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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.

 

Jessica and Joyce

Jess, wearing jeans and a light pink shirt, smiles at the camera. Her arm is around her guide dog, Joyce, a yellow lab wearing a harness.

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.

 

 

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.”

 

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.

 

 

Haley and Tasha

A smiling woman sits on a step with her arm around her guide dog, a yellow lab.

Haley Blankenship, Customer Service Specialist and Tasha: A Team since June 2016

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

A: While working, Tasha is on a mission. She likes fast-paced work and absolutely thrives at the airport. During free time, Tasha can best be described as a little wild and extremely social. Tasha loves getting her “zoomies” out when she’s off harness by running laps around the backyard.

 

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

A: Tasha’s favorite toy is a Nylabone pretzel, but her favorite way to play with it isn’t a game of tug or fetch. Tasha likes me to sit in the floor with her and spin the pretzel as fast as I can. She patiently and diligently watches the bone until given the “okay,” and then she stops the spinning pretzel with one paw before scooping it up in her mouth. She then gives me the bone back as if to say, “Let’s play again!”

 

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

A: Tasha loves to play hide and seek. Once, I was visiting my friend Madison’s family, and we decided to show off Tasha’s hide and seek skills. Tasha and I went outside to wait while Madison hid. When we came back inside, I instructed Tasha, “Find Madison!” Tasha bypassed Madison’s parents and younger siblings, who excitedly watched in silence. Tasha began searching through the house and eventually led me upstairs to where we found Madison hiding behind the bathroom door. Madison’s family erupted in cheers and applause, and I let Tasha off harness to celebrate with all of the kids. Tasha loved all of the attention, and Madison’s younger siblings thought Tasha was the coolest dog in the world.

 

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

A: People often underestimate or overestimate what Tasha can do. For example, people underestimate Tasha when I’m preparing to cross an intersection, and they try to grab me (or Tasha) without permission rather than trusting that Tasha and I are an experienced team capable of crossing the street. On the other hand, people overestimate Tasha when I ask for help finding something. They’ll say, “Isn’t that what your guide dog is for?” as if Tasha can read bus numbers, gate signs, or find an unfamiliar item by name in the grocery store. When asking for help, I must remind some people that, as wonderfully brilliant as she is, Tasha is still a dog and hasn’t quite mastered the art of reading.

 

 

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

 

In loving memory of Neil, guide dog to Leslie Weilbacher (Outreach Specialist – Northwest Region), companion, and beloved member of the Outreach team.

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

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