Thursday, February 21, 2019

Celebrating a different kind of love this Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. 

While it’s common to celebrate with your significant other or make a Galantine’s day out of it—it’s also important to appreciate that love comes in different sizes and forms, and no one size fits all. An out-of-the-box but a rather heartwarming kind of matchmaking is done by Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB). Guide Dogs for the Blind is a nonprofit organization, empowering individuals who are blind or have low vision by creating special partnerships between people, guide dogs, and communities.

Image by Guide Dogs for the Blind

GDB matches over 300 people who are blind or visually impaired with exceptional guide dogs annually. Through a multi-month process of home visits, client questionnaires, and instructor feedback, both the pace and personality of dog and client, as well as the client’s lifestyle, are taken into account. GDB has matched clients who hike, skydive and travel frequently with their perfect guide dog.

Conversely, clients who have a more stationary lifestyle, or who need a particularly calm companion, are matched with ideal partners as well. All of GDB’s services are provided free of charge to its clients, including personalized training and extensive post-graduation support, plus financial assistance for veterinary care if needed.

Camille Jassny is a legally blind Seattleite who thrives as a working artist, partly thanks to the independence GDB has given her after being matched with her guide dog Egan. We spoke to Camille to know more about the whole process and how Egan is her perfect companion.

Camille and her guide dog, Egan. Photo credit: GDB

Seattleite: How did you first get to know about GDB?

Camille Jassny: I’ve had eye problems all of my life, and in 2007 when I was using a cane to navigate, I went to a gathering with blind and visually impaired attendees where everyone had guide dogs. That’s when I learned about Guide Dogs for the Blind, and that they even had a Pacific Northwest campus in Oregon. I subsequently booked a doctor’s appointment and found out I was legally blind. I likely had been for years.

I have grown up with dogs, and navigating with a cane alone didn’t agree with me because I am very active. In my experience, you just don’t get the same level of confidence and trust using a cane as you do with a guide dog. I immediately applied to receive a guide dog from GDB, and I received my first guide dog, Brietta, in 2008. Brietta actually just passed in December 2018 and had been living as a family member’s pet after she had retired from being my guide dog. I was very fortunate to still have had the chance for her to be in my life, even as she got older. Egan, my current guide, is my second GDB guide dog, and I have been working with him since 2016.

Seattleite: How were you paired with Egan? What was the process like?

Camille: After GDB clients, like myself, fill out the initial paperwork to apply for a guide dog, we are paid a home visit by GDB staff so they can assess our lifestyle and needs. When an applicant for a guide dog is selected as a GDB client, they are invited to campus for two weeks of training with their new guide, and so I was also interviewed upon arrival at GDB campus to further clarify what I was looking for.

I’m a working artist, I’m involved with several organizations around Seattle pertaining to mobility and blindness, and my husband and I love to travel. I knew when I applied to GDB for my second guide dog to emphasize that it was important I was matched with a dog who would fit with my active lifestyle.

I’ll never forget being paired with Egan. I found it funny when I was asked during the interview process if I was ok having to brush my dog, which I of course was. This made sense when, on my second day at GDB campus, there was a knock at my door. In walked a GDB instructor with horse-like Egan in tow. Egan is a golden retriever but stands out because of his size, reddish coloring, and magnificent fur (which I brush daily). He’s my regal, handsome boy, and it was an immediate connection. Egan was SO excited when we met, and we spent around an hour nuzzling on the floor. He kept insisting that I shake his paw, and I fell in love with his goofy, playful energy.

Seattleite: How long did it take for you and Egan to adapt to each other?

Camille: It took around 6 months for Egan and me to fully understand one another and establish a routine. Now we work like clockwork. I know where he is at all times (he’s lying on my feet right now) and his little preferences, such as how he prefers facing other diners at a restaurant rather than having his back to them. He knows my pace and my commands, and he easily navigates the very busy neighborhood of Capitol Hill, where we live.

Seattleite: How has your relationship with Egan evolved?

Camille: When I first brought Egan home, my family and friends were actually concerned about his energy. They didn’t think such a fun-loving dog would be a trustworthy guide, but that concern soon disappeared as Egan began working with me. He simply loves being a guide dog. He is so proud and serious when he has his guide dog harness on, and he’s working as my guide. Egan is happiest when he’s out and about, traveling, and meeting new people. Last night Egan and I were at a play together, and he actually may have been a bit distracting for the audience because he was obviously watching the performance. Now that we have created such a bond, Egan and I truly trust and enjoy each other’s company.

Seattleite: How do Egan’s qualities reflect your own personality and lifestyle needs?

Camille: As mentioned before, Egan loves being active and socializing with people, just like I do. My husband and I are going on a cruise embarking from Puerto Rico next week, and I have no doubt by the end of the voyage everyone on the boat will know Egan by name.

I do think that Egan and I both know how to work and play hard. When his harness is off, and he isn’t working as my guide, he visits with my friends and family, naps, plays, and is an all-around goofy Golden Retriever. When he is working as my guide, he is fully focused on keeping me safe, and we have a great sense of love and respect for one another.

Seattleite: In what ways is Egan an ideal companion for you?

Camille: Because Egan is my second guide dog, I am confident in saying that every guide dog is different and that they really shouldn’t be compared to one another. Egan and my former guide Brietta took care of my needs in very different ways, but they have both been incredible to work with.

Egan is ideal for me because he is gentle, an eager and intelligent guide, and a loving companion. I know that I wouldn’t be able to lead the incredible, fast-paced lifestyle I enjoy without him, and I am so grateful for the role he has played in my life.

 

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