Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Guide-Dog Graduation With #SAGApupVolt In Tow

On Sunday we attended a graduation ceremony for 8 guide-dogs and their blind or visually impaired partners. We were invited to attend because several sponsors- and potential sponsors- were also in attendance, and SAGA likes them to see the dogs at all stages of their development and training.

Volt was very well behaved considering we were in a hall full of people, there were LOTS of other dogs around and LOADS of children as well as clapping and noise and things he has never experienced. I was very proud of him. Especially when a pup on the other side of the hall burst into song in accompaniment to a pan-flautist who performed for us!

We were given a little bit of the history of SAGA, and of Gladys Evans, who started SAGA when she returned from England with her seeing-eye dog Sheena in 1953.

The first speaker was Mandla, a trainer at SAGA, and he spoke about how very carefully the dogs are matched with their blind or visually impaired partners and how everything from the person's home and environment to the dog's temperament are taken into account when matching them up. The graduates spend 3 weeks at SAGA with their dogs and then a trainer goes home with them for at least a week so that they can familiarise the dogs with their new home, routes, vets office, and so on. And as you can imagine, there's a looong waiting list for trained guide-dogs.
Maxine then told us about the service and social dog training and how it varies from the seeing-eye dogs' training. These dogs also have a very different temperament to seeing-eye dogs. And please feel free to donate old bunches of keys, cellphones, books and remote controls for the service dogs' "retrieval" training!
And we heard about SAGA's College of Orientation and Mobility, where blind or visually impaired people can go to learn daily living skills and how to use a cane, particularly when the use of a dog is impractical or undesired. Do you have any idea how much goes into the use of the white cane!? Its not just a long white stick! There are even different kinds of tips for different terrain, and there's an electronic one that buzzes and vibrates when it nears an obstacle.

Next up was thanking the sponsors in attendance, and a part of that acknowledgement is a framed picture of the dog they sponsor and a certificate. In a wonderful turnaround to the shambles of late last year, McDonalds is now a sponsor and they are creating an awareness program to train their staff about guide-dogs and service dogs. And there is a Lions Club (I am sorry, I forget which one) who is sponsoring a dog for the twenty fifth year in a row now!
And Volt's sponsors were there too and as we had arranged they got to meet Volt after the ceremony! They took some pictures with him and we chatted about him a little and they were very pleased to meet him. I thanked them for sponsoring him because its thanks to sponsorships like theirs that we are able to be puppy-raisers at all! Just a note on the meeting, very few sponsors get to meet the dog they sponsor as SAGA treats information from sponsors, puppy-raisers and the visually impaired as highly confidential.

Then it was time for the graduation. I tell you, I got such a lump in my throat when each of the eight graduates was handed the harness their dog would be wearing for the duration of their working relationship. The graduating dogs were as good as gold, lying beneath their partner's chairs throughout the proceedings! The graduating dogs' puppy families may have been there as its a very proud moment, but its also a very emotional goodbye and it actually happens a while before graduation. Whilst the puppy raisers do get to meet the visually impaired person who will be partnered with the dog they raised, after the dogs are matched with their blind partners they spend time bonding very closely so that the dog doesn't feel so tightly bonded to his trainer or puppy family. This is vitally important as you can imagine.

After the ceremony we went on a kennel tour! My Glugster had never been there before and I had never seen all the kennels, so off we went.
Let me tell you, we were struck by the lack of noise! There are around 50 dogs in training at the kennels, and with so many people and other dogs walking around the kennels there was hardly a whine! In comparison with a visit to the SPCA or Wet Nose it was quite odd!

And here are some photos from the day.

Volt and I
emcee Pieter (O'Riley's leash is over his arm) and Rosette
Volt was very well behaved, I took his jacket off because it was very hot in the hall

Asta, Sophie and Saber - they are in training
the kennels from the inside - very snazzy
the kennels from the inside - very snazzy

click on the puppy to make a donation to SAGA

Don't forget to check out the Twitter hash-tag #SAGApupVolt to see regular updates on my puppy raising adventure!