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 SDCOE’s Furriest Office Helper

What has 12 hands and four paws?NISER staff members and guide dog, Kinslee

It's San Diego County Office of Education's North Inland Special Educa­tion Region (NISER) team.

There are six people and one puppy named Kinslee who work from the NISER office in Ramona. Kinslee is training to be a guide dog while the people work to support the school districts in inland North County.

The team consists of Tracy Gruhot, office assistant; Angie McNeece, senior director; Kris Knudsen, business support assistant; Felicia Norman, occupa­tional therapy assistant; Christine Sinatra, coordinator/psychologist; and Sandra Watson, occupational therapist.

"We're small but mighty," Knudsen said.

They serve 10 districts in the northeastern portion of the county, stretching 2,000 square miles from Escondido to the borders with Riv­erside and Imperial counties.

"We spend a lot of time on the road," McNeece said.

They support the districts with any needs related to special education, including providing professional development, information, and col­laboration. Because of the wide variety of work, they don't have a typical day. They work with parents, administrators, teachers, and stu­dents in different capacities.

NISER is one of four Special Edu­cation Local Plan Areas SDCOE operates.

Kinslee the dog comes to the office nearly ev­ery day with Gruhot, her caretaker. While there, Kinslee learns about what it's like to be in an office setting and interact with different people.

"Blind people work, so having the dog come to work and learn how to behave in an office is awesome," Gruhot said.

After a year and a half with Gruhot, Kinslee will go to guide dog col­lege, where she will learn all of the ins and outs of her profession and maybe graduate with a job. Only about 40 percent of the canines that go to the six-month training make the cut to become a guide dog.

"They have to really want to do it, and not all dogs want to do it," Gruhot said.

Kinslee is Gruhot's third guide-dog-in-training. The second one, Tink, recently graduated from guide dog college and is moving to a new home to help her new companion.

Gruhot decided three years ago to volunteer to help raise future guide dogs. She is an area leader for Guide Dogs of America. Volunteers keep the dogs from when they're seven weeks old to when they're 18 months old.


Photo: Left to right are Angie McNeece, Kris Knudsen, Tracy Gruhot and Christine Sinatra. In front is Kinslee.