Other common pieces of equipment for guide dog teams are the leash (of course), the collar (different collars are used but many from GDB use martingale collars), and many guide dog teams often use gentle leaders as well. (No, they aren’t muzzles). A martingale collar is where it has a few chain links (not prongs), so that if you need to do a correction, you can, but the rest of the collar is fabric so it is comfortable for the dog. A gentle leader is a piece that goes across the dog’s nose and behind their neck and is very useful to a blind handler to feeling where the dog’s head is moving so that they can make necessary corrections if needed, but also many guide dogs are on their “tip top behavior” when wearing this.
A few months ago, I started to notice a few different things about Makiko’s equipment:
1) It was looking pretty beat up/used. I noticed it needed to be cleaned and spruced up a little bit. Why does this matter? Makiko and I are constantly in many different professional environments for work, but every single guide dog team is also an ambassador for their school and also the guide dog community as a whole. Makiko is an extension of me. I care about my appearance and care about hers, but I also care about the equipment’s appearance.
2) I also have been noticing over the past year or so that there has been more of a gap between Makiko’s body and the harness. At a recent guide dog event, I heard a few other handlers say that they have also had this problem.
3) Makiko’s collar was getting pretty worn out and pretty quickly after adjusting it to be tighter, it would go back to being loose. So, our field rep also sent us a new martingale collar.
So here is what I decided to do about it:
My boyfriend and I stopped at Home Depot when we were out running errands. We got “Leather Cleaner and Conditioner.” This stuff did WONDERS. We had purchased some leather polisher a few months ago but read on “Guide Dog Handlers Network,” a group I admin on Facebook, that really it should be washed first with something that works well with leather. It took me all of 15 minutes with this leather cleaner and a shop towel to really get her harness looking better. (Why didn’t I do this a few years ago?)
When our field rep, Michelle, was out a few months ago, I showed her the concern I had with the gap in the harness. We discussed a few different reasons it could be there, such as the leather just slightly changing shape. She suggested that she send us a body piece that is one size smaller and see how it fits. She sent this to us awhile ago but we hadn’t gotten around to trying it until just now. Since we were working on her equipment, we figured that it would be a good time to do it. So far, we are pleased. Why does this gap matter? Most importantly, having less of a gap can increase the amount of feedback the guide dog handler can get from the harness. It could also potentially make her a little more comfortable (although I don’t think she was really uncomfortable at all in the first place).
She also gave us a new martingale collar to try out. I didn’t take a picture of it because it looks exactly the same as the old one but if you’d like to see it, let me know.
So now we will put it all to the test tomorrow as we go to work and about our day and see how she seems to feel it in and how it feels to me as we work. I’ll bring the other piece along just in case something does go wrong or bothers her.
Did you know that a full harness can cost as much as $500 for this specific type from GDB? That’s pretty wild, huh? Thanks to the generous donations of donors to GDB, we don’t have to pay when we have equipment problems like this. If we lose it once, we do get it replaced at no charge to us but if we lose it again, we do have to pay for it. I know weird things happen, but to me it’d be pretty hard to lose something like this. 🙂
GDB is so incredible in supporting the guide dog team throughout the whole process and I have been nothing but pleased. They are very innovative and receptive and want to find what makes the most sense and works the best for each guide dog team. They also recognize that what works best and is necessary might change over time and they are totally cool with working through each team as they go through any changes.
A picture shortly before graduation with Jaymin Nowland, our amazing trainer, myself, and Makiko in front of the fireplace in the lounge
Four years and two weeks ago today, I laid my eyes upon you with your gorgeous brown eyes and black fur. We went through very rigorous training and exactly four years ago today, we walked across that stage at Guide Dogs for the Blind and officially became a team. Little did I know at that point just how much you would change my life. You’ve wagged, cuddled, and kissed your way into the hearts of so many people.
Makiko, you’ve enabled me to do what I love to do. My job as a transition counselor is incredibly busy and we travel A LOT. I don’t think I would have been able to keep doing this position, or I don’t know that i would have even applied to it, without you sweet girl. You give me the confidence to be okay with going new places independently and venture into the high schools which look like colleges. This confidence can be seen in many areas of my life – I am spending less time at home and more time out and about, socializing, volunteering, participating in community events, and being me.
I may be a bit biased but I think you are one of the best looking guide dogs out there and your sweet face just melts everybody’s heart. People want to come up to me and ask me about you and of course, I love to tell everybody about how amazing and beautiful you are! This has led to many new friendships and connections… relationships I know I wouldn’t have made as a cane user. You have opened many doors for me.
Because you have been such an life-changing guide dog, I have wanted to continue to give back to Guide Dogs for the Blind and become more and more involved in this selfless community. Because of you, I have the opportunity to travel and meet people, sharing about Guide Dogs for the Blind. I have the opportunity to help raise funds and introduce the guide dog lifestyle to many other individuals with visual impairments. My public speaking skills are steadily improving and I’m becoming more confident in this area, an area that I have struggled in for many years. I have co-founded and become the Co-President of “The Eyes of Texas”, the Texas Alumni Chapter for Guide Dogs for the Blind, where I have had the opportunity to meet so many incredible graduates with guide dogs across the state. I founded “Guide Dog Handlers Network,” a Facebook social support group for guide dog handlers from all over the world and we have had the opportunity to be there for each other and brighten each other’s lives. Because of you, I have a new amazing community that I have the honor of being a part of.
Because of you, my gorgeous girl, my wanderlust is back in full swing and I want to travel with you by my side because it is SO much fun and I feel totally free when traveling with you.
I am much safer with you by my side, leading the way with me holding onto that harness handle. I’ve had many surgeries and casts through the years due to falls or accidents due to my vision loss. One of the worst ones was when I didn’t see a particularly icy patch in Tulsa when I was going to school there and fell on it, unable to get up. One torn meniscus surgery and a lot of therapy later, I am doing just fine. I am proud to say that while working you, I have not had one vision related accident. That is HUGE. You’re a star at “intelligent disobedience.” If I tell you to go and you think it’s not safe, you will do everything in your power to tell me, “No, Mom.. really.. NO,” and will show me the safer route. You can be quite stubborn and I wouldn’t change that for anything.
You’ve helped me become much more physically fit and active. 5 years ago, I would have never dreamed about wanting to exercise. However now it’s a definite goal and I WILL make it happen. Through walking at your speedy pace, you have made me a much faster walker, even when you’re not guiding me. You understand my busy lifestyle and help me navigate crowds like a ninja. Sometimes, my sighted friends even let you just lead the way because you’re just that brilliant at what you do.
I continue to lose my vision. Just when I think I’ve lost a lot and it will stabilize, BAM.. I lose more vision. You, smart girl, are able to adapt to my vision loss more than the closet humans in my life can. You learn what Mama can’t see anymore or what she’s likely to miss, that she may have been just fine with 6 months ago. Not all guide dogs can adapt that well.
They say dogs are a man’s best friend, but you, sweet Makiko, are much more than that. When I’m having a particularly rough day or struggling with depressive symptoms, you are right there to stick your head in my lap and ask for permission to come cuddle, or lay right beside me. You make me keep going as I will never let your exercise, food, water, and relieving needs go unmet.
As we embark upon year five, sweet girl, I promise to show you daily how much I love you and am grateful for you as we have the time of our lives on this journey called “life.” Thank you for giving me my life back, after vision loss. I wouldn’t be where I am today without you.
The 60 Feet 6 Foundation is an amazing foundation established by Major League pitcher, Derek Holland. (He formerly played for the Texas Rangers). The foundation originally raised funds to fight pediatric cancer but has now partnered with Guide Dogs for the Blind. The Lone Star Guide Dog Raisers (LSGDR) Dallas Club has a puppy in training, Dutch, raised by Henry Roberts (and family). “The Dutch Oven” is Derek’s nickname and he sponsored this puppy and therefore it was named after him.
Every year, this Foundation hosts a celebrity golf tournament. Henry, Dutch, and other Guide Dogs for The Blind puppies in training talked to all of the golfers as they made their way through the course and shared the tremendous impact that these dogs have on people’s lives who have visual impairments and why fundraising is so important.
I had the honor of being asked to speak at the tournament. I was given a very short time frame and I wanted to really try and share the impact a guide dog has made on my life. I got a little nervous at one point, but I was overall pretty happy with it. I also had the pleasure of getting to know Derek Holland. He is such a wonderful guy with a huge heart.
(There were some other famous people there too including Ranger closer Sam Dyson, former Ranger Michael Young and former NBA dunk champion Spud Webb)
Here is the speech.. the person recording cut off the first part of my introduction but here is the bulk of the speech.
In August, we went to Florida for work – a Project SEARCH conference.
In September, we moved Mom to Colorado.
In November, we went to visit Mom for Thanksgiving in Colorado.
In December, we went to Houston for a work conference and are now in Colorado visiting Mom and family for the holidays!
Traveling can be tough for anyone, but especially if you have a disability. I have always loved traveling. It was a lot more frustrating though when I was a cane user, especially when flying alone, because I had to depend on one of the airlines’ escorts to help me to and from my gate. Most of them are incredibly slow to get there, aren’t in any rush, and usually are only trained to help people in wheelchairs, not those of us who don’t need a wheelchair. When I first got Makiko, I still waited for one of these escorts but now, we just wing it! Together we know the way through the DFW airport, Dallas Love Field Airport, and Denver airport and don’t need any sort of assistance. In airports we aren’t familiar with, I usually just ask for directions at the check in counter or from somebody when we get off the plane and then we go. It’s so much more freeing and remarkably less frustrating.
It’s always gives me a chuckle to see how TSA reacts to us. Almost always we have to tell them how we do it. (Makes me so glad for the practice we had at a real airport with real TSA agents during guide dog training) A few weeks ago, they kept trying to wave me through and then became frustrated when I didn’t notice. I finally was able to sense something and got it sorted out. This time they had four TSA agents gathered in a circle on the other side of the metal detector whispering. I noticed a TSA agent go right in front of me and asked him if I could assist.. he said they were trying to figure out if the alarm would go off. I said it would with her and once again explained how I put her in a sit stay, extend the leash, walk through, call her through, they pat her down, swan my hands, and then we are on the way. I wrote them and encouraged them to do a little more training and even offered to provide it.. for free! I haven’t heard back yet though. 🙂
Makiko also loves traveling. Here is a video I took shortly after we got off the plane a few weeks ago. You can see her take me all the way to the elevator to take down to baggage claim.
Happy International Guide Dog Day. This is a very special day for guide dog handlers and their guides across the United States. We honor and cherish our guide dogs each and every day but today is a very special day to honor them. I would like to share some Guide Dog 101 information with you in honor of today. This post is intended for people who do not have lot of knowledge about guide dogs but also those who are very active in the guide dog/blind community.
Fact of the Day: Only about 2% of people with visual impairments travel with a guide dog. To me this is WILD. I do understand people’s reasoning for NOT wanting a guide dog, such as the additional responsibility, attention, and costs associated with a guide dog, but to me the pros so outweigh the cons. I also understand that there are many very confident cane travelers out there. While I CAN use a cane if I needed to and would be able to safely navigate my environment, it is just NOT my cup of tea. There are many reasons for this but I believe the biggest two are: 1) I like that my dog moves me AROUND obstacles, as opposed to the cane just finds them and 2) Having a guide dog breaks a lot of the social awkwardness that society tends to have when greeting or socializing with a blind person. Choosing the guide dog lifestyle is a huge decision but it is one that i hope more and more blind people choose.
Guide dogs mean so much to their handlers: independence, freedom, safe travel, confidence, ability to travel gracefully, peace, partnership, companionship, ability to “live more, our best friends, and our family. We establish such a deep connection and bond with our guide dog, it’s indescribable.
Guide dogs have many great skills – helping their handler travel in a straight line from point A to point B (something I had some trouble with when using a cane), stopping for all changes in elevation, such as stairs and curbs, stopping for overhead obstacles, such as tree limbs, and avoiding obstacles in their path. They are also taught to be “intelligently disobedient.” What does that mean? If the handler gives the dog a command and the dog determines that it is unsafe to obey that command, the dog will disobey and not listen. Many times the dog will make another decision to replace that command but still accomplish the same goal. Guide dogs also of course have to have impeccable manners because they go practically everywhere with us. I can’t tell you how much it makes me smile when others tell me that they didn’t realize a guide dog was in the room or under my feet/table because she is so well behaved and quiet. This is how it should be.
Guide dogs work hard but also play hard. To keep up the bond and help the dog continue to love their lifestyle, guide dog handlers give their dogs lots of opportunity to play and just be a DOG (a well behaved dog though) when that harness comes off.
Most guide dogs work for around 8-10 years. They are usually 1.5 years old to 2 years old when they graduate guide dog school so around 10-12 years old, most guide dogs retire. At Guide Dogs for The Blind, the handler has the option of keeping the retired guide when he/she retires even if they are getting a new guide, giving the retired guide to a family member or close friend, giving the guide back to his/her puppy raiser, adopting him/her out, or giving her back to Guide Dogs for The Blind as they have a long waiting list of people that love to adopt retired guides because they are so well behaved. If I don’t keep Makiko, I plan to give her to my Mom. Makiko and my Mom have a very special bond (yet the bond doesn’t interfere with our work together). My sister has claimed my second retired guide! 🙂
Guide dogs help their handlers with travel, but there is a huge emotional aspect to them as well. The companionship and loyalty of a guide dog is so strong. When I have rough days, Makiko, loving on her, and just sitting with her is one of my biggest coping strategies. She can tell when I or someone I love isn’t feeling well or happy and comes to give us LOTS of attention. (Beware of all the kisses!) As many of you know, I graduated with Makiko 2 months after my father passed away so Makiko has been an extra level of companionship and comfort for me through the grieving process.
In addition to helping our emotional well-being through their companionship, when you get a guide dog you have an instant support system and community. The sense of community with guide dog handlers has been one of my many favorite parts of becoming a guide dog handler. Guide Dogs for The Blind is one of the only guide dog schools that has an Alumni Association and the bonds that handlers form because of this is so powerful. However, guide dog handlers from across the world also come together on social media and the internet and have powerful discussions about guide dogs and issues surrounding our community. It is an honor to be a part of. I’m working with another guide dog handler from Houston, Vince Morvillo, to start a Guide Dogs for the Blind Alumni Chapter in Texas. We should be official in June! As I’ve mentioned, the community of guide dog handlers is very strong and very therapeutic. It only makes sense that the GREAT state of Texas has an Alumni Chapter.. did you know that according to NFB (National Federation of the Blind) Texas is one of the largest states of people with visual impairments?
It also only makes sense that we have one of the GREATEST groups of puppy raisers, Lone Star Guide Dog Raisers (LSGDR), that is growing exponentially!!!!! I know I’ve said it a thousand times before but we really wouldn’t have the guide dogs that we do without such devoted puppy raisers and Guide Dogs for The Blind staff that supervise and help train these puppy raisers. These puppy raisers are also great advocates for the service dog and blind communities!
Below is additional information about guide dogs that I would like to share with you:
Training: The different schools and handlers have many different ways of training or reinforcing their dog’s behavior, such as using food rewards, positive reinforcement, collar corrections, clicker training, and a Gentle Leader/headcollar. Please note that guide dog handlers are trained in the proper way to reward their dog and positively reinforce good behavior when the dog is working well and behaving properly, but also how to safely and effectively correct the dog when they are not. Doing a collar correction right will not hurt the dog but will get the message across. The same applies with a Gentle Leader/head harness. Many think that these are muzzles, which they are not. I put one on Makiko this last weekend when we were around over a hundred dogs and it naturally just keeps her attention on me a little more but also gives me a little more control. She can still eat, drink, open her mouth, etc., with one on.
(I would like to think that no guide dog handler is abusing their dog with corrections but of course if you suspect abuse or neglect, please look on their harness as there is usually identifying information about what school the guide is from and call the school to let them help take care of it.)
Feeding and Relieving: Guide dogs are on a specific feeding and relieving schedule to help make their handler’s day go smoothly and so that the guide dog doesn’t need to go to the bathroom during an important meeting or event. Most guide dogs are fed and given water at specific times each day, and of course given additional water as needed. Because of this routine, they have specific relieving habits that make it pretty easy on the handler to schedule into their day. This is another reason why it is important for others to not give food or treats to a guide dog because it will interfere with this.
Pedestrian Travel: Because guide dog handlers can’t drive, they often travel extensively on foot. With the help of their guide dog, they can safely lighted intersections and streets. It is important that the guide dog pay VERY close attention when doing this so that they can pull their handler out of the way if needed. Please remember that guide dogs and their handlers have right of way ALWAYS.
Sighted Guide: There are some situations when handlers may choose not to work their guide and heel their dog beside them. If this is the case, the handler will ask to stand on the person’s left side and take their arm. The handler will take the arm of the sighted person. They will usually grab right above the elbow. Please don’t try and drag a blind person with or without a guide dog. That’s not fun for anyone. 🙂 Please also do NOT grab the harness handle or leash from the blind handler. This will totally confuse the dog and the handler and could potentially cause a disastrous situation. Using your voice is much more helpful to help give them appropriate directions.
Access: Guide dogs are required access at public accommodations by the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 36.302(c). Public accommodations are required to modify their policies, practices, and procedures to permit people who are blind or disabled to be accompanied by working dogs anywhere. There are some places that aren’t open to the general public, such as operating rooms and kitchen, that guide dogs aren’t required to have access to, for health and sanitation purposes. A good way that somebody taught me to remember it, is if I’m allowed to walk in there with my tennis shoes on or other regular shoes on, my guide is allowed to walk in there. For example, Makiko wouldn’t be able to walk into an operating room because it is a sterile environment and it is not open to the general public.
If the service dog gets out of control and is having relieving problems inside the establishment, growling, barking excessively, etc., the owner or management has the right to ask the dog/handler to leave the facility as it poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others. The handler is required to be permitted back into the establishment without the service dog on the premises if this situation occurs.
Hotels and other places that allow people to stay their for a fee are not allowed to charge a pet/animal deposit or surcharge for the guide dog, as they aren’t a pet after all. (This is when it helps to think of them as medical equipment, not an animal). However, if the guide dog causes damage to the hotel room or furniture, the hotel IS allowed to charge the handler for the cost of repair if it is their practice to charge non-disabled people if they damage the property as well.
Fair Housing Act (FHA): Landlords are required to make exceptions to their “no pets policy” to allow a service dog handler to have their service dog live with them. This is called a “reasonable accommodation.” (Under the Fair Housing Act, they define service dogs under the “assistance animal” umbrella and emotional support animals (ESAs) are also under this umbrella). Pet restrictions and charges for animals do NOT apply to assistance animals – a landlord cannot charge a pet deposit for a guide dog. A landlord cannot deny a request for a reasonable accommodation based on a dog’s weight or breed, even if they don’t allow normal pets to be above a certain weight or to live on the premises if they are a certain breed. Landlords CAN require you to provide a letter from a doctor or therapist, depending on the type of service animal, documenting the need.
Public transportation companies CANNOT discriminate against you and deny you because of your service dog, even if they are using their own car because they are providing a service to the public. The only exception to this is if the person has severe allergies to dogs as this could potentially be covered under the ADA as well and in that case many times are required to have a note on file with their company documenting this and are required to secure another ride for the passenger with the guide dog/service dog.
Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) : Guide dogs are permitted to accompany their handler in the cabin on flights. The dog is allowed to accompany their dog in any seat the handler chooses, except emergency exit rows and if the dog is going to stick out into the aisle and pose a safety hazard.
Makiko is very cute and lovable, as are most guide dogs. Depending on the day, Makiko may soak up the love or if she is particularly focused, she may not. However, like most dogs, if you greet them excitedly or make kissy noises, guide dogs may very well get distraction. Distraction can be deadly for a handler, especially if the blind handler isn’t aware their guide dog is distracted to be more aware or to correct it. If a guide dog is safely helping its handler cross the street and watch for traffic, or navigating a particularly environment, and the guide dog gets distracted it might not pull that blind handler out of the way of a smart car that is silent or might not pay attention to that curb and send the blind handler tripping over the curb into the street, landing on his/her face. It’s pretty dangerous. It’s also just an invasion of personal space. Guide dogs are an extension of their blind handler. Many call them “medical equipment,” which they technically are, just in dog form. Would you go up and put your hands all over someone’s glasses? No, of course not, that would be weird and likely harassment. I know guide dogs are living creatures and a lot more adorable than a pair of glasses but they are both pieces of medical equipment that allow a person to function. ABC News posted a great video today in honor of International Guide Dog Day and they quoted a statistic that read: “A survey found 89% of handlers’ dogs have been distracted by members of the public.” The message from the video was “Look but don’t touch.” (or make sounds/attract the guide dogs attention).
It IS okay to ask a handler to pet their dog. A lot of handlers, including myself, enjoy introducing their guide to you. Most handlers will just make sure that their guide is calm and under control, especially if they are in harness. This will help the dog not to become solicitous when it is working and in harness later.
Dear Friends and Family,
As you know, Guide Dogs for the Blind is a very important organization to me. They gave me freedom and independence through Makiko. Everything was provided completely free to me as it is to all their visually impaired clients. Did you know that each dog is valued at about $50,000 between their veterinary care, food, training, our training with her, our transportation to training as well as our food and housing while in training, lifelong veterinary care and follow up training as needed!
Makiko has three entries into a contest fundraiser they are holding this year. I have posted the links below to her three entries. The winner gets to be on the Guide Dogs for The Blind Calendar next year!!!
It costs $1 to vote, and there’s no limit on how many times you can vote. The voting proceeds are all tax-deductible donations to Guide Dogs for the Blind (where applicable).
Please consider voting! Here are her entries:
Makiko in her cap and gown with me as we get ready to cross the stage and get my Masters degree: https://www.gogophotocontest.com/guidedogs/entries/40019
(Read here for the full story if you haven’t read about our scary incident with a gifted bone recently.)
I have bought many things at your stores over the years, from equipment to COUNTLESS number of fish, gerbils, dog food and treats, etc. Recently, I was pleasantly surprised that you started carrying Natural Balance dog food as this is the dog food that my guide dog eats. I am blind and I depend on my guide dog to live independently and maintain the very active life I do. Therefore, since Natural Balance is the food that works for her, even though it is a little more expensive, I buy it for her because we only give her the best. PetSmart sells Natural Balance a few dollars cheaper than one of it’s competitors so that made me shop at PetSmart even more.
However, I recently almost lost my guide dog due to a PetSmart product and I am absolutely horrified that these products are on your shelf. When I thought that PetSmart only carried the best of the best and therefore was a safe place to shop for my guide, I realized that this isn’t always the case. A good trusted friend went to PetSmart and bought Makiko an $8 or $9 Dentley’s femur bone as a Christmas present. We had delayed Christmas with her family. She ate it on a Thursday night and by 2:15am, she was vomiting profusely. She continued to do this off and on all throughout the night and the following day, which led me to not be able to go to an important meeting and instead when my dog was not wanting to move, puking constantly, and very uncomfortable, I took her to the Vet who had us rush her to an Emergency Hospital, where she had a gastrotomy to remove all of the pieces of bone that had become stuck in her stomach and would perforate her intestines if they continued to try and pass. As a result, my guide had an incision about the length of her belly, wasn’t able to work for weeks due to the incision and medications she was on, and my life and her life have been significantly affected by this. I now know not to give her any femur bones as these are horrible for dogs, according to many articles and pretty much any veterinarian. So, why does PETSMART carry this item still? I just don’t understand. Pet owners trust PetSmart to carry safe items and this item is NOT safe. There are numerous stories online if this same thing and similar incidents happening. PLEASE take this item off your shelf.
Jessica Naert and Makiko (Working Guide Dog)