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Sequim resident graduates from Guide Dogs for the Blind school

Kyle Parrish has a new partner.

Peter, an almost 2-year-old black Labrador retriever, is by his side day and night and even travels to work with him. Using Peter's eyes, nose and extensive training, Parrish is able to see the world.

"He is excellent at work," Parrish, a Sequim resident, said about Peter. "(He's) very calm and just hangs out."

Parrish works at Paratransit and is the president of the Visually Impaired Persons of Sequim. He lost his sight at the age of 15, from pressure in his head crushing the optic nerve, and has been using a guide dog for 30 years. Peter is his fourth companion. The first two dogs are deceased and the last one, Jed, recently retired and still lives with Parrish.

Parrish and Jed were partners for nine years.

"He's part of the family now," Parrish said fondly, speaking on a cell phone while riding the bus home.

Parrish and Peter completed one month of intensive training at Guide Dogs for the Blind in Oregon. Graduation took place on May 31 at the 11-acre campus located 25 miles east of Portland.

During training, skilled guide dogs and their human partners learn to negotiate stairways, elevators, overhead obstacles, crowded sidewalks and busy streets. The dogs are trained to avoid distractions and disobey commands to cross a street if traffic is approaching.

Guide Dogs for the Blind is more than just a school - it's a community dedicated to providing people who are blind with the opportunity to experience what a powerful partnership with a guide dog can mean to mobility and quality of life, according to a recent press release. It's the only school in the country that has built its program around both the functional and personal aspects of a guide dog partnership.

"It's an excellent program," Parrish said sincerely. "All four of my dogs have come from that school."

The school is committed to matching each person with the right dog, developing personalized training programs to match each person's lifestyle and providing unprecedented support services to establish a true lifelong partnership, according to the mission statement.

Established in 1942, Guide Dogs for the Blind has produced more than 10,000 trained guides for graduates across the U.S. and Canada. At least 2,000 people with vision loss utilize the comfort, companionship and safety of such dogs today.

The organization ensures that each dog in training is well cared for during its entire life whether or not it successfully becomes a guide. Students are offered air transportation, room and board, training, equipment, financial assistance for veterinary care and support services free of charge. Extensive post-graduation support emphasizes a lifelong commitment to the continuing success of each graduating team.

As with Parrish, graduates are invited to return for training with a new guide dog when a canine companion reaches retirement.

Guide Dogs for the Blind is a nonprofit organization supported entirely by private, charitable donations that relies on the time and talents of dedicated staff members, puppy raisers and volunteers.

"Puppy Pilots," a club through Guide Dogs for the Blind, is comprised of volunteers who teach guide dog puppies basic manners and potty training before the animal receives formal training.

Puppy raisers generally have a puppy in their home for one year and are responsible for feeding, exercising and socializing the pup. Guide Dogs for the Blind pays for veterinary bills, leashes and medication but does not cover food, treats, crates, toys or fencing expenses. After a year or so with a family, puppies are sent to Oregon for harness training, which lasts four to five months, and then are paired with a blind person.

Black and yellow Labs, golden retrievers and German shepherds are the most commonly used dog breeds.

The peninsula's Puppy Pilots group is one of 18 in Washington state.



Training guide dogs to improve

mobility and quality of life

Guide Dogs for the Blind trains and pairs seeing eye dogs with blind people. The nonprofit organization has been teaming up dogs and humans for more than 65 years. Headquartered in San Rafael, Calif., a sister campus is located in Boring, Ore., just 25 miles east of Portland. Both locations include administration facilities, dorms, kennels and veterinary clinics. For more information, call 800-295-4050 or go online to www.guidedogs.com.



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