Ann Ulibarri, recently featured in Guide Dog News with her guide dog Woon, is a licensed marriage and family therapist who lives with her husband in Fairfield, Calif. Born in Minnesota, she’s spent most of her life in California, receiving her undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of California, at Davis, and her graduate degree, also in psychology, from Chapman University located in Orange County.
As a licensed marriage and family therapist, she specializes in helping people deal with life altering illnesses, anxiety, and depression and facilitated a breast cancer support group as a 13-year survivor. Having always had poor night vision, Ann’s vision loss progressed, and in her early 30s, she was legally blind. She describes her career path as “the direct result of my diagnosis and journey to accept my blindness. That experience shaped my life plan. I returned to school the year I turned 40 and ultimately obtained my degrees and license.”
Ann first learned about GDB from her sister and initially applied for a career change dog. Twelve years later, Bobbiejo remains an integral part of the family and she credits Bobbiejo for “a wonderful introduction to GDB, making the transition to a guide dog a natural one.”
Ann decided it was time to get a guide dog when she wasn’t comfortable functioning in unfamiliar environments without assistance. It fit her desire to remain active and independent. Her husband hoped a guide dog would provide his wife freedom, safety, and confidence. Prior to arriving to campus, her concerns were: could she physically handle the class, would she and her dog “fit” together, and how would she fare being away from her husband and familiar home environment?
Describing the moment she met Woon as “time seemed to slow down and all of the unknowns vanished. I sensed she was a loving and eager girl who was solid in her training and could support me as I embarked on a new phase in my life.”
Ann’s reasons for loving the guide dog lifestyle include the freedom and sense of independence in her life, with her partnership with Woon. “The love and companionship of Woon is not only important to me but she also is a people magnet and a very special partner in my work as a therapist. She goes to work with me every day and has a huge “fan club.” This is a great connection to the world and my clients! So often people say that her eyes are soulful and her kind and compassionate spirt are “great” therapy.
Her experience in class was positive and she credits the staff as “incredibly focused on the mission to empower lives. They accomplish that goal but also so much more. Reflecting on her time in class, she says, “For the first time, I was able to allow myself to let go of self-consciousness and not feel awkward when navigating through people, buildings, and outside environments. I feel I completely stepped into my acceptance of blindness in a whole new way, even after 35 years of living with it. Of course, Woon has been a big part of that, but it started with the people at GDB.” Ann recommends the guide dog lifestyle to anyone considering it and recommends this with full confidence knowing the comprehensive, and ongoing support offered at GDB.