Empowering. Liberating. Teamwork. Trust.
Those are just a few of the words Perkins School for the Blind employees have 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 five 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.
Owner: Brian Switzer, Access Technology Instructor
Quirky habits: Intrigue loves to sleep on her back and only barks in her sleep. If you hear her barking, she is having a good dream.
Your relationship in five words or less: Loving, playful, adventurous, exciting, affectionate.
How your guide dog changed your life: Intrigue gives me a lot more confidence when traveling and running together. We have been through a lot of changes over the last four years. She guided me on my first date with my now wife. We have climbed to the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa together, started a new job, and moved to a new house. She is my best friend.
What other people should know: Guide dogs love their job. It is an important job, but to them, it is all a fun game. They love finding stair cases, door knobs, exploring new places, and, of course, spending the day with their handlers.
Owner: Kim Charlson, Executive Director of the Perkins Library
Quirky habits: Idabelle loves her large collection of plush, squeaky toys. When she is at home and really relaxed and happy, she lays on her back on the floor with a toy in her mouth, with all four feet up in the air. She is also vocally expressive, she doesn’t bark, but she groans, she groans to express tiredness, adjusting her position, or boredom – she’s even been known to groan at jus that certain moment in a long staff meeting, when everyone is wondering when it is going to end … Idabelle is the only one who says something!
Your relationship in five words or less: Devoted, Teamwork, Trusting, Fun-loving, and Professional
How your guide dog changed your life: Idabelle is my fifth guide dog. As with all of my guides, I have a strong sense of confidence when working with them, a belief that we can travel wherever we need to go, and as a team, we will make it together with success and grace. Even if we get lost, I know, if I stay calm, we will get out of it and get back on course.
The worst thing a dog handler can do is “lose it” while out and about, because that sense of confusion and stress transmits itself directly to the dog, who then becomes anxious. Maintaining confidence that together as a team you will get back on track is essential for successful travel with a guide dog. Its all about teamwork, trust, and partnership – working together is how we make it happen!
What other people should know: The bond between a guide dog and their handler is incredibly strong. If you have had a favorite pet, then multiply that by about 200%. There isn’t anything Idabelle won’t do for me! Her satisfaction and joy is in pleasing me because when I am happy with her work, she gets lots of praise and love. Praise and love is what guide dogs work for – it isn’t about treats (although those are nice) – it’s the love and praise that truly gives a guide dog a sense of accomplishment and purpose.
They work to do a good job because they can, and they know we as their handler really like it when they do a good job. Recognizing their work with verbal praise and physical rewards like hugs and pats are the real currency in a guide dog’s life. Never believe that a guide dog must have a very difficult life – they get to go with their handler every day, everywhere they go, all the time. What could be better in a dog’s world than being with their person all the time – it doesn’t get much better than that!
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
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
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