Lifestyle

Guiding Eyes

Competent canines offer comfort and control to sight impaired companions

DeAnna Moore has had vision problems for most of her life, but today she faces a terrifying prospect. Moore is legally blind, and doctors say she will lose her sight entirely within the next few years. A former veterinarian, Moore decided to take control of her uncertain future by volunteering with guide dogs while she still retained some eyesight. She and her husband, Andrew, contacted Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a nonprofit organization located in New York state with program trainers in the Virginia Beach, Virginia area. Moore elaborates, “I was interested in learning about this puzzle from the inside out before I needed a dog. It was a way to get involved and pay it forward before I was on the receiving end.”

Moore and her husband have raised two dogs for Guiding Eyes, Bradley and Peppy. Guide dogs are socialized in two stages, with some volunteers choosing to raise a dog for the first months of puppyhood, while others raise puppies between 12 and 18 months of age. These socialization stages are crucial in helping dogs become comfortable with people and stimulating situations. Dogs are returned to Guiding Eyes between 18 months and 2 years of age for a final intensive training session and to work with their recipients.

Moore met fellow volunteer Eva Klenner when they were both in New York relinquishing their dogs. Klenner believes one obstacle for volunteers is their inability to bring dogs to work, a requirement for socialization. The doctors and staff at Tidewater Orthopaedics, where Klenner serves as CEO, were supportive of Klenner and her dog, Denim. “From the beginning,” says managing partner Dr. Robert Campolattaro, “the physicians at Tidewater Orthopaedics embraced sponsorship of this program as part of a greater commitment to public health in our community. Service animals deeply enrich the lives of many of our patients. Denim will be among the finest.”  

Staff member Pamela Neff concurs, saying, “Denim…kept a smile on my face every day and helped me over the loss of my 13 year old dog that passed.” Similarly, staff member Sarah Minor remembers, “It was impossible not to love Denim. While it was bittersweet knowing she’d move on and leave us one day, knowing her greater purpose and being fortunate enough to experience firsthand all the love she will give is a reward like no other.”

Much commitment and cost goes into raising and training guide dogs. Klenner estimates that a service-ready dog has had roughly $50,000 worth of care and training by the time it is donated to a blind person. Klenner describes the perfect guide: “When the blind person is ready to step in front of that bus, the dog has to stand and say, ‘No.’ A service dog has to be able to think and make independent decisions. That’s a very different trait than simply being a people pleaser.”

While relinquishing a mature dog is difficult, Klenner says, “The other end of it is heart-opening. You see that the dog gives the recipient much more mobility and independence.” Moore echoes Klenner’s sentiment with even more poignancy, “It’s a very unique thing to be a part of. I think when I get my own dog, my experience will give me a fuller understanding of the work and sacrifice that went into the gift. Raising Bradley and Peppy helped me to embrace the idea that there’s a great life, with or without sight. The thought of facing it with a dog, as opposed to with a cane alone, makes all the difference.”

For more information, check out Guiding Eyes for the Blind  at guidingeyes.org.