In January 2019, a speeding car on a Clackamas County road careened toward Tiffany Taylor and her guide dog Sapphire. The golden retriever/Lab mix saved her handler but was hit herself. Enter Guide Dogs for the Blind medical foster volunteer Debi Hays, who took Sapphire home, slept next to her in a crate, and drove her for hours of medical appointments each day. Three months later Sapphire was walking, tail wagging—she’s now retired and lives with the woman who raised her as a GDB puppy. And Hays? She’s got a new charge from the nonprofit. At its Boring, Oregon campus, GDB trains dogs and humans to work together—at zero cost to clients.

Hays, who runs an alarm company with her husband, started volunteering at the GDB vet clinic 21 years ago. Eventually, she started taking home dogs who needed more care, pioneering GDB’s medical foster program. “They give me the dogs that are a ‘challenge,’” Hays says. “I call them misunderstood.” She’s fostered 18 dogs just since 2016—dogs that didn’t graduate from the GDB program or working dogs recovering from surgeries—and cares for animals whose human handlers are undergoing their own medical procedures.

“When we have difficult cases, Debi’s the first one we call and the first one to step forward,” says the organization’s CEO and president, Chris Benninger.

“These dogs change lives,” says Hays, explaining the impact she’s witnessed GDB have on its clients, more than 15,000 since 1942. “I love this. It fills me up.”

The 15th Annual Light a Fire Awards

6 p.m., November 21, Oregon Convention Center

 

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