By Serena O’Sullivan
Dogs have a nose for guiding us through life’s troubles. For people with visual impairments, dogs can make incredible companions whose guidance significantly improves people’s lives.
Since 1952, the Eye Dog Foundation has raised German Shepherds as guide dogs to help blind and visually impaired people all over the world. Carrie Hobbs is the EDF’s kennel manager and puppy coordinator. She tells PDM that there are many factors in picking applicants. They vary from cane travel trouble, home environment or degree of active lifestyle.
“Once we have matched a person with a dog, regardless of where it is in the US or Canada, we fly that person out to our facility.” Robert Torrance is the Director of Training. He puts the service guide dog groundwork training on each young dog, then works with each new team on dog handling skills, and becoming a cohesive team.
One 17-year-old Arizonian, Ezequiel Garcia, is hoping to puppy raise a guide dog. “I want to raise a guide dog because I really love animals, and I think they’re better than using the cane,” Garcia said. “I feel like the dogs are able to help you out with more. They’re very helpful because with a cane you can miss things, and your guide dog is trained. So, say, you’re crossing an intersection and it has a button: your dog will take you to the pole where you can hit the button and be safe.”
Garcia inherited retinitis pigmentosa, from which peripheral vision and night blindness is commonly experienced. His vision has been deteriorating since he was a young teen. Back in seventh grade, when he was officially diagnosed, as Garcia was leaving his doctor’s office he noticed pamphlets for the Foundation for Fighting Blindness.
“I said, ‘Hey Mom, Mom, Mom! Can I join that,’” he recalled with a laugh. While his mom was hesitant at first, Ezequiel was excited at the prospect. Later that year, he joined the FFB’s youth group and went on his first Vision Walk fundraiser. “Then I went on attending meetings, and once I went into high school freshman year, they approached and asked if I wanted to become a youth chair.”
Garcia’s work as youth chair was how he first came across the idea of puppy raising through the EDF. “They actually sent me an email,” he said. “They asked me if I wanted to raise a puppy, and I thought, ‘Ooh, wow! Actually, that sounds really cool!’”
Ezequiel is going through the application process. “I’m still doing the paperwork and studying,” he said. Once everything’s settled, “I’ll be able to meet the puppy I’ll be raising.” EDFdog recipients must be 18 or older. Ezequiel’s vision is expected to worsen, necessitating a guide dog or cane.
Garcia wants to, “set up a support group for kids my age and lower, from high school and college, since that’s where I’m gonna be heading soon,” he told PDM. The FFB Youth Group is kicking off in 2018, and they’re always looking for new members. “Our goal is to spread awareness and help each other out, and to attend events and discuss issues that we have as a group.”
The EDF can always use help, especially in the form of donations. “I’m always wanting new toys for our puppies,” Hobbs said. There is an account on Amazon Smile: a portion of each purchase goes towards helping the foundation raise funds.
A great way to help the foundation is by raising puppies, who have to be socialized in a loving home before they can help people like Garcia – just what Garcia is doing.
Youth Chair Garcia hopes that having a guide dog will help him with one of his biggest struggles – walking at night. “Whenever I use the cane at night, it’s a little harder. But with a dog, since it’s walking with you, it knows what pace you’re going and senses all the other areas, so you have a little more confidence. And you’re not alone, since you’ve got your little companion with you.”
Information can be found online or by calling:
Eye Dog Corporate 909-579-0571, 1-800-393-3641 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Eye Dog Foundation
website: www.eyedogfoundation.org, 602-276-0051
Foundation for Fighting Blindness
website: www.blindness.org 1-800-683-5555
This article originally appeared in our July/August 2018 issue.