Guide dogs help serve as their owners' eyes, but a video shows it's much more than that.
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Pedigree

It was a day just like any other.

Liz Oleska was getting her son, Logan, ready for school and was on her way to bring him to the bus stop when out of nowhere, a massive headache hit. At a loss, Liz decided to take a nap and rest it off.

When she woke up, however, all she saw was darkness.


Terrified, Liz went to the hospital for help. But the doctors told her there was nothing more they could do. Her eyesight had already been deteriorating for three months due to diabetic retinopathy.

"That's when it hit me," she recalled. "I'm blind."

Everyday tasks like cooking and crossing the street were suddenly difficult and scary to Liz.

"What am I gonna do? How am I gonna live? How am I gonna survive? How am I gonna do this alone as a single mom raising my son?" she asked.

"I thought my life was over ... and then I got Bryce."

Watch the powerful video to be immersed in Liz and Bryce's story:

Liz's new guide dog came into her life like a four-legged ray of hope.

Bryce helped Liz grow her sense of confidence, independence, and pride. And even when times got tough, Bryce stayed by her side no matter what.

"It took me getting Bryce to realize that all I need is to trust myself, that I can make anything happen," Liz said. "Now I stop and think because Bryce has taught me to appreciate things differently. And there's so much that makes me happy — so much that I didn't even realize was out there."

In honor of Blindness Awareness Month, Pedigree is sharing Liz and Bryce's story to highlight how valuable these furry companions can be.

What's made these canine companions so incredible? How did they even learn to be so helpful?

Here are five fascinating things to know about guide dogs:

1. The guide dog training process is, of course, highly specialized.

Image via Pedigree/YouTube.

Each dog is assigned to a trainer who will work with them for at least five months. During that time, the dogs have to go through different phases designed to get them ready for the real world.

First, the trainers reinforce the basics the dogs learned as puppies. Next, the trainers up the ante by introducing obstacles and distractions to make sure the dogs stay on point. After that, the dogs are asked to perform all the tasks they learned without any help. (This step requires a lot of repetition.) Lastly, the dogs are integrated into normal settings and are able to put their training into action.

After that, they can direct their owner to wherever they need to go, avoid any dangerous obstacles, and even distinguish between commands to tell whether it'll put their owner in harm's way. (It's called intelligent disobedience, and it might just be their coolest skill.)

When all is said and done, about 70% of dogs make the cut and can become guide dogs. But don't worry about the others; training centers make sure to find a home or other job for them.

2. You can actually help out in the coolest way.

Image via smerikal/Flickr.

Guide dogs are trained from the moment they're born. But there's a little gap where you can help out and become a puppy raiser.

It'd be your job to raise a puppy! From the time they're 8 weeks old to around 18 months, these puppies need to learn basic obedience skills and manners. You'd also be tasked with making sure these puppies are sociable and exposing them to as many different situations as possible. When they're finally puppy teens, ready for the next step, they head back to the training center.

3. There's an art to selecting the right guide dog for an individual.

Not every guide dog is going to be the perfect match for every person with blindness or visual impairment. There are a lot of crucial factors that need to be considered before they can be paired up properly — age, height, walking speed, environment, personality, breed, etc.

Coordinators have to make sure there's a seamless relationship between guide dog and owner because they operate as a team every single day.

4. There are a few rules on guide dog etiquette.

Image via Pedigree/YouTube.

Many guide dogs are absolutely adorable. But remember that they're also doing a job when you see them out with their owner. So make sure not to distract them with shouting, honking, or feeding. More importantly, never grab the harness or leash from the owner because it will cause disorientation.

If the dog is absolutely irresistible, make sure you ask the owner first if you can have a moment with their guide dog to say hello and pet them.

5. Guide dogs aren't for everyone, but they provide an important service for their handlers.

Image via Pedigree/YouTube.

In addition to making daily tasks easier, guide dogs can help their owners gain more confidence as they move about the world together.

They help serve as their owners' eyes. But more importantly, they're giving them a whole lot of heart.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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