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Jason walks with his black Lab guide dog, Morry through a pathway lined on either side with tall rose bushes.

Central Bark Episode 24

Dr. Jason Doorish and Morry

Meet Dr. Jason Doorish, Psychosocial Support Specialist at Guide Dogs for the Blind. Jason is a clinical expert who brings 15 years of professional experience in the mental health field to his role at GDB, and a lived experience as a guide dog handler since 2007. As part of our world-class client services team, Jason offers emotional support resources to clients in our guide dog, K9 Buddy, and Orientation & Mobility (O&M) Immersion programs, all free of charge.

Theresa Stern: We have a fantastic episode for you planned today. Today my guest is Jason Doorish, or should I say Dr. Jason Doorish? He is our psychosocial support specialist here at Guide Dogs for the Blind. He's also one of our GDB alumni, working with his third guide dog, Morey. So welcome, Jason.

Jason Doorish: Thanks, Theresa.

Theresa: Do I have to call you Dr. Jason?

Jason: You do not. Jason is totally fine.

Theresa: Awesome. So, Jason, tell us a little bit about how you became connected to Guide Dogs for the Blind and then a little bit about the role that you're playing now as a staff member.

Jason: Sure. So I have retinitis pigmentosa, so I lost the majority of my eyesight very, very quickly in my early 20s, and my orientation and mobility instructor when I was doing about a year and a half of really intense orientation and mobility told me, "You'd be an excellent guide dog candidate." She encouraged me at that time to apply to Guide Dogs for the Blind, and I had no idea what I was getting into.

So in the summer of 2007 I went to the Oregon campus and received my first guide dog, Benny. I remember picking up the handle for the first time and went, "Oh, gosh, I feel so free. It's like dancing." And, oh my God, what am I doing? I'm hurdling through space.

Theresa: Right. Yeah. It's a whole different experience than working with a cane. Yeah.

Jason: So I got my first guide in 2007 and worked Benny until 2017, when I was just about to retire him, when he had a massive grand mal seizure at work and unfortunately died pretty soon thereafter.

Theresa: Oh, poor guy.

Jason: So at the time I was working full time, but I was also a doctoral candidate, working on my dissertation. Fortunately/unfortunately, I did research on the experience of the first time guide dog handler, so it was at that time that he passed away, analyzing my data, and too a lot of that grieving process was trying to read other peoples' responses about how much their guide dog meant to them, and crying my office.

Theresa: Oh, my goodness. That's like just a little close to home.

Jason: Yeah. It was tough. But it took me about a year to kind of decide to reapply, because I don't know for all of us, I can only speak for myself, the first guide dog is really an intimately relationship. It was totally different from when I first got Benny to when Benny passed.

So I got my second guide, and my second guide failed pretty quickly, and I was like, "I can't do this. I can't do it." Then the pandemic hit, and so I... Stacy Ellison, my wait list contact called, and said, "We have your dog," and I said, "I don't know if I can do this." She called back two days later and went, "No, no, really we have your dog."

Theresa: Good girl, Stacy. Yeah.

Jason: So I'm currently working Morey, and they were totally right. Morey is perfect and kind and gentle and does excellent guide work, and I'm so glad my loved ones were like, "No, no, really."

Theresa: "You can do this."

Jason: "You can do this." Because, again you're working, what, your fourth dog?

Theresa: My fourth one. Yeah. Yeah.

Jason: It's tough, especially when you take a break between, thanks COVID. It can be pretty challenging, but I'm so glad I did.

Theresa: Absolutely.

Jason: And then last summer my wife poke me and said, "Hey, Guide Dogs has a job posting." I was like "What? How did I not see that?"

Theresa: I'm glad somebody reads my emails, even if it's your wife.

Jason: Yeah. Absolutely. This was a Facebook posting, so I figured it was marketing.

Theresa: Okay. Fair enough.

Jason: It wasn't you. I think it was-

Theresa: Nobody does read my emails. Okay. Good. Okay.

Jason: No comment. Yeah, so I applied and I got the job in August, and it's been such a lovely change. So I've been working as a professional mental health counselor in the state of Texas for the past almost 16 years in a variety of settings, colleges, community mental health centers, in-patient rehab centers, I run a private practice.

So I was really glad to come onto Guide Dogs. Just a very lovely and very delightful experience. One of the things that we're really trying to do and really trying to highlight in my role is that I can provide peer support, I can provide education, and it can really... One of the things I've done a lot with people is help them find the resources in their local area.

Theresa: It's so important and it's so hard right now to find mental health resources.

Jason: Again, I had somebody in northern California... I called 35 therapists and got one guy to call me back and said, "No one is taking clients in this entire county," and I was like, "Okay. Well, keep trying."

Theresa: Keep trying. Yeah.

Jason: But, again, also kind of my title is psychosocial support specialist, so often what people are calling... In general I talk to people once or twice. I'm not having generally like extensively long relationships with people, but a lot of it is around is it time to retire my dog? My dog just got diagnosed with cancer. Should I apply for another dog? My dog died.

Or a lot of the other programs I'm helping with are K9 Buddy, and also orientation and mobility immersion, so it's been really good for me to also talk to the orientation and mobility people who may have just recently lost their vision and talk about rolling back in time to when I had to go through all of that and do all that sort of stuff, and helping them, and the same thing, getting them hooked up with resources.

I think one of the most... I don't want to say it's surprising, but I was unfamiliar with the K9 Buddy Program, so one of the interesting things for me has been helping people where they're like, "Oh, I've had guide dog and my lifestyle has changed," and being able to have another program to mention to them really seems to get them excited.

Theresa: Yeah. Yeah. I was curious about your... I believe you did your dissertation on the guide dog experience and how that helped to... Or it doesn't help... How it affects the guide dog handler, and I'm just wondering what you learned from that, and are you feeling like you're seeing a lot of that sort of in real life now, working with different clients?

Jason: Yeah. Absolutely. And I think the need here... The thing I found in my research was we were looking how does the introduction of a dog guide into the family system affect the handler and affect the family system. One of the number one things that came out was the family gets jealous.

Theresa: Right.

Jason: Right? The partner gets jealous.

Theresa: Yeah.

Jason: There's family dynamics. It's the first time the person who's disabled has to set boundaries in their family. It's the first time they have to say to their mom and dad, "Hey, you can't do that." It's the first time their out walking independently. And from my own experience, it freaked my parents out.

Theresa: Yeah. Mine too. Yeah.

Jason: Right?

Theresa: Yeah.

Jason: To go from walking with a cane, where when I work a guide dog around my parents the number one thing is, "Oh, my God, you're walking so fast, you're walking so fast." Then I'm like, "Guys, I've got it."

Theresa: Yeah. Yeah.

Jason: I do think a lot of what my research has enabled me to do is to be able to give words to that. When I'm talking to people, when they call and say, "Man, this is really frustrating. My parents, they don't want me to go out," or, "My spouse is upset that I'm paying more attention to the dog," and I can say, "Yeah. Absolutely." That's what my research found. That's what I found.

When my spouse and I first started dating she told me one of the hardest things was how much of visibility there was. She's like, "We're not invisible anymore. We're not just a couple at the grocery store."

Theresa: Right. You're like a celebrity.

Jason: Right. You're like a celebrity. She's like, "It's really hard to go from anonymity to like oh, my God, all these people are talking to us."

Theresa: Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely. For maybe some of our listeners who might be having some of those family dynamic situations in their lives right now, what advice do you give folks?

Jason: It depends on the situation.

Theresa: Totally. I agree.

Jason: Well, and I feel that way because it really does, right? But where I go with it is it's a matter of safety and it's a matter of independence and confidence. The majority of the time when I talk to our clients and give them strategies and give them techniques on how to talk to their family it goes okay, or I've even had couples hop on the phone and be like, "Hey, can you help me with this," and I'm like, "Okay. Sure." You guys are both here and that sort of thing.

But also that's where I get really clear on here's what I can help you with, how to language this, but if you need more help in specifics, if you need family therapy, I can help you find a family therapist.

Theresa: That's great.

Jason: That's really the kind of pivot point of like here are some basic skills I can teach you, but if this is how your marriage, for instance, has been for 50 years I can't do marriage therapy on 50 years of your husband or your wife always being the same way.

Theresa: That's right. That's right. I love that Guide Dogs for the Blind as a program has really sort of expanded our services and kind of understands how many pieces, touchpoints of things that really affect a person's ability to be successful with a guide dog. Can you talk a little bit about sort of our holistic interdisciplinary kind of philosophy about serving clients?

Jason: Of course. For me it's this interesting thing of being a handler and then coming to work here. I think the most shocking... I was like, "Man, you guys really care." I guess I have to say we really care now, but it's still... I started in August, so there's still this element of man, the organization as a whole really wants to meet people where they are. I look at the orientation and immersion program, the K9 Buddy program for the kids, the K9 Buddy program as adults, the guide dog program, and some of the stuff they're doing in the orientation and mobility program with having other services come in and help people.

And I think that's one of the things that I bring to the table, is kind of that holistic approach of reaching out to people. A lot of what I've been trying to do is when I see things come across, or somebody's dog passes away, or this or that, I'm proactively reaching out. I'm giving them information, finding them grief groups, finding them people to really get them connected, instead of waiting for them to reach out to me.

Theresa: Right. That's really cool, because I think sometimes people shy away from that a little bit too. Then another piece I think, and you said about it in your own story about some transitioning from one dog to another, I think something that you do with each of our classes is that transition, sort of peer support group. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Jason: Yeah. So every Monday now I'm running a support group during the training process so we have a chance to talk about fears and hopes and griefs and sadness and frustrations and hope and-

Theresa: Yes.

Jason: It's interesting, I've run groups for a long time and there's always a fear of oh, man, I hope this goes well. And in all of the groups I've run there are these beautiful conversations of people just sharing. Fundamentally on paper walking through space with a dog guiding you is crazy.

Theresa: It's crazy, right? I know. Who figured that out?

Jason: Right. Who was like, "Hey, this is a good idea. Let's get people that can't see a dog." Right?

Theresa: Yeah.

Jason: And really having a place to talk about it's not the absence of fear of have the a visual impairment or blindness. It's having the fear, and being around people, and learning from other people, and realizing that courage is fear of walking, right? Courage is the ability to... I'm afraid, I'm scared, I don't know how those are going to work out, and doing it anyway.

So a lot of those conversations have been a lot about resilience and a lot about the ability to work through this is terrifying. There's an inherent struggle and fear and anxiety and all of those things that we have as being somebody who is blind or visually impaired, and what the dog does it gives you another tool, and it gives you another layer of confidence, and it gives you another layer of freedom, and it gives you another layer of that, while simultaneously you now have a two-year-old with you all the time.

It barks and it poops, and you have to pack a bag, and you worry about it, right? So, again, a lot of the conversations have been really great. We're having that ability to talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly of what it means to be either a first time guide dog handler or an eighth time guide dog handler.

Theresa: Right. Right. Changing. Every one of those dogs is different, and building that trust is so important. Somebody used the term the other day radical trust, and it really kind of is, right?

Jason: Yeah. Oh, kind of? I mean absolutely. Again, back again to I'm hurdling through space and I assume my dog isn't going to stop at the curb.

Theresa: Right. Right. We're not chasing a squirrel, right? We're going to Starbucks.

Jason: Right. Pretty sure we're going to Starbucks.

Theresa: Oh, my goodness. Well, Jason and I were sharing a funny story before we started recording. It was about his basset hounds, so not only does Jason have his lovely Morey at home, but he has two other dogs. Can you tell us a little bit your basset hounds?

Jason: Yeah. We have a male basset hound named Bruno who's 67 pounds.

Theresa: Holy moly. That's as big as my Labrador.

Jason: Yeah. And he's the fun police. He's very, very serious and wants no one to have... We joke about that. He's always investigating and he's like hey, is anyone having fun? Because is sister, Robin, who is about 47 pounds and also a basset, he's always like, hey, what are you doing? Stop having fun. And he'll tell on her if she's doing something.

Theresa: You told us the story about how Morey has been using them as a jungle gym, so do you want to tell us about that?

Jason: Indeed. One of the great things about having a bulldog in the house is I found out very quickly that Morey being able to play with the other dogs hasn't actually affected her guide work at all, so she's free... They're free to play.

Theresa: Yeah. Yeah. Of course. It's good for them. Yeah.

Jason: Yeah. Absolutely. So in the backyard Morey, often when she gets the complete zoomies, will use the basset hounds as playing as hurdles, and she will literally jump over them repeatedly, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth-

Theresa: I love it.

Jason: ...because they can't get her or chase her when she's jumping over them like that.

Theresa: Well, they're so low to the ground. I just love that.

Jason: Exactly.

Theresa: That's awesome. I love it. I love that story.

Jason: Yeah. And of course Bruno is standing there the whole time barking and going hey, don't have fun. Stop this.

Theresa: Stop it already. Life is serious.

Jason: He's a very serious gentleman.

Theresa: Oh, my gosh. Well it has been truly delightful chatting with you, Jason, and we are so lucky to have you on the team at Guide Dogs for the Blind. Can you tell folks how they can connect with you if they want to reach out?

Jason: Yeah. Absolutely. You can call the 1-800 number. I'm in the phone tree. You can call the Support Center, you can get transferred to me. Then my email address is just very simple. It's jdoorish, like the door, so it's D-O-O-R-I-S-H, @guidedogs.com.

Theresa: Right. Thank you. Thank you so much for being here, and thank you for all you do for Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Jason: Thanks, Theresa.

Theresa: For more information about Guide Dogs for the Blind please visit guidedogs.com

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