K9s for a Cause Guide Dogs for the Blind

first_imgOn the surface, raising puppies for a future as service dogs might seem all cuddles and playtime. This image was challenged after speaking with Bend local, Megan Minkiewicz, senior manager in Partner Marketing for Riverbend Technology by day, and trainer for Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) in her off hours. Having fostered 10 dogs over the last 10 years Minkiewicz explains the process referred to as puppy raising: first the trainer adheres to strict guide lines for structuring the puppy’s daily life, then, after one year, the trainer gives the puppy up so the process of matching the K9 and a person with visual impairment can begin. Once early year fostering is complete, many of the dogs, about half, won’t pass GDB’s behavioral and medical requirements to be deemed a service dog. If the dog does pass the rigorous screening, the foster parents are invited to participate in a graduation ceremony where the trainers present the dog to its service owner. Rooted in WWII, GDB started with the intention of pairing K9s with service men who had become visually impaired while oversees. Since 1947, supported entirely by donations, graduation, training and breeding for GDB has been housed on an 11-acre ranch in San Rafael, California, though, they now have a newer campus in Boring, Oregon. Although the first service dog in the organization was a shepherd, currently, GDB produces puppies from their own purebred stock including Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers and Lab/Golden crosses. When breeding, characteristics like excellent temperament, intelligence and health are highly favored. Bend local Nancy Stevens, visually impaired three time world triathlon champion and proud owner of four guide dogs over the past 26 years, announced in a recent Ruffwear campaign that her K9 companion was her “connection to the world.”She was paired with her current dog at the Boring GDB training facility. Stevens explains that initially she was afraid of dogs, preferring to use a cane, and thinking her navigation skills didn’t require the support of a K9. Later, Stevens recounts, “while I was ski-bumming around Colorado” she asked a lady for assistance attempting to cross a street and found that her helper was also blind and had a guide dog. This women ended up convincing Stevens to give dogs a chance. Today Stevens says she has a totally different understanding of the roll a service dog plays. The dog and human are partners. Stevens says it is her role to know the route and “the dogs job to avoid obstacles.” After completing a trail run at First Street Rapids, watching Stevens interact with her guide dog, Abby, it is obvious the partnership brings something important to both their lives. The independence Stevens says she has gained on trails, no longer having to hold on to another person’s backpack to experience a hike, is one of the greatest advantages in her guide dog partnership. There are measures locals can take to help support service dog trainees and graduates. Puppy raisers and service dog owners alike mentioned the issue of service dog regulations. Because it is illegal to ask a person with a dog wearing a service jacket what service the dog is providing, many lay citizens are now purchasing service attire for their pets on the internet and including the pet in daily situations where pets wouldn’t otherwise be welcome (i.e. restaurant visits, department store trips, airline flights, etc.).This practice by lay individuals makes it increasingly difficult for folks in real need of service animals, like Stevens, and puppy raisers like Minkiewicz, to gain access to facilities not normally welcoming of pets. In addition, no matter how cute, it is critical not to disrupt an on duty service dog. Playing with, petting or feeding while working are prohibited. When asked why she has dedicated so much time to the puppy raising program, Minkiewicz says it “runs in the family” and points to her older sisters’ involvement at the San Rafael campus. After our interview, listening to Minkiewicz’s talk over the phone with another foster parent about the new puppy she will be receiving, Wagner, and her high hopes in graduating Ferdie, her current one year old, it is clear these K9s are more than dogs to her. Perusing her Facebook page, puppy posts to other foster parents and pictures of her on outdoor adventures with her foster dogs are everywhere.I wasn’t surprised to read of Dyson on Minkiewicz’s newsfeed, her most recent successfully paired puppy, now serving an owner in Texas. It would seem puppy raising doesn’t just run in her family, puppies are her family. If you want to help the service dog cause, you can get involved by donating, being a sitter, or fostering a puppy.Check out: www.guidedogs.com 0 on June 10, 2014 LinkedIn Share. Pinterest E-Headlines By Krystal Marie Collins CBN Feature Writercenter_img Twitter Email Google+ K9s for a Cause: Guide Dogs for the Blind Tumblr Facebooklast_img

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *