submitted by Toni Eames
(Author’s Note: This is somewhat outdated, but still a fun article.)
Last weekend we entertained a special guest. Ember is the six-month-old golden retriever puppy being raised by our friends Alicia and Andy Bone for Guide Dogs of the Desert. The Bones read for us on a weekly basis, and Ember has been a frequent visitor since her arrival in Fresno at the age of 10 weeks. Ember loves visiting us. She can play with the many dog toys scattered throughout the house, play tug-of-war with Ed’s guide dog, Kirby, or cuddle for a nap with Toni’s guide dog, Ivy. Occasionally she gets into trouble when she chases Disney, Cameo or Kimmel, our cats, but this is part of basic training for a future guide dog.
Andy and Alicia rented a furnished apartment on the coast for a needed weekend getaway. They wanted to take Ember with them, because they try to expose her to as many social situations as possible. However, the owners of the apartment would not rent to families with pets. They did not recognize Ember’s special status as a puppy being raised to pursue a working career as a guide dog. Unlike several other states, California does not extend rights of access to guide dog puppies.
As we sat at our dining room table enjoying our dinner, the three golden retrievers lay quietly at our feet. Pretending to speak for Ivy and Kirby, we told Ember what the life of a guide dog would be like. "Sometimes you have to lie quietly on a long train or airplane trip. Sometimes you have to be serious and conscientious while guiding your partner through crowds and across streets. Sometimes you will have to lie under a table while delectable food passes over your head. You can never chase cats or squirrels while working. However, being a guide dog is not all work. You get to go everywhere with your partner and can even disregard ‘No pets allowed’ signs. Because you will graduate from Guide Dogs of the Desert, you will even get to go to Disneyland!" Disneyland, a name that symbolizes magic, fantasy, frolic and family fun, is beloved by young and old, human and guide dog.
This world-famous theme park was the star attraction for us in planning an exciting American vacation for two teen-age cousins, Robert and Craig Martinus, sons of British friends. For us, Disneyland’s appeal was intensified by its close connection with Guide Dogs of the Desert. When Ed was in training with Kirby in December 1989, the school hosted a picnic for employees of Disneyland who were active fund-raisers for Desert. Toni, who was visiting that weekend, participated in the picnic with the students in training. All of the Disneyland employees we met impressed us with their warmth, friendliness and dedication to their fund-raising efforts. They respond with obvious pleasure to our plans to visit in June with our British guest.
Our Disneyland adventure began when Matt Blaty, the publicity coordinator, met us at the front gate. Matt, a delightful and vivacious young man, initiated us into the wonders of Disneyland with introductions to Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse. Ivy and Kirby basked in the attention they received from Donald and Mickey.
All hearing, service and guide dogs with their partners are welcome visitors at Disneyland. If disabled people visiting the park prefer leaving their dogs in a safe, clean, comfortable place, air-conditioned kennels are available for $5 a day. These facilities are also available to pet owners traveling with their dogs.
Ivy and Kirby curled up and slept through rides such as Small World, Jungle Cruise and the submarine. However, their golden retriever instincts were aroused by the sight of ducks in the water as we rode on the Mark Twain paddleboat. Ed, Robert and Craig enjoyed rides such as the Matterhorn, Space Mountain and Splash Mountain, while Toni and the dogs sat on nearby benches. Concerned Disneyland employees, seeing Toni and the dogs sweltering in the hot sun, offered the dogs water several times throughout the day. What a role reversal! Usually, the dogs implore to share our food with them. This time, Toni yearned to share their drinking water!
In December 1987, Chuck Abbott, foreman at the Matterhorn, and his wife, Norma, employed at Stromboli’s, organized a fund-raising effort among the 8,000 employees. Since then, they have close to $30,000 for Desert. Ginger Fleming, a security hostess, described the variety of their fund-raising projects. Employees run raffles and hold bake and garage sales. As participants int he Guide Dogs of the Desert walk-a-thon in Palm Springs, they raised more than $2,000. Employees collect cans and other recyclable materials. Not only is this a major source of funds for Desert, but it also helps keep the park immaculate. Even the public bathrooms are clean at Disneyland. A unique source of funds is the collection of loose change lost by guests on the turbulent rides.
As a result of the worker’s fund-raising activities, two guide dogs, Cherokee and King, have been sponsored by Disneyland employees. They are working toward sponsorship of a third guide dog/blind person partnership. Some funds have been used to improve the facilities at Desert, such as the remodeling of the garage into staff offices. Kennel improvement and expansion are future goals.
Several employees who have attended the emotional graduations at Guide Dogs of the Desert, when puppy-raisers symbolically present the puppies they have raised to the graduating blind students, have gotten hooked on raising guide dog puppies. Spany, a golden retriever, is being raised by Richard and Patty Ferrin. Patty is an attraction hostess at the Matterhorn. Susan and Wayne Martin, former Disneyland employees, continue to raise Clipper, another golden puppy. German Shepherd dog Gisa is the guide dog puppy of Lee Williams, bartender at Club 33.
One of the newest links in the Desert-Disney relationship is a visit to Disneyland by each class as a regular part of its month-long training program. Ed and Kirby missed out on this innovative part of the training because it was initiated after their graduation. These class visits to Disneyland serve several purposes. The dogs in training are exposed to large crowds, noisy children and tempting food distractions. Blind students, many of whom may live in small towns or rural areas, have the opportunity to work with their dogs in a setting similar to a large city. Members of the public, many of whom may never have seen a working guide dog, have the opportunity to observe a working team. This public education function is very important. Finally, employees of Disneyland who may have had little contact with the dogs they are helping support can see the fruits of their efforts.