Class for new GDB guide dog teams looks different this year. Some clients are completing their training on campus in small, socially distanced classes; others are receiving individualized in-home training. Smaller private Zoom meetings have taken the place of public graduation celebrations. But even as we hold virtual graduations because of COVID, the day is still something special for all of us. It marks the start of new, life-changing partnerships.
Recent grad Chari Chauvin experienced a hybrid of the two: she attended class on our Oregon campus for one week and then spent her second week of training at home. While in-home training is more expensive, this type of individualized training enables our guide dog mobility instructors to design extremely personalized training programs to meet clients’ unique needs in their own environments. Chari’s home training for example, allowed our guide dog mobility instructors to work with her on the actual routes she takes to commute to her job with a global apparel company. Here’s her story:
In October 2020, Chari’s beloved 4-year-old guide dog, Joaquin, unexpectedly passed away due to cancer. She knew she wanted another guide dog to be able to live her best life, so she reapplied to GDB and was matched with a new guide, Haviland, in February.
“I was told the training staff felt they had a very good match for me, so I trusted in the process and decided to go with the flow,” she said. Chari was over the moon when she met Haviland. “She is a go-getter and super responsive. I couldn't be more thrilled.”
During their first walk together, Chari says: “It was that magic of ease of movement that I don't have using a white cane. It is mostly fluid and fast and confident and all-around awesome.”
Chari knew that training with a new guide dog would be an emotional process. Learning to place her trust in a new dog, even knowing how well trained they are, is not as easy. “That’s why you train for two weeks and work with amazing Guide Dog Mobility Instructors. I trust them and their skills, and that helped lead me to the confidence I needed to trust my new guide,” she said.
All training is tailored to each client’s needs, and Chari had high praise for her instructor, Caitlin Cole, and training supervisor, Lori Brown. “The relationship with an instructor is one you don’t forget,” she said. “They are your coach, encouraging you past your comfort zone; your champion, continually telling you how great you’re doing until you start to believe it yourself; your counselor, as they listen to all the fears you’re willing to admit; and your teacher, who has answers for just about any scenario that arises. One of the things I particularly appreciate is that they give you as much or as little help as you want. They don’t try to do things for you but are more than willing to help if you need it.”
Chari really enjoyed her time spent on campus. “GDB strives to attend to your every need. My two classmates were wonderful,” she said. “COVID protocols made it a bit harder to socialize so staff set up Zoom meetings where we could chat during mealtimes in our rooms.” And speaking of meals, Chari was impressed with the kindness and courtesy of staff and the amazing food available for clients. “The chef stops by to get your meal choices for dinner and each meal the following day. They make all of their food in-house including homemade bread and homemade dessert. Everything is so delicious!”
For her second week of training at home, in addition to establishing a few new travel routes with her instructor, Chari was able to practice her commute route, which involves not only a lot of walking but travel by both bus and train as well. “It was a really great way for me to see that this dog I've been matched with is incredibly solid,” she said. “It’s one thing to work with a new dog on routes they've worked many times throughout their formal training. It's another to work in an area they've never been to. This dog never missed one single beat. She's something. Haviland has excellent transit skills, another testament to the Puppy Raisers who make sure their puppies in training have a lot of exposure to mass transit.”
As she reflects on her training with her second guide dog, Chari knows that her graduation is just the start of her adventure. “Another bonus with GDB is their amazing client support center,” she said. “If I ever have any questions when I return home with my new guide, I’ll always have GDB’s support.” That support also includes GDB’s Alumni Association, as well as financial support for veterinary care, as needed thanks to our Veterinary Financial Assistance Program.
Because of COVID, there are currently no public graduations; rather, the traditional ceremonies now take place on Zoom where a client has the opportunity to meet their new dog’s puppy raisers. “Each of us talks about all the little stories we can think of and the awesome things the dog has done. Each of us is bursting with pride,” Chari said. “I also got to thank my puppy raisers for all they'd done to raise this superb dog and let them know how fantastic a guide dog she has become. It truly takes a village. I’m also forever grateful to GDB to be blessed with not just one, but now two superb guide dogs.”
All of our services are provided free of charge to our students, and GDB receives no government funding. We are 100% funded by private donations. Needless to say, the smaller classes and special equipment needed to accommodate strict COVID protocols such as special $500 headsets needed for socially distanced instruction, have driven up our costs considerably. Your generous gift of $20, $50, or even $100 will help us defray these costs.