By Brett Ashley Hawkins
After 35 years of teaching, 60-year-old multifaceted Long Beach resident Marcia Harris is currently raising her first guide dog, Uda, for the Guide Dogs of America (GDA). A former puppy sitter for the same organization, Harris has learned the ins and outs of raising a dog before it goes to school in Sylmar.
“It’s a labor of love,” Harris said. “And these dogs give the blind independence.” Part of the raising of the guide dog requires the dog and its trainer to remain together for all hours of the day. If Harris goes to a supermarket, post office or bank, Uda must also travel with her.
Another section of the GDA protocol has the raiser train his or her dog certain commands: “sit,” “down,” “stay,” “come” (informally, and then again for formally), “leave it,” “okay,” “kennel,” and “get busy,” referring to the dog’s time to “relieve” itself. “The goal here is to get [Uda] associated with everything,” said Harris.
Also, the dog’s health is of vital importance to the GDA. Evaluations are performed often, and there are monthly meetings to check in with each dog and its raiser. Among the health specifications given to guide-dog raisers are a specific diet, medication, flea-control substance, and oral hygiene and bathing techniques. Harris maintains she’s no stranger to specific food and medication habits since she is diabetic.
Harris and Uda can be found on Saturdays walking with the Bixby Knolls Strollers. She attends many community events with the guide dog to get him accustomed to dealing with several different types of people in varied situations.
Harris’s devotion to raising dogs is among many of the talents on her diverse résumé. She is also an International Brotherhood of Magicians member, author, and a volunteer at Rancho Los Cerritos & Rancho Dominguez. She brings her teaching skills and sense of fun from her experiences in magic to care for the guide dogs.