December 17, 2022, will always be a special day for Kristen Ingalz. That’s when she and her yellow Lab, Bestie, graduated as a guide dog team on our Oregon campus. “To say that Bestie has changed my life is an understatement,” she says.
A few years earlier, Kristen, a wife, mother, and aspiring Japanese translator, was attempting to seek out orientation and mobility (O&M) services near her home in San Jose, Calif. She had experienced changes to her peripheral vision and knew that she needed to learn the O&M skills necessary for safe, independent travel with a white cane. However finding O&M instruction was proving to be difficult.
Kristen attempted to enroll in a formal program but the agency only accepted school-age clients or senior citizens. Kristen then explored do-it-yourself O&M training by watching YouTube videos. Needless to say, the resources were lacking and after several run-ins with overhead obstacles that left her with concussions, she found herself staying home more often. Eventually, she only felt comfortable leaving home when she was with other people who could help her remain safe.
Fortunately, a friend told her about GDB’s Orientation and Mobility Immersion (OMI) Program, and it was exactly what she needed. She quickly applied and attended the course. “I learned more in a week than I did in the previous several years,” says Kristen.
GDB’s OMI Program also gives clients the opportunity to walk with a guide dog. For Kristen, that walk was life-changing. “I wasn’t even thinking about getting a guide dog,” she said, “but when the guide dog kept me from walking into an overhead tree branch, a light bulb went off in my head. That’s when I knew I wanted a guide dog.”
Several months later, Kristen entered GDB’s Guide Dog Training Program and was partnered with Bestie. “When our class went to a nearby Target, I couldn’t believe the way Bestie navigated around the people and various obstacles in the aisles. I felt safe with her,” says Kristen. “Now, I go to the shopping mall, the movies, and the grocery store. I am more involved in my 11-year-old daughter’s school functions and enjoy hiking busy trails with my family. I can’t tell you how much my life has changed for the better.”
Kristen credits Bestie for giving her the added confidence to pursue her master’s degree to fulfill her lifelong dream of becoming a Japanese translator. “I want GDB’s donors to know that in the span of one year, I went from a place of feeling such anxiety over the potential hazards of simply getting around safely to now being able to do the everyday things that most people do.
The freedom to live my life on my own terms is truly life-altering.”