Prior to becoming Operations Manager, you spent 15 years as a Guide Dog Mobility Instructor, what exactly is a GDMI?
The GDMI is a role in which we train dogs to be safe working guides, as well as train blind and low vision individuals to work with and trust their guide dogs. A GDMI is responsible for assessing potential guide dog handlers, matching the handlers with the appropriate guide dogs, and providing on-going support throughout the lifetime of the guide dog partnership. The GDMI role is quite specialized and requires approximately 3 years of study prior to qualification.
Did you always want to work with guide dogs and what started you on this career path?
I found the guide dog career path rather late in my life. I grew up in a suburb outside of San Francisco, California, where I mostly stayed until I decided to attend university when I was in my 30s. A bit of a late start, I know, but it set me on the path for where I find myself today.
I majored in Wildlife Management at Humboldt State University, situated in the redwood forests of Northern California and perched on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. While I studied, I worked with the engendered species unit of the US Forest Service conducting seabird surveys in the coastal waters of California and Oregon. This job exposed me to the many wonders of the sea and the incredible wild life it supports.
Upon graduation, I sought a more hands-on type of study that would bring me closer to animals and allow me to explore the human-animal bond. This led me to a graduate program at San Francisco State University in the field of Special Education with an emphasis in Guide Dog Mobility. The short-lived program of study was offered in a partnership between the university and Guide Dogs for the Blind, in California. In the end, I had a degree and a job with Guide Dogs, which also happens to be the school featured in the documentary ‘Pick of the Litter.’ I received an excellent education and experience with both organisations, and count myself lucky to have had the opportunities afforded me at that time.
What does a typical day as Guide Dogs Operations Manager look like? Is there such a thing as a ‘typical day’?
My job is really quite varied. Most days are spent at the office, often in meetings and planning sessions. Then there are days when I am out with the training team, assessing their dogs and providing hands on training, or working with the Breeding team to assess potential breeding stock. And I still get the occasional opportunity to assist GDMI cadets with client matters. With all of the initiatives we set for ourselves in our 5 Year Plan, there is always another project on the horizon.
Can you share one or two more memorable memories working with Blind Low Vision NZ Guide Dogs?
One of my most memorable moments with Blind Low Vision NZ happened when I had just started in this role. It was 2 years ago and it was Red Puppy Appeal week. I was to appear on Breakfast with four boisterous puppies in tow! It all started fine, with make-up and a quick bit of instruction from the producer. I was to sit on the couch next to the hosts, and we would each hold a puppy in our laps. Action! The questions started and the puppies started howling. They would not be confined to our laps! As I tried to speak over their cries, the host finally recommended we set them free to roam the studio. Thankfully, none of the pups got hold of any important camera bits. And of course, they absolutely stole the show.
What keeps you motivated to turn up to work each day?
Having worked with dogs and clients for 15 years, I never forget the feeling I would get from watching a team work together, independently, weaving through pedestrians, finding kerbs and avoiding dangerous obstacles. I feel privileged every day to do the important work we do.
When you are not wearing your Operations Manager hat, what do you do in your spare time?
In my spare time, I paint acrylic abstracts, attend yoga classes, and cook with my husband (who is a much better cook than I). And I am always planning our next get away whether it’s just into the city to see a show, or a big holiday in some other part of the world.