Students, faculty and staff gathered Sept. 29 in Fred Meyer Lounge to listen to Jeannie Gretz talk about Guide Dogs for the Blind, an organization that teaches the blind and trains guide dogs.
The event was one of three that took place during the week and was put on in honor of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary in September.
Cheri White, assistant director of learning support services, introduced Gretz by giving a short description of how the intelligent dogs assist the blind.
“People put their lives in the hands of a harness on and a dog,” White said. “They expect them to keep them safe and alive without being harmed.”
Gretz described the two Guide Dogs for the Blind campuses.
One is in Boring, Ore., and the other is located in San Rafael, Calif.
Each campus houses blind students and trains guide dogs for students who are in need of assistance.
The first campus was established in 1942 to serve veterans blinded in World War II.
“The first thing I want to tell everyone that is so important is that our dogs are for people who are sight-impaired,” Gretz said. “There is no charge for the dog, the training or staying at one of our beautiful campuses.”
Each dog is a golden retriever, a Labrador retriever or a mix of both breeds.
The dogs are trained to learn intelligent obedience beginning when they are young puppies.
A volunteer, called a “puppy raiser,” takes a dog from the organization starting when they are 8 weeks old.
The dog learns basic obedience from the family.
There are many guidelines that the volunteer has to follow in order to shape a well-rounded pup to be sent off to one of the campuses when they are 3 or 4 months old.
After completing training, most dogs go to someone who has “been in the dark” for far too long, Gertz said.
Some dogs don’t meet the qualifications even after training; those dogs become obedient pets.
An audience member asked Gretz how anyone could give the puppy up for training.
Gretz said that the answer is at graduation, when the dog is finally paired with someone in need.
She described the event as tear-filled and said that seeing that person receive “walking eyes” is a reward all in itself.
During the entire speech, Gretz’s 5-year-old Labrador, Haley, relaxed on the floor.
Haley was helping a woman in Kansas, but because of certain guidelines that Haley could no longer meet, she was given to the Gretz family in Oregon.
Gretz said she started out as a volunteer dog-walker and tour guide at the Oregon campus. She now speaks to the public about Guide Dogs for the Blind.
Gretz’s eyes watered as she told a heart-warming story about one of the dogs for Guide Dogs for the Blind that helped a man walk down the stairs in the Twin Towers during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
As the man and the dog made their way down, firefighters passed them on their way up to douse the flames and help others. Each firefighter pet the dog as he or she passed.
For most of them, it was a last act of love, as many of them perished soon after.
“They really are angel dogs,” Gretz said.
Lauren Ostrom can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.