Providing ‘Second Sight’ For More Than 60 Yrs.
By Michelle Gabrielle, Centamore
Classes at the foundation for potential recipients of the guide dogs consist of about 10 people, but there will be twice as many fully trained dogs available, said Devlin. Before each student arrives, “we make sure we have at least one match in mind.” During the first couple of days of training, students are taught basic commands and are observed as a team. After two days, they are given a dog to stay with them throughout the training in a dormitory room, provided by the foundation.
“What is most amazing are the students,” said Devlin. “We take ordinary people and make them absolutely wonderful dog handlers.” And the dogs, he said, are truly remarkable. “They just connect with people … there is just something so special there.”
Marilyn Tucci, 56, of Shirley, was born with congenital cataracts. When she was in her twenties, she was told she had macular degeneration and was declared legally blind. As her eyesight worsened, she became dependent upon a cane and other “sighted” individuals to navigate her world. But 18 years ago, she decided to try something different – a guide dog – which, she said, was the “best decision” she ever made.
“I did not like using a cane and I did not like relying on sighted people to help me and take me places because I am very independent,” Tucci said. Although she was “scared at first” to trust her life to a dog, she quickly came to appreciate her companion as a “life-saver.” Her first dog, a golden retriever she called “Jessie the Wonder Dog,” saved her life only six weeks after the two were paired. Jessie prevented Tucci from getting hit by a car pulling out of a driveway by throwing her own body in front of her. Neither the dog nor Tucci were injured. “My bond with Jessie was quickly solidified.”