Growing Up with Guide Dogs for the Blind

Young adult with her arm around a wheat-colored dog guide in harness

 Editor’s note: Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) introduces us to Megan Borella who first became involved with GDB when she was paired with a K9 Buddy in 2004. GDB’s K9 Buddy Program matches specially selected dogs to become wonderful pets and buddies to people who are blind or low vision, including children and their families, and adults of all ages. 

At Guide Dogs for the Blind, providing a lifetime of support to our clients is central to our mission. For 23-year-old Megan Borella, her involvement with GDB started back in 2004 when she was in grade school. Her parents had applied on her behalf to GDB’s K9 Buddy program, knowing that a buddy dog would acclimate Megan to having a pet; give her a greater understanding about what a guide dog does; and even prepare her to work with a guide dog in the future.

Obtaining a K9 Buddy

GDB’s K9 Buddy Program matches specially selected dogs to become wonderful pets and buddies to people who are blind or visually impaired, including children and their families, and adults of all ages. 

A dog can make a remarkable difference in any person’s life by fostering a sense of caring, companionship, and a sense of responsibility through the human/animal bond. For a child, a dog can contribute to sensory development, motivate learning, and enhance self-esteem.

Despite the benefits of a K9 Buddy, convincing young Megan that having a dog was a good idea wasn’t a given. As part of the K9 Buddy application process, GDB staff visited the Borella family and brought along a dog for Megan to meet in order to get an idea of what kind of dog would be a perfect match for her. But it turned out that Megan had a general fear of dogs and was hesitant to interact. But in a testament to the calm nature of GDB’s dogs, it wasn’t long until Megan warmed to the pooch. By the end of the visit, Megan’s comfort level had improved and she was enthusiastically giving the dog a tour of her house and yard, and even took the dog for a short walk in the neighborhood.

Megan was eventually paired with a yellow Lab K9 Buddy dog named Nikka, who would become her constant companion until Nikka passed away at the age of 14 and Megan was 19. “She was just a really great family dog, really calm, fun to be around,” Megan said. “I had such a positive experience and would definitely recommend the K9 Buddy program. I think it’s a great way to get exposure to the fun parts of having a pet, but also the responsibility that comes along with it too. I think [the K9 Buddy program] is such a cool option to get involved with GDB.”

Man, woman, child, and wheat-colored dog pose in the grass.

Obtaining a Guide Dog

In the years after getting Nikka, and especially into her young adulthood, getting a guide dog was always in the back of Megan’s mind; she was just waiting until the time was right. She completed her K-12 education, graduated from UCLA where she studied political science, and is currently working in sales for Oracle. With her future on a bright trajectory, Megan knew the time was right, and in 2021, she returned to GDB to receive her first guide dog, a yellow Lab named Gallagher.

“I fell in love with Gallagher the moment we were introduced,” Megan said. “Gallagher is my first guide dog, and the experience he and I had while in training was truly transformative. We were given such excellent instruction and support in every area throughout our two weeks in class. I have been a cane user since I was 3, but the transition to a guide dog has been such an exceptional journey, in large part due to the guidance and support of GDB’s staff, who went above and beyond to train both Gallagher and me. I am so grateful to have had everyone teach us how to be a successful team. It’s been an amazing experience all around. Gallagher is such a special dog – he is such a blessing in my life, and I love him so much.”

Congratulations and happy trails, Megan and Gallagher!