A Dog Day Afternoon at the Symphony!
Ah, your very first time at the Symphony! Do you remember it? I was very little myself, but I remember picking out my favorite dress for the occasion, and being in complete wonderment and awe as I took in the great and spectacular sights of the concert hall. The tall, clear windows, the bustling, happy activity of the lobby as people lined up to take their seats.
There must have been a delicious meal involved beforehand, though at the time that probably would’ve meant chicken fingers and fries. Not that I’m complaining. The orchestra was huge, wonderful, and the whole memory remains some sort of wonderfully joyous dream.
This St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 2023, we were delighted to have some very special first-timers join us: puppies from Guide Dogs for the Blind, Orange County. They attended the rehearsal of the Farmers & Merchants Bank-sponsored Family Musical Mornings program, Walt Disney Animation Studios: A Decade in Concert.
These exceptionally good boys and girls are on a journey to becoming guide dogs for Guide Dogs for the Blind—the largest guide dog school in North America. All of Guide Dogs for the Blind’s services are provided free of charge to its clients who are blind or visually impaired. The organization receives no government funding and relies on the generosity of donors for support.
At eight weeks old, puppies are delivered to their puppy raiser families, who raise the puppies for approximately 12-15 months. They then return to one of Guide Dogs for the Blind’s two campuses to pursue formal training.
Dogs must possess a very special combination of health, skill, and behavioral soundness to become guide dogs and help people who are blind or visually impaired move more safely and confidently through the world. Dogs that are not suited to become guide dogs are “career changed” and may be a GDB K9 Buddy for people who are blind or visually impaired, go on to another role as a service dog such as a medical alert dog, or become family pets.
This past Friday was one of these dogs’ important outings during their journey. Most of the pups are official guide dog puppies in-training and had the opportunity to learn proper concert etiquette. Barking is a big no-no, as well as exploring the hall in a renegade fashion and being too friendly (no petting of pooches from potential friends allowed.). Being a guide dog is a very important job, so there is little room for error. There will always be time for playtime when off-duty, but when a guide dog is on duty, they must be well-behaved!
The puppies will soon visit locations and gain experience in other situations like airports, trains, and various bustling atmospheres on their way to becoming life-changing partners for someone who is blind or visually impaired. Guide dogs help their handlers move more safely and confidently through the world, avoiding obstacles, stopping at changes in elevation, and serving as a social bridge to the community.
Puppies are rewarded for good behavior with snacks and treats! I don’t know about you, but I’d agree that’s a great way to learn!
The popular documentary film, Pick of the Litter (available on Netflix), follows the puppies’ stories from birth to graduation and matching up with their new owners. The film was so popular that is was followed by a documentary series on Disney+, also called Pick of the Litter, which documents the process of becoming an official guide dog and being paired with a GDB client.
We’d like to give a special thank you to Cindy Ellis, Pacific Symphony’s own flutist and piccolo player and director of Laguna Flutes, who graciously connected us to this wonderful organization.
And thank you to Guide Dogs for the Blind for all that you do to serve our community. We hope you and your pups had a great time!
Lindsay Mack is a multi-talented artist and communications professional based in Orange County, California. With a passion for both creative writing and music, she has pursued a diverse range of experiences that have allowed her to hone her skills in both fields. She currently works as public relations associate and resident social media wizard for Pacific Symphony. In addition to her work in communications, Lindsay is also an accomplished singer, and this June she’ll be taking her voice on the road to the Italian town of Arezzo in Tuscany for an opera festival.