Graduates Share Their GDA Story

Jack Byers, first time guide dog user

At 83 years young, Jack Byers thought he might not be able to find a guide dog school that would take him. Then he learned about Guide Dogs of America and their “no upper age limit” policy for students as long as they are in good health and can properly exercise and care for their guide dog.

Byers lost his vision 15 years ago, but it wasn’t until two years ago that his daughters told him they thought it was time for him to consider getting a guide dog. His vision was further deteriorating and Byers knew it was time for a change.

JackByersAndHisGuideDogPadmayByers said his guide dog Padmay has given him a greater freedom and mobility. “I can’t imagine going anywhere without her. She loves going on our daily walks and she really likes it when we take the bus. She also was great on the airplane and everywhere we went when we traveled to Michigan last summer to attend my 63rd reunion. There were 50 couples in attendance, including Padmay and me.”

Padmay stays close to Byers’ side when they are out working, but she also stays close to him in the house and has proven herself to be a helpful and attentive companion.

“Without her, my daughters wouldn’t want me to live on my own. They see how much Padmay helps me and it gives them comfort knowing she is always there with me,” Byers said. “Padmay follows me around the house and when it’s time to rest she lays right next me. If I sneeze or cough, she gets up to see what’s wrong with me. I tell her I’m okay and kiss her on her head, then she gets extra pets for doing such a good job. She has changed my life immensely.”

Vivian Younger, experienced guide dog user

Vivian Younger, who commutes from Southern to Northern California every month for her job as a rehabilitation specialist for the blind, knew exactly what she wanted from her new guide dog. “I asked for a tail wagging, hardworking, responsive dog — in or out of harness,” said Younger. “GDA hit it on all marks when they matched me with Alani.”

Alani is Younger’s seventh guide dog, but her first from Guide Dogs of America. Younger said GDA is the school for her from now on. “GDA’s training style is much different than other schools. The focus is on creating a bond between the student and the guide dog from the time we meet,” Younger said.

PowerfulParntershipsVivianYoungerandAlani“We bond through our training and through our obedience work, but it’s also the praise, love and care that we give our dogs when they are not working that strengthens that bond. The trainers emphasized that allowing our dogs to have some downtime with us, just relaxing, is just as important as keeping up with the skills we learned in class.”

And the bonding isn’t limited to student and guide dog.

“The other thing that really, really stands out with GDA is that whatever instructor works with the student during training is the instructor that follows up with you or that you contact after you have graduated,” Younger said. “There is a balance between the bond with the teacher, the student and the guide dog. That is something I really appreciate. It is just a marked difference in approach that I can talk to the same trainer that I worked with in class. It makes it so much easier and takes less explanation when I have a question to be able talk to the trainer who knows me and my dog so well.”

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