“Woof, woof!” Hi, my name is Leonardo, and I’m a dog – a yellow Labrador Retriever to be exact!
I was born on June 2nd, 2015 in a whelping room at Guide Dogs for the Blind. When I was between ten and twelve weeks old, I was transported to my new home in Mill Creek, Washington. I traveled with many other puppies, and we were all a little scared not knowing where we were headed, but I ended up in a special home. My family raised me, loved me, played with me, and most importantly, taught me manners and introduced me to many social situations. I didn’t know it then, but they were preparing me for a big job.
When I was about 15 months old, I returned to Boring, Oregon where I began formalized training to become a guide dog. At first this was very difficult for me as I was sad not being with my family anymore and unsure of all the new things I was learning. Nevertheless, it didn’t take long for me to get the hang of things, enjoy being around the other dogs, and growing to love my trainers at Guide Dogs for the Blind. They taught me how to stop at curbs and steps, go around obstacles, avoid overhanging branches, rest under chairs and tables, and walk with confidence. And they gave me my very own uniform, a harness to wear. The trainer would hold the handle and give me commands to follow, which I learned very well. They often spoke of my future and how I’d be leading a person who is blind, but I really didn’t understand.
Then, on one winter afternoon in February 2017, my life was changed forever. That’s when I met Melinda. I didn’t know it then, but she is one of those people who are blind. At that time I still didn’t know what blind meant. For two weeks, Melinda and I worked together. My trainer was with us, but it was Melinda holding the harness handle and giving me the commands now. She didn’t always seem to know what to say, but it didn’t take us long before we both were doing what we needed to do, walking up and down the streets, navigating crossings, stairs, and escalators, and beginning our partnership. We must have done well because the next thing I knew, we were on the stage graduating.
When I first arrived with Melinda, at what I now call home, I had to do some adjusting all over again. Thanks to Melinda and her husband Tracy it was a smooth process. It wasn’t long before Melinda and I were off to another new place, The Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc. I could tell Melinda was a little nervous during her first week, but I just tried my hardest to take good care of her and listen to her commands while we traveled on our route between home and work. I picked up on things quickly, and in no time I could tell Melinda wasn’t nervous any more.
Being a guide dog is the best job ever! I get to meet lots of people, go on walks with Melinda and Tracy, give licks to all my friends, and spend lots of time with my special person. You might say, “I’m living the dog’s dream!”