Greer Gerson is based in Christchurch and started training dogs when she was 16 years old. She tells us about joining Blind Low Vision NZ Guide Dogs and her 27-year career.
You’ve recently joined us from Vision Australia Seeing Eye Dogs, but in your 27-year career, you’ve worked around the world. Can you tell us a bit more about your background working with dogs?
I started training dogs when I was 16, in a German dog sport called Schutzhund. I also worked as a private obedience and protection trainer until University and then launched a guide dog mobility career in 1993. I started in California and Oregon with Guide Dogs for the Blind; Guide Dogs UK in London; Guide Dogs South Australia & Northern Territory; and worked in Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane for Seeing Eye Dogs. I also helped start Autism Assistance Dogs in SA and was the programme manager and instructor for Younger Onset Dementia Assistance Dogs, a University-backed 3-year study in Australia.
What keeps you motivated to turn up to work each day?
I love people. It is a privilege to have such a multi-faceted role meeting people from all walks of life in various parts of the world, supporting guide dog handlers in their unique journeys with their 4-legged partners.
You’ve brought a pet dog with you from Australia. What’s his name, and what are some of his personality quirks?
Booboo is a BIG chocolate Lab who used to be an active Seeing Eye Dog in Perth. Amazing story abbreviated: I trained Boo in Melbourne, placed him with a handler in Perth, and then ended up relocating there myself. Sadly the client passed away, and Boo was too old to re-issue however, I ended up adopting Boo after his retirement…so he came back to me full-circle! Who knew!
Boo is only ‘semi-retired’, or you could say a ‘contract worker.’ I still use him for various parts of client training, primarily guide dog assessment walks and pre-training sessions for those on our waitlist list in preparation before they receive their dogs. Boo is my heart, my angel, my best friend. Seriously, I couldn’t ask for a better dog. He is special beyond words.
What are some of your best memories involving dogs?
- Gosh, I could have a list that goes on and on after so many years and wonderful experiences.
- Playing hide-and-seek with my first dog, a German Shepherd named Tasha
- Going snow-shoeing in Oregon with my black Lab, Danke – watching her jump up and over, in and out of the snowbanks.
- Training my very first guide dogs with their new partners in California.
- Miraculously finding a German Shepherd guide dog match for a fellow in London who had suddenly lost his 5-yr old German Shepherd to a heart attack. What an exceptional match and touching experience in my career.
- Tramping with Boo in the Port Hills. He absolutely ADORES our journeys – whole body wagging and the biggest smile across his boofy head – warms me to my core.
And can you share some of the naughtiest things your dogs have done?
Boo is an exception here. Honestly, he has never put a paw wrong (no joke, angel dog)
However, my previous girl Danke did not have a halo. One of her standouts – sticking her nose through the swing-top lid of my friend’s rubbish bin in the bathroom, emerging later with the whole lid stuck around her head. Rummaging around my colleague’s office and getting into the sex education kit, eating a few condoms. Lastly, nicking a WHOLE rock melon off the kitchen bench when I was out, and pretending like nothing happened.
Outside of Guide Dogs, what are your hobbies and interests?
As I mentioned, I LOVE hiking/tramping; you can always find me up in the hills; I’m also a life-student of yoga, primarily Hot/Bikram Yoga; road cycling; kayaking, and I’m an avid proponent of barefoot shoes. (For all my walking, running, and hiking)