Autumn



12 Aug 18

By Randy Pierce

Randy and Tracy with Eilean Donan in the background

Randy and Tracy with Eilean Donan in the background

Braveheart was the last movie I ever watched with sight remaining in my eyes. The landscapes capture my memory still even if the historically divergent Hollywood script was not the source of my early love of the land. The imaginations of my youth fed the adventurous spirit of my later years and I’ve long wanted to hike the highlands, feel the castle stones, hear bagpipes echo off the munros, taste the sea spray of Fingal’s Cave, smell the peat of Loch Ness and so much more from this ancient land. Tracy and I attempted to make as much of those dreams reality in our whirlwind tour of the country.

We landed in Edinburgh airport and walked out into a courtyard of shops with an energy belying the overnight flight without sleep. It was a quick walk to an easy rail which smoothly and efficiently cut through city blocks towards our hotel in Haymarket Square. Tracy noted all the personal gardens and shared garden spaces throughout the city as well as an abundance of green space. Temperatures were cool and comfortable, a tremendous relief from the oppressive heat and humidity of London and our home in New Hampshire. The lyrical language around us was a delight to my ears and it was with considerable discipline I did not continuously try to emulate the accents.

Eilean Donan Castle up on the hill with a cloudy sky

Eilean Donan Castle

We had two days to appreciate Edinburgh Castle, including a marvelous walking tour. The “crag and tail” of castle rock provides iconic placement atop the city and “Game of Thrones” fans would find little difficulty in the likely origins of the Lannister homeland of Castlerly Rock. The “Fringe Festival” was in full swing with music, theater, and comedy throughout the city in celebration, ensuring Autumn’s work along the Royal Mile was all the more impressive for the crowds gathered. We did not get to hike to Arthur’s Seat to experience some of the oldest signs of humanity in the city but Facebook informed me which of my friends had been there recently!

Off to Sterling Castle, we encountered one of our few disappointments as the all too popular tourist destination had absolutely no parking and we experienced it only from a distance. Deanston Distillery salved our spirits with a tremendous lunch and tasting and we did ultimately replace Sterling with the Eilean Donan Castle later which was one of our more tremendous castle experiences.

The shores of Loch Ness with a partly cloudy sky

The shores of Loch Ness

First though, we had to travel through the Cairn Gorm. This mountain range is similar to the White Mountains in height and wintry ferocity with a bit more remoteness preserved. Though the weather was overcast, the contrast of these open field mountains to our own wooded summits was noteworthy and common throughout Scotland. Arriving to Inverness atop the Great Glen we crossed the river Ness and found our hotel on the shores of Loch Ness.

Scotland’s mountains were carved impressively by the glaciers during the ice age and the resulting dramatic landscapes are truly remarkable. The Great Glen runs through to the west side with the Caledonian Canal using the route for travel. I was impressed by the deep smell of peat and Tracy’s reports on the darkness of the lake which combined tremendous depth and peat to hold a haunting sense of the unknown. It is small wonder the legend of the Loch Ness Monster lasted so long. The ruins of a castle destroyed in the Jacobite rebellions provided a haunting ruin over the entire scene even as the immensity of the lake stretched well beyond sight.

This stop was our gateway to the Highlands and we set forth the the Isle of Skye through incredible Highland hills. The heather was in full bloom and we constantly used the lay-by traffic stops to capture photos or take a short walk in the beauty and splendor which surrounded us. Sheep grazed everywhere with enormous stretches of road without sign of habitation. We just marveled at the rugged beauty of this land as the mountains plunged deeply and rose sharply with waterfalls and twisting streams in full view due to the open landscape so rare in our New England hills. Rounding one bend and dropping steeply, the ocean of the west side of Scotland emerged pressed tight to the mountains we were within. It was here we found the castle of Eilean Donan, popularized in the United States for its use in the “Highlander” film. With more than 2,000 castles in Scotland, few are so well maintained as this gem and we toured through it with the staff encouraging me to take advantage of the tactile offerings of many artifacts on site.

View of Mealt Falls and Kilt Rock, Isle of Skye. Dramatic waterfall flowing into the ocean, with a cloudy sky.

View of Mealt Falls and Kilt Rock, Isle of Skye

Our half-way point brought us to the Isle of Skye, an absolutely enormous gift in the Highlands. We spent a few nights here nestled in an inlet of Sleat at Eilean Iarmain. Surrounded by the ocean on three sides with the peaks of the Cuillin Munros visible around us. There was a lighthouse adjacent to mark our way although we spent much of our time travelling the immense island.

First we traveled west to the edge of the Black Cuillins and a hike to the legendary Fairy Pools. The water crossings had some challenge but the climb was worth the spectacular views our camera could not capture on this cloudy and eventually rainy day. The series of waterfalls and cascades were remarkable and Autumn delighted in her most technical of the generally easy hiking work. At the end of our climb we found ourselves within a few miles of Talisker’s remote distillery and availed ourselves of their spirits before travelling to Portree. A tour to the northernmost point on the Isle of Skye included a stop at the infamous Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls. Of course a bagpiper played in the background as we stood at the windy point and marvelled at the scene. Later we found the ruins of a Clan MacDonald Castle which marked the wind-driven point atop the island. It was here Tracy commented on the absolute vastness of the entire island. The sky seemed limitless here, the mountains immense and unending, the ocean again vast beyond measure. With gusting winds making it hard to stand, let alone walk, it was easy to feel humbled by the land upon which we stood for so brief a time.

All too soon our time took us away from Skye. We traveled to Glen Coe and what many feel is one of the most beautiful valleys in all of Scotland. While more renowned to some for the massacre of 1692, it is the beauty of a valley surrounded by mountains from the three sisters on the southern end to the technical ridges of her northern end. We feasted at a hiker’s lodge adjacent to where Hagrid’s hut was located in the filming of Harry Potter. Appropriate since I was in a magical fantasy trip of my own.

Oban port image, under a pretty partly cloudy sky at sunrise.

Oban port images from breakfast.

Our effective final stop was Oban Bay, a beautiful port south of Skye and suddenly the best weather of our trip. It is worth noting we did not find Scotland precisely rainy as many might suggest. It did rain at times but mostly it was a quick spritz of rain in one place or another while half a mile further was sunny and beautiful. Occasionally it was full sun for a rain shower. In New England we say if you don’t like the weather wait a few minutes and it will change. In Scotland they say all the seasons in a single day and that showed to be true, though we never saw snow while we were there. Oban was a beautiful sheltered Bay and it was our launch point for a three island tour of Mull, Staffa, and Iona.

Mull, like Skye was immense and we took a bus tour across it to see the many glens, munros, and forests which comprise a seemingly separate world. On the far side we could see the pink granite quarry briefly before boarding a smaller vessel to sail us to Staffa. Autumn’s work in these transitions was solid and the crew and passengers always marveled at her work. Her true work came on the tiny island of Staffa where the walk to Fingal’s Cave was the most difficult of our trip. A guide wire lent stability for me to make it safe but her patient warnings kept me striding where many thought it unlikely for a blind person and guide dog team.

The rocky Staffa Island shoreline under a clear blue sky.

Staffa Island shoreline

Last winter the final section of ledge leading into the cave mouth collapsed and while we were able to view fantastically the incredible basalt column cave of historic fame, the sounds which inspired so many were lost to our ears as the crashing of the waves into the cave did not return the echo of legend to our more distant point. Tracy’s awe was more than uplifting enough to make the trek worthy and as we scaled the perilous stairway to the heights of the island again as a testament to Autumn’s prowess we crossed the island to unrivaled views. The puffins had left just two days prior and Tracy was sad for the miss, but invigorated by the freedom of our stroll across the grassy top of Staffa island. Here is where I will most remember the taste of the ocean and the scent of Scotland as my girl guided me in the sunlight high above the Hebridean entrance to this land.

Staffa is the Norse name for the island, meaning stick or staff. I did not use a blind cane on this trip, as Autumn was my link to a freedom of travel beyond what I find with that stick. Scotland was a symbolic freedom of travel as well. In the film Braveheart, William Wallace’s father says “Your heart is free, have the courage to follow it.” Reflecting on yet another excellent adventure, I am so appreciative to have such wonderful dreams and the courage and patient determination to follow them.

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4 Aug 18

By Randy Pierce

Are you missing out on Tracy, Autumn and my trip to Scotland presently? We are delighting in our vacation at the moment, so to make amends we want to invite you to join us for an exciting opportunity. On September 14 we intend to attend the showing of the “dogumentary” “Pick of the Litter” at the Kendall Square Cinema in Cambridge, MA.

It is easy to marvel and appreciate the incredible work done by all of my Guide dogs from Ostend to Quinn to Ms. Autumn. Many times I’ve been asked for more insight into just how this is all possible and now you can get a look into the process like never before. 2020 Vision Quest is proud to support Guide Dogs for the Blind, as they lent a paw to the process of this film we want to share with you.

So save the date and come join us on September 14!

Below you can see the recent press release about this from Guide Dogs for the Blind:

After several years in the making, we are excited to announce that Guide Dogs for the Blind is the subject of an award-winning, feature-length documentary that is coming to theaters across the country at the end of August. The film, titled “Pick of the Litter,” follows a litter of GDB puppies on their journey to becoming guide dogs. The filmmakers, Dana Nachman and Don Hardy, received unprecedented access to raisers, staff, and clients in order to create this look at our life-changing mission. We hope you’ll go check it out!

More information and the trailer for the film can be found at guidedogs.com/pickofthelitter.
Headline reads: Pick of the Litter, a service dogumentary. Under the headline is an image of five guide dog puppies sitting squished together. The yellow Lab on the end has a green puppy coat on. Other pups have red or green collars. Below the puppies is red text: Opening in Theaters followed by dates and locations. FYI, all dates and locations can be found on guidedogs.com/pickofthelitter.

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30 Jul 18

A book with only a question mark on the coverBy Randy Pierce

I’ve finished writing the book but the complete work is not quite finished! We’ve been teasing at this book release on the front page of our website and in various social media posts for a little bit of time and it’s finally time to dedicate a full blog to the topic. Way back in 2015, inspired by the vast number of request for just such a thing,  I set myself the goal to write the book of my life’s journey. As many know, my neurological condition had an interruption planned for 2016 and my writing goal necessarily fell by the wayside.

After the two-year delay, I returned in earnest this year to the project and the result has been a fantastic journey in my own growth. I’m here to tell you the draft is complete! We have already passed several edit cycles though a bit more is still being done to polish the final product for release. Writing a book is no small project and this is no small book as it checks in at roughly 100,000 words.

The process has involved my generating drafts and working on them myself until I feel they are ready to share with Tracy. She and I then go through an edit cycle together and I cannot stress enough how much this is our book as a result of her incredible talent, support, and encouragement. After we finish each section, it has gone to a professional editor who happens to be a good friend–thank you, Gene Lejeune. I’ve also had a few other friends read some or all to give reactions encouraging still more adjustments. Ultimately we are far enough along to be confident in the information I am sharing now.

The title of the book is “See You At The Summit.” The subtitle of “A Journey from the Depths of Loss to the Heights of Achievement” provides a little more insight into this auto-biographical journey. When and how can you expect to have a copy? We plan to have the book available for our  9th Annual Peak Potential Dinner and Auction event  on November 17, 2018. Why not join us for the evening which will serve additionally as our initial book launch celebration?

This is the unofficial announcement and we expect to make official announcement we hope you’ll help us share far and wide come September. In the meanwhile, here’s the list of chapters in the order presently planned but understanding we are still providing some polish to the final product.

  • Introduction – A Leap of Faith
  • Chapter 1: Start at the Beginning
  • Chapter 2: First Struggles with Blindness
  • Chapter 3: NERO – Be All You Can’t Be
  • Chapter 4: Modi Norse Dog of Courage
  • Chapter 5:  Losing Sight of the World
  • Chapter 6: Full Tilt Full Time Fan of the Year
  • Chapter 7: Ostend Summit to Surrender and Back Again
  • Chapter 8: Wheelchairs, Momentum and a Hiking Stick
  • Chapter 9: A Colebrook Boy At Heart
  • Chapter 10: Coming of Age
  • Chapter 11: The Mighty Quinn
  • Chapter 12: Hooray Tracy
  • Chapter 13: A Vision for 2020 Vision Quest
  • Chapter 14: Running, Marathons and Mudders
  • Chapter 15: Ashes Over Kilimanjaro

I hope you’ll look forward to reading as much as I enjoyed writing it and that soon we will “See you at the summit”!

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21 Jul 18

By Randy Pierce

“Many miles away there’s a shadow on the door of a cottage on the Shore of a dark Scottish lake.
- Walter Scott

A picturesque castle in Loch Ness, Scotland.

A picturesque castle in Loch Ness, Scotland.

Autumn, Tracy and I will soon tread upon the highland hills of Scotland! This trip has been a lifelong dream for me. One of the many lessons Tracy helps me realize is that a goal without a plan is only a wish. Riding to a presentation several months ago, she surprised me with a text message enticing “Want to go to Scotland?” She knew the answer which was a resounding yes and I’d guessed airfares alerted her it was within our comfort range, and so the planning commenced!

Thanks to the knowledge of our veterinary team at Mercy Animal Hospital in Merrimack, the complex coordination required to bring a Dog Guide into the United Kingdom has been managed. Taking this trip with Autumn will be remarkable in ways many of our prior adventures didn’t allow. While her faithful devotion is without question, we will begin in Edinburgh for a couple of days where high on my list of places to tour is the home of Greyfriars Bobby. This unprecedented story of dog dedication will be a heartwarming start to our trip. We’ll explore castles and culture for all too brief a time in appreciation of auld lang syne.

After a few days, we’ll travel north towards Inverness and a stay on the shores of Loch Ness. Several short hikes from our base there entice me, including a couple which tribute some of the splendors so aptly described by the Bard of Scotland, Robert Burns. I hope to stand overlooking the waterfall and feel the inspiration which inspired him to write Lines on the Falls of Fyers. Too short a time to hike in the highlands, we’ll take solace in our travels to the Isle of Skye and the magic of the Fairy Pools, Cuillin Mountains and  ocean serenity for several more days of relaxation.

Fairy pool in the Isle of Skye, Scotland

Fairy pool in the Isle of Skye, Scotland

Finally, the port of Oban promises scallops the size of tennis balls as a partial prize for the culmination of our trip. We will take a tour of three islands into the Hebrides and particularly to the Isle of Staffa and Fingal’s Cave. This acoustic gem has been on my list to hear, smell, and even taste. I’m sure Autumn and Tracy may have their eyes and ears tuned to the puffins who inhabit the island, but for me voices older than my time took inspiration from the thin ledge upon which I’ll stand to hear the siren song of this cave and to let my own song echo into its depths even for the briefest of moments.

All too soon we’ll be boarding planes to return to New Hampshire and our home. We’ll have more tales to tell although the greatest story is the one we’ll share in our experiences together there in that far off land.

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9 Jun 18

By Randy Pierce

A group of hikers on a mountain summit with a partly cloudy sky behind them.I joined the students of this leadership and backpacking course in the spring of 2010 in preparation for my own hiking adventures and to provide an untypical aspect for those students. Those experiences and friendships left a significant imprint upon me and I continued to be involved in different ways through the years since then. This year Brent asked me to act as the TA for the class and we went through the appropriate approvals, hoping my many experiences in hiking, leadership, and communication would provide positive guidance in the classroom and along the trails.

Day 1: We set out on May 21 with my legs being a little weary from the Gate City Marathon the day before and my pack a little heavy as I was carrying Autumn’s sleeping bag and food along with all of my own supplies. The two student leaders of the day, Brian and Sam had provided us walkie-talkies to keep communications open in our two vehicles as we approached the trailhead for our first day’s hike into Wachipauka Pond.

Hikers with full packs walk on a rocky trail. As usual Autumn spent the first 100 yards being a little too enthusiastic and I had to mitigate her enthusiasm with my own enhanced caution as my right hand trekking pole work was emphasized. Quickly she settled into high quality trail work and I was very proud as on the hot day and steady climb she simply shined in work and obvious love for the wilderness. I spent the early part near the back with Brian behind me as sweeper, ensuring the group was together and ahead of him. As we began our first descent we switched to a little trail entertainment by partnering up, me with Caitlin, to talk about our day and trip goals with each other. It was a chance to begin building better connections and worked rather nicely. Ultimately as we reached a series of “bog bridges.” Autumn and I worked them tediously but Caitlin had the opportunity to help by becoming the first student to choose a little human guiding. She set the tone for many others later and we worked the short stretch of trail building the guide language for a comfortable pace and quality interaction.

In short order, our shortest day brought us to Wachipauka Pond. The temperatures were ideal, the scene as majestic as previous trips promised, and for a time we just relaxed and enjoyed the remote serenity earned by an afternoon of trail work together. My SteriPEN water purifier refused to light as the single downside of my evening preparations, but Brent and the team found ways to help Autumn and me have purified water for the trip. The leaders brought the team together and bear bags were hung, tarps for sleeping and cooking were established and an idyllic evening descended complete with one of the sunset gifts those who experience them in the White Mountains usually treasure for the rest of their days. We had a couple of meetings to close out our activity before sleeping open to the air with the sounds of the pond and the likely moose who traipsed belligerently within 50 yards of our campsite and left his marks for us to find in the morning.

Rocky trail with a blue sky behind it.Day 2: Samm and Anthony were our leaders. (This “Samm” was male, vs. the female “Sam” who led on day 1.) Anthony was taking a bonus leadership day to fill in for our first casualty as Chloe had an illness requiring her to miss the trip. We started out with a steady upward climb to the Webster Slide summit and a beautiful overlook, our first official “peak” of the trip. We did a little stretching as a group and had a lot more interactions amongst the team as both Bridget and Emma took some turns guiding me to supplement the great work being done by Autumn as well. Down is simply always easier with a human guide and there were some fun challenge points along this route. We made excellent time to cross a road and make a significant water crossing which included an educational moment for the various methods of safer water crossing. Autumn showcased multiple crossings until a stick enticement convinced her to go all the way over and be held there awaiting my cross.

There is a point in most hikes where conversations bring teams together and as the rain held off for us, the trail was generally gentle, we came together decently. Just to enhance the scenario of challenge, a “fake” broken arm practice was added to the leader challenge and still we arrived to the Jeffers Brook Shelter ahead of schedule and feeling strong despite the rain joining our group. Several of us made use of the shelter and had a few AT through and section hikers to enhance the evening conversations. The evening debrief was a supportive and encouraging preparation for what most expected to be our most challenging day.

Sign pointing to various trails including Glencliff Trail 0.9 milesDay 3: Bridget and Anthony had us up at 5 with light traces of the rain still falling. Brent was ill and that complicated the start, as did our plan to hike a short distance to a car spot where we would have breakfast and adjust some equipment for the remaining trip. This was more important, as Brent’s medical device had lost its charge and the back-up battery wasn’t working. As my water purification system had seemingly failed, Brent was my support and my cook partner so both of us became a delay for the group. At the car Brent charged his device, we repacked, and set out for the Glencliff trail and Mt. Moosilauke!

Because of the low water aspects, I had my heaviest water load, and below Glencliff the trail gets a little boulder-strewn. Due to this, after the steady steepness we reached a section of trail which was particularly hard work for Autumn and me. At this point I shared my struggle to keep the group pace and for a short time switched to Emma guiding me to bolster both of us for a bit. Then Samm took his first shift to handle the long steady steep up to and over the headwall of Moosilauke with us pushing well into the full hunger-almost-hangry range for the team. A well earned lunch below south peak recharged us for the glorious ridge walk which Autumn handled once again until we emerged in the boulder fields and alpine zone where Brent guided as we all managed an impressive 40 mph wind for our spectacular summit reward!

Our goal for the day was Beaver Brook Shelter and so a fair bit of hiking remained. The trail involved some particularly precarious sections and due to Brent’s overall health concerns, he needed to be free of guiding. The students realized Autumn and I would be slow on this track and so took the challenging load for a strenuous section concluding with a considerable amount of snow/monorail hiking led by Sam, working some impressive final descents to the much celebrated shelter. It was a very weary team debrief, proud of the accomplishments and having fully come together to work through all the challenges and fully understand the many ways of supporting each other. Our AT section hiker had made the journey with us and surprised some by sharing that in his 23 years of section hiking the Appalachian Trail, this was his hardest day ever.

Bright sunrise on Day 4 of the hike. Day 4: Our fourth and final day began with the most powerful sunrise of the trip. We faced out over the Kinsmans, the Lafayette ridge, and the presidentials beyond with the sun rising to give the layered mountains a particularly majestic splendor few will ever forget. Caitlin and Emma were our leaders of the day. Brent had experienced his roughest night and was resolutely tending himself to overcome a difficult start. It was crisp and cold at our 3800 feet of elevation and Autumn wisely chose to curl up with our AT companion as he was the last one in a sleeping bag once we had all packed and prepared for departure. We set out as quickly as possible to retrace some of our prior evening’s steps up before descending steadily down through an old forest. It was part of a long-ago Dartmouth ski trail from an era when skiing involved no turns other than what the trail made!

Some of the terrain was more difficult than anticipated and trail games had the group laughing and entertained while I was in full concentration. On a particularly rough trail, I rolled an ankle on a shifting rock more seriously than usual, which resulted in a rare fall for me. The mirth of the group would be essential as would Brent’s high focus guidance to ease my hobbling worked out the long miles still remaining. When the trail eased by our stream crossing and gentle footing allowed us to pick up pace and find the Ravine Lodge for reward, a weary but satisfied group had once again undergone the transformative process of such hikes.

Leadership, guidance, and the richly rewarding wilderness experience were certainly all part of the process. For Autumn and me, we had bonded well with the people of this trip and it was easy at times to forget the decades of difference in our ages because of the commonality of our experience. There is a sadness to the ending and knowing we will never have the same group together to experience all of the varied powerful moments we did share. There is, however, much reward in knowing we grew together, shared together and all of us, student, teacher, and Autumn extraordinaire experienced individual growth on our journey towards personal peaks. I’ll take the growth and the memories and the solace of knowing the choice to be on the path is the most rewarding one of all.

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6 May 18

By Randy Pierce

Autumn looking at the camera with big doggy eyes

Autumn wants you to support us in the Walk for Sight!

On Saturday, June 2, in Concord, NH we’ll all gather for a short 3k (1.8 miles) stroll together for the Walk for Sight.

If you join us, you can see some of the amazing work of Autumn guiding me, many other guide dogs and cane users, and several hundred supporters helping us raise awareness and funds for the more than 30,000 people we hope to provide training and service at Future In Sight. We’ll finish the walk and have lunch together, and somewhere in there our 2020 Vision Quest team will present will also present a check for nearly $30,000 raised through our tremendous community of support throughout the year.

We fund raise through three main methods: our Peak Potential Dinner in November, this walk, and my corporate presentations. This walk is a low cost way to join in, literally, or by a donation to one of our team members (pick me!), but time is running out so please consider making the choice today!

Less than a month to the event and our team has been growing slowly so we hope to make this push for a full team and for all our walkers to hopefully hit their fund raising goals.

See our previous blog on the Walk for Sight.

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14 Apr 18

By Randy Pierce

Image of Randy on a mountain looking out into a sunset, overlaid with these words: The Ninth Annual Peak Potential Dinner and Silent Auction

Hopefully, Jose is guiding me to a fourth consecutive Boston Marathon success for April 16, 2018 even as we are announcing some exciting new twists to enhance the success you help us achieve with our Ninth Annual Peak Potential Dinner and Auction Gala.

Save the Date: November 17, 2018 at 6:00 p.m.
Proudly returning to the Courtyard by Marriott

Tickets will officially go on sale June 1 and we encourage you to begin organizing your tables early. For the first time, we are inviting you, our generous supporters, to pick your table location. All of the normal on-line sign-up will still be in place, and we’ll reach out to table purchasers in the order that the payment is received with the layout of the available tables, allowing you to select where you and your fellow supports will enjoy a great meal and event festivities.

We are also keeping our early purchase pricing in place at the same $500 for a table of 8. There is also a limited number of larger tables for those of you whose group is 10 or 12, available on a first come, first served basis.  So start your table coordination now  and be among the first tables booked to use our new location selection feature!

We have begun preparation and planning for sponsorships, auction items and many event specific planning, so we invite you to visit our updated website:

Ninth Annual Peak Potential Dinner and Auction Gala

As always, we understand how fortunate we have been for the incredible support of our community. We continue to work hard to ensure our mission and effort are always worthy of your support. This year we believe we’ll be delivering a few additional surprises to take this event and our appreciation of you to the highest peak yet.

We hope to see you in November. Please help us to spread the word!

Autumn in her harness with her collapsible bowl.

Autumn hopes you’ll join us!

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31 Mar 18

By Randy Pierce

“Achieve a vision beyond your sight!”

– Randy Pierce at the founding of 2020 Vision Quest in 2009

Many Guide Dogs for the Blind working teams and dogs in training, highlighting their robust community. Their logo is also visible.

I believe that you achieve vision not from sight, but from viewing the world mindfully. Our 2020 Vision Quest team strives diligently to serve our collective vision to our best ability, or as we prefer to phrase it: peak potential! One way we achieve this is through an open-minded view of all the opportunities the world presents to us. As such, we recently did a thorough exploration of new opportunities and found to our overwhelming appreciation an obvious and worthy one to share: We are excited to announce a new partnership with Guide Dogs for the Blind. 

Guide Dogs for the Blind is more than an industry-leading guide dog school; they are a passionate community that serves the visually impaired. With exceptional client services and a robust network of trainers, puppy raisers, donors, and volunteers, they prepare highly qualified guide dogs to serve and empower individuals who are blind or have low vision.

We were impressed to learn Guide Dogs for the Blind produces roughly twice as many working teams each year than other US schools. They also have an enviable financial efficiency, with an average cost per team that lower than most if not all other schools, making them an excellent value for our donation. All their services are provided free of charge and they receive no government funding. GDB is headquartered in San Rafael, California, with a second campus in Boring, Oregon. Since their founding in 1942, they have graduated more than 14,000 guide teams; today there are approximately 2,200 active teams in the field across North America. For more information, please visit guidedogs.com.

We will continue to equally split our charitable donations between two outstanding vision assistance organizations — Future In Sight and Guide Dogs for the Blind — with full confidence that we are conscientiously serving our mission.

With this announcement, we will have a cross-country partnership with a team eager to work with us on our shared vision. This is also a reunion with the school from which I received my very first Guide Dog, Ostend — but don’t worry, Autumn and I are doing fine. She is healthy, happy, and working very well with me. I expect that she and I will continue our successful work together for many years ahead.

We are excited for our new partnership and the increased impact that our support will achieve. We think you will find many reasons to appreciate their work and find them deserving of our support. Please join me in celebrating the inclusion of Guide Dogs for the Blind in the mission of 2020 Vision Quest!

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12 Mar 18

By Randy Pierce

The first picture of Autumn, Randy's Guide Dog partner, who arrived in Nashua on March 16, 2014.

Here is the first picture of Autumn, Randy’s Guide Dog partner, who arrived in Nashua on March 16, 2014. Happy Anniversary!

It is so easy to celebrate every single day with such a joyous, loving lady as Autumn! She is far and away the most affectionate pup I’ve had the fortune to have in my life and I’m told it is to my benefit that I cannot see the “look” with which she would otherwise put me at her bidding!

March 16 will denote four years of our being matched as a team, which includes not only the wonderful relationship as a great dog but also some pretty solid guide work.

Most dogs love the opportunity to step out for a walk and Autumn is no exception. What makes her and all of our Guide Dogs particularly exceptional, however, is that for them each walk is a true labor of love as well. All the wonderful distractions of the world are mitigated by her training to ensure she tends the responsibilities of keeping me safe.

Thus when a winter Nor’easter named after her predecessor, Quinn, has deposited more than a foot of snow on our roads, things get a little more interesting. As such, I thought this week I would take you on a short half mile audio/video walking tour of Autumn’s work with me. I hope you enjoy as much as I certainly enjoy having this wonderful girl in my life.

Thank you, Autumn, and Happy 4th anniversary!

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11 Feb 18

By Randy Pierce

Autumn rests on a recent plane trip.

Autumn rests at our feet on a recent plane trip.

Delta Airlines recently announced a new disappointing policy for all animals traveling with them effective March 1, 2018. It creates unreasonable travel restrictions for teams like Autumn and me. Several other airlines are evaluating how to follow suit and I want to credit United Airlines for excluding trained service dogs from these policies.

Specifically, this new policy requires anyone traveling with their animal to download a form from their website, have it filled out by their veterinarian to confirm the animals rabies and similar vaccinations, and then upload this form through the Delta website within 48 hours of traveling.

While this doesn’t seem an inordinate burden for a particular planned flight, it is compounded tremendously by the possibility of unexpected travel on Delta. Airports reroute a traveler due to cancellations and missed connections routinely and if any of these required a new Delta leg, we could become stranded by this policy. Bereavement or emergency travel would obviously be beyond consideration for them and all of this ignores the ability to have stored the form with them or to note that her rabies information is always on her collar. If my journey has multiple airlines and they all have similar policies, I’m getting multiple forms downloaded, printed, out to my vet, home, scanned, uploaded to the various websites for each and every trip. All while knowing any change in plans could leave me stranded anywhere around the country depending on how extensively the draconian Delta policies are adopted! At the very least, these need to be standardized for all airlines to accept the same form for the entirety of any trip!

Why did they make this change? While most of the country operates under the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA), airlines operate under the Air Carrier Access Act. In this they have opted to allow a much broader support animal. I do not have the qualifications to know the need or training for all the variations of animals and need in this situation. I do know that under the ADA businesses have been managing a large amount of false service dogs as people choose to forge the process in order to bring their dog where they want.

This problem is only intensified with the broader definition of both need and types of animals allowed. Peacocks, pigs, and tarantulas are all recent animals which may or may not have been legitimate but illustrate the diversity in progress. All this said, it was a non-service dog attack on a flight which likely sparked the most recent change. While the paperwork policy will not add any protection from such attacks, it may provide additional liability benefit. I absolutely acknowledge there is a problem and I want to see a resolution. I believe when Delta chooses to be a Maverick they take the risks of their failings as well.

For now, I want to simply applaud the better choice made by United Airlines than the disappointing choice made by Delta. My personal experience suggests Jet Blue is trending towards a little additional airport paperwork which can be managed at the airport, more in line with United, but still more delays and challenge for me. Trying to discern what all the various rules may be for all the individual airlines is going to make the challenges exponentially more difficult.

There was progress made in an initial conference in 2016, but reports make clear the airlines are having a problem, though it is not with service dogs. I hope the parties making policy would consider bringing a conference of stakeholders together to ensure a more reasoned and consistent policy may be planned and implemented with an expectation of more reasonable results than the risks ahead for Delta leaving customers stranded even after expecting them to take on some unreasonable amount of work.

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