VHS guide dog program begins the year
with new puppies and spirit
By Hank McSheehy, Reporter
The Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) program originated in 1945 when a war veteran received the very first guide dog named Blondie. The program has grown and changed throughout the years, from handling mostly german shepherds to retrievers and labradors, which are quieter and easier to handle.
Char Phillips, head of the GDB at Vashon High School (VHS), has worked with the guide dog program since 1964 when she got her first guide dog puppy in middle school.
“I liked the fact that dogs were so much better behaved if they were trained. I [also] just thought that it was such an incredible program for volunteers,” Phillips said.
Phillips started a GDB club at VHS in 2000, and since then the program has raised 156 puppies, now with six more recruitments — Rabih, Macbeth, Kekoa, Comet, Eiffel, and Mcallister — which are currently in training to become guide dogs.
A puppy goes through a lot of practice and training before becoming an official guide dog.
“Guide dogs start their training right away,” Phillips said.
As soon as they are eight weeks old, they start to go through extensive instruction including playing and socializing, going over different surfaces, and walking on a leash.
“We teach them basic obedience … and then do lots of socializing [by] taking them everywhere,” Phillips said.
When the puppies are being trained, Phillips asks students to help handlers by adhering to a set of specific guidelines.
“Whenever the puppies are in their jackets and are walking with their person, just ignore them,” Phillips said.
She elaborated that this is the best method to train the puppies since as guide dogs they need to be well socialized and able to pay attention to what they’re doing.
Guide dog-handler senior Alyssa Hawkins has worked for guide dogs for six years and is raising the guide dog puppy Macbeth who is currently in training to become a guide dog.
“I think I first joined the club because I wanted to pet the dogs,” Hawkins said. “I stayed in the long run and I really liked handling the dogs. By that time I was too far in to quit.”
Hawkins says her favorite parts about the guide dog program are raising them, bringing the dogs home, bonding with them, and going to events.
“I really like the community. It’s kind of different every year,” Hawkins said.
Senior year puppy raiser Izzy Fischer has been doing guide dogs since her freshman year and is raising Macbeth with Hawkins.
Fischer first wanted to join the club because she admired the guide dogs in middle school. She waited until high school before joining the program, and now really enjoys it.
“I really like meeting new people … [and] spreading the knowledge I know now from guide dogs,” Fischer said.
“I think without guide dogs I would never know as much about … disabled people’s lives … and what you can and can’t do without guide dogs.”