Leader Dog’s Future Instructors

By Cheryl Sacrates

Published in: Update - Issue 3 - 2014 »   
A yellow lab/golden retriever mix walks on a sidewalk on Leader Dog's campus in harness next to an instructor

Have you ever thought about what it would be like to be a guide dog mobility instructor (GDMI) at Leader Dogs for the Blind? Are you curious about what qualifications are needed or how you get into it? Have you dreamt about training dogs for a living? Well, here is an inside glimpse of our current apprentices, how they got their start and some of their favorite moments thus far.

Leader Dogs for the Blind recruits passionate individuals who share our organizational values. We place strong emphasis on people and the importance of cultivating an environment that encourages personal responsibility, doing what is right and teamwork. Our three-level GDMI apprentice program is no exception. In many ways, these individuals are the future of Leader Dog.

“Leader Dog maintains an apprentice training and GDMI program second to none. All aspects from hiring to performance reviews are competency based, using tools developed over two years by a Ph.D. hired for the project. It takes three years to train and qualify as a GDMI, and many more years of experience to master. Leader Dog trains and develops GDMIs to the highest standard ensuring we continue to meet our commitment to quality services now and in the future.” ~ Rod Haneline

Instructor Ashley stands behind three chairs where three female clients sit with their Leader Dogs sitting on the floor in front of them

Ashley Ayers - Level 1 Apprentice

Background: Graduate of Michigan State University with a degree in zoology (concentration in animal behavior and neurobiology). Worked in the behavior department at the Capital Area Humane Society in Lansing.

What interested you in becoming a guide dog mobility instructor (GDMI)?: “I originally began working here in the kennel, caring for the dogs and learning the ropes of Leader Dog. I had hoped to be an instructor but the job wasn’t currently posted. I was attracted to Leader Dog due to the location, public presence and the overall mission. When I studied at MSU, I didn’t know what job I wanted after graduation but I knew I wanted to help people through the use of animals.”

Favorite client moment: “This past class had a handful of younger clients who were getting ready to finish high school or begin college. I loved being a part of their experience with Leader Dog, knowing that in a sense they are really the future of the organization. I cannot wait to see how they grow and mature through the use of their canine partners.”

Favorite dog moment: “My favorite moments are when the dogs express immense excitement to show their instructors and clients what they’ve learned, whether it be stopping at curbs, navigating obstacles or finding doors. I’ve never met dogs that are so excited to “work”; they love what they do.”

Dave Meyer - Level 3 Apprentice

Background: Public school teacher, part-time work in dog kennels/daycares, various dog rescue organizations and as a dog “musher” in Montana.

What interested you in becoming a GDMI?: “I get to combine my three passions: helping people, working with dogs and being outdoors.”

Favorite client moment: “When a client exclaimed, ‘I feel like I can see again.’”

Favorite dog moment: “The moment a dog stopped immediately for a car that was about to hit a client while crossing a street.”

Alyssa Ozrovitz - Level 2 Deaf-Blind Apprentice

Background: Bachelor of Science degree from Central Michigan University with a major in psychology and a minor in American Sign Language and helped lead basic obedience classes for a dog daycare.

What interested you in becoming a GDMI?: “I had known about LDB from a young age because I grew up in metro[politan] Detroit. I knew that I wanted to work with dogs as well as make a positive impact in people’s lives, so I thought LDB would be a great opportunity for me.”

Favorite client moment: “One that comes to mind happened while I was working with one of my Deaf-Blind clients—we had just completed an obedience routine and I told the client to praise his dog. After my client had praised his dog he signed “I love you” right in front of the dogs face.”

Favorite dog moment: “During my first blindfold walk with a dog that I had trained from start to finish. I knew that our dogs guided our clients, but actually feeling the dog guide me and take me around obstacles was such a good feeling.”

Instructor Rebbie stands behind a group of her clients, who are sitting in a row of chairs with their Leader Dogs on the floor in front of them

Rebbie Radtke - Level 2 Apprentice

Background: Bachelor’s degree in environmental studies from Bates College, degrees in exotic animal training and management, animal behavior management and wildlife education from Moorpark College. Trained dogs at various kennels and worked at Predators in Action training large cats and bears for movie work and at Moonridge Animal Park, which was a rescue/rehabilitation zoo.

What interested you in becoming a GDMI?: “I loved training animals but really enjoy working with people as well and wanted to have an element of working with people in my career.”

Favorite client moment: “It was bittersweet, but it was when my first client graduated. I knew she would be great and even though I was sad to see her go I was so excited for her to go out into the world and be successful with her new Leader Dog.”

Favorite dog moment: ”The day I got to see Wilson, the first dog I trained from start to finish, work with a client. To know I had taught him and that he was performing his job so perfectly made me very proud.”

Sarah Duyck - Level 1 Apprentice

Background: Bachelor’s degree from Madonna University with a double major in sign language studies and Spanish. Certified in Michigan as an ASL interpreter. Active with 4-H as a child and was a puppy raiser for five years. Competitive dog agility and volunteered at a local animal shelter.

What interested you in becoming a GDMI?: ”Since I was a kid, I have always loved dogs and wanted to have a dog-related job. Through puppy raising for Leader Dog, I developed an admiration and appreciation for the work that is done here.”

Favorite client moment: “I was walking on the practice course with my very first client and she was so pumped up at being able to walk at the speed that she was used to before her vision loss; I thought she was going to take off into the air with joy.”

Favorite dog moment: “I had a dog that was very sensitive to making mistakes. We were working very hard on building up his confidence. One day we went to downtown Detroit. I anticipated having to give him ample support, but to my great happiness he did an amazing job navigating a myriad of obstacles with much improved confidence level. It was a really awesome feeling to watch him blossom like that.”

Six apprentice instructors sit in two rows of three, facing the camera and smiling

Back row: Sarah Duyck, Rebbie Radtke, Kathryn Roberts
Front row: Alyssa Ozrovitz, Dave Meyer, Tina Vinokurow

Kathryn Roberts Level 1 Apprentice

Background: Master’s degree in mental health and rehabilitation counseling from the University of Iowa and a bachelor’s degree in psychology and international studies from Iowa State University.

What interested you in becoming a GDMI? “Following my experiences working at a kennel for four years and raising a puppy for a service dog organization, combined with my passion for working with people, I was inspired to apply for a position at Leader Dog. This organization allows me to perfectly combine my interests.”

Favorite client moment: “When I watched one of my first clients complete a route with her dog without any support from myself. Her excitement was all over her face, and she was so proud of herself. I continue to realize this feeling with all of my clients.”

Favorite dog moment: “One day we decided to take our dogs to the free run pen. Before we realized there was a big mud puddle in the pen, the dogs had a grand time jumping around and playing in it. They ended up with mud all over their paws and faces, but it was totally worth the baths they had to get afterwards. It was a nice way to cool off after a long day of work!”

Tina Vinokurow - Level 1 Apprentice

Background: Degree in business management. Worked as an animal control officer, then in the Leader Dog dog care department and as a kennel administrative assistant.

What interested you in becoming a GDMI?: “I love helping others and working with dogs… what a great combination!” Favorite client moment “When a client was with his dog, a car sped into a driveway. This was the client and dog’s first trip together in downtown Rochester—only a few days after the client and dog met. The dog did a phenomenal job, stopped for the car and kept the client safe.”

Favorite dog moment: “Every time a dog learns a new skill and really gets it, that’s exciting!”