Summer 2020 Newsletter – Text Version
Guiding Paws News, Guide Dogs of the Desert – Spring 2020
Message from the Executive Director
Greetings from Guide Dogs of the Desert
Well, this is certainly an interesting time for all of us! I have been working in the nonprofit arena for over 20 years. I’ve had to lead agencies through hurricanes (in Florida), 9-11 and the big crash in 2008. We all thought those were tough times but this one is resetting the bar for what we consider difficult. These REALLY challenging times, for all of us.
Because we care for live animals we could not close. We have had to make many adjustments to how we work in order to protect the health and safety of our employees. Due to the financial slowdown (let’s face it, fundraising is not going well for any of us) we have done what we can to eliminate all but the barest of essential expenditures. But there is only so much we can do before we jeopardize the health and safety of our dogs and puppies. As you know, we would NEVER do anything that would negatively impact our dogs and puppies.
So, like everyone else, we created a “new normal” and are making the best of it. We are fortunate because we have two very important things to help carry us through difficult times like these:
First, our dogs and puppies make every day better for all of us.
Second, and just as important, we also have all of you – our supporters, who make our work possible. I have to say, our team of supporters “Team GDD” have been awesome.
Despite the craziness going on in the world you are still there and still doing what you can to help us remain true to our mission.
All of us will be forever grateful for how you have rallied around us to help us continue to realize the profound impact a Guide Dog has for a blind or visually impaired client.
The reality is, it all begins with you.
Ben Schirmer, Executive Director
Guide Dogs of the Desert Update:
Now for Some Good News!
As you have hopefully seen on Facebook or maybe Instagram – we have puppies!! Our breeding program was brought back to our campus at the end of 2018, so we now have the privilege of being part of the puppy process. We had Patty, a pregnant poodle, join us on campus in early March. Patty was joined shortly after by Alexa, a pregnant lab. They checked into our maternity suite, which happens to be, temporarily, our converted conference room in our Administration building.
Patty had nine poodle pups on April 4th, and Alexa gave birth to two lab pups a week later, on April 12th. So, we now have 11 incredible little ones with us on campus. All the puppies, as well as their mommas, are doing exceptionally well. Their eyes are open, their little tiny ears are up, and they are even uo and walking around.
It is the most incredible process to watch. All of us at GDD are aware of what a privilege and honor it is to be part of this process. So now we all, including you, get to follow these pups on their journey to become a guide dog.
We look forward to sharing the journey with you!
As you can imagine, using a converted conference room as our nursery is less than ideal. But, thanks to our generous donors, we are in the process of renovating what is currently a carport into a self-contained nursery. It has taken some time to get the architectural drawings done, but they have been submitted to the County so we can obtain our building permit. The COVID pandemic has undoubtedly slowed down pretty much everything, but I am happy to report that our permit request is moving along. We have several approvals and are just waiting for one last approval. This means that we should be able to break ground and get the construction started soon!
The nursery will give us a safe, secure, and self-contained space for our pregnant moms to have their puppies. Just like any newborn, they have no immune system when they are first born, so it is critical that we have a space free from germs or disease while they grow and build their immune systems.
We really need to thank our generous donors for their support and patience with this project. They dared us to dream that this was possible and have supported us along the way. It means a lot to us to have all your support and encouragement.
FROM THE EYES OF A TRAINER by Michal Anna Padilla
As I walk by Courtney’s office, I stick my head in and smile as Maisy, one of our youngest puppies, slinks down into a crouch. Her hind end is in the air as her tail sticks straight up. She has a toy in her sights, and after a slight wiggle, she leaps into the air, landing with two feet on the target, sending it skittering to the other end of her playpen.
Smiling, I return to my office, where today’s officemate is a small chocolate lab, Loki. She looks up as I walk in, but soon returns her head on her paws with a contented sigh. Most of the time, Loki is in constant motion. But right now, we are working on settling in the office, and after a fun play session followed by some guide work practice, Loki is all too eager to enjoy a mid-morning nap.
Looking at these two girls, on the surface, they don’t look any different from your average house pet. But each of them has been bred and raised for a higher purpose. By the time they are three years old, they will be making life and death decisions regularly for an individual who has little or no sight.
Born to Serve
The majority of Guide Dogs of the Desert puppies are bred with our own lines or with a handful of carefully vetted breeders. Every dog that makes our program must not only have the temperament suitable to work for a person with a disability, but must also pass an extensive series of medical tests including genetic, orthopedic, cardiac and optometric.
Very young puppies receive Early Neurological Stimulation which provides them with coping mechanisms, increases their confidence and prepares them for a lifetime of learning. Volunteer raisers are then carefully selected for the best fit between puppy and home.
Preparing the Prodigies
At 8 weeks of age, the puppies go home with volunteer Puppy Raisers. Raisers spend the next year and a half teaching these puppies basic house manners, obedience and expose them to various environments.
Guide Dogs of the Desert has puppies living all over Southern California and Arizona in a variety of homes. They accompany these volunteers to the store, doctor’s offices, restaurants, school and work. All this time, the puppy is exposed to the variety of sights and sounds that it will one day need to work in.
When puppies are between the ages of 18 months and 2 years old, they now have the physical and mental ability to start their formal Guidework Training. Puppy raisers bring them to “College” with the sadness of saying goodbye but also the excitement of seeing all their hard work come to fruition.
Training to be a guide dog can take up to 8 months working with a qualified instructor. The dogs learn how to lead a person down the street, avoiding obstacles and stopping to show them tripping hazards, such as curbs or stairs. When the person determines it is safe to cross a street, the dog vigilantly watches the intersection for cars that may have run a red light. The dogs are taught how to find a variety of points of interest such as elevators, doors and open seats.
The Perfect Match
Throughout training the instructors make note of each dog’s personality, areas that they excel and unique characteristics that make them who they are. With this knowledge, instructors review applicants waiting to receive a dog from our school. When the right match is found, the visually impaired person is scheduled for a month-long class to train with their new partner.
Classes are held at our desert campus for 28 days. Students live in a dorm so they can receive instruction in all aspects of having a guide dog: caring for and working with their new partner. The skills they learn and the bonding that takes place during this time set them up to be a successful working team when they return home.
At the conclusion of the training, a graduation ceremony celebrates the team and all the people who work to make these partnerships happen. People come from all over the United States to receive a custom-trained guide dog at no cost. They then return home to resume their daily lives of work, family and leisure with a new partner by their side, guiding their way.
Maisy is in the beginning stages of learning about the world around her. Loki is still being trained to navigate this world. In a not so very far future, they will each help someone move confidently through their life with the grace and freedom that having a guide dog can bring.
THE HEART OF AN APPRENTICE by Kelsi McCausland
I had the pleasure of being Harmon’s primary instructor. When I first met him, I was in the early stages of my apprenticeship. I certainly have no business making judgments about size, but I’ve seen purses that were bigger than this dog. I observed as my first set of training wheels pranced around the yard. For the first time, I called him over to me. His voluminous hair cascaded a rich shadow in my direction, as he approached. It was such a proud moment and short-lived, as he blew past me at about 40 knots.
We were 14 seconds into our partnership, and I was certain he didn’t like me. So, I chose to study him, like a wildlife biologist, and find out what he likes. In the wilds of the play yard, I discovered he really likes toys. So, it started with a game. I spent some extra time in the yard playing with him one on one, and after getting to know one another, we began to dive into formal training.
Now Harmon had the unique opportunity to be taught by someone who had never done this before. I put a harness on this dog, and we both exchanged looks of concern. Pretty soon, we were both side by the side, staring straight ahead into whatever fresh disaster awaited us. I was taught how to show the dog with the leash how to move forward, and then we took our first steps together. It was like witnessing a baby walking for the first time. I’m telling the dog to go forward, and my supervisor is telling me to get back into the following position. This makes the dog stop, but I want him to keep going. It only got more complicated with turns.
It was the most bizarre choreography I had ever done. Our first weeks together were “ruff.” We were both learning a new language and had to use that language to communicate with each other. It made it hard to see the final outcome.
It didn’t happen instantly, but now we were starting to become a team. Even though we were both still learning, we began to read one another better. We looked forward to disasters and got excited about the challenges. I could really see the intelligence in this dog, and he began picking up on my teaching very quickly. Tasks became easier, and before we knew it, we were walking around like professionals. We moved so elegantly together, and we were turning into a solid unit of fierce determination.
All that style and grace were quickly destroyed with one simple object that was handed to me at our preliminary testing. A blindfold. This 1-inch piece of foam was going to determine whether or not we were functional enough to continue with our training. We did pretty well during our first blindfold, all the struggle, and frustration, in the beginning, paid off.
As we continued training, we got the opportunity to do many more blindfolds, and It’s certainly an interesting experience. At one point, we got a little lost with some intersecting sidewalks, and Harmon stopped me from moving. We were looking for a door to enter a building, and when I reached out to see why we stopped, I found an object. It took me a while to figure out what it was until I found the handle. It was the handle of a car. I got a little excited when I figured out what it was, but it wasn’t what I wanted. So, we continued on. I later found out that the owner of the vehicle was standing there waiting to get into her car that I was gently caressing.
We had the opportunity to practice under blindfold right before our final testing. We approached a challenging right turn that I knew very well and was prepared for. It required us to make a 180 degree turn and finish by coming back to the left. We made our right, and I knew we had overshot the left portion to complete the turn. I was determined not to ask my spotter for help. So, I kept issuing commands to my dog, and we kept blowing past the curb we wanted. At one point, we were heading in the opposite direction.
We stopped, and I listened to the traffic. It was heavier than I remembered, which indicated to me that we were traveling along the busier road and had made a full left turn. We turned around and ended up in a parking lot. I listened to the traffic again. It was behind me. We broke it down into so many small steps and inched our way back to the curb we were initially trying to find. It probably took us 10 minutes to make a right turn, but I was so proud. We never used our lifeline. It was just the dog and me.
This leads us up to the final blindfold. It was a relatively new route for both of us, and it went very well. I looked down at this spectacular dog and realized there wasn’t anything more I could teach him. Harmon was the very first dog that I trained from start to finish, and I gave him the biggest hug on Dog Day. I was so excited for him and Betty. The rush of emotion got the better of me as I silently watched them meet for the first time.
I had the pleasure of seeing them take their first steps together in class and then following them on one of their final routes. I followed the team into a crosswalk where a distracted driver came speeding up to the intersection. She hit her breaks and stopped the car, but the one who reacted the quickest was Harmon. He stopped before the car did. He backed Betty up away from the car and slowly pulled her to the curb on the other side. Betty and Harmon were so calm, and I almost did something involuntary in my pants.
Being able to see firsthand what a guide dog can do for someone was both frightening and inspiring. Just knowing that I was a small part of that, is something that words can’t begin to express.
CONGRATULATIONS TO OUR Class of February 2020:
Betty & Harmon “I give thanks to God for the opportunity to come train at GDD. My experience here has been great! Harmon loves to work, and also likes to play. The trainers did an excellent job of teaching me how to work with Harmon with lots of patience. Along with hard work, we also had fun and laughter. I have the best dog I could ever have!” Harmon was sponsored by Roger J. and Margaret B. Harmon. He was puppy raised by Cindy Lyon.
Sharon and Julie “Guide Dogs of the Desert has given me the confidence and independence to have the life I want to live. Julie is awesome and the perfect dog for me. The staff helped me in gaining freedom and the satisfaction of traveling with my guide dog.” Julie was sponsored by Sharyn Brackett. She was puppy raised by Karen Brodi.
Jeff and Snoop “The tremendous support I’ve felt from both GDD staff and my fellow students has allowed me to take on the rigorous, challenging, yet rewarding tasks of learning how to both care for and manage my guide dog, Snoop.” Snoop was sponsored by the West Covina Lions Club. He was puppy raised by Wende Owens.
Save the Date: Dog Day Afternoon, November 17, 2020. We will be honoring every ticket purchased for our Dog Day Afternoon event from the beginning of the year. For more information visit www.gddca.org
More Ways to Help
Visit our Amazon Wish List! Now you can purchase items directly from GDD. In addition to AmazonSmile, we now have a wish list that allows you to purchase items for GDD when they are needed. The list will be updated periodically with new items that will help future guide dogs. Visit: tinyurl.com/GDDwish
Soda Pup. Get 10% off your purchase and donate 10% to GDD with trainer recommended dog toys and treats at www.sodapup.com with coupon code-GDD2020
New Shirts for Sale! “These Paws have Power – Guide Dogs of the Desert, Palm Springs, CA” These tee-shirts have a new design by the training department’s own apprentice, Kelsey McCausland. They feature two dogs (a poodle and a lab) facing each other under a palm tree and wind turbine. For more information visit: www.gddca.org