Change Makers: A Podcast from APH

Canes vs. Guide Dogs

September 22, 2022 Episode 61
Change Makers: A Podcast from APH
Canes vs. Guide Dogs
Show Notes Transcript

On this episode of Change Makers, we’ll talk about the pros and cons of having a cane vs guide dog, learn how guide dogs are trained and speak with a guide dog owner about her experience. We’ll also preview our upcoming Annual Meeting.

On this Podcast (In Order of Appearance)

  • Jeff Fox (Narrator)
  • Sara Brown, APH Public Relations Manager
  • Kevin McCormack, Orientation and Mobility Specialist and Assistive Technology Consultant for the State of Kentucky
  • Leslie Hoskins, Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist and the Outreach Services and Community Engagement Manager at Leader Dogs for the Blind
  • Jessica Minneci, APH Communication Associate

Additional Links 

Jeff Fox:

Welcome to change makers , a podcast from APH . We're talking to people from around the world who are creating positive change in the lives of people who are blind or have low vision. Here's your host.

Sara Brown:

Hello, and welcome to change makers . I'm APH's Public Relations Manager, Sara Brown . And today we're learning about Canes Versus Guide Dogs. We'll talk about the pros and cons of having a cane versus a guide dog, learn how the guide dogs are trained, and speak with t he guide dog owner about her experience. We'll also preview our upcoming annual meeting, which is just a few weeks away up first. We have Kevin McCormack, Orientation and Mobility Specialist and Assistive Technology Consultant for the State of Kentucky. Hello, Kevin, and welcome to Change Makers.

Kevin McCormack:

Thank you. Glad to be here.

Sara Brown:

So you're an O&M specialist. Can you talk about what that is and what that is that you do?

Kevin McCormack:

Sure. Um, as an O&M Specialist , um, I see myself as a coach for , uh, people who are blind or visually impaired. Those are most of our students are blind or visually impaired students. Um, uh, as far as, so as a coach in regard to , uh, movement and navigation and understanding ones , uh, where one is in space. Uh , so basically O&M meaning , uh, you know, that's our short for orientation mobility. So O&M uh, is , uh, understanding where you are in your environment and your space as best as possible. And then the mobility part is the ability to move through that space as safely and efficiently as possible.

Sara Brown:

Are there any specific skills, one needs if they're going to get a guide dog versus using a cane?

Kevin McCormack:

Well, I , in order to get a dog , um, all the , uh, the guide dog schools that I know of , um, will make sure that they will assure that you, the , their students have , um, as much orientation, mobility , uh, training as possible. So , um, as far as one versus the other, really the way I see it is you need a fair amount of orientation, mobility training to even get a , a guide dog. Um, now, as far as having a guide dog , uh, some just some specific things with that is that you have to be, you know, willing to live with the dog. Um, day in, day out, you have to be willing to train the dog , um, and take care of the dog. You know, as far as you have , you gotta clean after your dog and be on a regular routine with your dog. You have to be ready to be more social, usually with people, cuz people are gonna be interested in your dog and want to talk to my , there might be more likelihood that , uh, people will talk to you as a user more , uh, they wanna talk to your dog. So, you know, you got , you wanna be ready for that as well.

Sara Brown:

What are some of the basic core skills, one needs if they are going to use a cane and at what age should a child begin learning cane skills?

Kevin McCormack:

Core skills, and how in , in beginning to train in using a cane, you know, I've thought about this. I'm not, I don't really think that there , I can't really think of anything to , uh, to have in order to start training with the cane. Other maybe other than , uh, the fact that the person is able to be mobile in some way on their own. And that, that includes being in a wheelchair. Now , um, one thought I had in thinking about this question was , uh, perhaps the ability to hold a cane with the hand, but even then , um, most , uh, O&M specialist should be able to , uh, make adaptations that if you can't use your hands for a , a , like a cane type device, they'll make something else that will preview the space in front of you. Um, so that's just to say that there, there are all sorts of possibilities for how to use a cane. And then I'm also defining cane is not like that single rod that you hold out in front of you, which is what most , uh, users use. Um, but it can be like a big rectangular shape. It can be something that straps around the waist and goes out in front of you. That's, you know, also kind of a rectangular shape. Uh , but just the , the , the way it holds onto is a bit different. So as far as age , um, I similar to the , my , uh, other answer where there's there really aren't any , uh, prerequisites that I can think of as far as beginning to use a cane. So is it with a , um, with the age , um, if whenever the child begins to be mobile in some way or another , uh, I believe that they can begin , uh, getting familiar with the cane. So if we're, if we're talking a kid that's just beginning to , uh, crawl or walk , uh, you know, like for example, hold hands with a parent and can move their legs, you know, and able to mobilize himself. You could even put a small cane in, in a hand or hold the hand and the cane, like the parent could, for example, just to begin getting , uh, accustomed to having something in the hand, having it out in front and it's previewing that space. So I'm my thought is that there's no limit on that either. There are a few different opinions though on that, but , uh, I think that earlier the better,

Sara Brown:

And when should you consider a, a guide dog?

Kevin McCormack:

Um , a lot of schools are , uh, guide dog training schools. They've moved down to 16 years old as far as the minimum age. Um, traditionally they've been at least 18 years old , uh, for training students. Um, but I think that the student needs to be able to show a lot of responsibility , uh, because they are going to have to, the expectation is that , uh, child, let's say they're 16 years old, that they're able to take care of the dog on their own, not they could use some help , uh, if they want, but they need to have the ability to take care of that dog on their own , um, to be able to follow the routines that the dog needs , um, to be able to play with their dog , um, to be ready, to be so more sociable with the other people that are gonna wanna talk , uh, with them with the dog. But I even before 16, you , you know, if , uh, if the , the teachers that work with that student and the family , uh, believes that this , uh, kid is , uh, has, is showing some good maturity in their life, they can begin talking about getting a dog , um, you know, once they hit 16 or 18 or whatever the case may be with the guide dog school that they go to

Sara Brown:

What assessments are done, if a person's gonna be a cane user versus what, what assessments are done, if the person's gonna be, is gonna be utilizing a guide dog, what assessments are done?

Kevin McCormack:

Well, there, there are a few assessments out there that many O&M specialists use. Uh, and , and this was for any blind or visually impaired student that they work with. It's not just to determine if they will need a cane or not. So some examples that I use a lot are the New Mexico school for the blind , um, uh, their O&M inventory and , uh, taps, which comes out of the Texas School for the Blind. Um, those are ones that I use, but something that we would look for as far as whether that student's gonna use a cane or not is , uh, depth perception. Are they able to reliably detect when, for example, there's a step down ahead of them. Um, can they visually detect that, you know, a hundred percent or 99.9 , 9% of the time? Um, even if it's not contrasted, let's say it's all that gray, concrete color. There's no like , uh, paint on the edge of the strip, you know, are they gonna reliably see that whether it's bright outside or a little darker or very dark? Um, uh, so if that's, that's something we would want to observe, if, if they're , uh, the students can visually detect that reliably or not. And if not, then I think that they would be a good candidate for learning how to use a cane. Now, as far as a guide dog is concerned , um, they , the student needs to have a , uh, good knowledge of orientation, mobility skills in order to even get a dog. One of the reasons for that and including using a cane, and one of the reasons is let's say the dog is sick and they shouldn't be going out. Um, then for you as the user, the , the guide dog user , um, for you to continue to do your daily routines to go out and do , uh, be as independent as you can, you're gonna have to use your cane. And so , um, the, the guide dog , um, schools are going to make sure that if something happens to the dog, like if they get sick , um, that you're not left out in the lurch like that you as the , the user can still , uh, be able to fend for yourself. So that's just one of the reasons that having a good on and M uh , skills , uh, is important. Um, and assessment wise , I , I'm not aware there may be some, some official assessment on , uh, on that, but a lot of that also is dependent on the opinions of the, on M specialist and the family, and , uh, maybe other school or work , uh, people that work with them. And, and also to guide , uh, the dog guide school themselves, they'll have a conversation about , um, the O&M abilities about, about this particular student. They'll determine if they're a good candidate for a dog or not.

Sara Brown:

Now, have you used any APH products when working with an individual to help hone their orientation and mobility skills?

Kevin McCormack:

Uh, yeah. Yeah, I've used some , uh, I would say the ones I've mostly used are , um, one , uh, called Tactile Town. That's a , a really nice one , um, where you can really make some nice , uh, you know , Tactile , um, uh, Maps and, you know , make some intersections in little cities and have little cars , uh, roll around on the streets and kind of simulate some intersections with that. And , uh, similarly , uh, the Wheatley Tactile Diagramming Kit , um, that one's a lot easier to bring with you smaller. Um, it's quick and easy to make too. So I've probably used that the most of, of any of the APH products with my students

Sara Brown:

Guide dog or dog guide? I know we , we we're , we use person first here, so is there any official way we should call it? Dog guide, guide dog? What term should we use?

Kevin McCormack:

All right . Um, I've, I've reached out to some , uh, guide dog schools. I haven't heard back yet. Um, I wrote a , uh, paper a few years ago and the , uh, my advisor said guide dog. So I'm going with guide dog. That's about the best I've heard. I can't, I've been, I've actually looked a bit online for , um, the reason that , uh, it's at least that my advisor said guide dog. Um , and I believe another friend of mine , uh, in Puerto Rico said guide dog as well. Um , so that's what I'm going .

Sara Brown:

Is there anything you want our listeners to know or what they should think about if , if or when considering a dog guide or guide dog, whether or not that's a good option?

Kevin McCormack:

Oh, sure. Um, yeah, definitely. Um, consider your level of your O&M training. Um, if you feel comfortable with , uh, traveling outside of your , uh, home environment , um, and you're going to a work space , uh, the more Indi places you can go independently and safely as possible, the more likely it is that you'll be a approved , uh, by a guide dog school , um, to get a dog. Um, and you, if you get a dog you're getting a very, very well trained animal <laugh> . Um, however, remember that you are still responsible, responsible for their continued training. So that's going to take work. Um, uh, you know, they, obviously these dogs go through a year and a half or so of , of training, but it continues even with you. Um, so you just have to continue with that. And an example is if you need to teach the dog a route to your local , uh, store that's near where you live, for example , um, you're going to have to teach that dog, and you're gonna have to teach them how , uh, to give positive feedback, how to even give negative feedback. Um, so that's another , um, thing I would wanna say is that some people tend more toward , um, being very firm with their dog. Some people tend to be , uh, have a personality that's almost wants to let the dog just take charge. Um, so just be careful that you're not gonna go too far one way or the other. Um, I remember seeing , uh, a woman with their dog and she was , uh, way too firm, like to the point where , uh, people around were uncomfortable. The dog looked scared. That was too far. Um, however, if you're the type of person that is more hesitant , um, you're , you will probably have to change the ways that you talk and speak. Um, you're gonna have to, because you gotta take charge of, of that dog and their training. Um, also, you know, most guy , uh, dog guide , I'm sorry, guide dog schools will be , uh, a good resource for you. So if you ever have any other questions , um, it's not like you're in this alone, you can always , uh, uh, call back, call them back and , um, they sometimes will even come into your , uh, home environment and help with whatever you need.

Sara Brown:

Thank you so much for joining me today on Change Makers.

Kevin McCormack:

Sure. Thank you. Thank you very much. Appreciate it.

Sara Brown:

Up next. We have Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist and Outreach Services and Community Engagement Manager at Leader Dogs for the Blind, Leslie Hoskins. Hello, Leslie , and welcome to Change Makers.

Leslie Hoskins:

Hi, thanks so much for having me. This is great.

Sara Brown:

You're with Leader Dogs for the Blind. Can you talk about the organization and the impact that you make and that the organization makes?

Leslie Hoskins:

Yeah. Leader Dogs for the Blind, our mission is it to, is to empower people who are blind or visually impaired with lifelong skills for safe and independent daily travel. Uh , we do this by providing three different services. So we have our guide dog training, which of course is the one we're most known for. We also have our orientation and mobility training, which is that white cane training. And then we have a teen summer camp that we put on for , uh, teens who are blind or visually impaired. All of these services are completely free, including room, board and airfare. So we actually fly people in from all over the U . S . and Canada to receive this training. Now , how we pick 'em up at the airport, we bring 'em to our residents. It's kinda like staying in a hotel room , uh, and we provide this training and the impact is really so much more than traveling independently. Of course, that's our number one goal is mobility. However, we've heard back from clients that they have increased confidence, they feel better about themselves than they're traveling. They're also traveling further. Um, we've also heard that they have increased health and wellness. So now that they're able to travel independently, they're getting out there and doing those exercise routes or traveling a little bit further and walking , uh, maybe to the gym or whatever it is to increase that wellness in health. Additionally, we've got increased employment cuz now maybe they can get to the bus stop to take them to that job interview or to , uh, campus, to further their education. And then of course, too , we hear back from support a network. So their family and friends of feeling, you know, peace of mind that their loved one is now able to get out and do things independently. And, and our clients are reconnected with the community. You know, they can be involved again. They can get out there and go places , uh, by themselves, which is what all of us should be able to do.

Sara Brown:

Nice. Very nice. And talk about the history of guide dogs?

Leslie Hoskins:

Yeah. You know, it kinda started out , um, from some of the wars and wounded veterans coming back and not having vision and needing resources and, and dogs and animals have always been used throughout history as kind of the support system. Dogs are incredibly intuitive. They're incredibly smart. Um, and so they started training and, and a couple of different organizations were created. We were established in 1939. Um, and the reason we kind of got into this organization or got started is because , uh, we were started by three local lion club team members. And they had a friend who had applied for a guide dog at another organization and was denied. And so as lions members do, they don't take things lightly and they're very motivated and driven. And so they started their very own organization. And so we've been doing this for a long time. Um, and we've throughout the years, you know, tried different breeds of dogs. You know, I think every organization uses slightly different breeds, but it's been a long process of trial and error and navigating. We used to , um, actually go to different shelters and evaluate dogs there to be guide dogs. And that's kind of progressed into now we have actually our own breeding department and that's incredibly successful and I know that we're continuing to research and do science along the way. So , um, I think it's still rather new in general in its field. And I'm excited to see where it goes.

Sara Brown:

Talk about the training a dog goes through, how do , how does it start? I mean, is it from day one? Is it maybe, you know, the dog's parents and, you know, the dog's lineage to determine when does it start? How do they graduate or complete their training?

Leslie Hoskins:

It starts so young. It's really very interesting. You know, we do have our own breeding department, so we breed our dogs. Our dogs are actually born in volunteered homes. So we have host homes who , um, keep the host dogs are the breeding dogs and they're born there and they come in around seven or eight weeks old , uh, for their first round of evaluations. But very early on as puppies , uh, they're learning to sit before they can be picked up or to be fed and things like that. So it's interesting to see the puppies. They're not on campus for a long period of time, usually only a week to kinda go through these evaluations before then going to their puppy raiser. But even at that time, they're starting to learn that, okay, if I sit, then they'll give me my food or I have to sit first and then they'll pick me up or do something with me. So , uh, very early on the training starts and then they spend this first year of their lives with a puppy razor . And the puppy raiser is really responsible for teaching them basic house manners and obedience, and then exposure. So exposing them to all types of different environments, including fairs and festivals and restaurants and train stations and grocery stores, all these places that our clients go on a daily basis. Um, so they spend that first year with the puppy raiser. The puppy raiser goes to monthly trainings and events and things like that to increase their skills. And then around their first birthday, they actually get like a happy birthday card. And then it's got like a set of dates in which they have to return the puppy by . Um, so that's always a very emotional time. One of the best things they ever heard from a puppy raiser is it's not what you're giving up, but it's what you're giving. You know, they get to see this whole process. And, and at that point, then they start working with our guide dog mobility instructors, and they have four months of formal training. And so it starts really small of just , uh, name recognition recall. And then gradually they're starting to put the harness on their body to make sure there's no body sensitivity issues. They start taking 'em out into different environments teaching. 'em how to stop at curbs, how to, you know, walk a straight line down the sidewalk , um, navigate around obstacles, all of those different things. So they start very small and they gradually kind of add on throughout those four months. And then their last little bit of training is actually that last month that they spend, you know, meeting their handler, their new person. Um, and they spend three weeks together, typically on campus in class kind of navigating that together,

Sara Brown:

Such as life, not all dogs make it, do they , <laugh> what happens to the poor puppies that just, you know, just don't make the cut, what happens to them?

Leslie Hoskins:

So we call them Career Change dogs. So , um, they just chose a different path in life is what we like to say. Um, but what it typically happens with a dog that's Career Change, they can be career change for so many different things, medical issues, chronic ear infections, hip dysplasia. Those are things that come with an expense, usually a medication. And we don't wanna pass that expense on to our clients. Um , and so they could be career change for that. They can be career change for soundness. Like, you know, if a siren is going off, you know, they might break down a little bit. Um , that's not gonna make a good guide dog. They can be career change for body sensitivity. If they really hate the feeling about harness, that's not gonna work out. Um , so typically when a dog is career change and they can be career changed at any point during the process, the first thing we do is try to evaluate them for another career. So we breed these dogs to be service animals. And our ideal would be that they are a service animal, hopefully a guide dog. But if not, maybe they're gonna be , um, a bomb sniffing dog, or maybe they can be , uh, kind of an emotional support dog for children who are testifying in court, or maybe they can be , um, a dog that helps with like physical activities, like opening doors and things like that. So we partner with other organizations to try to find , um, a job, so to say , um, but sometimes they just don't wanna be, and they're meant to be a pet and that's their lifestyle and that's okay too. Um, and so typically we'll call their puppy razor and say, Hey, Juno, didn't make it. Are you interested in adopting the dog? Uh , sometimes they will. Sometimes they can't for whatever reason, if not, we actually have a very, very long wait list of people who are interested in adopting these dogs. So no dog ever goes without a home. Every dog lives a full and happy life, but it is a really interesting process.

Sara Brown:

<laugh> okay . It's good to know. Thank you for that. <laugh>. And so the dogs that do make the cut and graduate, how do they get partnered with their human? How does that relationship start or how what's the process of that?

Leslie Hoskins:

I think it's such a unique process. Um, I'm not a Guide Dog Mobility Instructor myself , however , um, being at Leader Dog for almost nine years and I've learned quite a bit and we just did a great webinar on this. And one of our Guide Dog Mobility instructors really broke it down for us, but there is so much that goes into that matching process of finding the perfect dog for somebody. They really have to learn as much as they possibly can about the client. So they're taking into consideration how fast the person walks, if there's any balance or gate issues. They're looking at the environment in which they're traveling, are they gonna be around , um, like farm animals? Are they a teacher gonna be around young students? Do they live in a real urban environment where there's trains and buses and all sorts of sirens and things like that. Um, and then they also take a look at the dog. So as they're, you know, training the dog for these four months, they're seeing what environments the dog is most successful in or most comfortable in. Um, and then they really start to kind of match and, you know, it's interesting. They say that there's so much science behind it, cuz there really is. They're taking in all this information, but then there's that little bit of gut magic and experience that our guide dog mobility instructors really bring to it. And they'll say, you know, that they have an idea of what dog is gonna be matched for the client and then they'll meet the client and they're like, Nope, that's not gonna be it. And they'll switch last minute. And it's the right call almost 90% of the time. So , um, it's always really fun to hear their perspective and their experiences with that. But most times they get it right. There are times when it doesn't work out and we certainly do our best to correct those situations too.

Sara Brown:

Okay. So you've partnered a dog with the , their partner. How do you , how do you tell, is it just that a dog instantly can pick up on the, the , the , their partner's cues or how can you tell a partnership's gonna be successful?

Leslie Hoskins:

I think, you know, it's watching and observing. We say it takes anywhere from six months to a year to really become a good guide dog team to work together, cuz it, you know, you can't even say each one's putting in 50%, the dog and the handler have to put in 100%. Um, they're a team and they're helping each other with every aspect and every task. Uh, so I think it does take a while , but one of the interesting things to observe during class is that bonding period. So it's really important that the, the client and the dog bond, which is why they spend so much time together at the very beginning. Um, because typically the guide mobility instructors are the ones training the dog and then also instructing the clients . So they know all of these dogs. So it's very confusing to the dog when all of a sudden, wait a minute, their person, their trainer, isn't paying attention to them. And now they're with this new person. Um, so it usually takes a couple days, couple weeks for that dog to realize like, "wait a minute, this new person's kinda great. They're giving me lots of treats and love and affection." And I usually meet clients about the end of the , their second week of training. And uh , most times the , the bond has happened by that point. And the dog is constantly touching the hand, learn some way , whether it's a paw on their foot or leading into them. Um , so you can really see that that bond is already starting to form so early, but I would say it takes a good six months to a year to see who's gonna , uh, you know, really put in the time and effort.

Sara Brown:

Now there are a ton of animal lovers out there and for anyone interested, I feel like, you know, people would be interested in who either work with, or train the dogs. What's the process to train future guide dogs. How does that go?

Leslie Hoskins:

Yeah. So to be a Guide Dog Mobility Instructor , um, it's a three year apprenticeship through a certified kind of organization or guide dog organization. And so, because there's so much to learn, they have to learn dogs and their behavior and um, their health and their training techniques. But then they also have to learn, you know, teaching and working with adults, adult learning, and they have to learn about blindness and how to, you know, provide human guide, how to interact with people who are blind or visually impaired. And so there's a lot that goes into it. It's a , it's a hands on learning opportunity. And so this three years, they are actively working as leader, dog team members while they're gaining this knowledge and experience. Um, and they do go through their own kind of blindfold experience to build some knowledge and background and empathy for our clients. So they kind of participate in the first week of guide dog class in which they'll put on a blindfold and they're issued their own guide dog and they have to wear a blindfold the entire time , um, to really get an idea of what that's like for our clients. That's so important to have an understanding and while it's not fully the same, right, they can take their blindfolds off at the very end, but it helps them build these relationships and gives a little perspective into what our clients are experiencing. So it's a pretty intense three year apprenticeship and our Guide Dog Mobility Instructors come to us with all kinds of backgrounds. Um, so it's always quite fun. We had one person who came to us as a HR intern and kind of fell in love with watching the G DMIs has since then completed his three year apprenticeship and now is actually a supervisor in helping other apprentices. So it's kinda fun to see where everybody comes from.

Sara Brown:

And my final question, is there anything else you'd like to add about Leader Dogs or guide dogs overall?

Leslie Hoskins:

Yeah, I think the biggest thing that we always wanna promote is that we're more than guide dogs. You know, guide dogs is a huge piece of what we do, but we also offer that free orientation and mobility training and that's available to anybody, whether or not they're interested in a guide dog , um, as well as our summer teen camp. So those are some things that we're super proud about. We also have a lot of new virtual things going on. We've got virtual learning resources, kind of like learning modules. We do monthly webinars where we share resources and really just trying to support our clients and educate as much as we can. Um, and the last thing that I'll I'll plug here that we're super proud of is we have a new podcast called taking the lead by Leader Dogs for the Blind. And that's a great opportunity to learn, not only just a little bit more about blindness in general, but specifically about guide dogs and Leader Dogs for the Blind. So , uh, you can find all of that at www.leaderdog.org.

Sara Brown:

Awesome. Thank you so much, Leslie , for joining me today on Change Makers.

Leslie Hoskins:

Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it .

Sara Brown:

Now we're talking to APH's Communications Associate Jessica Minneci. Jessica has a guide dog named Joyce, who is a yellow lab and always by her side. Hello, Jessica, and welcome to Change Makers.

Jessica Minneci:

Hi Sara. Thank you so much for having me.

Sara Brown:

And before we get started, do you care just to explain to people what it is that you do here at APH ?

Jessica Minneci:

As part of my job here at APH , I help edit our monthly newsletter APH news that goes out to our educational audience and consumers. I also do two employee newsletters. I help out with the weekly monitor and in touch, and I am also responsible for doing campaigns for our line of textbooks through press.

Sara Brown:

And can you tell us a little bit about Joyce?

Jessica Minneci:

Sure. So Joyce is six years old. She will be seven on October 18th. I can't believe it we've been a team for five years. Uh, she is my first guide dog, and I couldn't be happier with her. She's a yellow Labrador and she is full of energy.

Sara Brown:

Can you talk about the process in being partnered with Joyce? Was there anything you had to do beforehand or any training you had to receive or, or even house prep?

Jessica Minneci:

I got Joyce through a school called Guide Dogs for the Blind. They are in San Rafael, California, and also in Boring, Oregon. They have two locations. Um, so I got Joyce during my junior year, right before my junior year of college. I had to do a lot to prepare, to have Joyce and to make sure that I myself was qualified to have and to own a guide dog. So GDB has a lot of different steps for applying. Um , first of course, you have to submit an application. Then they do a phone consultation where they ask you about your travel habits and about, you know, the type of dog that you're looking for. Uh , GB has three breeds. They have Goldens, Labs and Lab Golden Crosses. So they talk to you about your personality and your lifestyle. Um, and then you have to submit some additional forms. So you have to submit a physician's report and ophthalmologist report. And if you had orientation and mobility training, recently, you have to submit a report from your professional. And if applicable, you also have to submit a mental health report. And so after all of those forms have been submitted, they schedule time to come out and do a home visit where they talk to you again about your travel habits. And they do, what's called a Juno walk, which is where the , um, representative from GDB holds a guide dog harness and puts it in the right position. So the right height for you and you hold onto the handle and you walk at the speed that you normally would so that they can assess pacing and make sure they have the correct dog for you when you get matched. Um, and you also have to demonstrate your orientation and mobility skills. So when I applied for Guide Dogs for the Blind, I was actually a freshman in college and , um, they came out to Greensburg, Pennsylvania, and I did a whole route. Um, I think there's also specifications as to how long it has to be. And what types of intersections you need to cross. I believe one of them is with a traffic light. So you have to really prepare to make sure that your travel skills are on par and also make sure that your lifestyle, you have to have enough work for your dog, right? Your work , your dog's not gonna sit at home all day, right. They need to work. So , um, people with a more active lifestyle will get a guide dog. Um, so after the home visit, they review everything and then you'll get an approval notification from the school and a class date , I believe due to COVID 19. Um, and the fact that the kennels had to be closed for a little bit. I think the class date are pushed back. So it's a longer wait . My weight was actually 10 months. Um, and then after that you go to class , um, I didn't do a lot at home to prepare for choice because I wasn't sure what type of breed I was going to get. I asked them , uh, to make it a surprise and I asked them to make the gender a surprise, because if you do it , if you ask them to do that, you're more likely to get a better match for you. Um , and so I didn't know, you know, I didn't know what, how big my dog was if I was gonna need a bed or what kind of toys they'd like. So I just came into class and I , um, I went through class and I had a great time and then coming home that's when I was able to prep my house and make sure that, you know, I actually took her to PetSmart and she picked out her own bed. Um , and , uh, we just played, played with different types of toys and figured out which ones were the best for her. Um, GDB does supply you with a lot of stuff that you will need. They do supply you with , um, some medication and Heartgard for the first year. And then they supply you of course, with her , um, her treat pouch and her harness and her leash and her gentle leader . So a lot of the equipment is given to you. They tell you when they tell you, when you go to training to pack like a giant suitcase so that you have everything you need when you come home.

Sara Brown:

Wow. So there's a lot that goes on, but I didn't even know about the size of the dog in conjunction with the harness in conjunction with your height, all of that is taken into account. That's really interesting.

Jessica Minneci:

Yes. So , um, actually , um, so I have a shorter dog because it's easier for me. Um, you can get a different harness handle , um, to fit your risk . There's GDP offers two different types of harness handles. Um, if one doesn't feel comfortable with you, you can comfortable, you can use another one. Um, so they really take into account your pacing, your lifestyle, your personality, the dog's personality. So it's a very rigorous process for them to match you with, with the correct dog. And that's also why it's important that you wait , um, because the right dog is just around the corner. Um, it's also a really great school because they have two week training programs and the classes generally have six to eight students. And the ratio of students, her instructor is two to one, which is fantastic. It's so individualized. And that helps you a lot when you're in training to make sure, especially if it's your first dog, that you're getting all the support that you need.

Sara Brown:

So talk about when you first got Joyce, was there that getting to know you period that you two experienced?

Jessica Minneci:

Yes. Actually they say that the getting to know you period lasts about six months for a partnership. So partnership cements itself in six months. So when I first got Joyce , um, it was important that , um, if you have a bigger house that you give them, they're freedom slowly. So for example, if you have, you know, a bedroom, a kitchen, and let's say a living room, you'd give them free rain in your bedroom to show that you trust them. And, and if you trust them to go around and they don't obviously chew anything, obviously they won't because they're trained, but there's a trusting period. So once you trust them to do one room, then you add the rest of the house slowly. Um, so that they know your expectations when they're off leash. Um, they also suggest too , when you're getting to know them, that if you have to leave the house to do something small and you need to leave them alone, you leave them alone for like a short period of time and then a longer period of time. So that if you, you know, if you're out for the day and there's somewhere, you can't go with your dog, that you know that when they, when you come back, you trust that they haven't, you know, messed up the house or ran a mock or ate a bunch of food or something. Not that they would, but it's all about building trust and also building affection between you and your dog. They actually, my instructor actually told me that I was being too professional when I was training with my dog, cuz I didn't wanna mess up her training. So I was like, you know, forward, left and right learned all the commands, learned all the footwork. My instructor goes, you can love on your dog. She goes, you can give your dog a hug and verbal praise and play with her. And I was like, really? Cause I knew she was a mobility tool and I didn't wanna mess up her training. She goes, you're not gonna mess up her training. She goes, they want that bond. You know, they also tell you that the adjustment period is super important because when you get a guide dog they're depending on what school you go to they're between one and a half to two years old. So they are in a sense in dog years, they're a teenager. So you have to set consistent expectations for them so that they know what you expect and that they also know that you are in charge.

Sara Brown:

This is a partnership. So talk about how you and Joyce work together?

Jessica Minneci:

Joyce and I have, I would call kind of like almost like a codependent relationship. I depend on her to lead me. She depends on me to give her love and give her food and play with her. So when we work together , um, she pulls on the harness and leads me. But I'm the one who tells her where she's going. So I will memorize a route and I will tell her forward left or right. She's the one that pulls me and then also pulls me around obstacles and stops at curbs and steps and finds the elevator, finds the outside door, finds the escalator. Um, so she depends on me to give directions. And I, I depend on her to lead me safely around an obstacle. It's very different from using a cane because when you are using a cane, it's all you, right? You are telling you, move the cane and tell it where to go. Right? The dog is the one who's moving you. And also when you're moving your cane around, you can't see obstacles, right? So the cane bumps into stuff. Whereas with the dog, they just go around it. So with a cane, you are the one directing traffic and you are the one moving the cane, the cane hits obstacles. You go, you have to figure out how to go around it. The dog leads you. You tell her where to go and then she will stop or go around an obstacle. And that's when you can say, okay, go around or go under , uh, not go under, <laugh> go around or , um, stop or we'll go a different way. So there's a lot of , um, co-dependence in that relationship, it's a beautiful bond. Um, just if you ever get the chance and to see a service dog team work together, I would highly advise just standing back and watching. It's a really beautiful experience for the handler and for the dog.

Sara Brown:

You're right. I've seen you in Joyce in action and Joyce is pulling you, but you tell her, go left, go, right. So I've heard the interaction that you have with Joyce and how Joyce takes to lead. But you're telling her still, you know, which way to go.

Jessica Minneci:

Yeah. And I would, I would say too , another part of working together is some , some schools use food reward , um, for dogs when they , uh, do something positive. So it's called positive reinforcement. So you might see me bend down to give her a treat. Um, and then she accepts it. So schools like the seeing eye , they don't use food reward, but guide dogs who the blind does. And it just depends on how they're trained and the training style. Um, so when you pick a school, sometimes that also depends on what school you go to. If you, you wanna be the handler that gives out food, then you pick a food reward school, if you don't and you prefer just to have a dog that just does everything and you don't have to carry food and get your fingers all sticky <laugh> , then you go to a different school too. Um, so you know, picking a school is all about preference in a lot of different ways, but one way you'll see teams working together is with food reward. And , um, I will tell you this, Joyce does not work without food <laugh>

Sara Brown:

And just like you said, Joyce is a working dog, which means people should not try to stop and pet Joyce or talk to Joyce or interact with Joyce in any means. When they see that she's working, what do you want people to know about guide dogs when they see one working?

Jessica Minneci:

So if an individual is talking to her, I will sometimes stop and turn to the individual and say, excuse me, can you not talk or make eye contact , eye contact with my dog, she's working. And if they say, okay, and they walk, walk on, that's great. If they don't and they continue to make eye contact and , and talk to her, I just tell Joyce, good girl hop up. And we move on. Uh , sometimes if an individual is with a kid like at a grocery store, this is fun. So a grocery store and a kid is throwing a temper tantrum. Um, the parent will often say, oh, look at that doggie to like distract them. And they say, oh, you can go up and pet the doggie . And I'm just like, Nope . Nope . That's not okay. So , um, if they get closer, close to me and I hear them approaching, I say , uh, hi , uh, just so you know, this dog is working, please do not pet or make eye contact with this dog. Sometimes they'll back away. And sometimes they won't. Um, and if they actually do come up and pet the dog, especially if it's an adult, I will actually correct Joyce because if she gets into the touch and she wants it, I will actually give her a correction. And then the person steps back and goes, oh no, like I did something wrong. The dog is being corrected. Then they realize that they shouldn't have done anything. Sometimes that's the best you can do, because if you correct the dog, then people notice that this is not something that they should be doing. And the dog is getting punished. Now just for clarification, a correction is when you have the leash in your hand and you pull back on the collar . A lot of the times she, she has a Martingale collar, so it's , um, part nylon part chain . And so the chain just, it doesn't choke her, but it , it , it moves her back a little bit and , uh, makes her pay attention to me. And so , uh, that's what a correction is. And so they'll notice that or they'll walk away and I will tell you, Sara, there was one time there was this very insistent adult. I tried to explain to them not to pet. I corrected Joyce . They still weren't doing it. I was not having a good day. So I did slap their hand away. And I said, yeah, that's this is not okay. And they were surprised <laugh> . So , um, sometimes when you catch a handler on a bad day , um, that's the most we'll do, but we try so hard to calmly explain this to people. The best you can do for a working team is to not make eye contact, to not talk to the dog, not pet the dog. Don't give treats to the dog. Don't make barking sounds and to just ignore them all together and to talk to the handler as well. So for example, if someone is giving you directions and they say, come here, baby, follow me. No , you're supposed to talk to the handler. That's the best advice you can give is to talk to the handler, ignore the dog completely.

Sara Brown:

You had me at barking. What? So people really try barking at Joyce to get her attention really?

Jessica Minneci:

Oh yeah. Oh my gosh.

Sara Brown:

The most important thing seems to be, to talk to the owner of the guide dog. Don't talk to the guide dog. Talk to the owner, respect the owner's decision as to whether or not you can interact with the guide dog.

Jessica Minneci:

Yeah. So it also depends too. I will say it depends on the day the handler's having, if they're just in a grocery store and they wanna get home to make dinner, they're tired from a long work day and people say, oh, can I pet your dog? The handlers are gonna say no. Um, it also depends too , on what kind of day the dog has had. So if I'm out in public and someone says, can I pet your dog? And Joyce has been distracted by one thing or another that day. I'm not gonna give her another thing to be distracted, to be distracted by. So I will say no. Um, a lot of the times you're right. If I am at the office, Joyce is laying under my desk cuz I'm working. She's, you know, she's not really working if she's laying under my desk so people can come and, and pet her. It just depends on the, the time of day and like how we're feeling, how we're doing. Um, so don't get upset if we say no. Um, because that's just, that's our right to say no. Um, just like it is our right to, I'm gonna make a fun analogy. Um, here. So when I was in college , um, I had Joyce in a new class and um, the professor comes up to the front of the room and she says, just so you know, everybody , uh, we have a service animal in this class and she says, just like you wouldn't touch a lady's pregnant belly. You're not supposed to pet a service dog while they're working. The class was silent. Everybody was laughing after like a couple beats because it was just hilarious. And she said, it's so deadpan, but it was so true. So again, it's our right. It's a lady's right with a pregnant belly to tell you hands off . <laugh> , it's my right as a service dog handler to say hands off , because when all is said and done, she is a mobility aid . Um, that's why she's allowed everywhere with me. Um, so she keeps me safe. I keep her safe. So it is my right to say no. Um, sometimes though, if there's a little kid and they're learning about a service dog and they politely ask, cuz they know it's a service animal, then I will say yes, because they've learned and they're very polite. You will often find Sara that a lot of adults will pet my dog without asking. But a lot of kids are very polite and do ask the question.

Sara Brown:

So what do you want people to know about guide dogs or what do you want people to know when they see a guide dog working?

Jessica Minneci:

I'd like people to know that when they see a guide dog working, as I said before, leave them alone, talk to the handler. Also 95% of the time, there's gonna be a sign on the dog's harness that says, do not pet. And many people do not read that sign. So please read the sign. Um, also also another thing to note is that if you see a dog in a harness , um, odds are that they are a working dog. And if you see a dog in a , in a vest , um, a lot of the times that means that they are a guide dog in training. So it's even more important if it's a guide dog in training to not interact because they are learning how to go about the world and, and be socialized so that they don't overreact when their handler goes somewhere. Um, so like with Guide Dogs for the Blind, I believe their puppy coats are green. Um, so that's another thing to note. It's actually funny at nine times outta 10, I get asked. So are you training that dog? I'm like, no, no she's working. Um, she's a guide dog she's working. So it's just important to be super cognizant of, of all of that. And um, again, to just always ask if you can pet the dog and also to note too , that we are not people to be avoided at all costs. You know, some people see people with differences and they're like, oh my God, gotta steer clear that we like your questions. So if you come up to me and you say, hi, miss , like, can I ask you a question about your service dog and how they work? I'm trying to educate my kid. Of course, I'm gonna stop and answer your question. I love questions. As long as they're not rude. And uh , people are polite and they have good questions. I do not mind educating others. I think it's so important for kids today to be exposed to different things so that when they're adults and they're growing up, they know how to approach other people in other situations. So don't be afraid to ask questions.

Sara Brown:

Okay, Jessica, thank you so much for joining me today on Change Makers.

Jessica Minneci:

Thank you so much for having me, Sara. This has been a blast.

Sara Brown:

Now we are shifting gears to talk about APH's 154th Annual Meeting. It's back, it's in-person and it's better than ever. And some things to expect include the insights art exhibit, a keynote from M. Leonna Gooden, empowering braille literacy with Polly, which is an APH braile device that's coming to market soon. Updates from APH , press learn about the next generation desktop magnifier. Hear about the state of the company from APH president Craig Meador. We have the Hall of Fame Ceremony and so much more. We're so excited. It's in person, which is huge. After what two years of being virtual annual meeting will be held at the Hyatt Regency in Downtown Louisville on Wednesday, October 5th and runs through Friday, October 7th. If you're interested in attending visit aph.org for more information, thank you so much for listening to this episode of Change Makers. I have put links to Leader Dogs for the Blind's website and their podcast in the show notes as well as Ractile town and other APH products that assist with orientation and mobility. And you can also find a link that has all the information about our upcoming annual meeting. We hope to see you there as always be sure to look for ways you can be a change maker this week.