by Jim Price
"I was 16 when my sister Dena brought her new Guide Dog Rae home from Guide Dogs for the Blind. I was blown away by how efficiently they got around and how much easier it was to travel. Rae was so intelligent and their bond so close, I couldn't wait to have a Guide Dog of my own."
Janna isn't the kind to leave much to chance. "I applied a year in advance so I would be assured of getting a Guide Dog before I started university." She finished high school early, in time to get to GDB's main campus in San Rafael, California, to train with her first dog, Bordeaux, and back to her home in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, for a summer job before heading off to college in the fall of 1995.
"I'll never forget meeting Bordeaux for the first time. She came wiggling and waggling into the room and immediately threw herself on her back for a tummy rub. For the first few hours, she thought I was great and all she wanted to do was snuggle. Then around bedtime she decided she had had enough and wanted to go back to her kennel. When she didn't get to go, she was not nearly as warm and fuzzy to me. And later she would test me, as all dogs do, running me into things or just refusing to go forward on command, as if to say, 'No! I don't want to!' Of course she did eventually warm back up to me and we got it all together and were a team for 10 wonderful years. We went through five years together at university in Vancouver. We worked together in Ottowa and Kentucky and traveled to Toronto. She was great and we made a very good team."
When she graduated from school, Janna worked for several years in the communications field before deciding to head back to school in 2006 to become a massage therapist. She now has a thriving practice and loves her job.
We caught up with her in March 2009, when she was at the Oregon campus of Guide Dogs for the Blind for two weeks of "retraining" with her latest Guide Dog, Frodo. "Frodo and I are getting along amazingly well for only having known each other for such a short time," she said, relaxing at Guide Dogs for the Blind's new downtown Portland, Ore. offices. "He's a good boy, a very confident worker. He needs to have his exuberance managed but I am very pleased with the match." She said the staff does a great job of pairing the right dog with each student. "I'm already confident in him. I'm learning his body language, which will take some time. It may be six months or a year before we are a flowing team, but we'll get there."
These days, in addition to her busy practice, Janna is attending classes at the Canadian College of Osteopathy in Toronto and Frodo is at her side for every class.
"Although I do quite well with a cane, working with a dog allows me to move much more gracefully. With a cane, you have to make contact with things before you know they are there. With a dog, you just sail right around obstacles. It gives me a lot more freedom. I know I do a lot more exploring and go a lot further with a dog."
She also likes having a soft, cuddly companion. "I love having a dog to hang out with. I'm not traveling alone, and having a cute, fluffy dog is a great ice breaker with people. I'm pretty shy, but the combination of my job and my dogs have made me a lot more comfortable talking with people."
"Every day, I'm thankful that my dog keeps me safe in traffic, on mass transit, in the subway, and maneuvering around construction. Guide Dogs are amazing!"