Paws for Cause 101
A new class has formed at the California School for the Blind: Paws for Cause 101. The center of attention is Gillespie, Gilly for short. Gilly is a 2-year old yellow lab, a “change of career” dog guide. With his soft trachea, Gilly was unable to use the harness of a dog guide. Marcia Vickroy, an Orientation and Mobility Instructor at the California School for the Blind, had submitted a grant proposal for a change of career dog for the students at CSB. It has been our good fortune that Gilly was available and assigned to us.
Gilly comes to school each day with Marcia. Interested students and classes have been trained to work with Gilly in various capacities. Robin and Bill each feed him one day a week. Nick, Robbie, Kenny, and Miriam each walk Gilly and play with him one period a week. Rhonda grooms Gilly, while Leonna sings to him. Two classes have times set up so students can take turns reading to Gilly, singing to him or listening to a tape with him. Bill takes Gilly to his on-campus apartment each week to see what it would be like to have a dog of his own. Each week, Marcia leads an after school meeting where different topics are covered and activities occur. Examples are: watching a video about dog guides and discussing it, baking dog biscuits, taking Gilly for a bath and having a guest speaker who is a dog guide user.
These experiences are designed for fun, but more important, they support the education of students in critical ways. Students learn and practice skills in the areas of responsibility, time management and planning, concept development, communication, organization, and fine and gross motor skills. The care of Gilly has allowed students to realize the importance of paying attention to their own health – diet, exercise, and emotional needs.
Some of our students may be potential dog guide users. Many will not be. Many students do not have pets of their own at home. Working with Gilly allows these students to find out first hand what it is like to care for a dog.
Gilly is not the only dog on our campus, nor is he the only change of career dog guide. But… he is special in that he has been able to adapt to the needs and styles of many people. He has shown flexibility and patience with students who have awkward gait patterns, less-than-commanding voices and the inability to always find the tossed toy.
Gilly has worked his way into the hearts of the students and staff at the California School for the Blind. He has helped us create a new way of presenting students with information and opportunities they might not otherwise have. We hope we have given Gilly a good home here. We know he arrives with an extra bounce in his step after the weekend, perhaps indicating he truly likes his work here. We also know he has made a positive impact on the education of blind and visually impaired students at CSB.