Our Trip to New York City

On Friday Fargo and I went to New York City. We've been working with a day camp for blind kids and the trip was to take them to the city as part of my job. It was nice to get paid to work and to go to the city and have fun.

First we went to the Metropoliton Museum of Art. We had a touch tour of art mostly from ancient Egypt. It was neat to get to feel real art from that time period. It was so old. There were statues, and other pieces. We spent an hour and a half doing two tours. The first one was in a classroom where the art was passed around, some original and some replicas. The second tour was walking around and stopping at various statues and also a replica of the inside of a tomb. Fargo did very well resting in the classroom you wouldn't even know he was there. In the main museum people were really pushy and kept slamming into us not watching where they were going. Fargo was good about avoiding most of the pedestrians. I went with the older group of kids, 13 to 15 years old and they seemed really interested in the art.

Next we boarded the bus again and went to the Empire State building. It was very crowded in there and had lots of those lines where you weave in and out until you are dizzy. Fargo did a fantastic job following along. There was a lot of following to stay with our group. In the museum he only got off track once but we didn't get lost. In the Empire State building we took elavators up to the observation deck which took two elavators. I made sure Fargo had enough room and wasn't getting squished and he did fine. On the deck I could tell we were up high but wasn't able to see much. The bottom has a concrete wall so Fargo couldn't look down. I'm not sure what he would have thought. I was pretty much bored and could skip that experience next time as I mostly found it over crowded and frustrating following through lines. I can say I've done it now though.

Next we walked to Time square, about ten blocks I think. I really enjoyed walking. Our group would meet up at each down curb so I didn't have to follow anyone. I could walk freely and feel Fargo move through the crowds. He did a fantastic job of moving through the pedestrians and avoiding the trash on the ground. He navigated the traffic well even the people trying to drive when it was a walk signal. He stopped for all the blended curbs even though it was a strange environment. I was really impressed with his work. When we trained in SanFransisco it wasn't as busy as NYC and I had never been to NYC.

When we got to Time Square the kids wanted to go into the toy store. I sat down outside at a table to people watch or people listen as it were and Fargo did great about the trash on the ground once again. Then it was time to go back to the bus. We had McDonalds because most of the kids wouldn't have appreciated the dining that NYC has to offer. I'd love to go again for a few days and visit and check out the city some more. It's hard walking in a group with a guide dog especially a group of a lot of people going sighted guide. I'd love to go back to the museum and do the rest of the touch tour. Apparently they have a lot of stuff you can touch.

So that was our day in New York. It was about a three and a half hour ride each way on the tour bus. On Wednesday we are going to the aquarium with the six and seven year old kids.

Sarah and Fargo


This information is from the Hadley School for the Blind newsletter

Seminars@Hadley Presents: Dog Guides for Multiply Disabled People

Date: Thursday, April 28

Time: 11:00 AM CDT, 16:00 GMT

Maybe you've considered obtaining a dog guide but have been discouraged because you couldn't find a program designed for a blind multiply disabled person. Do not despair. Several dog guide schools have programs which train dogs specifically for users with multiple disabilities.
To find out if you'd be a good candidate or if one of your consumers/students might benefit, join Seminars@Hadley as Ellin Purcell, Director of Special Needs, Guiding Eyes for the Blind; Michelle Pouliot, Director of Research and Devopment, Guide Dogs for the Blind; and Keith McGregor, Director of Canine Training and Deaf-Blind Services, Leader Dogs for the Blind discuss programs at their schools designed for multiply disabled users.

This 60 minute seminar will be moderated by Billy Brookshire, Hadley Texas Outreach Coordinator. A question and answer session will be included as part of the seminar.

As always, listening to the seminar remains free of charge. There is a US $25 fee associated with completing the seminar for credit (1 CE hour). Professionals interested in receiving continuing education credit will be required to successfully complete a quiz and brief survey before a certificate is issued.

Space in this seminar is limited. Please only register if you know you are available to attend so that others are not closed out. To register for this seminar, follow this link.

The Story of Kim, Tulia, and Gia

I've been blind since birth and have lived in a world dominated by the sense
of vision. For those who are sighted, think about it as you go about your
day. Street signs, restaurant menus, traffic, print materials, etc. etc.
Being blind is normal and natural to me. Moving around my world is natural.
Experiencing it the way I do is natural and normal. And so, from an early
age, I've had to learn to adapt to activities because there was no way I was
letting my blindness stop me from participating fully in life. Adapting
games. Putting rice in a beach ball so I could hear it to play an adapted
game of volley ball. Finding ways to label jars, cans, print materials.
Using all of my senses when out and about. If I get turned around in a big
open space for example, what can I hear? Oh yes the traffic in a certain
direction, the hum of a building air conditioner in the distance. What can I
feel under my feet? What can I smell, touch etc? If there is something I
really want to do, I'll think of a way to do it. So, a few years ago, this
adaptability was the thing that got me through a rough time with a secondary
About five years ago now, I fell on an icy patch and hurt my knee quite
badly. I could hardly walk and I had always walked far and fast.
I learned to use a support cane in my right hand and walk with my guide dog
at my left side.
She adapted beautifully too. Slowing down her pace. Stopping at uneven
terrain. Not minding the cane I held in my other hand. She would stand in
front of me and let me lean my hands on her back to steady myself. She would
find ramps instead of stairs. I marveled at her. People asked how I had
taught her to do those things. I hadn't. She just adapted. Things did not
get better with me. They got worse. I began to have pain in my ankles and
feet. Pain in my hands and wrists. It turned out, I had and have rheumatoid
arthritis. Once I knew what it was, I was very sad and outraged. What, I
already have a disability? Well, yes but that doesn't mean we can't get and
adapt to others. Once I got medical help and some tips and tricks, I started
using my mind to adapt to this too. I haven't had a bad flare up since the
initial one. Still, when I am very tired, stressed, or in certain weather
conditions, my joints can bother me and I can't hike on very uneven terrain
anymore. But, as I started to work my way back to more activity, I had to
think about how to adapt things. One hand and wrist were sore. It was the
hand I held my guide dog's harness in and it was hard to grip. I asked the
occupational therapist if she could bulk up the handle for me. We put some
thick foam around it so it was easier for me to hold. Gia still stopped at
uneven surfaces and Tulia has picked this up too. I need to go down stairs
slowly one step at a time. Both dogs adapted to this. I don't usually use a
support cane anymore but know I could if I need to again. When I first
started using it, one of my friends said, "Oh you don't want to use one of
those canes do you? People will stare at you." And I said, "And you don't
think they stare at me now?" Smile. When I went back to get Gia's successor
(Tulia) I said I needed a calm dog that was easy to handle, adaptable, able
to walk for ages or stay inside, not a hard puller. I got it all. I ride my
stationary bike about an hour per day, walk a lot, am back to swimming (I
was a competitive swimmer once) and do much of what I did before the
arthritis. I do need to pace myself though. I'm grateful to my blindness for
teaching me how to adapt when needed and not to give up.
I am currently the secretary of an alumni chapter at my guide dog school
(guide dogs for the blind)
The chapter is called guide dog handlers all ways and is for graduates who
have additional disabilities besides blindness.
If anyone wants to find out more about this, e-mail me at

Kim Kilpatrick
Dogs are Miracles

A Tip on Grooming the Older Dog



By Dianne B. Phelps with the Flower Power Dogs

In my household, I have two dogs living with me. They are both beautiful
Labrador Retrievers. One is my almost six-year-old working yellow Lab guide
dog, Hibiscus who loves to be brushed and the other is my almost
thirteen-year-old retired black Lab guide dog, Primrose who has always just
sort of tolerated grooming because she had to.

My usual practice is to use a sleeker type brush to get at the deep dead fur
and pull it up and then, finish with a softer brush to smooth out the coat
and brush away the loose fur we have pulled up. Periodically, I also like to
use the furminator to remove deep dead fur. I like to use a spray on coat
conditioner to help keep the dog clean and freshen the fur.

Over the past few months, I noticed that my old dog was having more trouble
with these grooming measures, even developing the beginnings of hot spots as
a result of the sleeker or furminator scratching the skin. As with older
humans, I expect the older dog gets fragile skin which is more subject to
being unintentionally scratched and breaking. In an attempt to solve this
issue for Primrose, I went back to the use of an old grooming tool which
also helps to pull up dead fur known as the ZoomGroom. This grooming tool is
like a brush, but instead of bristles, it has cone-shaped projections on the
side which is placed in contact with the dog's fur and skin. Using it in
circular motions through the dog's coat, massages the skin, bringing
circulation back and also brings up the loose dead fur which then can be
removed with a soft brush as you brush the fur back into position. I like to
spray on my coat conditioner before I start the procedure to help soothe the
skin as I work. This helps freshen the coat and feels nice to the dog.

Though I still may have to use the stiffer brush and Furminator which are
more harsh measures from time to time with heavy shedding, I feel this has
made grooming way more pleasant for Primrose, still keeping her clean and
fresh. Hibiscus also enjoys the softer approach to grooming, and both of my
dogs remain absolutely beautiful.
Tennyson drives the bus

Criticisms that handlers receive about our guide dogs

Criticisms that handlers receive about our guide dogs from family, friends, and even complete strangers varied and are sometimes quite frustrating and rude.

The depths of the bond which we share with our guide dogs are difficult for others to understand unless they have formed that special tie.

These special canine companions fill a multitude of needs and emotions. My guide is my guide, my friend, a being that if taken care of will take care of me.
If the bond is formed and nurtured, we will form an interdependent relationship.

Therefore, when our dog is criticized, we take it personally. After all, why do people think that just because it is a dog that they have the right to make remarks. Our dogs are sort of extensions of us. After all, one would not tell you how fat your child is or that your child smells. Or, take it as a mobility tool, they won’t say that your car is ugly or dirty and stinks when it is wet.

As handlers we get a lot of comments and some examples follow.

When I was working in a large office building many years ago, I had my first guide. There was one woman there who was always telling me that my dog was gaining
weight or losing weight. I was so irritated at her; it was like she was telling me how fat I was getting. Of course, I was nice to her and said that
Probably she was noticing that my dog looked different because of growing a winter coat or shedding for the summer. But, she made me angry because my
dog is an extension of me.

I get that criticism a lot about my guide. People are always saying, "Oh it looks like he thickened up quite a bit since I last saw him." I get offended
by this too. Another one that I get is when my Grandparents see my guide just being a normal dog. He'll be running and playing. Sometimes, he'll run through
the living room. He won't break anything, but she'll comment that he's not supposed to do that. He's a working dog. I just tell her that he's a dog first
and dogs need to play.

I had a professor that would always go on and on about my dog's toenails and how long they were. They really weren't that long. It made me mad because
he didn't really know what he was talking about. I kept thinking that if they were that troubling to him he could have offered to trim them for me.

Another thing is when people complain about wet dog smell. If my dog is wet he will have a wet dog odor. There isn't a lot you can do about it, even if
you try to dry the dog. My dogs are not dirty, so I think people who complain about this just need something to complain about.

I get this one all the time. Living near Chicago, my guide grows a very thick and dense winter coat. Certain people, without fail, comment every single
year that my dog is gaining weight. GRRR! They don’t say anything when she sheds the coat and looks normal a fit and muscular during the warmer months.
Even when her coat is very dense, you can see and feel her waist and feel ribs and her spine if you touch her body lightly.

Another one? A lady stopped one day about 7 years ago and proclaimed that I was a bad handler. I was attempting to relieve my guide and she was circling
at that precise moment. She couldn’t for the life of her understand why I had her circling and didn’t just walk her down the sidewalk like other dogs
and let her choose the “spot” of her own liking. I didn’t even try to explain and she walked off in a huff. My guide would sniff the entire neighborhood
if permitted and wouldn’t find a spot for two or three blocks!

I have actually had people try to grab my wheel chair guide’s harness handle while he is guiding backwards and facing me. As well, I have had some of the same
criticisms from my family as well.

I get some of the craziest intervention from J Q Public working on a college campus. Most people here at least recognize my guide as a working dog but every
once in a while I get people telling me how cruel I’m being for digging things out of her mouth that she picks up off the ground. While relieving on campus
she's tried everything from bottle caps to cigarette puts - none of which I want her eating. Yet people will regularly either tell me how mean I’m being
and that one cigarette won't kill her or try and encourage my guide to bite me!

Apparently, puppy raisers get some a lot of unsolicited comments and we certainly do appreciate how they feel.

A family member had not seen my dogs for a few months, she told me that my dogs looked huge and thatI had been over feeding them. She has raised three pups, and truly, my dogs aren’t over weight.

Another thing that bothers me is when friends and family try to out-guess the dog’s moves around obstacles, thinking the dog should go left when the dog
sees it that we should go right. Family can be very disruptive in these situations, and I have gotten so that I can’t always depend upon what they are
telling me. It is a form of hysteria and fear which is working here, but it is difficult to deal with.

Another is when family wishes you to feed or wants to feed the guide dog junk food from snacks or the table or wants your dog to play outside with their
obnoxious dogs when you can’t see to be protective of your dog. My guide loves to play, but I don’t want her unattended with any other dog, and one of
my family members will insist I let her outside with his dog to play which is fine, but then, he doesn’t keep an eye on things, and I have to constantly remind
him to check on the dogs. That makes me so nervous. It is always like they want to know better when they don’t.

I have had experiences of family members feeding my guide dog pieces of meat and not tell me. Then, when I notice my dog trying to go to this person when this person is in the kitchen, I finally realized what had been happening and confronted the person. They do not understand that this is interfering with the close bond that we need to have as well as possibly causing an intestinal problem which could in turn cause the dog to have an accident. These are the same people who would really be upset if your dog should have an accident in a restaurant or other public place. They do not understand the aspects of having a guide dog.

Dealing with Family members can be interesting.

While I was in the application process to train with my first dog.
I told my extended family members."Do you really need a dog" was the response from uncles and my grandfather.

My response to that. “Do you really need a car?" Then their response was "oh, oh,oh, oh" I was told there was shocked facial expressions.

I'm working on getting the chance to have my family experience what it is like to have vision loss. Maybe then they will "get it."

Oh yes, I have experienced that comment too because my Grandparents really didn't understand how much sight I have lost.

I have actually had people pull
My wheel chair guide dog’s handle from my hand and say that it was twisted without
asking why.

The craziest one I ever got was at a church meeting held at someone's house.
The hostess had her own pet dog. She told me that I shouldn't have brought
my guide dog because her dog wasn't trained to lie down quietly, so would
run around the house, occasionally bothering my dog. When I suggested that
she could put her dog in another room or in the back yard, she had a fit.



By Dianne B. Phelps with Hibiscus and Primrose

Did you know that there are times when the guide dog must disobey its
handler's command? This is a skill known as intelligent disobedience. It is
often described by our instructors in relation to on-coming traffic.

Many years ago, I experienced this for the first time with my second guide
dog, black Lab, Kenny. The incident occurred during training as we walked
through China Town in San Francisco. Kenny and I approached a corner. The
light was green, and I commanded, "Kenny, Forward." Kenny barely moved his
body to step off the curb when a car came zipping around that corner at a
fast clip, causing Kenny to stop himself and me from stepping in front of
that car. My instructor at the time said that he was just about to grab me
because, as he put it, "We can only let these things go just so far." Kenny
had disobeyed my command to move forward which is precisely what he needed
to do to keep us safe.

Though the above incident is the traditional incident we all think of in
terms of this skill with our guide dogs, there are other times when the dog
will disobey in this same way. Recently, on a walk with my eighth working
guide, yellow Lab, Hibiscus, we had taken care of some business at an office
complex in my local area. On leaving the office, I made a mistake in giving
directions to Hibiscus to get us back to the main sidewalk. As a result, we
came to a place where Hibiscus stopped. I couldn't quite determine why she
was stopping. I put my left foot out to check the area, but didn't
understand. So, I stepped back to allow her to select another path out of
the situation, but she brought me back to the same position and stopped.
Since I use a walking cane for balance and because I was rather exasperated
with what our situation was, I just happened to reach out with my cane and
found to my total surprise that there was a step in front of us, and
Hibiscus wasn't allowing me to step forward until I totally understood what
she had shown me and why. She had disobeyed my command and kept us safe.

Needless to say, Hibiscus got lots of petting and praise and hugs for that
totally acceptable disobedience in that she had kept me from tripping and
falling because I didn't understand what she was showing me.

In discussing this with friends, other such examples such as unwillingness
to walk forward with handler into an unexpected hole in the sidewalk,
puddle, or and open elevator excavation Are also sighted as examples when
guide dogs have simply disobeyed their handler in the efforts to keep
everyone safe. So, yes, our guide dogs are encouraged to disobey us at times
when they perceive danger in a situation where our command would cause us
and our dog harm. This also proves just how intelligent, strong and
assertive these dogs are in their work.
Tennyson drives the bus

using a TENS Unit in training

One of our members Toni just came home with her new guide dog and wanted to share how class went for her.

When I went through training this time with my most recent dog, I had been
in a car accident three weeks prior to training. I was not ready to go
through training, and should have realized it. I should have waited until I
was fully recovered.

Instead, I chose to go into training using a TENS unit. I was so new at
using it that I took all of the instructions and manuals with me to GDB.

The first morning I was there I asked the nurse to help me with it since it
had been a few days since I had used it. Even reading the directions, she
said it was not very user friendly, or blind friendly. She offered to have
the nurses help me with it when I had to put it on in the mornings. I told
her it was probably a good idea. I was thinking at the time that if they
watched me do it, I could eventually do it myself without their assistance.

I did use the unit for the first week or so, but was frequently dropping it
(the batteries would fall out, and the adhesive pads on my back would come
off, eventually destroying them). I then would have to get the nurses to
come in and find the batteries for me and make sure the unit still worked.
Luckily it survived every fall. Within a week's time I went through both
sets of adhesive pads that I had. I called the company for replacementthey
said those should have lasted me six weeks! I don't think they had any
comprehension of what I was trying to do while using them. The woman agreed
to send me replacements for free since the insurance would not pay for
replacements that quickly.

I finally realized that I was babying my back and was actually supposed to
be stretching out those muscles. Once I started doing that I did not need
the TENS unit as often anymore.

I did find the hydro-tub to be of great use to me. It really loosened me up
when I would use it in the evening. In the beginning I was afraid I wouldn't
be able to get back out of it, but eventually I decided to try it. I am glad
I did as it got me through the rest of training.

I did not have a good experience with the two week class in Oregon. We did a
dog switch after a week, and I brought my current dog home after one week of
training. They wanted to send me home without a dog, and they offered to
custom train a dog for me. Since my back was starting to feel better after a
week I asked for another chance and got it. Thank Goodness!

I was told that my situation is unique in that I needed the hydro-tub in
order to complete training. SR doesn't currently have one, but they are the
only ones doing the longer class sessions. Oregon, from what I was told, is
not planning on going back to the longer sessions because if they did it
would take away the single rooms and they would have to go back to doubles.
Personally I didn't care if I had a roommate or not.

Would I recommend for someone else to use a TENS unit in class, no. If
someone has chronic pain, I would highly recommend the hydro-tub as it helps
me at least get through training. It is, of course, up to the individual,
and I do not feel GDB should recommend one way or the other, but this is my
take on it.

Toni & Lavish (my black lavilab)

soul Mate


One year ago today, on January 7, 2009, I let my soul mate go, doing one of the most unselfish things of my entire life. This soul mate was not a lover. She was my seventh guide dog, a female black lab named Bianca. I have often referred to her as my “soul mate dog”, and if a dog can be a soul mate, she was definitely the one.

I suppose that most people have heard enough about guide dogs to understand their job, and this is not really about all the practical and typical things about safe mobility. I have answered many questions and remarks in the 35 years I’ve been working with guide dogs, and for a great deal of the public, I’ve found they see the dog as a miraculous entity, bravely “taking care of” the poor blind lady. But working with a guide dog is teamwork, a partnership of trust and mutual confidence unlike anything else or any other kind of relationship. After all, few people spend every moment, 24/7 with any kind of human relationship. A guide dog does help to provide independent safe travel for a blind person, but the dog cannot do it all on her own. The human side of the partnership must provide the consistency, direction and support that will allow the dog to do her job safely and with confidence. As the handler, my role in the partnership to provide the dog’s physical and mental well being, going beyond the obvious things like feeding and vet care. I need to know how to encourage and support the dog in her work. At home I need to provide playtime, grooming and other and whatever else she might need. She can only do her job, because I do mine. I trust her absolutely to keep us safe out in the world, and she trusts me absolutely to provide whatever she needs.
So, I want to tell you a little bit about Bianca. She was an incredible guide dog, doing her job with just about absolute perfection from the first day. She was frighteningly smart. She used that intelligence to be the best guide I had ever had, but she also used it at home to find crazy new ways to get into mischief! She was constantly searching out new things to chew up, new ways to get at something I thought was out of her reach. I learned dog proofing to a degree unimaginable to me before she came into my life. Counter tops were no deterrent when she wanted something. It wasn’t always food. Sometimes, it was a roll of paper towel, a ring box, a place mat. If it looked interesting, she found it. I spent years in constant dread that one day she’d get hold of something dangerous or that she’d swallow something that would get caught in her intestines and require surgery. A brief list of her escapades would include eating a pound of Sees candy soft centers in less than a minute, requiring a rush trip to the vet, shredding a full paper towel roll and somehow managing to eat food off a plate on the counter without ever knocking the plate to the floor! She even learned the weekend routine, figuring out that I took showers later on those mornings, and when she’d hear the shower curtain close and the water start, she’d go on a rampage, grabbing any silly small item and romping through the apartment as fast as she could, sounding more like a cattle stampede than one small labrador. And in the midst of my exasperation, I’d also laugh, because she was just so damn smart! Over the years, I have written quite a few funny stories, based on Bianca’s adventures.

Yet, though several people suggested returning her to Guide dogs for the Blind, the training organization from which she came, I never considered it. She was phenomenal at her job, but more than that, she was the most loving and sweet companion, a source of daily laughter, and complete unconditional love, no matter what I was or what was happening in my life. I remember an occasion about six months after she had come into my life. Someone I loved had done something that hurt me deeply. It was august, unseasonable hot in Washington State, and I was reacting to the hurt by going into a sort of emotional shock, shaking and shivering from cold. I put on flannel pajamas and crawled into my bed, but I was still shivering. Bianca normally slept at the foot of my bed, but on this afternoon, she jumped up and laid against my back, pressing her warm body into mine, as if she understood my need for warmth. I turned over, wrapping my arms around her and began to sob. Every other dog I’ve had was uncomfortable with such displays, but Bianca just pressed herself into me, letting my tears pour into her side. On other occasions, she might burrow her head into me, wagging and wiggling when I was upset. If that didn’t work, she’d rush to find her favorite toy, bringing it to me for a game, as if she was saying, “come on, mom, let’s play tug; it will make you better.” It did make me feel better, because it would make me laugh. Bianca could make me laugh, no matter what was happening in my life.

I learned many lessons about living through the years I spent with my dogs, but with Bianca, I learned them to a deeper degree. I learned to be calm when angry, because raised angry voices or banging and throwing things could frighten my dog. With Bianca, I learned patience. I’ve always been patient, I’ve had to be with my life, but I learned it to a level I’d never experienced. I mean, when you’ve got a dog finding new ways to destroy something in your home, just about every week, it takes a hell of a lot of patience to manage that behavior, without losing your cool and having a total tantrum!

In 2006 I went to work at the guide dog school, and Bianca developed a fear and anxiety problem around all the new dogs. The fear was manageable in the beginning, and I watched her carefully. I learned things about putting the needs of a loved one ahead of my own, by watching Bianca continue to work for me, even as she began to fear the other dogs more. She loved to go out and do her job, didn’t want to sit around and be a homebound pet, loved being able to get out and go everyday, but she hated the dogs, everywhere at the school. Sometimes, a dog might develop a fear of something, and with support they can learn that it’s ok, nothing to fear and can learn t be comfortable with it, much like a child gets over fear of the dark in time. I hoped this would be the case with Bianca and gave her calm reassurance, inside feeling awe of this sweet girl who continued to give me her trust and love, guiding me safely in spite of everything around her. But I watched as the fear grew, wept during an out of town guide dog event, as I watched her work for me, even as I knew her discomfort around 70 something dogs was beyond what I could accept anymore. The outside world couldn’t see it in many ways, but I felt her hunch down when she saw dogs coming toward her, felt her desire to go back instead of forward. I vowed that weekend, that she would never have to be put through it again. I knew the time had come to let her stop, to put her needs before mine now, and I made the decision to let her retire.

I knew Bianca would never be happy being left home everyday, especially if I brought another guide dog into our home. I had kept in close touch with her puppy raisers over the years, making sure we saw them occasionally, having regular email and phone communication. At the event that led me to the retirement decision, I spent almost all our free time with her raiser family, since the event was held in the town where they lived. I asked them if they still wanted Bianca to come home to them when she retired, if they were truly ready to accept her fears and mischief making. They understood and they wanted her. She was always so happy to see them, and I knew she’d have a wonderful retirement life. I applied for a new guide dog, planning to retire Bianca to her family sometime in January or February of 2009.

On January 7, 2009, I learned the final thing I would learn from my six years with Bianca, the lesson of how to truly love enough to let go. I packed up Bianca’s rugs, toys, food bowls and other things that were constants in her life. I handed her leash to the van driver who would be taking her from northern California to Portland. I had wanted to fly her up there myself, but another fear she had was flying, and I had vowed that she would never be subjected to flying again. So, I let her go on the van, with people who were used to driving guide dogs puppies and retired guides to new homes. I never wanted to let Bianca go. I didn’t know how I could get through the days without her there to make me laugh, to exasperate me, to comfort me. I knew my apartment would feel empty, that I would be terribly lonely, and that even though eventually, another dog would come into my life, there would always be a hole in my heart where Bianca should be, a piece of her soul left in mine, a big chunk of mine going with her. But she needed this. She needed to be free from fear, free from worry and responsibility. She needed to be able to relax and be a spoiled pampered pet. I handed her off to the driver, gave her one last hug and kiss and walked away, tears streaming down my face. Maybe, no decision I make in the future will ever be harder, but no decision will ever be as absolutely right for the one I loved so much.

A year later now. Bianca is doing well. I keep in touch with her raiser mom, though not as often as I did when Bianca was with me. I wanted to let them build their bond again, without constantly bombarding them with emails and calls asking about my girl. She is doing well. She has caused mischief in their home, to which my secret gleeful reaction was, that’s my girl! Karen, her raiser mom has signed her up for the read to the dogs program, so Bianca is still serving others, helping children. She is still sharing her blend of joy in everything to her family and friends. I now have Olga, another black lab guide dog, completely different from Bianca, never getting into mischief, never causing a problem, yet still giving me that special brand of unconditional love and making me laugh. Bianca will be nine next month, and I still miss her everyday and hope someday to be able to go to Portland and see her again. But I am thankful for her peace of mind and happiness in her life. I wouldn’t trade one minute I had with her and wouldn’t change my decision to let her go. She was the better half of our team, because she gave me more and taught me more than I could ever have given back or could ever have thanked her for giving. I will always miss her and love her, my sweet Bianca, my goofy, silly, loving, mischief making, precious soul mate dog.

Written in memory of bianca, who came to me on January 18, 2003 and left me for retired life on January 7, 2009.

Helpful Holiday Hints


The busy holiday season brings with it many joys as well as many challenges for us and for our canines. Here are some suggestions to keep your dog happy and safe during this time from all the members of GDHAW.

First of all, remember that your dog has become used to the home routine as it usually is and may not understand that you are busy with extra shopping, cooking, cleaning and visiting to manage. What your dog will understand is that she isn’t getting her usual time and attention from you, but she doesn’t understand why. It is really important to make sure to give the dog in your life some quality time AND REASSURANCE as you work through the holidays.

Our dogs may need special attention and reassurance when Santa Clause AND OTHER VISITORS COME to our homes. While we all love Santa AND THE GUESTS WHO BRING HOLIDAY CHEER to us, sometimes happy exuberant VOICES AND LAUGHTER ARE FRIGHTENING FROM THE view of OUR DOGS. Remember to have your dog in a safe comfortable place for such visits so that she does not forget her manners and give an improper or inappropriate greeting.

If your dog is going with you to visit others during the holiday season, taking the time to introduce your dog to the dogs who live in the house you will visit in a neutral place and on leash will go a long way to making sure that neither dog feels threatened. Then, you as handler can decide whether the dogs will be comfortable spending time together or whether the dogs will be happier separated or in crates where they don’t bother one another and others as the festivities go on. Be sure to pack a bag for your dog with her food. You can measure individual servings of dog food into zip-lock bags making dog food preparation easier while you are away. Put in her dog dish, any medications she takes, a bag of treats if you give those, brush and comb and small bed or rug with which your dog is familiar so she still feels at home. Bringing a favorite toy or two also goes a long way to making our dog feel happy while away.

While beautiful, many of the decorations we bring into the home this time of year can also be dangerous for dogs. Keep all poisonous plants such as poinsettias and mistletoe out of the reach of dogs. Chewing parts of the Christmas tree itself or other greenery and pine cones can be dangerous as well. Bright shiny ornaments are totally fascinating to our dogs, and some dogs will actually try to grab and play with these. Unfortunately, ornaments like this will break and could cause lacerations to the mouth and digestive tract. Dogs may even try to drink the water into which you place the Christmas tree which isn’t good for her. Some people elect to protect the tree and wrapped gifts with an X-pen or some type of fence type barrier which will allow you to still enjoy the beauty of the tree, but keep your dog safe. Placing collars with bells on our dogs or other costume dress may not be tolerated by the family dog, and paying attention to the parts and pieces of such attire such as bells is important to keep our dogs from swallowing them.

Along with the pretty interesting decorations, the holiday season brings with it lots and lots of delicious food which smells wonderful to the dog who may be tempted. Things like a cube of butter, left to come to room temperature on a counter or table, or turkey, particularly the dark meat may be irresistible to the dog. The danger here is that these foods have high fat content which can cause pancreatitis which is a very painful and sometimes fatal illness for the dog. Chocolate is another tempting goody for our dogs because of its wonderful fragrance. However, chocolate kills where dogs are concerned. Chocolate contains ingredients which are highly poisonous to dogs, creating life-threatening or fatal neurological symptoms. Keeping these items out of the dog’s reach and resisting the temptation to share our human treats with our dogs will go along way toward having our dogs with us to bring in the New Year.

Should you wish to find a way to share a safe treat with your dog during the holiday season, one of our members recommends the following recipe for home made dog biscuits.


1 3/4 C. whole wheat flour
1 1/4 C. oatmeal
1 1/2 T. vegetable oil
1 C. warm water
Options: 1/3 cup finely grated cheese or 1/4 cup peanut butter

Mix the dry ingredients together. Then mix the wet ingredients together.
Blend both mixtures until firm dough is achieved. Shape dough into an
oblong roll, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for 1 hour. Preheat oven to 300
degrees F. Lightly grease sheet pan. Slice roll into 1/4-inch slices, place
on sheet pan and bake for about 1 hour or until treats are done, checking
after 45 minutes, and then every 5 minutes thereafter. Let them cool before
giving to your best friend. ***

A final caution regarding our dogs and ingestible material is that antifreeze which drips out of our cars has a very sweet taste to dogs. If not watched, they will try to lick up this stuff and it is highly toxic to kidneys and liver. The best approach with all of these concerns is to stay alert and aware of your dog and her needs and know what she is doing. If you can’t watch her closely, use a crate or place her in a room where she can be safe. Should your dog get into trouble having ingested anything which is harmful, call and seek the advice of your veterinarian immediately.

We, the members of GDHAW, want to wish you, our readers, and your family including the canine members of that family a most joyful holiday season and happiest of new years and hope you will continue to visit us from time to time.

Ideas submitted by GDHAW members and compiled by Dianne

Thank you!

Thank you for supporting us by reading our stories, commenting or donating to Guide Dogs for the Blind. If this is your first visit, and you wish to donate, please go ahead and do so, as we will have the donation page available until the end of November. We hope you enjoyed reading our stories!

All our donations are from generous contributors like you. GDB does not receive government funding at all.

On behalf of GDHAW chapter executive and GDHAW members, we thank you for supporting us today.

Blog posting contributors:
imafarmgirl (Sarah with Fargo; President)
creature_girl08 (MaryBeth with Tennyson and retired guide Sunset; vice-president)
jenandbronze (Jen and Nixon and retired guide Bronze; membership coordinator)