On Wednesday morning, June 29, nine visually impaired or blind students from around the United States and Canada started their five-day guide dog lifestyle camp.
The annual event is put on by Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) to allow participants the opportunity to work with and learn about guide dogs. This year's free Camp GDB program invited youth, age 14-17, for an in-person camp experience at the organization's Boring campus.
"Our camp program is for teens who are blind or visually impaired who are interested in getting a guide dog," said Jane Flower, Guide Dogs for the Blind's youth outreach specialist. "Today is our first full day, so kids get a chance to experience what it is like to walk with a guide dog."
At the camp, participants get to explore the independence, responsibility and companionship of having a guide dog, which brings a lot of work.
"Most of these kids have never walked with a guide dog, which is a very different experience than walking with a cane," Flower said.
She explained that while a cane is an object finder, guide dogs act more as navigators, which forces the student to be more in tune with their orientation and mobility.
The camp helps participants receive hands-on guide dog instruction that puts an emphasis on understanding the specific skills required to be a successful guide dog handler.
Living with a dog
Although there is a lot of practice needed before campers are able to safely handle a guide dog, Flower said the camp teaches its students the responsibility needed to own a dog.
"The staff also wants (campers) to focus on how the dogs feel, their behaviors and what those behaviors might sound like," Flower said. "A lot of the kids maybe have never been around dogs or know anything about caring for them, but having a guide dog means owning and caring for an animal."
Although the amount of skills that students work on during the camp may seem daunting, many of the campers were ecstatic just to work with the dogs.
One student, Mina Lamarra, came all the way from Huntington Beach, California, to participate in the camp. "I never knew if I wanted a dog or not," Lamarra said. "I wanted to go to college, and I was wondering if I would have the time to walk or feed the dog. I just wanted to know if I wanted the added responsibility."
Those questions melted away when Lamarra was able to walk with her guide dog. "Walking with the guide dog just changed my life," the 14-year-old said with a wide smile. "It makes everything so much more efficient and really unbelievably great."
Want to help?
Here are some ways to assist Guide Dogs for the Blind in continuing to provide free services:
• Volunteer: There are a variety of opportunities for drivers, puppy raisers and foster care providers.
• Donate: Guide Dogs for the Blind does not charge anything for its services and receives no government funding, so contributions are essential.
Interested in helping? Visit guidedogs.com to learn more.
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