Guide Dogs of America
Sylmar, Calif., May 20—Heading to the Guide Dogs of America facility in Sylmar, over 200 bikes and 440 participants rode under a deep marine layer blanketing the LA basin in May gray. We’ve entered into our third winter—but who’s counting? The hilltops of the Angeles National Forest are hidden by a layer of clouds. Leather weather! This run has the triple-threat distinction of the perfect event: cause, location and food. A poker run, pins, bandana, and a fantastic raffle are great extras. At the cost of $48,000 per dog, GDA depends upon donations and fundraisers such as the 14th annual Ride for Guides. And after a brief hiatus for much-needed, expansive construction and a name change, the Ride for Guides is successfully bouncing back.
Being nestled against the Angeles National Forest affords riders a favorite twisty ride through the hills with only a brief time spent on freeways. Upon return, a tummy-filling lunch spent amongst selfless dogs caps what many would call a perfect day of riding.
Bikes filled every corner of the parking lot and extra tables were quickly set up to accommodate the overflow crowd as they enjoyed a barbecue lunch of hamburgers, hot dogs, chili, beans and salads. Once people were eating I could spot various clubs such as Elks Riders Lodge 2379, Messen-gers of Recovery, Shaggers, Soldiers for Jesus, Old Road and Golden State H.O.G. Chapters, Shifted Souls and Fire Hogs.
As riders walked in from the parking lot they passed a table laden with old run pins and free books, both hardback and paperback, telling the history of GDA, but donations were certainly wel-comed. Lucky you! I paid full price for my copy last year! Fascinating history and full of photo-graphs, it was worth every penny. It also includes a chapter on the run’s coordinator, Lorri Bernson, and her “furry eyes” dog Carter.
Roaming the grounds was a crew from the CW Network documenting the event and expand-ing their corporate interest; beginning with a litter, CW has now sponsored two dogs. The first puppy was Ethyl and currently 7-month-old Ozzy, and they follow the pups’ progress through training and placement to bring awareness of the importance of guide dogs across the media. Inspired by Lorri’s personal story, a series In the Dark about a girl and her dog at guide dog school has been green-lighted for 2019.
Both in the store and in the booth outside were great items for sale, including T-shirts with new designs depicting a guide dog with his biker owner, my favorite being “Riding and Guiding,” the dog steering an antique Harley with his owner in the sidecar. Others were “The Fast and Furriest” in a red corvette and “Feel The Wind” with them walking together. It really hits home with this crowd.
One bike that stood out in the crowd was a Victory painted with the Star Trek Enterprise theme. It was very impressive in its detail, from the murals to the personalized license plate and its holder.
On stage, Lorri thanked everyone for helping make dogs possible to change the lives of those with limited vision, inviting her mother Dania to join. Dania admitted that when Lorri set off with her first dog Nigel she quietly followed from a distance, so frightened her daughter would get into trou-ble. She was pleasantly surprised that Lorri was in good paws.
Puppy demonstrations are always fun to watch as handler Kim brought 2-year-old Golden Retriever Poppy through an obstacle course including low bars, pylons and people. With a “Good dog!” reward at the end, Poppy jumped with joy. Puppies in training were plentiful throughout the grounds, never passing up the opportunity for a good pat or tummy rub. And everyone was accommodating. That they have any fur remaining is a miracle! With eight litters due in June, Lorri emphasized the need for puppy sponsors.
Lorri always had time to welcome folks and pose for photos as she walked throughout the crowd. Especially gentle with children, when she knelt to feel the collection of GDA pins proudly worn by a young girl, Lorri explained she was blind and that’s how she could see the pins. The Poker Run winners were first place, Anthony Belfiore with five Kings; second place, Elizabeth Gatchell with five Queens; and third place, Gil Stevenson with five Jacks (I’m beginning to notice a pattern). Wonder which one was cheating? Tables were again covered with exciting silent auction and raffle prizes, two of which were mystery gifts. One particularly large box contained video collections of Mad Men, Nurse Jackie, and Weeds, candles, air purifier, a My Pillow, mugs, floor sweeper, Stick Click lights and more. Each basket had a minimum value of $200 of very useful items such as gas cards, food, entertainment (Magic Castle, movie tickets), toys, travel, Nascar quilt, Harley goodies, concert tickets, a guitar and pet products (nothing for cats this year!). Following was the enviable problem of packing it all home on a bike. Even with the tables bare, Lorri wasn’t done. She began auctioning off gift cards telling us “Think of all the poor blind people out there! These puppies need food!” Kim Aguilera, with face reddened having just arrived from Las Vegas, offered $100 for a California Pizza card worth $50. Well spent, I say. Mark your calendar with a big doggie paw print for next year and bring your second “best” friend (i.e. human).