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma and I went home with her. My raiser family came to my graduation with Darla. It was so wonderful to have all the important people in my life together at the same time. I was so happy, but my training helped me contain myself.  Then, I said goodbye again to my raisers. It’s up to my Darla Forever Person to stay in with my raiser family because I don’t know how to use e-mail, well at least, not yet. I understand it’s hard to type without thumbs.  My raisers and my Darla do talk occasionally. Sometimes I get chew toys in the mail that my raisers send as birthday gifts for me.  I bet my raisers love hearing about how good I’m doing and how much I am helping Darla.

Do you have a philanthropic role model?

When puppies don’t make it through the program they become career changed. They are available to be adopted as pets. Wendy and her family  kept Nikira who almost made it as a guide, but had too many allergies to make the final cut. So when I was a little puppy, I learned a lot from my mentor and big sister, Nikira! She had learned how to wait to eat until told and I learned by watching her.

Guide Dogs are more than helpers. How else do they help their Forever Person?

Besides helping their people with their mobility, guide dogs are conversation starters. Especially if your person can’t visually connect, sometimes it’s hard to meet people. But, not when a guide dog is around!  People are always coming up to us and I become the icebreaker as they ask Darla about me, or comment about how beautiful I am. But, next time you see a guide and person working, make sure you know to ask the person if the guide dog can be petted. Sometimes it’s distracting for me to stop and say hi to everyone we meet. I do have a job to do.  I love it when Darla calls me to go to work. I just quickly put my head in my harness and it’s off into the world with my person.

How far is the reach of the Guide Dogs?

Since 1942, GDB has been the largest Guide Dog school in the country. They have more than 1,400 puppy raising families, nearly 12,500 teams have graduated, and there is approximately 2,100 active guide dog teams in the field. Their website is www.guidedogs.com

What advice do you have for someone who might be considering raising a Guide Dog?

Raising a puppy is an amazingly rewarding opportunity, but it’s a lot of work. Join a local puppy club first. Start the beginning role of babysitting for other dogs when their owners are away to get a feel for what it’s like. Don’t approach it thinking that it’s like getting your own dog. You are raising a dog for somebody else. Attend a graduation to see the leash on life that dogs provide to give a blind person the keys to getting out into the world. As Wendy’s friend and guide dog user, Alice once said to Wendy – without a Guide Dog, it was like being in a canoe against a current, but with a Guide Dog, it was like being in a sailboat gliding smoothly along on my travels.  Everyone agrees, we guide dogs are amazing.

Kasha before recall with name label

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Julia Levy, Founder, has a decade of development experience, including working for a philanthropist, a small nonprofit and now a large nonprofit. She has raised significant dollars for numerous causes, from education to religion and from donors of all ages. Julia holds a Certificate in Fundraising from NYU’s Heyman Center for Philanthropy and an undergraduate degree from Cornell University. Julia has taught fundraising workshops, most recently at Brooklyn Brainery and coached development professionals.

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