Guide Dogs Lead the Way

Ever since Sydney S. ’24 learned about raising guide dogs in elementary school during a community service fair, she knew she wanted to train a puppy herself one day. While the world shut down during the pandemic, Sydney and her family thought it would be the perfect time to do just that.
After some research, they found Guide Dogs of America (GDA), a nonprofit organization based in Sylmar that breeds, raises, and trains guide dogs for individuals who are blind or visually impaired and service dogs for veterans with PTSD and/or mobility limiting disabilities and children with autism. After the application and interview process, Remi, a 2-month old female Black Lab, came to live with Sydney and her family in August 2020.

“In the beginning, I was really nervous,” admits Sydney. “By the time Remi was four months old, she had to master all the basic commands. It takes a lot of time and repetition, sometimes weeks, to teach just one command. We had a lot of support though. We were enrolled in a puppy Kindergarten class and got personalized feedback from a lead GDA trainer.” Soon, Sydney not only became more comfortable with her role as trainer and handler, she mastered it.

Socialization is an important part of Remi’s training, Sydney and her family have taken the puppy to places they normally frequent from restaurants to the library as well as more specialized outings like The Getty Center and even a fire station. Remi’s yellow training vest is a signal to both the dog and the world that she is working. People are welcome to pet and interact with Remi when she is at rest, but the dog must wait until she is given the command to “go say hi” before she eagerly greets them. Generally, Sydney wants Remi to stay focused when she is walking and navigating, as this will be the most important skill she can acquire for her future work as a guide dog.

Remi has been welcomed onto the Campbell Hall campus, joining Sydney for some of her classes. She sits quietly next to her human companion, her meticulous training on full display. As soon as class ends, she is showered with the love of students and faculty, bringing her tail-wagging brand of joy to all.

Sydney wants to continue her work with Guide Dogs of America. “Not only have I learned so much about the community of people with disabilities,” says Sydney, “I’ve learned so much about myself too. I’ve met so many people across Los Angeles who have a similar goal of helping others.” Sydney has also been able to share the knowledge she has gained with others, educating them about guide dogs as she did in a high school chapel presentation.

Remi will soon be transitioned back to GDA where she will spend the next six months in “college,” which entails more formal training with a harness, before she goes to live with her forever human partner. “You know from the beginning that the dog is not yours, that she will be moving on,” explains Sydney. “It’s going to be hard, but I know she’s going to change someone’s life forever and that I’ve been a part of that. ”
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