Meet the adorable, hardworking guide dogs of Perkins

Perkins employees describe the unique bond that exists between themselves and their guide dogs

A guide dog lying down

An estimated 10,000 guide dogs currently work in the United States, helping people who are blind or visually impaired navigate independently. Photo Credit: Anna Miller.

April 27, 2016

Empowering. Liberating. Teamwork. Trust.

Those are just a few of the words Perkins School for the Blind employees used to describe their relationships with their guide dogs.

“She’s family,” said Perkins teacher Kate Katulak of her guide dog, Hosta. “She’s always there.”

An estimated 10,000 guide dogs currently work in the United States, helping people who are blind or visually impaired navigate independently. They also provide emotional support, companionship and a way to connect with others, owners say.

In honor of International Guide Dogs Day, we asked six guide dog owners who work at Perkins to share a few facts about their four-legged partners, and what having a guide dog means to them.

Two photos of guide dog Grafton

Grafton

Owner: Marla Runyan, Accessibility Consultant and Team Lead for Perkins Solutions

Quirky habits: He does forward rolls – he’ll put his head in your lap and literally flip. That’s his thing, off-harness, of course.

Your relationship in five words or less: Loyalty, teamwork, friendship, caring.

How your guide dog changed your life: Having a guide dog has given me confidence and independence. I’m never alone.

What other people should know: A lot of people don’t understand the concept of intelligent disobedience. If I give Grafton a command and he determines it’s not safe, he’ll disobey. That’s a main role that he has – to make those decisions.

Trained at: Guide Dogs for the Blind

Two photos of guide dog Dolly

Dolly

Owner: Kim Charlson, Perkins Library Director

Quirky habits: She has her own chair in the living room with a Red Sox blanket on it. When company comes we take the blanket off so they can sit in it and Dolly goes over and stares at them, like “You’re sitting in my chair!”

Favorite toy: At work: the Christmas penguin. At home: the squeaky squirrel.

Your relationship in five words or less: Amazing, empowering, liberating, loving.

How your guide dog changed your life: I’ve had four of them and they allow me to have the ability to travel freely and independently with confidence. I know a cane could do the same thing for me but there’s just something about having a partner that makes it special. I’m never alone.

What other people should know: Dolly’s not a pet, there’s a working relationship between us. She’s a service dog so she has rights and protections under the law to go with me wherever I go.

Trained at: The Seeing Eye

Two photos of guide dog Alexis

Alexis

Owner: Milissa Gardside, Adaptive Technology Trainer for Perkins Solutions

Quirky habits: She jumps up on the bed in the morning to wake me up. She’ll take her nose and dig it into my eye. Not gently either.

Favorite toy: A stuffed animal that squeaks that she loves to carry around in her mouth.

Your relationship in five words or less: Gentle independent spirit.

How your guide dog changed your life: I also have a hearing impairment, so with the cane I’m limited in terms of what kinds of streets I can cross independently. It’s great to go out and have a companion to explore things with and ride the trains with.

Trained at: Guiding Eyes for the Blind

Two photos of guide dog Kirk

Kirk

Owner: Judi Cannon, Braille Services Specialist at the Perkins Library

Quirky habits: Kirk loves to eat paper. File cards, napkins, you name it.

Favorite toy: It’s a red rectangle-shaped toy with a fire hose painted on it, kind of a burlap material. It squeaks at both ends and he’s just thrilled with it.

Your relationship in five words or less: Team. Playful (but serious when he’s working). Trust.

How your guide dog changed your life: With my last dog I had lost almost all my vision, and she taught me that I could travel again safely. Kirk gives me the independence I don’t think I would have with a cane. The ease of getting places is phenomenal. We're a team - the two of us work together.

What other people should know: They’re a working dog, they’re not there to be talked to or pet or fed.

Trained at: The Seeing Eye

Two photos of guide dog Wendell

Wendell

Owner: Tanja Milojevic, Perkins Library intern

Quirky habits: Wendell crosses his paws when he lies down and avoids puddles like you wouldn’t believe.

Favorite toy: His first favorite toy was a red lobster that squeaked. He loved that thing. It scared children but he loved it.

Favorite off-harness activity: I love hiding treats around the room and having him find them, it’s good for his brain.

How your guide dog changed your life: Socially, it’s made it a lot easier for me to connect with people and find commonalities with them. He also allows me to travel a lot smoother and quicker, and gives me more confidence while traveling at night. He’s a great companion. Every time I have stressful situations I’ll pat him.

What other people should know: If you’re scared of dogs, please know that guide dogs aren’t going to hurt you.

Trained at: The Seeing Eye

Two photos of guide dog Hosta

Hosta

Owner: Kate Katulak, Teacher at Perkins School for the Blind

Quirky habits: She is really excited by puddles. Most guide dogs are trained to guide you around puddles and water whereas Hosta guides me directly through them. It’s her opportunity to get wet and play.

Your relationship in five words or less: Partner, protector, team, comforter, guide.

How your guide dog changed your life: Hosta is so much of a comfort to me, especially as a fairly young female. I feel more confident when traveling in the community – like she’s not only helping me get places but communicating to others that she’s there in case something happens.

What other people should know: I wish people knew how much they enjoy working. I often hear people saying, “Your dog looks so sad,” and I want to say, “Well, she’s serious, she’s working right now, just like when you’re at your desk.” Hosta really does love working – I think there’s nothing she would rather do than be with me.

Trained at: Guiding Eyes for the Blind