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Close up photo of Justine leaning in close and smiling, hugging onto Dove, a black lab. Meet the Staff: Guide Dogs of APH

Guide dogs are known to be mobility assistants, trusted confidantes, skilled navigators, and loving friends. We have several faithful companions supporting APH staff members. Let’s get to know these dynamic duos and find out what it’s like to work side by side with a dog guide.

 

Tai and Lava

Tai laughing and holding Lava, a black lab with a little gray on her muzzle. Lava is looking up at Tai lovingly.

Tai Tomasi, APH’s Director of ABIDE, and Lava: A Team Since 2013

Q: Do you have any nicknames for your dog?

A: Lava Java, Lava Lamp, Lavrador, and Microlab.

 

Q: What is your dog’s personality like while on the job vs during free time?

A: Lava is focused while on the job, but she is friendly and enjoys making puppy dog eyes and flirting with those she perceives as dog people. She wishes everyone could pet her. She is a little unpredictable off the job, since she can be very mellow or very playful. She loves attention!

 

Q: What is your dog’s most impressive trick/talent?

A: Lava can identify the sound of a banana being opened from afar. She comes running and will catch pieces of banana as you throw them. She is an empath and can sense when someone she loves is going through an emotionally difficult time. In those instances, she will force her way close to you, then lean in for hugs/cuddles.

 

Q: What has been your experience having a guide dog in the workplace?

A: It is important to learn orientation and mobility skills using a cane before getting a dog guide. Having those skills enables me to best direct Lava while we are working as a team. I enjoy the ease and fluidity of traveling to events and conferences with Lava, since we can easily navigate large open spaces.

 

Q: How do you balance what you are doing with your dog’s needs?

A: Taking care of a dog guide is a significant undertaking. It requires a commitment much like having a small child. You need to practice training and obedience drills, and correct the dog when it is misbehaving. I plan time into my schedule to walk and relieve Lava, to give her a bit of playtime, and to sit with her and provide the attention she needs.

 

Q: Are there any common misconceptions about guide dogs that you would like to clear up?

A: On airplanes, dog lovers will often want me to allow Lava to get close to them. It is important that I keep Lava in the space in front of my feet so that I can monitor her behavior and so that she does not become accustomed to spreading out in the footspace of others who may not like dogs.

Rideshare drivers often refuse to transport Lava and I, because they believe they cannot be obligated to carry a dog in their vehicle. Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act requires that dogs be permitted in places of public accommodations, including public transit, taxis, and rideshare vehicles.

 

Justine and Dove

Close up photo of Justine leaning in close and smiling, hugging onto Dove, a black lab.

Justine Taylor, Low Vision Product Manager, and Dove: A Team Since 2017

Q: What is your dog’s personality like while on the job vs during free time?

A: Dove works hard, is focused, and gets me places quickly and efficiently when on harness, but when the harness comes off, she is a regular playful dog. She loves belly rubs, laying in the sun, and playing in the park.

 

Q: Do you have a favorite funny story about you and your dog?

A: She is everyone’s favorite co-worker. When working in the office, I keep Dove off harness under my desk so she can relax while I work. Colleagues often stop by to see Dove. I taught her to stay in the tiled part of the office and not to go in the hallway. In order to get extra pets and hellos from people, she stretches out into the hallway with one paw on the tile so she was technically still in my office. She can be a mischievous black lab to get attention from her favorite APH-ers.

 

Q: What has been your experience having a guide dog in the workplace?

A: It has been a great experience. I really liked when APH hosted a guide dog spa day! Dove got a bath and her nails trimmed.

 

 

Jessica and Joyce

 

Joyce, a yellow lab with a pink flower on her collar, wears a harness and sits at Jessica's side.

Jessica Minneci, Communications Associate and Joyce: A Team Since 2017

Q: Do you have any nicknames for your dog?

A: Joycey, Joycers, the Joycinator, Ms. Nose, and Blondie.

 

Q: What is your dog’s personality like while on the job vs during free time?

A: While she is on the job, Joyce is calm and focused on the task at hand. She loves visiting new places and finding things for me, like curbs, stairs, doors, elevators, and escalators. This task is known as targeting. When she finds something, she likes to rush toward it and then stop and look up at me like, “Mom, I found this for you. Treat, please.” When she is off-duty, Joyce acts like a crazy puppy, despite the fact that she’s 6 years old. She loves to play with and break squeaky toys. Fun fact: She loves blankets and will steal yours. When she goes to bed at night, she won’t go to sleep unless you sing her a lullaby (I made one up for her) and cover her with the quilt my grandma Jan made for her.

 

Q: Do you have a favorite funny story about you and your dog?
A: One time, I was traveling home on spring break from college. I was walking toward the line to preboard a flight when Joyce’s whole body started wiggling with excitement and she stopped in the line right behind another girl and a service dog. That’s how I met Lizzy and her dog Tigger. This was the first time Tigger was going on a plane, and Joyce made him a little less nervous. We sat in the bulkhead together so our dogs would have enough room to sit and Lizzy and I talked about books and life in general as if we were old friends, and the dogs got some ice from our drinks for being good on the flight. Four years later, Lizzy and I still tell our friends this story.

 

Q: Are there any common misconceptions about guide dogs that you would like to clear up?

A: People think my dog is a GPS and if I tell her to go to Starbucks, she knows how to get there. This is not the case. A handler and guide dog are known as a team. This means that I as the handler tell Joyce where to go: forward, left, and right.

Someone asked me once if my dog was forced to work and that afterward she stays in a cage overnight and is forced to work again tomorrow. I about cried. No. Guide dogs love their jobs. If they didn’t, then they would not graduate guide dog school, and the school would find another home for them as a regular pet. After finishing a day on the job that they love to do, guide dogs are pets. They play hard, sleep in comfortable beds, and are loved.

 

Leslie and Neil

Close up of Neil, a german shepard, looking alert as he sits in front of Leslie.

Leslie Weilbacher, Outreach Specialist – Northwest Region, and Neil: A Team Since 2019

Q: Do you have any nicknames for your dog?

A: Neil-a-monster, My Little Pony.

 

Q: What is your dog’s personality like while on the job vs during free time?

A: He is serious and precise in his guiding. He is excited to work and sometimes talks about how excited he is. When he is not working, he is a goofball. He flirts, runs around with a toy, and barks. He likes to lay in my lap, all 80lb of him, and follows me around. He rubs his head on my leg like a cat.

 

Q: What is your dog’s most impressive trick/talent?

A: He brings me his food bowl after he eats. He will walk around with it like Oliver Twist.

 

Q: Do you have a favorite funny story about you and your dog?

A: It is always funny when I get off the airplane and everyone behind me says, “I didn’t know there was a dog! How did that big dog fit in there?”

 

Q: What has been your experience having a guide dog in the workplace?

A: Mostly good. I have worked a few places where it was challenging with others wanting to pet my dog and thinking it was their right and all dogs are communal property. Some places didn’t want to work with me because they had some issues about my dog.

 

Richard and Italy

A photo of Italy, a big black lab, sitting next to Richard on a couch.

Richard Rueda, Digital Content Manager, APH CareerConnect, and Italy: A Team Since 2022

Q: What is your dog’s personality like while on the job vs during free time?

A: Italy is a hard-working young Seeing Eye dog. He is focused and likes lots and lots of praise and assurances. He is sensitive and loving. When not in harness, Italy loves to chew on his dog bone and play fetch with his bouncy yellow ball.

 

Q: What has been your experience having a guide dog in the workplace?

A: For as much travel that I’ve done for both work with prior jobs and now with APH, I love and enjoy the partnership and bonding that working with a Seeing Eye dog brings. Trained guide dogs are so loving and gentle, and they settle in pretty much anywhere. They are also great social ice breakers when conversations are initiated. A white cane often doesn’t procure as much organic conversation as does a Seeing Eye dog.

 

Q: How do you balance what you are doing with your dog’s needs?

A: Everything I do is always focused on work/life balance. Having a dog guarantees exercise and getting outdoors for walks and to run errands. You can’t cut corners when working with an active guide. Every day, we work hard towards walking one or more hours to stay active and alert. It also helps Italy stay fresh on his guidework.

 

Q: Are there any common misconceptions about guide dogs that you would like to clear up?

A: Often in public, I am asked what my dog’s name is. Depending on the situation, I may or may not give his real name. It often comes down to safety and distraction. For example, my recently retired dog, Odif’s street name was “Fido.” If you think about it, “Odif” spelled backward is “Fido.”

 

Visit APH to see guide dogs at work. We welcome any questions you may have about these valuable companions.

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