June 21, 2007
By Lynda Milner / Montecito Journal
Fess Parker's Doubletree Resort went to the dogs when the Santa Barbara Tri-County Friends of Guide Dogs for the Blind held its sold-out Wine Sight event. It was all about canines and wine, a celebration of the working Guide Dogs and puppies-in-training in the Tri-County area with proceeds going toward their veterinary care. The silent auction had about 20 local wineries participating. Ashley Parker Snider and Fess Parker Winery & Vineyard was the principal wine sponsor and several wineries were pouring samples during the meet and greet.
Wine Sight Chair Karen Ingalls had everything organized. The first event was the special delivery of 8-week old Guide Dog puppies to their raisers. One of the puppies, named Garfield, was all tired out from the party and his "parents," Brian and Alice Garcia wheeled him around in a doggie stroller while he snored. Other working dogs were there with their blind owners. And there were many puppies-in-training of various ages who came with their temporary families. They'll be with them until about 18 months, when they go to campuses in San Rafael, California or Boring, Oregon for higher education and six months of formal training. Then there's 28 days with their new partner and graduation.
When I asked Alice, "Isn't it hard to give them up?" she replied, "It's like sending your child to college. You can see they are ready to do more." She and her husband have raised five dogs. If a dog can't handle the intensity of being a seeing eye there are career changes such as a medical alert, a canine buddy for a blind child, or search and rescue. Platinum Sponsor Charlie Alva donated a program page that read, "In memory of my loving wife, Vera Rolston Alva, and the seven German Shepherd Dogs that were a part of our family."
The services are "lifelong" for both the people and the dogs and it is all free. There is no government funding and Guide Dogs depends entirely on private donations. When dogs are retired from their work, the owners can keep them or a home will be found for them. On average the 2,100 alumni across North America will enjoy the service and companionship of about five dogs during their lifetime.
Among the table sponsors were Norah Hamilton Straus and husband, King. When my dog Mandy made "best friends" with their dog Kokomo at the beach, I had no idea Norah had been involved with Guide Dogs for 50 years beginning in Washington D.C. at Walter Reed Hospital where they helped blind veterans of World War II. She founded the local chapter and served as Chairman of the Board for 17 years.
As they said in the program, "It takes more than a village to raise a Guide Dog. For 65 years, Guide Dogs for the Blind and their world-class trainers have made it possible for the blind to 'see' again." Don't forget what dog spelled backwards is! Call (800) 295-4050 or go to www.guidedogs.com to discover ways you can participate.