Today was a monumental day at work, in the Guide Dog world. Just over a year ago, the Guide Dog puppies weren't welcome on campus. Today, we had my Guide Dog puppy Jazz, a guide dog in formal training - Darcelle, and a working guide dog - Rosie, all on campus together, with the kids!
With school out, we hold a summer program for all of our residential and day treatment clients. The program is intended to be educational, therapeutic, and fun. We try to do as much hands-on learning as possible, and provide opportunities for activities that we might not be able to do during the school year.
To keep it interesting, we have educational themes each week, and complete the week with fun activities that coincide with the theme. This year, we had a therapy/service dog week, and I invited my friend Mei and her German Shepherd guide Rosie to join us. At the last minute, I thought to see if anyone from the Guide Dog campus could help us out, and was grateful to have GDB volunteers Sarah and Wayne bring yellow Lab Darcelle, who is currently in phase 10 of formal training (the same phase Ross is currently in). The mix of dogs provided the kids with an opportunity to see the evolution of a Guide Dog.
We provided an impromptu presentation to groups of 10-20 kids at a time, for a total of 3 groups. With kids ranging in chronological age from 6-17, and even a greater span of developmental levels, we adapted each presentation to fit our audience.
Mei spoke about her blindness, how she functions in the community and at home, and how her Guide Dogs help her. I spoke about how Jazz and Ross have very specific rules that they follow so that they can be prepared to grow up and be great guide dogs like Rosie. Sarah and Wayne provided additional information about the formal training process, and the life of a guide dog in training.
The kids made peanut butter treats for the dogs, which we used to show how we train the dogs to not take food other than their designated kibble or treats. One kid asked blatantly, "So, we wasted our time making the dog treats?" I assured him my pet dogs at home would enjoy them thoroughly and be very appreciative! We spent lots of time explaining why the dogs could not have the treats...
The experience was wonderful! It was so great to live the progression of acceptance and appreciation for the dogs that has occurred at my work. The dogs, of course, were extremely well behaved! Jazz even outsmarted me when I tried to demonstrate how he didn't know something that Rosie did! The kids had excellent questions and demonstrated great compassion for the dogs and for my friend Mei. And most of all, I was so proud of how the kids behaved! They all sat calmly and quietly, raised their hands, and waited patiently to be called on. They were polite and appropriate, and followed directions to ask to pet the dogs. It was incredible! Most of our kids have difficulties completing any one of those behaviors on a regular basis, and they ALL did it for 45 consecutive minutes! I cannot express in words how proud I am. Our staff worked hard to prepare the kids for a positive experience, and it paid off! The kids pulled out every skill they have and shown like stars. It may not sound like much, but for these kids, it was a moment of complete success, something they don't experience often. And what a better reward than dog kisses at the end :)
Today will be a moment in time I will never forget!