The story below appears in the December 2023 issue of The Guideway, Vol. 77, No. 3. The Guideway is the official newsletter of the Guide Dog Foundation, published at least three times a year. Sign up to receive a print version of The Guideway and opt-in to request other correspondence here. We hope you enjoy and are inspired by Katrin's story.

Katrin Hawkins has always charted her own path. For almost 20 years, she successfully ran Maplewood Dog, a dog behavior consulting business in Massachusetts. When her vision impairment – she has a neurological condition that causes functional vision loss and impairment in visual processing – had reached the point where it was impacting her ability to navigate and travel, “I decided a guide dog would likely help,” she says. 

With her experience in animal training and behavior, “I knew a fair amount about guide and service dogs,” so she owner-trained her first guide dog. They were a team for several years, but Hawkins acknowledges that her success at creating this partnership was not common; two later attempts at owner-training her own guides did not work out. 

It was then Hawkins applied to the Guide Dog Foundation for her next guide. “I had met some Foundation dogs over the years and knew them to be solid working dogs, with good temperament and work ethic,” she says. “Then once I started my application I began to realize how much of a personalized approach the Foundation takes, and I really valued and appreciated that. The Foundation
looks at each client as an individual and works to support that client and their dog to be successful.” 

In 2011, when she was matched with Tom, her first dog from the Foundation, “I knew I’d made the right decision.” 

In a speech she made to the Lions Clubs International convention in June 2023, Hawkins recalls her first class at the Guide Dog Foundation: “I’d just gotten off the Long Island Ferry from
Massachusetts and my instructor picked me up in a Foundation van to drive me to the campus: my home away from home for two weeks. I get in the van, and [my instructor] starts chuckling. I’m thinking, ‘Oh no, what’s wrong?’ My instructor says, ‘The dog I have in mind for you is a big black [Labrador/Golden Retriever] cross, Tommy, and I’m laughing because he’s going to this short little
lady from Boston.’ A couple of hours later, I got to meet that big black Lab cross, and he was just the right fit for this short little lady from Boston. Tom was and is a do-anything, go-anywhere, rock-solid dog. Just what I needed.” 

Hawkins teamed with Tom when she was running her own business, and “I had lots of people and dogs coming in and out of where I worked and traveled. I was also younger and walked faster.
Tom walked at the pace I needed but was a very serious worker. He was unflappable, exactly what I needed at that point.” 

Many of the Guide Dog Foundation’s graduates who have had multiple dogs have stated that each dog has been right for a particular time in their lives. Hawkins concurs. She and Tom were a successful team for about 10 years, and when it was time for him to retire and Hawkins to move on to her next dog, she returned to the Foundation. (Tom is currently enjoying his retirement in Hawkins’s household.) 

She was excited about the updates to the training curriculum for both dogs and students. “I love that dogs are now taught to problem solve in a very systematic way that supports dogs as individuals and builds their confidence in being right. I love that Breezie [her new guide] is an excellent problem solver. It makes working with her such fun.” 

When Hawkins trained with Breezie in 2020, “I was in graduate school and in the midst of a career change; I also had young nieces and nephews in my life. She’s a very playful dog, who both works hard and plays hard. She brings a lot of joy into our home,” she says. 

Hawkins earned her master’s in nonprofit administration from Louisiana State University Shreveport in 2021 (she has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Southern New Hampshire University) and joined Boston By Foot in 2022, where she is the program manager. She is certified as an interpretive guide through the National Association for Interpretation. 

Boston By Foot highlights Boston’s architecture and history through a variety of walking tours throughout the city and offers tours with different degrees of accessibility to accommodate individuals of all abilities. As program manager, Hawkins plans the programming and tour calendar, supports nearly 200 volunteers, collaborates with volunteers to train new tour guides, and develops new tours and programs. “One project I’m especially excited about right now is working with a group of volunteers to develop a multisensory touch tour that will give folks a chance to engage with the city non-visually through touch and other senses.” 

Often, Hawkins will accompany the walking tours. “Breezie is a great tour guide dog. She has learned to follow the tour guide and helps me stay with the group on crowded city sidewalks,” she says. 

Hawkins often works remotely, but, “Breezie loves our city days. We take the train, walk to the office through downtown on cobblestones and brick sidewalks. Breezie sees a crowded train platform or a jammed intersection as the thrill of a lifetime! It makes her day. And that makes mine a whole lot easier and safer. I know that she’s got my back.” 

While Hawkins had trained on campus with Tom in 2011, she trained with Breezie in her home com-munity due to the pandemic, when the Foundation was doing only home trainings. 

“Both training experiences felt very personalized and that my and my dog’s needs were always at the top of the instructors’ minds,” she says. Still, she admits, “Between the two formats, I did prefer home training with Breezie as the schedule was more flexible. This was great as I was mid-semester at grad school and was trying to complete my course work at the same time I was in training. It was also nice because I was familiar with most of the routes so I felt I could really focus on getting to know Breezie and her working style.” Another advantage, she adds, is that she and her spouse were getting ready to move, so Hawkins and her instructor were able to train in her new neighborhood and establish familiar routes there. 

“When I imagine trying to do my job, trying to get to and from work, without a guide dog, it feels daunting, scary, exhausting,” Hawkins says. “I’m so grateful that the Guide Dog Foundation breeds and trains dogs that are confident and comfortable doing that for me. I will always be grateful to the Foundation for my guide dogs. With my guide dogs, I can be independent.”

A woman in tan pants, blue shirt, and maroon jacket smiles at the camera. By her side, a yellow Labrador Retriever in a guide dog harness looks up at her. The caption reads: Katrin Hawkins and guide dog Breezie. Photo courtesy Katrin Hawkins.