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Learning Life Lessons through Guide work

Below is an essay that Bryan Goldstein wrote about his sister Robin. Remember that Robin raised Harold even though the entire family played a vital role in making Harold who he is today. This was very touching and I just received permission to post it here for all to read. Bryan, you are an incredible young man! Robin, with character like yours you will go far in life.

My little sister taught me everything I needed to know and she was only in eighth grade at the time. I may be an older brother by 17 months, but I must admit my younger sister has influenced my life the most. In my growing years, I was always the kid who messed around and enjoyed life rather than taking any piece of it seriously. My sister was the one who enjoyed life by getting involved in it. She was only in middle school when she decided to devote her time to raising guide dogs for the blind. She began her commitment by puppy sitting for others who were raising guide dogs and our family finally decided that she was so determined in her decision that we could not stand in the way.

Robyn brought home her first 6 week old puppy and began the process of waking early for feedings and potty training as well as training in proper behavior every minute of the day that summer. When school began, she determined to take him with her every day for socialization. Guide dogs have to be comfortable with being on duty for a blind person in spite of the confusion of the workplace. Therefore going to high school was as good a place as any for him to learn proper behavior. This decision of hers astonished me more than anything else because it’s not that easy to be completely different than everyone else in a school of 4,000 students. She reported getting weird looks and funny glances, but she said that it was simply part of the sacrifice that she was willing to make for another person’s life.

I think that it is fair to say that she is one of the most self-confident kids at our school these days. In a place where the majority is looking to fit in and at the same time looking for an identity, my sister has already figured it all out. Her identity is in making her own decisions and helping others. It was during this time that I began to realize that my sister and I were not that different at all. I recognized my own talents for helping others and I began to volunteer at the local retirement center playing the piano for senior citizens every Wednesday. I thought that giving to others would mean sacrifice, but I started to realize that it mostly means sharing your talents so that others find joy in their lives.

I am proud of my sister. She is now raising her third guide dog. I am also proud of myself. I have stopped looking to others for acceptance and I have begun reaching out to others who stand alone in the crowd. I believe that this is the greatest characteristic that I can bring to a college campus in order to make a difference. I am determined to bring joy to others through my love of music and performance, but I am also just as determined to help others find their gifts in order to find their own purpose. The minute that a person finds their unique gift to give back to the world, their life takes on a new dimension and meaning. My sister may be younger but she taught me the most important lesson of my life.

Day 19, AGS discussion, Clicking through to Caring for your Dog and Mewing as we moved toward Crossing the diamond rough, Exit Interviews and Alumni discussions

We are nearing the end. I got a very nice note from my boss today and I sincerely appreciated that. She is awesome. I actually have two supervisors and Zach is out all week at an Oracle conference.

In the morning we got up at the regular time and took the dogs out. I checked some email and other such things and then went down to breakfast. I ate very fast to get two loads of laundry into the washing machines before the start of our day. It was either do it now or don’t do it at all today and it had to be done. I certainly love procrastination :). I finished up by 8:00 and waited for our lecture on the Admissions and Graduate Services offerings. After this we took our dogs out and loaded onto the busses to head too the lounge.

Today it was phase three of the Clicker training. We would take what we learned and teach Harold to find light polls (actually the button to push to cross the street). He picked it up very fast. Harold is an awesome boy! More proof of this is coming soon.

We finished up early and we headed back to campus to have a lecture on the care of your guide dog. This was mainly a review of material already covered.

At lunch it was cafeteria day. We had to go into the kitchen with our dogs, load up trays and move back to our tables. They made pizza for lunch so at least it wasn’t something more difficult to balance :). We had two eye doctors at our table (one was a student) and he was from Mesa Arizona.

After eating lunch I hurriedly moved back to the laundry room and moved my laundry into the dryer. I went into the Visitor’s Center and did cat distraction work with Harold and the cat. Harold completely ignored the cat. Keri will be happy :). Harold was more interested in the humans across the way then he was with Chester the big fluffy cat laying on the floor about 4 feet from Harold.

We then moved into town on the busses and worked on large street crossings. Harold’s work in this area was simply amazing. We first showed Harold the crossing at each curb giving him a food reward. This was done using sighted guide and not holding onto the harness. To Harold it was a game. Lots of praise and “Let’s go’s” were the words used to motivate him across each part of the intersection. The intersection was a diamond shape and was 5 lanes wide. We walked across and back rewarding at each stop. Sioux then told me to work with Harold across the intersection by my self. He did it perfectly and with gusto!

When we got back we had exit interviews and then dinner. Before the exit interviews I retrieved my laundry and through it on the bed. I must say, no socks lost since I have been here :).

After dinner we met with Aaron to talk about the Alumni association and to also discuss things about the Victor Reader Stream.

On Thursday we are going to the airport to work through security after a discussion about going home with our dogs. In the afternoon it is freelance work in Gresham. As for me and Harold, Sioux and I will focus on moving turns. We will be off that evening where I will work on gathering contact information from everyone and emailing it all around. I also plan on starting to pack for the trip home. I promised Keri I will do laundry on Saturday night so nothing comes home dirty accept of course what I am wearing :).

See everyone on the next post.

Day 18 – Route, Clicking, going to the doc and the night life

Today was again going to be a very long one. We went into Portland to work on routes in the morning. Nothing special here. We did stop at a Goodwill and walked around inside. Harold did well here. He is still having a bit of trouble with moving right turns but it is something we are working on.

In the afternoon we split into two groups. I was in the first group so right after lunch we went to the vet for Harold’s last checkup. We also reviewed his medical profile. He is quite the healthy boy. His weight was 68.6 pounds (unchanged from the last time he got weighed). Harold and I then went outside and did overhead work. He had a bit of difficulty with this but admittedly it is the hardest work for guide dogs to master and frankly the routes I take generally are overhead free (most of the time). I am not trying to make excuses but this will come in time and experience.

Then we did a 30 minute clicker session with Sioux and Molly. We taught Harold to find empty chairs. It seems quite the tool to use indeed. He got it down very quickly. The trick in all of this is to make it like a game. We will go out on Wednesday and do more clicker work. This will happen on Wednesday morning.

After this we went back to the lecture room and heard a lecture from the vet. I honestly had a hard time keeping awake. I did record the vet visit earlier in the day, the clicker training and the vet lecture so I have it to review for later. I don’t think I fell asleep completely but my head kept bobbing. I think I need a week just to recover from the hectic schedule. I am glad work is coming, it will be relaxing compared to the very busy schedule here (not that I am complaining).

After dinner we loaded into the busses and went on another night route. Harold did absolutely perfect on it. I took Mobile Geo with me for this one sense we had to do these alone. I really didn’t need it but it was nice to hear the intersection crossings as I approached them. We got home close to 9:00 or so, and man was I ready to crash.

Super Bowl Party and Day 17 – Route, Clicking and Targeting

Sunday morning was pretty lazy. I kind of hung around in my room and then took a nap at 12:30 or so until we had to take Harold out again for relieving at 2:00PM. I was out like a light and had to be woken up to take him out. Man was that tough going out there just after waking up.

We all ventured over to the Visitor’s Center for the Super Bowl party. It started at 3:00PM. They had: chips, chicken wings, pizza on french bread and much more. They made these very rich cupcakes that had dark chocolate frosting. I had one but wow was it rich! I went back at half time to my room to attempt to get my laptop back on the wireless network. I actually didn’t get it back on the network until Monday after lunch.

Earlier in the day Keri told me that the microwave oven gave up the ghost. So, I kept getting calls from her throughout the day as she shopped around for a new one.

I was about ready to call Darrell and Karen when I received a phone call from Harold’s puppy raising family. What a huge surprise that was. It was wonderful to talk to Robin and her mom and dad all about Harold. We talked for over an hour or at least it seemed like it. In fact, I was late for taking Harold out for the last time Sunday evening. The weekend instructor knocked on the door and I told her I was chatting with them and she said no problem. I loved talking with them. They are trying very hard to make it for graduation this Saturday. They will call me on Friday to let me know if they made it or not. Marlaina and Gary will for sure be coming so I am very excited about that.

Monday started at the usual time and man did I not want to get out of bed this morning. We went down for breakfast and then lined up to take the dogs out at 8:15AM in preparation for heading into Portland again. While waiting to go out on a route I called Keri and we worked out the final details on the gift we are getting for Robin when they arrive or one that I will mail them. Keri did an awesome job in getting it all arranged. I just hope and pray that it gets here in time. It better dang it! We paid extra to get it here so I think we will be OK.

I worked with Sioux today. She told me that Harold and I are really looking smooth together and she is quite impressed. Harold only got himself in a bit of trouble with one sniffing incident, but other then that the route was absolutely perfect. Robin and Shari would have been proud of Harold for sure.

We came back to campus and got ready for lunch. After lunch we lined up to again go to the Visitor’s Center to work on the beginnings of Clicker Training. I was called out first. I have a recording of the process and will be asking Sioux if I can post it to the blog. So, keep an eye out for that.

This first session is basically to teach clicker timing and technique with a human and the fictitious dog Wheeler. Basically, as I recall, the steps are this for teaching to find an empty chair:

1. Find the item first.

2. Step away from the item and walk to it placing your hand in a closed fist with food in it on the edge of the chair and wait for the dog to touch your hand with their nose. Once the dog touches then “Click”. The click must be done at the time of the touch.

3. Move back away slowly and then rework (this is called back chaining). Continue to work your way back a few more steps and rework.

4. Eventually the goal is to eliminate food in your fist and eventually the hand association to the point that the dog will place their nose on the chair and then you check and then click and reward.

5. The ultimate goal is to associate a command to the action and not have to utilize the clicker.

From those that I have spoken with this is a very powerful tool and is very affective in real world situations to teach your dog new things. I am excited to teach Harold all kinds of things utilizing these techniques.

On Tuesday we will actually work with Harold on finding an empty chair. On Wednesday we will go into Gresham and work on benches, light crossing buttons, ATM machines and more. I am jazzed about it.

After clicker training we went back into town and ended up at Target. I bought a couple of items and then it was time to come home.

This brings us up too the current.

The rest of day 15 and Super Bowl Day!

The last time I left you we were all preparing to go out on our routes in the afternoon. We all eventually met for pizza or ice cream. We had no problem getting there but getting back was a bit of a challenge. Main and 2ND is a T-intersection and a few of us had a bit of trouble with it. We ended going up a block and reversing our steps but I could have sworn that Jim told me to cross there. Oh well, so much for my memory. Other then that, the trip was fine.

I joined the rest of my classmates at the table for dinner but didn’t eat. I ate enough when we went for pizza. The pizza was so so. We have far better pizza places at home, that is for sure :).

After dinner I groomed Harold. It must have been a lot of fun for him as a puppy or something. He is the only dog who wags his tail throughout the whole experience. That makes for an interesting challenge at times :).

It was time to go hear all about those things that we can buy from GDB. I left when they got into the clothing items. I am going to mainly get equipment items: extra leashes, extra rug, extra tie downs, a collapsible water bowl, a comb, an extra bone for the Harold boy, a Kong (although I may get that at the pet store) and more.

I took Harold out and then started to get ready for bed. I called Keri and found out that Brian wasn’t back from his school event. He didn’t make it home until 11:00 or so. Oh what a fun night. Suffice it to say, I am a bit tired this morning.
Today, Sunday, it is Super Bowl day. We will have Brunch at 10:00 until 12:30 and then a Super Bowl party at 3:00PM at the Visitors Center. They will show the game on a big screen. I will bring my walkman and listen to the commentary of the game on the radio. That really is the best way to hear the game anyway if you want to truly know what is going on.

Stats on Harold

Here are the stats on Harold:

Birthday: July 3, 2007
23.5 inches tall at the shoulder
68 Pounds

I do not remember his parents names but will revise this post when I get them again.

She did it!

OK, that post I mentioned by Mary, the nurse here at GDB? Huh, well, she posted it :). It is on her blog in the post Welcome Back. So, go take a read and comment at will. I love you Mary .

Days 14 and 15 – Revolving around the bank, stepping it up, playing dodge car, going home interviews andd pizza time!

Friday was a day of stairs, revolving doors, elevators and traffic checks. The morning went as normal and we all loaded into the busses for our last trip into Portland. It was very cold Friday morning and I had a bit of trouble keeping my hands warm until we got on the road and the heat worked on the bus. Jim, Crystal and I went out and first worked at City Hall with different types of stairs and then finally an elevator. That all went fine. Harold did a great job as usual.

We then walked down to the bank and went through the revolving door. I hate these things. I avoid them almost at all costs. I am unsure why as I haven’t had any bad experiences with them really, but I just don’t like them.

We then extended our route on the way back to the bus and Harold kept wanting to go toward the right after the up curbs. It is kind of puzzling but we will work on it next week with Sioux.

In the afternoon we bused into the lounge and four of us did traffic check work. We went on a small route and Jim took the Prius and drove like a mad man (not that he doesn’t when he drives the busses :)), just kidding of course, but really in the case of the traffic checks he kind of did. The objective here is to get Harold to react to both moving traffic at somewhat high speed as well as slower speeds. We also worked on cars blocking our path. We must work our dog around the car into the street and back up on the other side. This is done by issuing either left or right commands to move carefully around the car. Harold did awesome!

In the evening we had a surprise short birthday party for one of our classmates. He was shocked and very happy that we did that.

I called Darrell and Karen and talked with them on the Interactive show they were doing and then listened to my wife Keri call into the show. After that it was pretty much bed time. I did spend some time with one other student working with her on her stream but then called it a night.

Today, Saturday, I got up, had breakfast and then waited for my turn for our interviews about going home with our dogs. Harold and I will for sure be graduating and I talked with them about having Don work with me in our big transit centers down town and on the South West side of Tucson. He will call me later next week.

Jim asked me if I had heard anymore from Harold’s puppy raising family. I have gotten a few emails from them but I don’t think they have been given a number to call me yet. I will most likely email them and give them my cell phone number if they wish to call me prior to receiving my room phone number here. I don’t want to intrude though of course :).

After lunch we are planning on going out around 2:00 or so and I am headed for pizza! I can’t wait. A group of us are going to go so I think it will be a good time. I am planning on taking my external GPS receiver and we will see how well it does in finding the POI (point of interest).

This evening I think we are going through what options are available to purchase from the GDB store. This should be quite interesting :).

I will update you later today or on Sunday. Sunday is a day off and the only thing I know of that is going on is the Super Bowl. Go Cardinals! I will be calling Fred and Casey on Sunday to give them some updates on everything going on here as well as Sue (the person who introduced me to Fred and Casey).

OK, more later. Have a good weekend everyone!

BTW, Mary, the nurse is threatening to write an evil post about me on her blog ;). I will cross post it if she does. It is a funny story and if she wishes to share it you will find it both funny and disgusting, but what the heck. I can handle that. All the picking on I did to her the last two weeks, it is the least she can do to get me back :).

Day 13, More Escallators, learning new route for Saturday and romaing through the night

When I got up on Thursday I knew it was going to be a very long day and I am feeling it today (Friday morning).

After breakfast (I had cold cereal and toast) we took the dogs out and got on the busses to head to Portland. It seemed like a long ride. I listened to a station that was broadcasting a morning show from Tucson/Phoenix. It was fun to hear that show while I am here in Oregon. I stayed on the bus for quite a while and then it was my time to go.

We worked on escalators once more in the mall. This is a 4 story mall so we took the escalators up and then back down. Things started a bit rough but by the end Harold was fine. It really was just the initial ride that Harold didn’t want to jump on very quickly. Harold did an awesome job throughout the mall. He loves kids which is probably due to the great family he started with and their three kids. I am so excited that I will get a chance to meet them.

The only other situation we kind of struggled with was getting Harold to pull in harness. Jim showed me some tricks to get him to pull better but Sioux really the hit the mark on this problem. More on this later.

Wow, I just heard on the radio that an earthquake with a magnitude of 4.6 hit the Seattle area. I felt nothing. OK, enough weirdness today, we can’t have more of this going on :).

We got back just in time for lunch. Jim sat at our table and told war stories all about Ms. Price, the cook at the California campus. I guess she had a heart of gold but man was she tough about her kitchen. She would lock the kitchen doors tight but the instructors would sneak into the kitchen and eat tons of ice cream. She figured it out too, and man was she not happy.

In the afternoon we worked freelance routes and I learned where Wall Street Pizza was for Saturday when a group of us go on our independent route. I am looking forward to that.

When I got back I fed Harold and took him out. When I got inside it was a frantic dash to get laundry done. I wanted to get it done so I wasn’t doing it over the weekend. I got it loaded into the washer and went to dinner. After dinner I moved the clothes to the dryer and went out for our third route of the evening. This route would be done in Gresham and would be a destination route.

When I met Harold for the first time I met his trainer Mary and her supervisor Sioux. Mary is a pretty new instructor but Sioux has been here with GDB for 15 plus years. Sioux would be the one who I would be working with for the third route. Jim will be out most of next week and Sioux will be taking his place. As Jim told me, “I don’t know your dog as well as others in the class but Sioux sure does”. This was very apparent when we went out on our night route.

Harold’s work was perfect during the night route! Sioux told me many things about Harold and how best to communicate with him. For example, she tells me that I get very strong responses from Harold with my “Good Boys!”, very good considering that our relationship is pretty new. He has associated the phrase somewhat to food, so she is suggesting that I use a different phrase after up curbs and forward commands too keep him moving. She also showed me techniques where I can get Harold pulling better, and man did they work. We were about to end a block but of course dumb me didn’t realize this, so I got him going pretty quickly. He stopped on a dime at the down curb and I had to react very quickly. As Sioux said, “Very good Harold, not so good Jeff ;)”. Oh well, at least I didn’t fall this time.

Speaking of falling, my leg is about healed up. You can still see where it happened but it is nearly gone, thank goodness.

When I got back we told war stories about technology issues and also discussed the non-starting computer in the lounge. It sounds like a bad power strip to me, but heck, what do I know about hardware. I am a much stronger software and development type person. Leave the hardware to the geeks out there that love that stuff. The monitor wasn’t even coming on. My guess is that even though the lights are coming on on the power strip that power is not moving to the outlets on the strip. Aaron, the RA will figure it out. She is quite tech savvy.

Today (Friday) we are going back to Portland and will do work on stairs and elevators. In the afternoon four of us will do traffic check work where basically GDB drivers come at us with vehicles to learn how our dogs react. I better be nice to Jim today, I hear he is driving :). This evening is Yoga and frankly, well, I think I will pass this time. Once was enough. I will probably cocome back to the room and listen to Darrell and Karen do the Desert Skies Show on ACB Radio Interactive, a show I normally do on Friday nights. If you want to listen, it can be found at http://interactive.acbradio.org. I will be calling in and giving some updates as well, so stay tuned for that. I will try and do it in the second hour of the three hour show.

Keep a smile and keep those furry friends tails wagging.

Days 11 and 12 – Snow, Busses and Trains oh my

Tuesday morning I got up and got ready for the day. After sitting down and starting to read email before taking Harold out my tradition has been to check the weather to see what I was up against today. The news wasn’t good. A winter storm advisory was out for 1 to 2 inches of snow (which turned out to be upgraded to up to 4 inches) and freezing rain and sleet. My first thought was, we aren’t going out in this mess. I fed Harold and attempted to give him water. He doesn’t tend to drink any in the morning. We then proceeded to take our dogs out. Sure enough, snow was on the ground.

After breakfast we took the dogs out and then loaded ourselves into the busses. We didn’t get very far when it was determined that we would stop and go to a department store and work inside today. So, off we went. We sat near a Star Bucks so many got coffee and something to eat. I listened to the radio, made and just hung out waiting for my turn. Jim took me outside to look at the snow. I haven’t seen snow in a long time and man there seemed like a lot of it out there.

Harold did great in the store. Besides just navigating around people and objects we did pick up some items and then proceeded to the check out. I came back to the table and waited to leave. Those on the second bus loaded up and attempted to leave. Guess what? The bus couldn’t leave due to the snow. So, calls to the school where in order and we needed to wait for vans with snow tires to come and get us. So, there we sat. I ordered a coke and just waited. I tried to reach some people at work without much success.

It was decided that we may do a clicker workshop in the afternoon. The staff had a mandatory meeting in the afternoon so things didn’t get started until a bit later. Unfortunately, we didn’t do the clicker workshop but worked on platform discussions and teaching your dog new commands. That pretty much wrapped up Tuesday.

Wednesday’s weather outlook was much better. I stayed here in my room for breakfast and tried to get caught up on the budget issues going on at the State level back in Arizona. It looks very scary.

In the morning we went to a mall again and worked on escalators. Harold had a bit of trouble initially but after a few rides was riding in style :). I reached Kevin at work to check in on an issue which I felt good about. With the huge budget issues going on at work and Keri’s potential surgery my mind has been elsewhere some of the time while I have been here.

After lunch we loaded up in the busses and went out to ride busses and trains, oh my :). The first bus we got on had maintenance issues so we had to get off of the bus and load onto another one. Our goal was to get on the bus at 2:40, but it didn’t happen until 3:15. I was very happy to see that Harold got right under the seat (well, with a bit of coaxing). When we got on the train it certainly didn’t feel like it was going very fast at all but we sure got to our destination pretty quickly.

After getting back it was no more shovel time. It was time for us to pick up after our dogs. This wasn’t a problem but I had heard that the food we are feeding doesn’t generate the nicest things to pick up so we will for sure be changing that when we get home :)

In the evening we had a lecture on returning home with our dogs.

On Thursday we are going into Portland to do more escalator and elevator work.

More soon.