My Journey at Guide Dogs for the Blind

a change on day 6 and a tribue to Declan

This post is going to be a tough one to write. Thursday was a very hard day for me. A decision was reached after a lot of tears to make a switch to a new dog. Let me be very clear. Declan’s work was brilliant and for the person who will get him he will serve that person well. After a lot of discussion with GDB staff and my wife and very close friends it was determined to switch to a guide that would better fit within my family environment. I am not going to get into those specifics here as it isn’t the place really. Suffice it to say, it really affected me having to come to this conclusion and I want to sincerely think those that helped me make these tough decisions. I love you Declan and will miss you. I am so very sorry.

A new yellow lab named Harold is now a part of my life. In the morning Jim and I went out to do a route as part of the determining process. We came back for lunch. Kim (a GDB staff member who played a vital role in this day to help me) sat at our table. They brought her her piece of cake (it was the desert for lunch). A devilish character back in the kitchen put a candle in it and we all sang happy birthday to her. Well, it wasn’t her birthday. She turned bright red, it was pretty funny.

Jim and I left early to do another route with Harold. His pull is much stronger then Declan’s, and Declan’s was very strong as well. The route went fine. Harold and I spent time at the lounge as other students came back from their route work. We then made the announcement to the class that Harold was now a part of the class.

For dinner we had turkey and mashed potatoes. Yummy! After dinner we gave Harold a bath. That was a lot of fun but they wouldn’t let me use the sprayer. Now, that would have for sure added a different element too that bath for the RA on staff . I then got laundry started. Unfortunately, I didn’t finish that process until 10:30 so it was late getting to bed. I really didn’t want to compete on the weekend for the washing machines. The only day we have off is Sunday and that will be a day of catch up sleep for me and playing a mean game of Scrabble. Oh, they are expecting snow on Sunday. I am actually looking forward to it. I hope it sticks as I haven’t seen snow in a long tiime.

Wrapping this up, I again want to make it clear that Declan is a GREAT dog and will serve someone well very soon. For those that raised Declan and for those that trained him, I want to sincerely thank you for doing so. He will serve well and his work is impeccable.

I will get more specifics on height and weight on Harold later on Friday and will report those later today.

A picture of Harold is seen below.

Picture of Harold

Day’s 3 through 5 – let the guiding begin and refining command structure

I haven’t written for a while. The main reason is due to the very hectic schedule and me being very tired in the evenings. OK, well, let’s review the last three days:

Day Three:
Let the Guiding Begin

Today was the big day. The day that the three week students got to take their dogs out on their first route. We all got up, fed, watered and relieved our dogs and then went to breakfast. After breakfast we went for short meetings and then loaded into the busses. This is the first time we got into the busses. They are like a small city bus with seats that face forward in the front, benches that face outward on the side, and even a bathroom onboard for emergency use only. I have been sitting in the back or in the very front. The first thing we heard as we traveled down to Gresham was that the lights may be out. Sure enough, due to the very strong winds we had no power in the lounge. So, no TVs, no heating, no fridge to keep things cool, nada. Suffice it to say it was cold in and out side. My main instructor is Jim Dugan (the class supervisor). He took me out first. We had to wait to harness the dogs until it was just time to go out. The new harness feels much different to my hand then the old harness I used to use. Their are not links in the harness to perform a “steady” command while pumping the harness handle and this harness is very quiet. I love it. It is very light as well. I buttoned up my coat and put my gloves on and out we went. Declan is a big boy and of course so am I. This made for some very interesting dynamics as we traveled together. He had always guided smaller people (well, mostly). Jim took him out for some guide work and he looks about my size. I tended to crowd him a bit and made him move more toward the left. Part of the reason for this was due to the length of the harness handle I was initially given. We also use food reward in our training so I also needed to get a longer strap too attach the food pouch around me. We handled this after lunch in the instructors office. Our first trip ultimately went well. I had a hard time slowing down. Jim wanted to make sure that I walked slower then the dog did to have Declan gain confidence in guiding me. Jim kept a second lead or leash attached to the collar of Declan during our first trip so that he could control Declan to make the first experience a more rewarding one if issues arose. This is normal and I fully expected this.

There was only one huge problem with our first trip together, the wind. The wind was simply amazing. My coat was literally blowing up over my head and it was horribly cold. Declan didn’t want to turn into the wind and it took a lot of coaxing to get him moving. Can you blame him? My hands were literally freezing cold. I had a hard time getting out food to reward Declan with due to the fact that I couldn’t feel my hands with having gloves on not to mention the cold. How these Oregon people put up with this is beyond me . They tell me it is very common. Luckily we don’t have this much wind on campus, thank goodness. Jim informed us that we would be doing other activities inside due to the very cold wind. About an hour or so after we arrived back to the lounge from our route work the power came back on and oh how beautiful that was to have warmth again.

After all students were done, we went back to campus and relieved and watered our dogs. I checked email for work and then proceeded to go to lunch. After lunch I went to see the instructors to get a longer harness handle and longer strap. Toby brought me the strap on the bus and Jim gave me the harness handle in the office. We then proceeded to go too the mall due to the very cold weather. This went quite smoothly. We mainly did the circling of the entire mall inside and went into one store to work on suggestive turns as well as just general guide work around a lot of people.

Monday evening was a relaxing one. The RA on duty gave us our toys for our dogs. I picked a tug ring and bone for Declan. All I can say is that I definitely get a work out when playing with him. He is very strong and refuses to give up . It felt good to play with him as I have been struggling with him from a personality perspective. He is very much the type of dog where respect must be earned. He is very eager to please in his work but is pretty reserved right now for the most part. All of the instructors and trainers who trained him tell me that this is just him and that after a while the bond will be fine. I certainly hope so, it worries me a bit.

I hit the sack at about 9:00 or so listening to some old time radio shows I brought along.

Day Four:
Inauguration Day

We all got up, fed, watered and relieved our dogs. We went to breakfast and then went to the discussion room for about 45 minutes of instruction. After that we relieved our dogs and took them to the busses. I was listening to the ACB Radio coverage of the inauguration events prior to leaving for route work and continued to do that on my walkman in the lounge. That was an amazing event to listen to.

Tuesday was a day of routes in the morning and afternoon. The longer handle was the trick. That really helped. In the morning we did about a mile walk around the area of the lounge. Jim was not connected to Declan’s collar this time and we both did quite well. I am still getting used to the feel of the new harness and trying to determine what Declan is communicating as we travel together. I was not crowding him as much this time and I think he began to feel better about our guide work.

In the morning Aaron gave us our head collars or gentle leaders as some call them. This gives you finer control of the dog. The collar goes over the nose and around the back of the head by the ears. Corrections can be very slight sense you have much finer control over the dogs head.

After lunch they took our requests from the grocery store. I ordered some soda and gave the very nice lady some money. When I got back in the room the soda was on my desk along with an envelope with the remaining cash. How cool is that. The nurse gave me a fridge to keep stuff in so I put some of the soda in it for later. Good stuff!

We then went and did obedience with our dogs. This was very interesting. They had us heeling and doing other work with our dogs as they put bowls of dog food and other toys in front of them to distract them as we worked with them. I must say that overall Declan did fine. I am still getting used to the difference in positioning, command structure and other things related to the obedience drills. In many ways they are the same but in others they are significantly different. All in time.

In the afternoon we did a drop off route. This is where Jim and I get off of the bus about 1.5 miles or so from the lounge and work our way back to it. This went even better. We had to do some rework with these interesting cracks in the sidewalk. You see, when trees blow down here they fill in the area where the tree was with brick. This of course makes for an interesting situation as far as guiding around these things. Declan wanted to either plow right through them or do other interesting things. Suffice it to say we had some teaching to do with Declan as well as me.

Aaron gave us these carabineers’ to attach to our food pouches. These are construction grade and can hold up to 150 pounds of weight. These are meant to be used too attach your dog’s leash to if you need both hands. Velcro is wrapped around it and is used to assist in attaching it to the pouch.

In the evening I worked with some classmates in putting the Victor Reader Stream Audio Tutorial mp3 files on their streams. I was very happy to do it for them and was happy that my card reader was behaving itself because it usually gives me fits. Gerry from Humanware would have been proud .

It was again a short evening. I decided to shower and prep for the morning before heading to bed and man was I glad I did that because I got up kind of late on Wednesday morning. It wasn’t enough to be late for anything, but much later then I wanted to get up that is for sure.

Day 5:
Obedience drills and sidewalkless traveling

Today we had some lecture in the morning and then went out for our routes. This time we staid on the bus the entire time as apposed to going to the lounge. We did work on roads without sidewalks. This is very challenging for the dogs as they need to keep very close on the curb line on the left as we travel. It is for this reason that you must stop somewhat frequently and reward for good work in keeping close watch on the curbs. Once the dogs confidence builds between both the handler and the dog then this can be lessened. The dogs are even trained to show you the curb once in a while to insure that the world is good. The main reason for this is to insure you know when one block ends to get ready to travel to the next one. Once the dog reaches the end of the block the dog will move around to the left and start guiding along the new street. This is where the handler will stop, turn to the left show the dog the curb, praise them, reward, turn around and square up on the curb and cross the street if that is desired.

The main problem with this mornings route was, guess it, the wind. It was amazingly cold this morning and many students had to have routes shortened due to going over time for lunch as well as the cold. It was just amazing how cold it was. I felt sorry for Jim and the other instructors as he had to go out multiple times with multiple students. Burrrrr!

We got back to lunch and I was attempting to work on solutions to work issues on the bus as well as some short time prior to lunch, which made me even later for lunch. No worries, I still made it to our 1:30 meeting. For lunch we had hamburgers and french fries. The bread and fries were home made and man that was yummy!

This time it was cat time for obedience work. I must say that Declan did superbly with this work. In fact, his only distraction was another human and not the cat. After drills I did pet the cat and he did seem a bit interested in that and came over and licked the cats entire head with his big tongue. After I finished I was told to go back to the dorm area and wait in our rooms. Then, while talking with Toni from work on my cell phone about a interface issue a knock came at the door. Apparently, nobody told me we were all about ready to leave for our routes in the afternoon. I quickly got off of the phone and proceeded outside to relieve Declan and got on the bus.

We did more sidewalkless work this afternoon. This time we were on a road with no curbs. Declan did superbly at this and we got back pretty quickly.

We then went to the visitors center to do work on corrections and rework. This is where a lot of refining was done for me. It finally clicked for me and breaking old working methods is going to take some time but at least I think I fully understand the direction they gave me.

Before and after dinner I worked on more work related tasks. After completing them around 7:30 or so I chatted with Darrell and Karen on Skype. I also got good news from Keri, my wife, that it looks like we are getting a tax refund this year, hurray for us!

I just listened to the schedule for Thursday and it looks like it is a store in the morning and a bus to Lounge route in the afternoon. The rumor is that we will be able to start working our dogs inside of the dorm areas. This will be awesome. Right now we have to heel them all around the living areas.

Well, I had to take a bit of a break from writing this long post to go play with Declan. He plays a very rough game of tug and I am quite tired after doing it. His head is resting on my leg as I am wring this, well, it was. I think it is time to put him to bed and me also. Stay tuned folks for more information in the coming days. Declan’s work is progressing and I am beginning to feel more confident that this is going to be a good match. Go Declan!

Day 2

Day 2 started pretty late in the morning (well, at least relative to the rest of my stay here). We met for breakfast at 7:30 and then proceeded to the discussion room at the end of the hall to wrap up final lecture items before we got our dogs. The morning went amazingly fast. Sense I had done the obedience and guide dog work the evening before I was pretty much set at 10:00. We all thought that that was the time to get our dogs but Amy came back after a short break and discussed with us what we should be doing after we receive our dogs. She then gave each of the class members their dogs names and breeds. I asked that this information not be given to me until we were introduced.

We then went back to our rooms and I frantically gathered up my recording equipment and did quite a bit of testing before it was dog time. I then went down to the nurse to show her how the camera worked and then went back to my room.

The nurse knocked on the door and we proceeded down to the instructors office. Here is the recording of the introduction of Declan to me. Declan is pronounced “deck len” and is an Irish Saint as well as a computer programming language ;). Not only that, but two computer terms if you hyphenated it ;).

We then went to lunch. Getting him under the table was a very interesting challenge for a big boy. He is 25 inches in height and weighs 69 pounds.

We took the dogs out and then came back to our rooms to relax. I took a bit of a nap and listened to the Cardinals make it into the Super Bowl. It was again time to take our dogs out. After dinner we had a lecture on grooming and then I did a bit of targeting work with Amy on foot placement with my left foot which tends to turn in pretty badly. I then went to bed. It was a long day and boy was I tired.

I want to sincerely thank Karen and Darrell for preparing the audio file for all of you. It is sincerely appreciated.

Day 1

The journey started early this morning, or should we take you back even further.

On Friday night Keri and I finished up packing and she got to bed around 10:30 or so. I chatted with Darrell and Karen on the phone for a while and then I proceeded to finish up last email work and copying files to thumb drives and getting the wireless information ready for GDB. I finally went to bed at 12:30 in the morning but I didn’t sleep a wink. I gave up on the idea of sleep and got up around 3:00 or so (keeping in mind that it is really 2:00AM in Oregon).

I read email in the early morning hours and listened to some music. I then packed some remaining things into my laptop bag and loaded the car. It was now about 4:30 in the morning and I awoke Keri. She got ready to go and we loaded the one remaining suitcase into the car.

We reached the airport at 5:15 and proceeded to work our way through security. This time Keri came with me which was very nice. It certainly made going through security a heck of a lot easier.

We waited at the gate and I finally boarded the plane. We boarded about 20 or 30 minutes late due to some maintenance issues. This made me nervous as I thought I would miss my connecting flight. The flight to Phoenix was uneventful once we got on the road. Assistance was ready for me as soon as I got off of the plane and we literally ran to the next gate and made it with about 30 minutes to spare thank goodness.

The flight to Oregon was very bumpy. It was probably one of the worst flights I was on as far as how rough the flight was. Not only was it rough but it was hugely boring. It felt like I was on that plane forever.

Once I got off of the plane assistance was there waiting for me. I must say that that was a pleasant surprise.

We walked down to the information desk and Molly from GDB (she is one of the instructors) met me with my already found luggage. I was so worried that it had been lost as I tend to have that track record when flying.

We met one other student and we went out to the GDB van and loaded our luggage into it. I then started up Mobile Geo and tracked our progress as we traveled. We first went to the train station to pick up one other student and then it was off to the GDB campus. They served us sack lunches on the van (a turkey sandwich, crackers and apple juice, yum!).

We were guided to our rooms and our bags were brought to us. Unlike what I had told others I went ahead and unpacked non-techie stuff (well, I did put the laptop on the desk but I didn’t do anything with it). It did not take long to have all bags unpacked and put away. After this I got the laptop configured to talk on their wireless network and was very happy to get online and check with the rest of the world.

I met with Jim Dugan (the class supervisor) and Molly to talk with them further on matching me to a dog. I will discuss this more on the day 2 update.

We then got a tour of the dorm area. Unlike the Seeing Eye, my former school, this dorm is laid out like a big letter P. We have one long hall with rooms on each side and then one room that is the loop of the letter P where public meetings are held. The nurses office is in the inside of the loop. During the tour we ran into the cooking staff and placed our orders for meals for this evening and all three meals on Sunday. I must say that they are hugely accommodating to even my very odd tastes or lack their of in this case ;). Just ask my wife about that, no, never mind, please don’t do that.

For dinner this evening we had this very interesting pasta dish with a Greek sauce and hamburger in it. It looked like a meatloaf and was very yummy. Think of meat loaf with sauce and noodles in it. I don’t think I have ever had that combination before. I had milk to drink as well as ice water and sugar free chocolate pudding for desert. It hit the spot.

For breakfast we are having scrambled eggs with bacon in them as well as parmesan cheese, toast (if I recall correctly) and fruit. More on the meals for day 2 on Sundays report.

I asked the nurse for two more pillows for my left arm which has major problems if I do not keep it propped up at night.

After dinner we had a 6:30 meeting where the retrains were given leashes, food pouches, and a grooming pouch. We talked all about the schedule, dorm rules, all that normal junk. We finished up about 7:30 or so and she asked if others were willing to get a jump on work for Sunday. Even though I was tired I raised my hand. Amy and I worked for what seemed like about an hour or more on very cool stuff:

1. GDB techniques for obedience drills.

2. Differences between Seeing Eye methods of obedience and dog guide work.

3. Characteristics of a dogs personality and a way to gage that with your dog.

The time was just so rewarding. It was one on one time with Amy who made me feel proud that I stayed up to work with her. She listened to my frustrations and patiently worked through all of my questions and she felt very good about all of the questions I was asking. I will have more to say about this after I meet my new guide dog on Sunday morning (that is the plan anyway). We talked about all kinds of things and I will share them in the context of my new dog when we all know that detail which is coming soon.

They had this very cool make believe dog called wheeler. Think of a dog on wheels. It looked very real and even had the dog’s harness, collar and leash on him. I will try and get pictures. All work this evening was done using wheeler. The only draw back was getting wheeler to properly sit or lay down. Sorry, this dog isn’t that sophisticated .

I am very very excited about the progress made today. I feel the time spent was just amazing and look forward to continuing that with Amy if she has the time.

Well, as I am writing this it is going on 20 hours that I have been awake so I am going to call it a night. See everyone on day 2!

Boring Oregon, does it really exist?

As I was preparing last weekend for my 3 week trip to Guide Dogs for the Blind I thought I would set up Mobile Geo to have the school’s address set as a route. This way I could follow the route as we drive to the school Saturday afternoon. I entered the city name of Boring and was quickly told that Boring doesn’t exist. I was a bit surprised about this so seeked the advice of a friend at Sendero. He suggested looking up the address using latitude and longitude coordinates. I did this and found that according to the version 4.0 Sendero maps, Boring Oregon is really Sandy Area, Oregon. Go figure. Finding this location on the map wasn’t Boring at all. If this is just one example of how this next three weeks is going to go I am in for a ride, which I am going to love.

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