In March, 2016, I participated in a quiet but very meaningful event. The story started 17 years ago, when a very red Golden Retriever puppy named Gaya was born at Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael, CA. At 8 weeks of age she was sent to Salem, Oregon to be raised by a married couple, both former teachers, who were volunteer puppy raisers. For the first year of her life, the couple exposed Gaya to noises, people, traffic, and the general business of life. All these experiences would be important if she were selected to be trained as a guide dog to help a person who is blind or visually impaired better deal with life experiences, especially mobility. Gaya was the 7th puppy from Guide Dogs that these volunteers took the time and responsibility to raise. They just received their 18th!
Gaya did well during that first year, and her health, intelligence and personality were so outstanding that GDB selected her for its breeding program – dedicated for five years to mate with male breeders and produce more potential guide dogs. I was fortunate to be selected as her “breeder keeper” – a volunteer whose job it is to house and care for these special dogs when they are not at the GDB campus for breeding. I was extremely fortunate. Gaya and I formed a close bond – she was quiet but alert and intelligent; receptive to her environment but not at all disturbed by young children, noises, or strange settings. She was very affectionate, but not demanding – happy with everything that went on around her. She had some special skills – such as recognizing antagonistic circumstances between dogs or between dogs and children – and would run to separate the two parties and bark to explain her reasons for playing referee. Even more, she was extremely effective for 8 years working as a mentor dog at Guide Dogs, where she would go into an enclosure with 6-8 weeks old puppies, support them, correct them, and play with them for two hours each week. The puppies with the most challenging personalities were separately paired with Gaya to make sure they understood the rules of the group.
Gaya died two years ago, leaving a legacy of 5 litters and 35 puppies. Some of her pups were also chosen to join the GDB breeding program, and she now has many grand-puppies, great grand-puppies, and great great grandpuppies. And here is where my story comes full circle. My friends, Gaya's puppy raisers from Oregon, came to the GDB campus in Northern California and picked up one of those great great grand-puppies to raise – once again in the hopes of helping to change someone's life. The puppy is a red female, sweet and affectionate and calm. I look forward to the next cycle in the legacy of my Gaya!