Alaska Airlines May 2013 Magazine

At Guide Dogs for the Blind, during our two week training, Makiko and I were interviewed by a reporter from Alaska Airlines. He told us that he wanted to interview us and it would be in the May 2013 issue of Alaska Airline Magazine, which would go in the back of every seat on every Alaska Airlines plane for the month of May! 

It came out a few days ago and it’s pretty neat. Several have expressed that they are disappointed that we didn’t have a picture in it. I kind of am too. The picture of the lady with her blonde hair pulled up with her yellow labrador is a standard Guide Dogs for the Blind picture that they have used for years in many advertisements. 

Below is the JAVA link which takes you directly to the article we are mentioned in, “Constant Companions.” However, it is not accessible via screen reader, so I have also included the link to the PDF version of it. It does not take you directly to the article; however, the article is from page 138-142. I will also copy it below for easy access.

Happy reading, and please let me know what you think!



Article text:

On a chilly morning in downtown Portland, Oregon, earlier this spring, a college
student named
Jessica, from Texas, nervously waited on a Northwest Second Avenue curb, trying
to summon the will
to cross the street. She had never visited the City of Roses before, nor had she
navigated many urban sidewalks since a condition called retinitis pigmentosa
narrowed her vision to almost nothing. Crossing busy streets filled her with
dread. At her side was a lively young black Labrador retriever named Makiko that
had been training since birth to do exactly this: Get someone like Jessica
safely across a street. The two had met only three days earlier and were just
getting to know each other. Jessica took a deep breath to calm herself, gripped
the dog’s harness more tightly and gave the command to cross.
At roughly the same time, across the country in Concord, Massachusetts (about 20
miles northwest of
Boston), a young man named Ned was experiencing terrible nerve pain in his right
hand, a recurring
effect of the quadriplegia that had put him in a wheelchair. His trained
capuchin monkey, Kasey, who had sensed the pain almost before Ned did, jumped
into his lap and then lay down on the hand to comfort his companion; the ability
of animals to sense and anticipate crises and painful situations is remarked
upon by trainers as well as the people the animals assist. When Ned later
dropped his iPhone, Kasey scampered down to the floor to retrieve it, and then
picked stray crumbs from breakfast off Ned’s shirt and ate them. The trained
monkey and her client have been inseparable since Kasey came into Ned’s life six
years ago. “Kasey brings Ned joy and laughter every day,” wrote Ellen Rogers,
Ned’s mom, in an email.
Such interactions between disabled people and the animals that assist them, as
well as between these animals and their trainers, are at times achingly lovely
and heartrending to witness firsthand.
The variety of interactions often comes as a surprise to observers. Yet animals
of different types help people every day in communities across the country—and
they do so in many different ways.
While Jessica was learning to handle her new dog in Portland and Kasey was
helping Ned in Concord,
a trainer named Mary McNeight was working in the West Seattle neighborhood,
teaching dogs to detect
their owners’ oncoming diabetic crises. McNeight’s own dog, an exuberant yellow
Labrador named
Liame, was at her side and ever alert for McNeight’s spikes in blood sugar,
which Liame can detect by
smell. In Wilsonville, Oregon (south of Portland), a multiple sclerosis patient
named Sandy had her
Saint Bernard, Janika, lift crutches from a Starbucks patio floor with her
mouth, raise them high enough
for Sandy to grasp, and then stand ready to serve as a brace for Sandy to lift
herself to her feet. Janika’s
trainer, Paul White, sat nearby and grinned.
Meanwhile, families in Colorado and other locales were playing with and
socializing the puppies they keep for about a year before returning them to the
training organizations that had bred and would train
And in Kahuku, Hawai`i, on the North Shore of O`ahu, trainer Judy Suan of Hawaii
Fi-Do Service
Dogs was training dogs to detect oncoming episodes of the posttraumatic stress
disorder that their active military owners battled, and to help calm their
owners until the episodes subsided.
These events, and many more like them, are made possible by an intricate web of
organizations and individuals across the United States and Canada who, for
generally altruistic reasons, take part in and support the industry of raising,
training, placing and looking after assistance animals.
The business of raising animals to assist disabled people—which began in
Morristown, New Jersey,
in 1929 with The Seeing Eye, an organization that continues to raise and train
dogs to help people
who are blind or visually impaired—has expanded into a nationwide grassroots
network. This network
connects a wide variety of people and animals in processes that begin when the
animals are very
young. In fact, the puppy that your neighbor is raising next door might very
well be taking his or
her first steps toward becoming a critical support for a person with a
disability. Today, dogs are trained to provide vision support for people who are
legally blind through a number of organizations, including Guide Dogs for the
Blind. Founded in 1942, this nonprofit organization has headquarters in San
Rafael, California, and an expansive training facility in Boring, Oregon,
outside of Portland. It is the outfit that bred, raised, trained and finally
placed Makiko, the black Labrador who guided Jessica safely across a Portland
street. Cheryl Vincent, a training supervisor at GDB, explains that the
organization’s two locations work with approximately 300 teams of dogs and
clients each year. GDB has a structured, multistep program that culminates with
the clients’ traveling to one of the campuses for an intensive two-week tutorial
focused on working with—and, importantly, bonding with—their new dogs. During
the training, the dogs sleep in the same rooms as the clients and are fed by
them. At the end of the two weeks, the dogs and clients go home together as a
In addition to vision assistance, dogs are being trained for a wide range of
support: from helping people with conditions such as posttraumatic stress
disorder and autism to calming people in high-stress situations. Canine
Companions for Independence, founded in 1975 and headquartered in Santa Rosa,
California, coordinates more than 1,000 volunteer puppy-raisers and trains
various types of assistance
dogs. These include hearing dogs that aid people with hearing loss, service dogs
that help people with
disabilities such as mobility limitations, and facility dogs that offer
place-oriented aids such as comforting people who deliver emotional testimony in
CCI is a founding member of Assistance Dogs International. ADI is a coalition of
nonprofit assistance-dog organizations that issues accreditation, provides
public education, and maintains an international clearinghouse of organizations
that helps match dogs with clients. Schools affiliated with ADI range from small
programs in people’s homes to the Prison Pet Partnership, a nonprofit that
teaches inmates at the Washington Corrections Center for Women outside of Gig
Harbor to train service and therapy dogs. And the list of roles played by
assistance dogs goes on and on.
“It’s amazing what these dogs can do,” says Mary McNeight, who owns and directs
training at Seattle’s Service Dog Academy, founded in 2008. McNeight is
developing an online curriculum for training dogs to
detect blood sugar spikes in diabetics by utilizing dogs’ acute sense of smell.
Using saliva samples collected from people with high and low blood sugar,
McNeight can teach a dog to detect either condition, frequently before the
patient notices it. She also once trained a dog to detect the early
symptoms of a client’s oncoming narcolepsy episode to give the client time to
move to a safe location.
“We’re just in the infancy of learning how to train dogs and utilize their
skills,” says McNeight.
The world of animal assistants also includes miniature horses, which, like dogs,
can be trained to provide companionship and safe movement for the visually
impaired. The North Carolina–based Guide Horse Foundation, founded in 1999, has
become a leader in training horses for service. And in Boston, Helping Hands:
Monkey Helpers for the Disabled Inc., founded in 1979, is the only organization
in the country, and possibly the world, that raises, trains and places service
monkeys. These animals—with their bright minds and opposable thumbs—have
abilities to assist people who have mobility impairments resulting from injury
or illness.
Ned, from Concord, has a special bond with his monkey, Kasey. In fact, Kasey has
been such an inspiration that Ned’s mother, Ellen, who provides care to her son
and Kasey, published the memoir Kasey to the Rescue: The Remarkable Story of a
Monkey and a Miracle in 2010. Ned explains in an email the relationship he has
with Kasey: “Kasey is a great helper monkey and does many things to help me that
I can’t do,” writes Ned. “But what none of us knew before she came to me was how
incredibly intuitive she is. She knows when I am in pain and wants to do
whatever she can for me. She is amazingly
smart and clever.” Besides picking things up for him and helping him through
episodes of pain, Kasey fetches bottles of water and brings Ned’s phone to him
when it rings. Because she is a natural tool user, Ned says, she can open just
about anything, including bottles, jars and other containers.
Helping Hands Executive Director Megan Talbert says that Kasey is one of 161
monkeys that have been placed with clients in 38 states since the nonprofit’s
inception. Besides currently placing eight to 10 monkeys a year, the staff of 12
people provides lifetime support to all the monkeys in the field. The staff also
oversees a group of volunteers, interns and work-study students from Boston
University who help out at “The Monkey College”—the Thomasand Agnes Carvel
Foundation Center in Boston, where director of Training Alison Payne oversees
an extensive regimen of socialization and skills development.
The cost of this work, Talbert says, is a staggering $40,000 per monkey, all of
which is borne by the organization through its fundraising efforts, with grants
and corporate and individual donations. “We do
not receive any government money or insurance reimbursements for our service
animals,” she says.
The same is true for Guide Dogs for the Blind, which estimates that the value of
a trained dog is $65,000, but, like the Helping Hands organization, offers all
its services for free to clients. GDB includes in these free services the costs
of its two week training visit. The bottom line is that the assistance-animal
industry is almost entirely funded by grants and private donations of both time
and dollars.
As GDB trainer Sioux Strong points out, these figures don’t account for the
percentage of dogs (nearly 50 percent) that do not complete training programs
for reasons as varied as being physically unable to handle the job, to being
temperamentally unsuited to it, to not having the focus to work safely
with a visually impaired person. The organization’s breeding program now works
almost exclusively with golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers and mixtures of
those breeds. German shepherds, the original
guide dogs, have been phased out of the program. “Our success rate with
shepherds was much lower than with other dogs,” explains Strong. “We made a
business choice years ago to not use them.”
Dogs that experience a “career change”—a euphemism for failing to complete the
program—might be placed with organizations that train other types of helper
animals, such as rescue dogs or drug-detection dogs. Or they might be placed as
buddies for visually impaired children or become non-service pets. Spend some
time with service animal trainers and you quickly get the sense that they are
individuals who are truly inspired by animals and motivated to help other
people. Guide Dogs for the Blind instructor Crystal Lange, for example, has
loved animals ever since she collected creatures such as
frogs and turtles as a kid in California. As a teenager, she saw a man with a
guide dog and was motivated to learn how to train animals to be so useful. She
applied to and was accepted by the Exotic Animal Training and Management program
at Moorpark College, northwest of Los Angeles, where she worked with everything
from hyenas to camels. She joined GDB in 2004 as a “canine welfare technician,”
or kennel worker, and was promoted to become a trainer in 2008. Working with the
clients is just as important a skill as working with the dogs, she points out.
“I love working with dogs and with people,” she says. “My job also includes home
interviews, follow ups, working the dogs and training them
with people.”
Lange says this as she takes a break from training Pilgrim, a golden retriever
who is nearly ready to be placed with a client. Returning to her job, Lange
slips leather booties onto Pilgrim’s hind feet. Then the two of them go to work
riding the escalators of the Pioneer Place shopping mall, one of many
environments that Pilgrim must learn to navigate safely before he is ready to
enter service.
A few miles south of where Pilgrim and Crystal Lange are training is another
significant service-animal organization, based in the Salem, Oregon, suburb of
Silverton. Paul White, a professional carpenter and
circular-staircase designer, founded Service Dogs of Oregon in 2012 as a
continuation of the dog-training work that he had begun in San Diego in the
early 1990s. He came to working with dogs from a different
track: When his late wife, Cyndy Clay, lost a leg to diabetes complications, the
couple requested and received a service dog. The dog, a black Labrador named
Napoleon, completely transformed their lives.
“He was a very amazing dog,” recalls Paul White over coffee. “He could pull her
wheelchair, get things out of the fridge for her, pick up things that she
dropped and return her chair to her. It’s difficult to
describe all of the things that he did.” Not only could Napoleon retrieve the
White says, but he could figure out complicated tasks such as getting it through
a narrow doorway. “His greatest strength was his ability to learn.” Napoleon
lived to be 13 years old, and the experience with this dog led Paul White and
Cyndy Clay to volunteer with Canine Companions for Independence,
then to establish support groups and remedial training for people with service
dogs, and finally to begin training dogs themselves, in the San Diego area.
White now estimates that he has trained about 140
dogs and presently has 14 dogs in training, including three that are about to
graduate from his program. Those dogs include a golden retriever that has been
trained to assist an autistic child; a black Labrador
that assists a high school student in a wheelchair; and Janika, the Saint
Bernard that has been training to assist Sandy, the woman with multiple
sclerosis. White’s program differs from programs such as Guide Dogs for the
Blind because he selects and places younger dogs with clients, and then trains
people and dogs to work together through a two-year program that is largely
conducted in their homes and
in public places. In this way, he says, the dog and client form an early bond
and work together at their own pace. White charges a startup fee of $250 to
cover harnesses, vests, books and training equipment, and then $45 per month for
23 months. “I don’t do this for income,” he says. “I do it because it’s my way
of giving back for all the things I got from it.”
Talk with Paul White for a few minutes and you realize that he has depths of
insight into dog behaviors and personalities that are not readily apparent to
those of us who are happy just to get our dogs to
stop chewing bedroom slippers. White speaks of identifying dogs that are
predisposed to intervene in disputes; these dogs are especially good at helping
people with PTSD. Nobody knows for certain if it’s a
function of their sense of smell or a dog’s acute awareness and study of its
master, or some combination of both, but these dogs can sense an oncoming
anxiety attack before the client senses it directly; they are trained to get the
client up and moving until the panic subsides.
The full impact of the benefits provided by a service animal to a client sinks
in when you watch Sandy, the woman with MS, pull herself along with canes, her
legs in braces and her service dog, Janika,
wearing a leash and vest at Sandy’s side. Without even a command from her
client, the dog calmly stands in place so Sandy can brace herself on the dog’s
broad back and lower herself into a chair. Then Janika lies down at Sandy’s
feet, awaiting further instructions. “She’s God’s gracious gift,” Sandy offers
with a smile at Janika. Per Paul White’s program of having a dog live with its
client as it trains, Sandy and Janika have been companions for about two years,
since Janika was three and a half months old.
Sandy begins to tick off the behaviors that Janika has learned and the supports
she provides: “She picks things up for me— picks up my crutches and other
objects. She opens doors for me with a special hook that I can attach to her
leash, or she finds and opens an automatic door by pushing the button with her
nose. She helps me remove my coat and clothes. She finds restrooms in public
places. She finds the car.”
White adds that Janika has even been trained to trip the handset on a special
phone, push the keypad with her paw and trigger an automatic call to 911 or a
neighbor if Sandy is in a crisis. In sum, Janika allows Sandy a freedom to
function and to be more active than she has been since the onset of her illness.
And at the end of the day, Janika is a companion and a loving pet. “When her
vest is off, she loves to play catch with a ball. But it has to have a squeaker
in it,” Sandy says with a laugh.
On a cool spring afternoon in Boring, Oregon, a jubilant Makiko and her client,
Jessica, are ready
to graduate from the Guide Dogs for the Blind program. Jessica and five
classmates came together two weeks earlier, lived in dorm rooms on campus and
bonded with their new dogs as they learned how to work with them. All of the
graduates except Jessica had previously owned guide dogs that had either retired
or passed away, which is one of the harsh realities of working with service
dogs: Their careers typically last for only eight to 10 years. The bimonthly
graduation program held on the Boring campus is not only filled with friends and
families of the graduates but also with the volunteer families who raised the
guide dogs as puppies. The volunteers range from an Enumclaw, Washington, family
celebrating the placement of its 100th dog, to a high school student from
Seattle named Delphine, who cries on stage as she hands over her first service
dog, a handsome yellow Labrador retriever named Corbett, to a grateful
recipient—Heather, a mother of three from Chandler, Arizona. Another client, a
woman named Erin,
from Minneapolis, Minnesota, sums up the assistance-animal programs nicely as
she receives her dog, Bamboo, a handsome black Labrador. “It speaks volumes to
me about the heart and soul of humanity that you do this,” she says to the
assembled trainers, volunteers and staff. Then she walks off the stage, her hand
on a harness, taking the first of many steps assisted by her newly graduated
helper and companion.

Published by

Jessica N and Makiko

Jessica is a proud Texan. She graduated in 2014 with her Master of Science in Rehabilitation Counseling and is now employed. She is visually impaired and has a retinal disease, Retinitis Pigmentosa. Originally Jessica started blogging about everything from being diagnosed with the disease to where she is now, almost 9 years later. Then, Jessica went to Guide Dogs for the Blind and was blessed with Makiko, her new guide dog. Now, her blog "The Way Eye See The World" is about everything related to visual impairments, including guide dogs.

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