Gillespie (nicknamed Gilley by his new friends) is another of the dozens of career change dogs who has recently found a new calling. His soft trachea accounted for his being dropped from the Guide Dog training program, but today this tender-hearted snuggler has at least a dozen jobs.
Marcia Vickroy, who teaches orientation and mobility to students at the California School for the Blind, applied for a career change dog to use in a new curriculum with her blind students. When Pat Cook, Guide Dogs' community resources manager, received the request, she immediately thought of Gillespie. A long-time puppy raising adviser, Pat was well acquainted with Gilley and his raiser. "He's a gentle dog with a wonderful temperament," Cook says, "and I knew he would be perfectly suited to working with blind children."
Although he goes home with Marcia every night, his "day job" includes various interactions with 12 adoring blind children. Thus far, the lessons facilitated by a relationship with this easygoing Labrador include communication, organization, and practice with fine motor skills.
One child enjoys walking Gilley, while another enjoys grooming him. One little girl reads to him, and another likes to have the comfort of a dog nearby while listening to tapes. A teenager with cerebral palsy who is a participant in the school's apartment living program cares for Gilley for one overnight a week, and now can't wait to be old enough to apply for his very own guide.
The children are learning to take responsibility for another creature—measuring his food, brushing his coat,and cleaning up after him (the marvelously creative Vickroy employed Play-Doh as a practice "poop" substitute!)—and they're acquiring experience with that respect and trust connecting animals and humans that so often serves as a foundation for other interpersonal skills.