Follow-up visit


Selfie style pic of Makiko (black Labrador) laying on Jessica (Caucasian woman) who is wearing a black tshirt with white writing. Makiko is cuddled against Jessica's chest resting, with her eyes closing as she rests. One of her purple toys is sitting on the couch beneath her.
Black Labrador guide dog is centered in the frame on Jessica's chest. Her eyes are closing as she rests with her purple toy near her paw.
Makiko and I had a great day! Michelle, an instructor and Field Rep, from Guide Dogs for The Blind came out as she was making the rounds doing evaluations on all the teams. Makiko and I did great! Michelle gave us a few tips on different tricky situations. I was so proud of Makiko and she was so proud of herself. We played and cuddled so much after. She is now happily laying on me and it melts my heart so. This precious girl keeps my heart and body going each and every day. Love her! 

I knew Makiko and I were doing excellent but it still makes me a little nervous when they come out. It’s always great to hear how our working relationship is still top notch!

Guide Dogs for The Blind is one of the only schools that has this amazing follow-up program. Most schools do not do yearly follow ups and emergent visits when teams have problems. It makes me so grateful I chose Guide Dogs for The Blind and Guide Dogs for The Blind chose me!

Beauty in Blindness


I am Blind. I am BeautifulBlindness is beautiful.

I love my life as a blind individual. Growing from a person with full sight, to a person with low vision, to a person who is legally blind with very little vision remaining, I have learned a lot and believe I have a special outlook on life. With a lot of the scientific research that has been happening, I get asked increasingly more often.. “If you could, would you become sighted again?” Honestly, right now my answer is no. I love the life I live right now. Blindness doesn’t define me but it has most definitely shaped me. Here are some of the many reasons I love being blind or that being blind has taught me:

  • Personality vs. Appearance – I get to know somebody first based on their personality. I can still see a little but what they look like but their personality weighs much heavier than their physical appearance. I realize that some sighted people are like this too but I just think it’s much easier for me to see someone for who they are on the inside than who they are on the out with limited vision.
  • Airports – In most airports, we get to skip the long lines at TSA and go right to the front.
  • Performances – I often get to sit up front at performances and those who accompany me do too!
  • Spidey Senses – As I’ve discussed on here before, it’s a myth that when you lose one sense, your other senses are automatically better. Often times though when someone loses one sense, they become more dependent on the other senses so they concentrate on them more, thus giving off the impression that they are automatically better. I know who is coming down the hall often times at the office by their footsteps, their shoes, or some other indicator. A lot of what I can’t pick up on visually, I can audibly or tactually.
  • Dirty Looks – If other people give me dirty looks, I often won’t see them.
  • Designated Driver – I never ever have to be the designated driver – win!
  • Problem-Solving – I have had to problem solve a lot more than many of my peers have, to do the simplest of tasks. Many bigger problems don’t phase me any more because I’ve become so accustomed to staying calm and just working out the problem.
  • One car household – Steven and I will only ever have to pay one car payment and one car insurance payment per month. Now, the not being able to drive thing does suck a lot on most days but this is definitely one of the advantages.
  • Knowledge of governmental agencies/legal agencies – Unfortunately, I have been discriminated against on multiple occasions due to my blindness and/or using a service animal. I have learned a wealth about the Fair Housing Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, Air Carriers Access Act, as well as the complaint processes through HUD, Department of Justice, and Disability Rights Texas.
  • Career Choice – Losing my vision led me to the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services Division for Blind Services several years ago as a consumer and transformed my career path into becoming a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor for the agency. I absolutely love what I do and don’t think I would have found this career path without my vision loss.
  • Empathy – My job is all about working with individuals with disabilities to transition out of high school. I feel like I can empathize with my consumers on a deeper level in some ways as I’ve experienced a lot of what they have experienced, just maybe in different ways.. especially if it relates to transportation.
  • Self-Confidence – My self-confidence has increased exponentially as I’ve had to “sell myself” as in show my strengths to various people, such as employers, and have developed a strong level of confidence in my skills, strengths, and abilities.
  • Tough Skin – I’m still pretty sensitive about many things but my skin has definitely become thicker since losing my vision as I’ve had to deal with some pretty difficult things.
  • Friends – I have met so many wonderful people through my journey as a person with vision loss. One of my very best friends I met specifically because a mutual  friend knew we both had the same eye condition (Retinitis PIgmentosa) and introduced us.
  • Presentations – When I’m giving large presentations, since my peripheral vision is so narrow, I can’t see more than one person in the audience and I can’t see them with any definition. Many have joked about this in the past but I do think that this has helped me over the years cut down on the anxiety of presenting in front of large groups a little bit.
  • Technology –  I have always loved technology but especially now that I depend on technology for many parts of my personal and work life, I am pretty skilled with all different types of traditional technology and assistive technology. I am able to provide a lot of assistance to my sighted/non-disabled peers on a daily basis because I have had so much experience with it.
  • Guide dog/Makiko – Last, but certainly not least, I have had the opportunity to be partnered with Makiko, my beautiful guide dog, who has encouraged me through some really tough times, has taught me to be confident, has shown me how independent I can be, and is always so loving. Through her, I have become really involved with Guide Dogs for the Blind, taking on a leadership position as one of the founding Presidents of our state Alumni Chapter, “The Eyes of Texas,” participating with Lone Star Guide Dog Raisers, our local puppy raising group, creating and facilitating “Guide Dog Handlers Network,” a Facebook social/support group for guide dog handlers from all over the world, and giving presentations in the local community about guide dogs, service dogs, the ADA, and blindness etiquette. I did a few presentations before her about some of these topics but she has opened many doors for me.

I have gained so much as a person with vision loss. Sure, I have lost a few things too (such as my ability to drive) but what I have now is beautiful. I love the life I live and I love the opportunities being a blind young woman has given me.

International Assistance Dog Week


August 7-13

My life was forever changed when I was matched with Makiko on March 3, 2013 at Guide Dogs for The Blind’s Oregon Campus. This week, International Assistance Dog Week, highlights how so many dogs across the world are helping their handlers to maintain their health, safety, independence, and freedom. 

There are many types of assistance dog. Guide dogs are often the most well known. In recent years, psychiatric service dogs are gaining more awareness. There are many other types of assistance dogs- mobility service dogs, hearing service dogs, medical alert service dogs, autism service dogs, and seizure response dogs. 

Many assistance dogs are program trained (from an organization that specifically trains them) but there are also many dogs that are owner trained or trained with a private trainer. It is important to remember that all are covered under the ADA as long as the dog is well trained and performs certain tasks to mitigate the handlers disability. 

Please always remember that assistance dogs are often focused on keeping their handler safe and healthy and being their eyes, ears, reminder system, mobility device, etc. and distracting them could put their handlers life in danger and interfere with their ability to do their job and their training. You can always ask the handler if you want to pet but please accept if they say no. 

Happy International Assistance Dog Week! 

Jessica is listening to traffic while Makiko also focuses. If Jessica commands her forward and it is not safe, Makiko will “intelligently disobey” Jessica to keep her safe.

My Sanity Dog


As many of you know, I am a Transition Voc Rehab Counselor which means that I help individuals with disabilities, specifically high schoolers and young adults, transition out of secondary education and into employment. Sometimes that means some sort of training (academic, vocational, on the job), sometimes not. It often involves a lot of counseling and guidance on my part as well as more than likely some sort of therapy (ABA, psychotherapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, etc) and/or disability related skills training (social skills, independent living skills, etc). We do person centered planning so we put all of the puzzle pieces together – transportation, financial, independent living, social, recreation, long-term plans, etc. There are two divisions of our agency- Division for Blind Services (DBS) and Division for Rehabilitation Services (DRS). I often describe it as one is blind, and one serves everybody else. I work for the “everybody else” division so we have a LOT of Autism in transition, but also many physical disabilities, intellectual disabilities, mental illness, etc. Most consumers have multiple disabilities. It is a LOT of work because these young adults often have very little of this figured out prior but oh my GOODNESS is it rewarding. 

Some days are harder than others. Today was a particularly stressful day because of one consumers situation that really touched my heart; however, a lot occurred in one day and it was just exhausting. It carried into the night because we Transition Counselors often work evenings. Makiko literally was all over me… She kept laying her head on any part of my body she could touch and kept checking in with me every 2 min. Once everything calmed down, I was still hyped up off of the situation. I went to play with Makiko so she would stop worrying about me and that ended up lasting about an hour. Really what it did was calm me down which then made her calm down. She still won’t leave my side. No really, we are laying down right now and she has to be touching me at all times like she has been all night. She is super alert to me moving and keeps checking on me like “are you still okay?” 

She picked up on my stress more tonight than I can ever remember. She literally stayed right there near me to help me calm down. She made me feel guilty and demanded my attention which is really the only thing that got me to chill tonight. The people I could talk to were almost all in bed probably (fellow DARS Counselors) and while others would probably understand some (what little I could tell them), they wouldn’t get the full picture. Luckily, Makiko can hear the full story and gets the “Mama needs a lot of loving” out of it and gives me just that.

While we were playing though, I noticed she has some white hairs on the back of her face!!! I spotted some on her belly the other day. Noooooo!!

Pictured is a very up close image of Makiko’s face wirh several white hairs

Please vote for your FAVORITE guide, Makiko!!!!


Dear Friends and Family,
As you know, Guide Dogs for the Blind is a very important organization to me. They gave me freedom and independence through Makiko. Everything was provided completely free to me as it is to all their visually impaired clients. Did you know that each dog is valued at about $50,000 between their veterinary care, food, training, our training with her, our transportation to training as well as our food and housing while in training, lifelong veterinary care and follow up training as needed!
Makiko has three entries into a contest fundraiser they are holding this year. I have posted the links below to her three entries. The winner gets to be on the Guide Dogs for The Blind Calendar next year!!!
It costs $1 to vote, and there’s no limit on how many times you can vote. The voting proceeds are all tax-deductible donations to Guide Dogs for the Blind (where applicable). 
Please consider voting! Here are her entries: 
Makiko in her cap and gown with me as we get ready to cross the stage and get my Masters degree: https://www.gogophotocontest.com/guidedogs/entries/40019

  

Makiko looking up at her Mommy (me) excited to get to work: https://www.gogophotocontest.com/guidedogs/entries/39598

  

Makiko in harness in front of Texas Bluebonnets: https://www.gogophotocontest.com/guidedogs/entries/39593

  

Please share this!! 
Thank you so much for your donation,

Jessica and Makiko

An Open Letter to Jenni and Puppy Raisers


Jenni,

Happy National Puppy Day. I wanted to thank you again for the puppy you helped raise.

On July 26, 2011, Makiko was born. A short few months later, you took her into your home and heart and raised a beautiful black Labrador who has literally saved my life, kept me emotionally strong, allowed me to work full time in a job that I absolutely love, and make an even greater impact on the lives of individuals with disabilities and my community as a whole.

You taught her:

  • How to sit, stand, and stay
  • How to have an amazing bladder
  • How to poop and pee on command and be comfortable with us approaching her while she does her business so we can clean up accordingly
  • How to be perfect at heeling
  • How to cross over door thresholds confidently
  • How to soak up all the massages when we brush her
  • How to tolerate the ear cleaning
  • How to try and get as much toothpaste off the toothbrush before it actually reaches the teeth but eventually let us brush them
  • How to let peopleexamine her as necessary with no problem
  • How to be the social and super polite dog she is
  • How to start snoring when “times up… They have officially bored us!” 
  • And so much more…

She loves to greet people off harness but has so much self control and when I’m seeing clients, they literally never know she is there until she moves around or starts snoring. You gave her the skills to succeed and were the BEST PUPPY RAISER for her… For us!
I still wonder how you gave her up and think of you daily when Makiko does both the little things and the big things to make my life better. 

Depression is not something I have talked about very often but I did have a lot of struggles with depression. January 2013 is when my father, my best friend, passed away. March 2013 is when I got Makiko. I was very much just starting the grieving process. Having Makiko by my side helped me be able to grieve the loss of my father, but also of my vision.

In order to get a guide dog, one has to have significant vision loss. While I was most of the time pretty chill about it, it was still hard to deal with at times. Over our three year partnership, I have lost most of what remaining vision I did have. That is so hard yet Makiko was literally and figuratively my guiding light through it all. She helps reduce my anxiety more than I can describe which has improved my overall general health and well-being an incredible amount. 

Another requirement to get a guide dog is that you have good cane/Orientation and Mobility skills. I had the best Orientation and Mobility trainer around, Micha Moore, but I still hated the cane. She taught me the skills though so I could get a guide dog, which is way more efficient and relaxing! The cane makes a lot of people nervous to approach blind people in my experience. A guide dog is obviously so much more socially welcoming. I also worried a lot more when I had a cane… What were we going to find.. How were we going to get around it… What hole will my cane get stuck in today and then go jabbing into my stomach. These are just some of the negatives of having a cane but of course there are many pros to cane use too… Just not in my book and not for me. I can relax, enjoy traveling, and enjoy using that little vision I have to see the world around me and not be worried. 

Currently, between 70% and 80% of working age blind adults are unemployed. This is absolutely tragic. Not only does Makiko give me the orientation and mobility to do my job, but she also gives me the confidence to do by being a confident traveler, which is absolutely critical. As a Transition Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor for the State of Texas, my job is going to over 12 high schools and working with the students with disabilities to transition out of high school and obtain and maintain gainful employment. High schools are HUGE these days and the students are definitely not concerned about watching out for that blind chick walking down the hallway. But that’s okay.. Makiko is! She knows where we office in all of the high schools and can confidently get me there. This is a huge confidence booster because little do most of them know that I don’t know where we are going.. SHE does!

We travel a lot independently (around the United States and within Texas) and it was pretty scary for a while with my degenerated vision. However now, traveling is no big deal, as long as I have Makiko by my side. That confidence, independence, and freedom is invaluable.

She is an ice breaker, as most guides are. But there’s just something about her beautiful and cute self that allows people to feel more comfortable when approaching me, which helps me both personally and professionally. 

Because you raised such an amazing dog who grew up to be a guide, I have/had the confidence to become even more vocal and a bigger advocate by doing more public speaking and organizing events to raise awareness and funds for different disabilities and disability related causes. Additionally, I have a new family.. The Guide Dogs for The Blind family… And I have the opportunity to volunteer with and socialize with some of the best people on the planet.. Puppy raisers, other guide dog handlers, and Guide Dogs for The Blind. 

Friends and family have this running joke now that I just WALKED… SO…. SLOW before getting Makiko and now daily people are telling me how I walk TOO DANG FAST for someone with short legs and who is visually impaired. People literally move to different sides of the hall.. Not to avoid me because of my loss of vision.. But to get out of our way because we’re coming and we’re coming fast. My favorite memory of this was when I first landed in Dallas after guide dog training. My mom was pushing the luggage cart with my great aunt and we had nearly cleared several hallways.. And they were still way back there. She built up my muscle and has allowed me to do more than I ever could do physically pre-Makiko. 

You have such a caring gentle spirit about you and have raised my beautiful guide dog to be just like that. After a long day, she comes home gives me all the cuddles in the world. She loves immensely. She also has a goofy side, which I have picked up on that you also have. She can just be the goofiest with her need to have her back end scratched in the air or do her little prance. Her first mama wasn’t a dancer or anything was she? 😉

Thank you for giving selflessly so that I can have the best baby in the world. Thank you for your patience, love, dedication, money, and time so that I can be an independent, hard working, contributing citizen and live the life that I want to live.. And not let my visual impairment get in the way. Thank you for giving me my everything 

Love,

Jessica Naert and Makiko

Soon after Jenni got Makiko off the puppy truck, she holds a sweet tiny Black Labrador with some greenery in the background.

Jessica sits with Makiko by her side during their official graduation photo on March 16, 2013
  
A few Christmas’ ago, Jenni, Makiko, and Jessica hug in front of the Christmas Tree in Colorado.
 

Puppy raising!


Today, Makiko and I went to another puppy raising meeting with Lone Star Guide Dog Raisers, the Texas puppy raising group for Guide Dogs for the Blind (Guide Dogs for The Blind). 

This is a great opportunity for Makiko and I to keep our skills and techniques sharp, learn new tricks that could help us, and even sometimes get a chance to share with puppy raisers how it is applicable. They also often talk about it in each meeting. Today, I shared about how Makiko can stay in her bed for hours on end, despite me walking in and out, consumers with significant disabilities coming in and out and making a lot of noise, etc. She can stay there for hours. Now, I do give her a chance to go to the restroom but she will just stay there until commanded to come. They were talking about “go to bed” and I explained how important this is to my daily life. 

For example, they teach the dogs to “come” and line up right in front of the raisers legs, pretty much between them, so that the blind handler will know when they are there. Makiko pretty much does this but each handler has their own preferences and things are kind of adapted. Makiko comes to me and touches my hand to let me know that she is there, which I love. I think it is just so sweet and fulfills the purpose. 

Steven, my boyfriend, came to the meeting with me today. He has come to one or two in the past. It was awesome to have him there. He gets really interested in the training of dogs and even calls me on my errors. 🙂 We have started talking about when we move in together, how we would like to have a guide, a puppy in training, and a pet dog. We will see! 

LSGDR is truly an amazing club! They now have over 150 dogs and when I joined a few years ago there were only like 20. Such amazing people!