GDTX Welcomes New Puppy Program Manager

Paula Lawrence-Brown recently joined the Guide Dogs of Texas family as a Puppy Program Manager to work alongside Larry Gelvin.

“I love working with the GDTX staff and the puppy raisers,” said Brown. “The volunteers are hard working and give a lot of their time. People don’t realize how difficult it is to raise puppies. There’s a lot of attention and 24/7 care required. It’s like bringing a young toddler into your home.”

Brown, 47, acquired the majority of her guide dog experience while working as kennel manager, trainer and interim breeding manager at Southeastern Guide Dogs in Florida for eight years.
She then went to Phoenix, where Brown worked at The Foundation for Blind Children for three years helping children, ages 3 to 17, learn physical and academic life skills.

As the Puppy Program Manager, Brown monitors the 16 puppies in the program, ranging in age from 14 weeks to 12 months. She makes sure that all of the puppies have their nutritional, physical, and medical needs met in the loving hands of the GDTX volunteers.
Brown also trains and monitors volunteers in the Puppy Raiser program and plays a vital role in ensuring that the puppies have the very best chance to enter the advanced training program and to become exceptional guide dogs.

Guide Dogs of Texas Receives $625,000 Bequest

SAN ANTONIO – Guide Dogs of Texas (GDTX) recently received a $625,000 bequest from a long-time donor, who, according to her will, asked not to be identified. The gift, organization officials say, is the largest private donation that GDTX has received.

“Guide Dogs of Texas is truly grateful for this extraordinary gift,” said Larry Tuttle, GDTX president. “As you may know, we receive no state or federal funding and must rely on donations to remain in operation. Therefore, these reserves allow us to develop sustaining revenues, serve an increasing number of clients, and make much needed improvements to our training center.”

Having monetary reserves in today’s lagging economy, Tuttle said, is important for any nonprofit. “This is a great example of how anyone can impact a nonprofit organization through a bequest, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be a large gift,” he said. “There are so many wonderful nonprofits in our community that benefit through donations such as this, especially if they are struggling to find revenue to meet client needs.”

GDTX currently serves 28 clients with on-going client care. Another 14 visually-impaired Texans are on a waiting list. GDTX works with clients who, after being paired with a guide dog, come to the San Antonio-based training center for an intensive, three-week, one-on-one training period with a guide dog mobility instructor before returning home with their service dog.

Regarding the donor, Tuttle said she began making small donations to GDTX about 10 years ago. Throughout the years, she kept abreast of the organization through its newsletters and events. “She always liked our mission and made a decision to support us even after her death,” he said.

4 labrador puppies inducted into Guide Dogs of Texas puppy program

B litter is the second line of guide dog puppies bred and born in Texas
Guide Dogs of Texas (GDTX) celebrated its second litter of guide dog puppies from its breeding program during a puppy induction ceremony on Saturday, May 5 at the GDTX training facility, 1503 Allena Drive. The in-house breeding program plays a critical role in the guide dog school’s ability to better serve a population of nearly 175,000 legally blind Texans.

Four puppies from the B litter – Bailey, Bexar, Blitz and Blossom – were inducted into the Guide Dog Puppy Program. During the ceremony, each puppy was handed to their volunteer puppy raiser, who will raise and socialize the pups for the next 15 to 18 months, preparing them for their formal guide dog training. One of the new pups was given to the PAWSitive Approach Program, which uses non-violent offenders at Dominguez State Jail to raise the puppies.

“These litters are critical,” said Sandy Merrill, guide dog mobility instructor. “There has been an overall shortage of guide dogs from the kennels where we usually acquire our guide dogs. If we didn’t have these new pups, then this time next year we wouldn’t have any service dogs to provide to our clients who are on a waiting list.”

The ceremony was attended by GDTX staff, board of directors, volunteer puppy raisers and their families, members from the organization’s Best Friends in Sight Society, as well as the winners from the recent social media contest who helped name each of the new guide dog puppies.

Guide Dogs of Texas Observes Guide Dog Awareness Month

Volunteers needed to provide safe and pet-friendly homes

SAN ANTONIO – Prior to being paired with his guide dog, Willow, a 7-year-old, black Labrador retriever in October 2006, Steve Cardenas admits he was a little apprehensive. But since the past five years, the 36-year-old father of two realizes he made the right choice.

“It went from me being overly dependent on my wife and friends to guide me through places to to having the freedom to go wherever I want to and whenenever I want,” Cardenas said. “My family and I recently went on vacation to Disneyland and the Grand Canyon, and Willow was outstanding while working.”

Cardenas is one of 50 clients throughout Texas, who rely on a Guide Dogs of Texas (GDTX) service dog to provide them with freedom, mobility and independence, which the nonprofit organization has done for visually impared Texans since 1998. Another 14 people are on a waiting list.

During September, Guide Dogs of Texas – which is the only guide dog school in Texas and is one of 11 accredited schools in the nation – will observe Guide Dog Awareness Month to promote and raise awareness for guide dog schools around the country.

“I am amazed at how many times residents of our community who are visually impaired and who need our services tell me, ‘I had no idea that Guide Dogs of Texas exists,’ ” said Larry Tuttle, GDTX president. “Guide Dog Awareness month brings resources from our community together to help people know the amazing impact that a guide dog has to increase the mobility and independence of Texans who are legally blind.”

Tuttle added that although it only costs a client $1 for a guide dog, it takes nearly two years and more than $40,000 to raise and train a guide dog. To continue providing services to its clients and caring for its service dogs, GDTX has a number of volunteer opportunites that it encourages the community to consider: guide dog boarders, client meal hosts, puppy sitters, puppy raisers, kennel assistants, drivers and PAWsitive Approach boarders, among others.

“We rely on volunteers to help us carry out our mission of providing a guide dog to visually impaired Texans,” he said, “but we also need donations. We receive no government funding. We rely solely on donations.”

The nonprofit will host a “Get to Know Guide Dogs of Texas Tour” at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 10; 9 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 20; and 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 6 at the facility, 1503 Allena Drive, 78213. To RSVP or to inquire about volunteer opportunities, call (210) 366-4081. You can also like us on Facebook.

Also during September, Natural Balance Pet Foods will donate $1 to support guide dog schools throughout the country, when consumers purchase specially-marked Natural Balance bags at all participating stores.

According to the U.S. Census, more than 500,000 Texans are visually impaired of which 175,000 are legally blind. In Bexar County, the San Antonio Lighthouse for the Blind estimates some 50,000 blind/visually impaired citizens.

PETCO Foundation awards $194,000 to Guide Dogs of Texas

Funding will support organization’s mission to assist visually impaired clients

SAN ANTONIO – Guide Dogs of Texas (GDTX) has received a $194,093.55 grant from the Petco Foundation to benefit the organization’s programs that support local clients who rely on a GDTX service dog to provide them with freedom, mobility and independence. The grant is a result of fundraising efforts during National Guide Dog Month in September, sponsored by Petco and Natural Balance Pet Foods.

“Guide Dogs of Texas is honored to receive a portion of proceeds of the National Guide Dog Month awareness campaign hosted by two great companies – Petco and Natural Balance Pet Foods,” said Larry Tuttle, GDTX president. “Petco’s corporate presence in the San Antonio community makes this gift even more meaningful.  We are privileged to share significantly in the success of National Guide Dog Month and to be offered the opportunity to use this donation to increase mobility for a number of Texans who are visually impaired.”

During National Guide Dog Month in September, pet owners were encouraged to visit their local Petco store to make a donation at the register or by purchasing specially marked bags of Natural Balance Pet Foods or participating independent pet stores across the country. Customers could also make donations online at Petco.com. The month-long fundraiser supports several guide dog schools throughout the country, including GDTX.

“Guide dogs are provided for free to enhance the lives of visually impaired people , but it costs more than $40,000 and takes up to two years to train them,” said Charlie Piscitello, Senior VP of Human Resources for Petco and President of the Petco Foundation. “Both Petco and the Petco Foundation are proud to present this important grant and to support the incredible work done by Guide Dogs of Texas, and many other similar organizations, in order to provide these life-changing animals to people who need them.”  

“Every seven minutes someone in America becomes blind or visually impaired. Natural Balance is committed to the cause of guide dog programs that empower the visually impaired with the gift of a guide dog,” said XX of Natural Balance. “We are dedicated at both the national and local levels to raise money and awareness in support of the transformational power of guide dogs.”

Funding from the Petco Foundation will allow GDTX to continue it’s work with clients who, after being paired with a guide dog, come to the San Antonio-based center for an intensive, three-week, one-one-one training period with a guide dog mobility instructor before returning home with their service dog. GDTX currently serves 28 clients while another 14 visually-impaired Texans are on a waiting list.

Guide Dogs of Texas is the only guide dog school in the state and is one of 11 accredited schools in the nation. It provides guide dogs to visually impaired Texans to enhance their freedom, mobility and independence.

About Petco and the Petco Foundation

Petco is a leading pet specialty retailer that provides the products, services and advice that make it easier for our customers to be great pet parents. Everything we do is guided by our vision for Healthier Pets. Happier People. Better World. We operate more than 1,100 stores nationwide, including more than 30 Unleashed by Petco locations, a smaller format neighborhood shop, petco.com.  The Petco Foundation, an independent nonprofit organization, has raised more than $80 million since it was created in 1999 to help promote and improve the welfare of companion animals. In conjunction with the Foundation, we work with and support approximately 7,000 local animal welfare groups across the country to help find homes for more than 250,000 animals through in-store adoption events every year.

About Natural Balance
Since 1989, Dick Van Patten and his partner Joey Herrick have been supplying the public with premium quality dog and cat foods.  Today Natural Balance Pet Foods, Inc has grown into an international company providing pet foods throughout the United States, Canada, The Pacific Rim and Europe.  The Natural Balance ultra premium line of pet foods for dog and cats, includes: Ultra Premium Dry and Canned Dog and Cat food, Dog Food Rolls in 3 varieties: Lamb, Beef and Turkey, Treats for Dogs, Organic Dog Food, Allergy Formulas, Eatables for dogs, gourmet canned dog foods made in a USDA approved plant that makes food for people, and Zoological Formulas made for lions, tigers, cheetahs, polar bears, snakes and carnivorous birds.  Natural Balance is headquartered in Pacoima, CA and is available at Petco and local independent pet stores. Get more information on Natural Balance.

Bryan and Phantom

Guide Dogs of Texas Matches Client with New Companion

After Bryan Kelley took a bad fall off the steps of a Las Vegas hotel, his wife, Kay, suggested it was time to look into getting a guide dog.

“The carpet pattern was all the same everywhere so I missed a step as I was coming down the stairs,” said the 51-year-old Fort Worth resident.

As an infant, Kelley was diagnosed with hydrocephalus, a buildup of fluid inside the skull that can lead to brain swelling. After several procedures, the then 7 year old began losing his vision starting in August 1968.

“I knew about guide dogs for a long time, but it wasn’t until after our trip to Las Vegas that I really started looking in to it,” he said. “I got General, my first guide dog, in May 2001 from The Seeing Eye in New Jersey.” Kelley and General were together for nine years. When Kelley knew it was getting close to General’s retirement age, he began talking to Guide Dogs of Texas about acquiring a new guide dog.

“My dad lives in San Antonio, so that was a major reason I wanted to move,” Kelley said. “I was already talking to Sandy Merrill (director of training) a year prior to me being matched with another guide dog.”

Sadly, on July 7, 2010, General suddenly passed away, a year after speaking to Merrill.

“It’s almost a God thing more than coincidental,” he said. “I called Sandy the same day General passed, and that was the day they talked about pairing me with Phantom. They came to Fort Worth which is where I moved to so I could meet Phantom.”

Kelley walked with a cane from July 2010 until January 2011, when he came to the Guide Dogs of Texas headquarters for his training with Phantom. “They did a great job matching,” he said. “There are still things I’m learning about him, but he does his job and keeps me safe.”

Phantom, a 3-year-old black Lab, has become even more important to Kelley when it comes to being safe.

“We go for walks during the day, and I go to two doctors a week,” Kelley said. “He does really well. He remembers the buildings, but lately it’s been getting a lot harder to listen to traffic because of the smart cars. Those cars don’t make noise, so it’s up to Phantom to keep a look out, and that’s why he’s a lot better than a cane because a cane can’t listen.”

Although having a guide dog has generally been a positive experience for Kelley, there are some difficulties on occasion.

“You get rejected all the time at restaurants or hotels. After so many years, I still get angry because it’s federal and state law that says it’s OK to have a service dog in a public place,” Kelley said, adding that he carries copies of the state law with him in case he is ever refused entry into a public establishment.

Aside from these challenges, Kelley is grateful for Phantom and Guide Dogs of Texas. The organization, he said, has even taught Phantom something that Kelley claims other guide dog schools don’t do as well.

“I have a little bit of vision and depend on it, but one thing that sticks out about the dogs from Guide Dogs of Texas is that they can find the right bathroom,” he said. “It may not sound like a big deal, but it’s very handy. If anyone ever makes a comment about a dog being in the bathroom, I just say, ‘He’s gotta go, too, you know.’ ”

GDTX Pairs Client with Second Guide Dog

When the alarm sounds in the morning, Jesse Camacho is greeted by the wagging tail of his guide dog Celia, a playful black Lab with whom he was recently paired.

Camacho, 64, has been a client of Guide Dogs of Texas (GDTX) since 2003. His first guide dog from GDTX was Brendie, who, at 11-years-old, recently retired from the program. “Celia reminds me a lot of Brendie,” he said. “They both have playful personalities.”

Camacho, who has been blind since birth, now lives with his wife, Pearl Hung, in Houston. She also has a guide dog

named Izzy whom she received from GDTX in 2011.

Izzy has begun accompanying Pearl to her workplace at The Lighthouse of Houston, a nonprofit education and service center dedicated to assisting blind and visually impaired people to live independently.

“Izzy and Celia are getting along great,” said Camacho. “They love it when Pearl and I take them out together.”

Camacho attended the four-week training period at the GDTX facilities in March. During this time, he became reacquainted with the staff and befriended a fellow classmate.

“They are all angels over there,” said Camacho, who recently retired from The Lighthouse where he spent many years working in the Medical Transcriptions Department. “I can’t say enough about Guide Dogs of Texas. It’s truly an amazing school.”

When Camacho talks about his new guide dog, it is clear that Celia is a perfect fit for him. She shares his excitement, playfulness and fun personality. She even shares his favorite hobby: walking in the rain.

“She loves to talk to me and lie on her back so I can scratch her stomach,” said Camacho. “She loves to snuggle and will just kiss you to death. She’s really a great dog.”

Ten puppies inducted into Guide Dogs of Texas puppy program

“C” litter is the third of a line of guide dog puppies bred and born in Texas

Guide Dogs of Texas (GDTX) celebrated its third litter of guide dog puppies from its breeding program during a puppy induction ceremony on June 2 at the GDTX training center, 1503 Allena Drive. The in-house breeding program plays a critical role in the guide dog school’s ability to better serve a population of nearly 175,000 legally blind Texans.

GDTX welcomed Caleb, Captain, Chance, Cody, Cosmo, Cruiser, Cassie, Comet, Callie and Cricket into the guide dog family. The mother of the puppies, Ava, is one of the GDTX dogs born in the organization’s initial litter in 2010. The sire, Astro, from Guide Dogs of America in California, has sired over 200 pups who have become guide dogs and brings an excellent record of success for the right temperament and health desired in effective guides.

During the ceremony, each puppy was handed to its volunteer puppy raiser, who will raise and socialize the pups for the next 14 to 16 months, preparing them for their formal guide dog training.

“These 10 pups represent continuing success in bringing the highest quality of dogs to serve our Texas clients,” said Larry Tuttle, CEO of GDTX. “Guide Dogs of Texas is dedicated to bringing mobility and independence to Texans who are visually impaired.”

The ceremony was attended by GDTX staff, board of directors, volunteer puppy raisers and their families, members from the organization’s Best Friends in Sight Society, as well as the winners from the recent social media contest who helped