By Shannon Garner
Wanting a guide dog for most of my visual impaired life, I decided to take that step almost 4 years ago. Being around guide dogs and other service animals, I knew that it would be a huge responsibility to take care of one. Before applying to any guide dog schools, I did a massive amount of research on the different options around the country. I also sat down and really thought about what I truly wanted, asking myself whether I wanted to remain strictly a cane user, or if I should get a service dog. I’ve always been solely responsible for myself, and becoming a guide dog handler would mean that I have a lot more responsibility.
After completing my research, I chose Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) in San Rafael, CA. My entire experience from start to finish was amazing. I started applying in November of 2015. I spoke to a representative from GDB after submitting my application, and she guided me through the rest of the application process. There are several things you must complete before stepping foot on one of the two GDB campuses. In addition to the initial application, you have to complete three additional forms (Ophthalmologist’s Report, mobility instructor report, physician report), a telephone interview, and a home interview. Then and only then do you know if you have been accepted or not. Of course, I was accepted, and started training on September 25, 2016.
GDB mainly use a mix between Labradors or golden retrievers for guide dog candidates. Of course, you have the ability to tell GDB what kind of dog you want, and which campus you want to go to. However, keep in mind the more flexible you are, the faster you can receive your new partner. I myself wanted a golden retriever, but I opted to be as flexible as possible to breakdown my waiting period, and after a ten-month wait, 2 weeks of training, and an extremely emotional dog switch, I graduated on October 8, 2016 on GDB’s Oregon campus with my handsome yellow Labrador Tracker (Track Star).
On graduation day, nervousness and excitement was thick in the air. I was able to meet Tracker’s puppy raiser, her mother, father, and twin sister. Tracker received lots of love, and was definitely a show stopper during graduation when he gave me a handshake and kiss on stage like a true gentleman; he was absolutely perfect. Our personalities are so similar, and there’s no way that GDB could have made a better match for me.
I would like to give a very special thanks to GDB, and every single person who had a hand in molding the perfect puppy for me. Over the past three years, GDB has provided amazing support and guidance to ensure our partnership is a success, and I’m abundantly grateful. It has been an amazing experience with Tracker, and I can’t wait to see what the next three years have in store for us. XOXO for my Track Star!