Mammoth local Gaasch readies Jaymin to serve as someone’s eyes
April 25 is International Guide Dog Day, typically commemorated the last Wednesday of each April, and it’s also the 70th anniversary of Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB). Decades later, thousands of lives have been changed for the better by the organization, and thanks to Mammoth local Leigh Gaasch, two more lives are about to be changed: hers and the recipient of Jaymin, which Gaasch raised from a pup.
“GDB has helped visually impaired and blind people have independence and freedom, and that’s one of the best gifts you can give somebody,” Gaasch enthused.
GDB was created in 1942 to aid servicemen blinded in WWII. Services are offered free of charge to people throughout the U.S. and Canada. Owners do not need to be totally, just legally, blind to receive a guide dog.
GDB has campuses located San Rafael, Calif., and Boring, Ore., near Portland, but have “puppy clubs” established in various locales. (In the Eastern Sierra, Betsy and Peter Thomsen head up Eastern Sierra Guide Puppies.)
GDB has paired more than 13,000 dogs with vision-impaired humans since 1942. The non-profit organization receives no government assistance, and is funded entirely by private donations.
Subsequently, GDB relies heavily on its network of volunteers, with many opportunities on the campuses available in the breeding program, raising puppies, helping out as drivers and even as public relations speakers, among many others. “A puppy raiser receives their puppy when it’s around 8 weeks of age, and starts right away with teaching the guide puppy good house manners, basic commands and above all socializing the puppies to the world,” Gaasch explained.
She said people typically ask one of two questions. “The first is, ‘How can you give up the dog at the end? I could never do that?’” she related. “Puppy raisers do grow a very strong bond with their puppy. It’s hard not to shed a tear saying goodbye, after all we are only human.”
Second question: do the dogs ever get to just be a dog? “Absolutely,” Gaasch said. “The dogs learn that when a vest or harness is on, they are working, but when it’s off, they are like the other dogs. They can play in the backyard, be more like a family dog.”
GDB’s work is one part of several service dog groups that train puppies in Mammoth Lakes. Others include Search and Rescues dogs, avalanche dogs, and other more for all sorts of disabilities and impairments. The benefit, according to Joanne Ritter with the Guide Dogs organization, can be mutual.
“It takes a community to raise a guide dog,” Ritter said. “We have a saying: ‘Inside the heart of every Guide Dog beats the heart of a puppy raiser.’ Jaymin has changed Leigh’s life, and you get something rich and rewarding back by raising a puppy.”
Prospective first-time dog owners are a great fit for a GDB puppy. “We need puppy raisers and if you’ve ever thought about getting a first dog, you might consider raising a Guide Dog puppy first. You’ll learn a lot about how to have a well trained, well behaved, socialized dog,” Ritter said. “You can’t raise a dog in a kennel and expect it to properly live in a home and go out into the public. These dogs save lives every day.”
One Oregon woman has had GDB dogs for 60 of the organization’s 70 years, and still has one today, even after just celebrating her 94th birthday.
Don’t think you’re not the right person to be a puppy raiser. Methods have advanced considerably over the years, Ritter noted. “You don’t need any prior dog raising experience, but you do need a big heart.” One last treat for puppy parents: Gaasch will be invited to attend Jaymin’s graduation and meet her new human companion.
Learn more at www.guidedogs.com. If you would like to learn more about the Puppy Club, and raising a guide puppy or being a puppy sitter, you can reach Betsy Thomsen at 760.920.8891 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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