Guided by Love

Patty Fuller
By Patty Fuller September 15, 2017 21:29

Hometown dog Andy with new best friend Judy Goodrich, 65, who lost most of her sight to retinitis pigmentosa. Andy was raised by Jean Jones, a longtime volunteer puppy raiser for Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Two mountain ranges and 700 miles apart, two women in their mid-60s share a unique bond.

A bond of the canine kind: Andy, a tail-wagging yellow Lab that loves people – and belly rubs.

Jean Jones of Soulsbyville raised Andy, and Judy Goodrich, who lives near Salt Lake City, now owns him. The story of how Andy connects them is as unlikely as it is heartwarming.

Jones, 64, spent much of 2015 and 2016 raising Andy, the 16th puppy she has brought up to be a potential guide dog. But as smart and full of potential as this charming dog was, the odds were against him. Fewer than half of the puppies raised for the San Rafael-based Guide Dogs for the Blind meet the nonprofit’s high standards.

But Andy beat those odds. Today he’s a constant sidekick and companion for Goodrich, who needed his help more than she knew. A friendly, outgoing woman of 65, she was becoming a shut-in due to retinitis pigmentosa, a progressive disease that left her with fading, blurry vision.

Tripping over things she couldn’t see and sometimes falling had made her wary of the activities she loves, such as playing guitar at church. So she’d stay home.

That changed nearly a year ago when she and Andy teamed up.

“He gives me the confidence to go out and do what I need to do,” says Goodrich. “He gives me confidence, freedom and safety.”

To say he is a lifesaver is no exaggeration. A short time into their partnership, Andy abruptly halted as he and Judy were headed to a bus stop. For a split second, Goodrich wondered why the Lab had ignored her forward command. Then a car turned right in front of them.

“He saved my life,” she says, still amazed. “He saw it and stopped.”

Andy, 4 months old, June 2015

Which is no surprise to Jones. “There was something special about Andy,” says the social worker/care manager with the Sonora-based Area 12 Agency on Aging.

Jones learned of the Guide Dogs for the Blind program when daughter Whitney took on the challenge of raising a guide dog puppy as her Sonora High School senior project.

“She went on to college, and I just kept raising these puppies,” laughs Jones. She describes Andy as a smart, very vocal canine character that loves people.

Adam Gilbert, an apprentice instructor who began training Andy after his 18-month tenure with Jones, agrees.

“He was a kind-hearted, playful, animated boy that was easy to love and willing to please,” Gilbert says. “From Day 1, he was all in to try whatever I asked of him.”

The path that joined Andy and Judy was a long one.

Diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa in her late 20s, Goodrich at first could cope with what started as a slight sight impairment. For years she lived a normal life that included marriage, raising a daughter and two sons, and all the driving that entailed. She held varying jobs, including 15 years as an activity leader in Alzheimer’s units.

Goodrich at home with Andy

Goodrich loved her work. It allowed her to share two lifelong passions – playing guitar and singing – with her patients. But her vision continued to deteriorate, and when she was 51, doctors told her to stop driving. They also urged the by-then divorced woman to take classes for the visually impaired. Thanks to a supportive employer and money from the sale of her car, Goodrich left work for two months to learn how to cope with her fading sight.

“It taught me not to be afraid,” she recalls.

Goodrich also knew of guide dogs, but because she still had some sight left, assumed she was ineligible. But as time went on, her vision became hazy and she became reluctant to do things on her own. Then came a life-changing moment: A family member met a volunteer puppy raiser for Guide Dogs for the Blind and encouraged Judy to contact the program.

Established in 1942, Guide Dogs for the Blind has matched more than 14,000 dogs with human partners and has more than 2,000 volunteers who help raise potential future guide dogs. Goodrich was excited.

Young Andy shows his affection for Jean Jones

Meanwhile, encouraged by her Area 12 employers, Jones was bringing her latest charge to the office – to her co-workers’ delight. Andy was popular and also vocal. One day at a work conference, the pup let his presence be known, letting out a shrill yelp from his spot under Jones’ seat. Jones blushed a bit, but the audience loved the Lab-inspired levity.

As Andy was maturing in California, Goodrich learned that she may indeed qualify for a dog. She took a course on using a cane to navigate streets, curbs and other obstacles the fully sighted barely notice. And she memorized walking routes to church, the store, bus stops and other essential destinations.

Goodrich also completed an interview and application. Her doctor confirmed that she was legally blind, yet healthy enough to have a good-sized dog at her side. A Guide Dogs for the Blind representative asked what kind of dog she would like.

“Yellow,” she said, so she could better see her new companion.

“It’s so wonderful how they match the personality of the dog to the person,” Goodrich says. “They want to know if you live in an apartment or house, if you’re a fast walker or slow, if you’re around kids.”

Goodrich learned last March that she qualified. “I had to wait eight months,” she says. “It was awful, but I had a date – they said they would have a dog for me on November 13.”

Several months before then, Jones had turned Andy over to Guide Dogs for the Blind for his final, most critical phase of training and evaluation.

So was it tough surrendering her companion of more than a year? Yes, says Jones.

“But to talk with these people about the difference it makes in their lives, well, it’s just absolutely the right thing to do,” she says. “You just pick up a new puppy the same day, so you have an immediate distraction and start the process again.”

Andy was paired with apprentice instructor Gilbert.

“Training these dogs to execute a job as challenging as guide work is extremely rewarding and I like doing it because I feel like these dogs are an extension of me,” says Gilbert.

“My work ethic, my passion and my heart are all carried on by these guide dogs and the job they perform with their handlers. This makes me incredibly proud.”

He recalls feeling “pretty confident” about pairing Andy and Judy as a team. “However I could not have known just how similar the two would be until I met Judy.”

In November 2016 – right on schedule – Guide Dogs for the Blind flew Goodrich west to spend two weeks with Gilbert and her new canine partner.

Andy at 18 months, ready for his daily walk at Area 12

“Andy came right up to me, wiggly, wiggly. He licked me and went down on the floor for belly rubs,” she says of their introduction. “It was wonderful. We bonded right away.”

“She has all the same characteristics that Andy does,” notes Gilbert. “She is very kind-hearted, she is definitely silly and loves to laugh, she loves to be around people and people feel the same way about her.

“The two had to learn to work together, but any outsider would have believed that the team had been together for years.”

Goodrich and Andy are now approaching their first year together. Thanks to her dog, she is again doing what she loves – playing guitar and singing.

Most Sundays, she straps her guitar case on like a backpack and, with Andy alongside, heads to church. There she strums and sings with youngsters while their parents attend services. “I take his harness off and let the kids play with him. They love it and Andy loves it. It’s double duty: singing and petting,” Goodrich says.

Six times a month they visit an adult daycare center where Judy plays and sings, and where of course, “They all love Andy, and he loves all the attention.”

She and Andy live with her brother-in-law and niece who, along with Judy’s two grandchildren, are big Andy fans. But she hopes by spring to have a place of her own. The move will mean new travel routes for her and her dog, but she is confident they will handle this with ease.

“We’ll be just fine,” she says. “I’m excited.”

But Andy has given Goodrich more than independence and safety.

“He’s always there for me,” she says. “Whether I’m happy, whether I’m sad, I’ll always have my buddy. It’s wonderful. He has given me a happier life.”

Jean Jones with Venetto

Back in Tuolumne County, Labrador pup No. 17, Venetto, is at Jones’ side. She expects to return him to Guide Dogs for the Blind sometime next year and predicts he will make a wonderful match for someone as deserving as Goodrich.

Until then, Jones and Venetto report to work at Area 12 Agency on Aging each day. And three times a month they meet with fellow members of Sierra Guide Dogs, a Tuolumne County group for those raising guide-dog puppies. Members share training tips, help those raising their first dogs and go on outings together. The group has from four to 12 dogs at any given time.

“Each raiser works with one puppy so they can really focus and train the pup for success,” Jones says. “And we’re always looking for new raisers.”

They buy food for their young charges, but Guide Dogs for the Blind provides veterinary care, leashes and the guide-dog-in-training jackets that each pup wears.

Similarly, Goodrich only pays for Andy’s food and toys.

All other costs are covered by funds raised by Guide Dogs for the Blind.

And what of the pups that don’t qualify as guide dogs?

Some become service dogs for other agencies, such as Dogs for Diabetics. Also, puppy raisers have the option of taking their dogs back as pets. Jones has taken two back in her years as a puppy raiser.

And those two women 700 miles apart?

Jones and Goodrich, who met at Andy’s graduation, have forged a friendship and talk by phone periodically about the lovable dog that brought them together. Such bonds are why Jones will continue raising pups for as long as she can.

“Everyone asks how you can give the dog away,” she says. “But when you talk to one of the blind people about the difference it makes in their life, there’s no question. It’s a win-win for everybody. There’s so much fulfillment in this.”

Goodrich and Andy

Call or go online to learn more

Much of Andy’s puppyhood with Jean Jones has been documented in Friends and Neighbors’ Readers’ Journal section at seniorfan.com. For more information on Guide Dogs for the Blind, call 1-800-295-4050 or visit their website, guidedogs.com. Anyone interested in guide-dog puppy raising with Sierra Guide Dogs may call Jones at (209) 533-3620.

For information on other assistance-dog organizations, visit FAN’s Resource HQ page at seniorfan.com.

Copyright © 2017 Friends and Neighbors Magazine

Patty Fuller
By Patty Fuller September 15, 2017 21:29
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