This spring there are exciting new changes at GDA to report. There’s the arrival of GDA’s new president Russell Gittlen (read his President’s Message here), as well as news about graduations and changes in many departments, several of which are included here.
Beginning in 2017, there will be six graduations per year. The addition of a sixth class allows us to graduate 20 more guide dog teams every year. Further, graduations will now be held on Saturdays.
The Puppy Enrichment Program was introduced last year to provide enhanced and structured puppy development. The program is implemented by our dedicated staff and trained volunteers who oversee the exercises and monitor and document each puppy’s progress to ensure he or she is ready for each new level.
From birth to four weeks the puppies are in the nursery, where they are handled and cradled and provided age-appropriate stimulation. At four weeks, the puppies are gradually introduced to experiences to build their confidence. These experiences include traveling around the GDA campus in a “Puppy Mobile” — seeing and hearing all types of new things — and venturing out into the new outdoor puppy development yard, which was designed to stimulate the development of their minds and bodies. The equipment in the yard includes a swinging bridge, tunnels, climbing stairs, many different tactile surfaces and lots of moving and noise-making toys.
At about seven weeks, the puppies’ care transfers to the Puppy Department for the new Head Start Program, an extension of the Puppy Enrichment Program. The experiences here are more advanced. In this new development area, the puppies are challenged with bigger steps, a larger swinging bridge and a teeter-totter, as well as shopping carts, skateboards and motorized cars.
These new programs, which we will continue to enhance, have given our puppies a “paw up” when they leave GDA to go home with their volunteer puppy raisers. We are already seeing impressive results with the dogs returning for formal training better equipped for the demands of learning the skills and behaviors required of a guide dog.
Admissions & Graduate Services Department
To ensure qualified individuals who apply to GDA have as short a wait time as possible before being placed in a class, applicants will soon find a more streamlined application process. Also in development is a program that will expand outreach to blind individuals to make them aware of GDA’s program.
The training program for our guide dog teams will now be three weeks and focus on weekly development goals:
Week 1 — Basic handling and fundamentals Week 2 — Building a relationship and understanding each other’s communication Week 3 — Preparing for the transition to home
A recent addition to the GDA staff is Ainjil Bills, DVM, who serves as GDA’s Director of Animal Health and the school’s full-time veterinarian, a responsibility previously shared by part-time veterinarians. Bills provides a continuity of care in assessing and treating our dogs that are in for formal training, as well as our puppies-in-training and our working guides. Plans for new equipment in the Vet Department will make it possible for more advanced procedures to be performed at GDA, which will keep the dogs under our care and be more cost-effective for the school.
Whether it’s a puppy-in-training staying for a day or a week to gain the experience, or a dog that is in for formal training, all canines that stay in the GDA kennels are treated to creature comforts. All of the individual kennels have been outfitted with new raised beds. A misting system also has been installed as another way to keep our precious pups cool during the warm summer months.
We are very excited about the changes to GDA’s program and look forward to serving even more members of the blind and visually impaired community this year and for many years to come.