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A Guide Dog partnership is a lifelong partnership, one built on mutual trust and interdependence. The journey begins at the campuses of Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Guide Dogs is headquartered just 20 miles north of San Francisco in the city of San Rafael. A second training campus is nestled among towering firs 25 miles east of Portland, Oregon, in the town of Boring. Both campuses offer a wide-variety of real-life training environments for students to explore.

Students come from all over the United States and Canada. Transportation, room and board, and all the costs of training are offered free-of-charge. Incoming students traveling by air can enjoy the comfort of knowing they'll be picked up right from the airport by Guide Dogs' welcoming staff.

Once they arrive on campus, a tour provides the students with a great orientation to the dormitory that will be their home-away-from-home during training. Each student has a comfortable double bed, closet, desk, phone and wireless Internet access. Bedding, towels and soap are provided. Students have free access to clothes washers, dryers, irons and laundry soap.

Mealtimes are a great time for students to relax and enjoy the company of classmates and staff. Menus include a variety of delicious, nutritious choices prepared by a caring, competent staff. Medically prescribed dietary needs are accommodated. Staff nurses are available to assist with medical issues.

While students settle in, they begin their formal classwork by learning the basic concepts and commands they will be using with their new dogs. Class materials are provided on disc so they can learn at their own pace. Meanwhile, their dogs are being bathed and groomed in preparation for Dog Day, the day they will meet their new lifelong partner. Dog Day is a day filled with anticipation – it's the beginning of a new chapter. From now on, the dogs will accompany their partners to meals and activities, and sleep on tiedowns beside their beds at night.

A typical day begins around 6 a.m. The dogs are relieved and students enjoy a hearty breakfast before boarding the bus to begin training. Learning to work as a team is what it's all about. They practice through obstacle courses, on stairs and escalators and in other real life situations. And then, it's back home again to relieve the dogs. The sound of the chimes means it's lunchtime!

After lunch, it's back to town for an afternoon training workout. The day ends at 5:00 with a return to campus to feed and relieve the dogs and have dinner.

Grad #1: You know, I missed just going out and doing stuff by myself and with her I feel like myself again. I mean, we fly down the street at the same pace I used to go at when I could see and I don't have to worry about a thing. She leads me around obstacles and she keeps me out of trouble and I feel so much more secure and confident. I just love it. It's the coolest thing. I'm so glad I did it.

Grad #2: It's been a really great experience socializing with other people that have vision impairments and seeing how they cope with it and how they've moved on. Because they've all moved on and they're all doing something with their lives.

In the evenings, students play music and games or watch TV. It's a good time to enjoy some quiet one-on-one with their dogs, grooming or playing tug, or stroll around campus, sit by the pond or walk the nature trail.

The dormitory fitness centers include treadmills, weights, exercise bicycles and rowing machines. In the computer room, students stay connected to friends and family through e-mail or surf the Web on computers equipped with JAWS and Zoom Text. Scanners and magnifiers are also available. The library's full of magazines and novels in Braille, on CD or cassette, and there is a great variety of descriptive videos, too.

Some nights, there are optional yoga classes and massage sessions which are great for sore muscles. On weekends, volunteer drivers may be available to assist with sight-seeing excursions shopping, church. With so many tourist attractions nearby, there's always something to do.

Grad #3: Having a Guide Dog just gave me all kinds of freedom that I never really thought I could have.

On Graduation Day, students have a chance to meet the volunteer who raised their dog as a puppy. Friends and family are invited to a public ceremony to congratulate and honor students, raisers and dogs for all their hard work and effort, and to celebrate a new beginning.

Grad #4: I want to thank everybody for coming, and god bless.

Instructor on graduation stage: And that dog will be Naoka, a female black Labrador Retriever raised by Beau and Chelsea Drewes of Edmonds, Washington.

Grad on graduation stage: Hi everybody. You know, in every person's life there are some very special, special times that you can count on one hand. Today is one of those.

For more information, call us at 1-800-295-4050 or visit us on the web at www.guidedogs.com.

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