I am frequently asked questions about Indy, my Freedom Guide Dog . People want to know where he was trained and if I had any difficulty learning to work with him. I had always used a cane to get around and never saw the need for a guide dog in the first place. After all, my cane was extremely low maintenance. It never needed to be fed, or cleaned up or taken to a vet. I always liked dogs, but I was a little skeptical about trusting one with my life. It wasn't until after being discharged from a year of physical therapy following my surgery that I even entertained the thought of acquiring a dog. Because of all the complications during my surgery and after it, I lost a great deal of strength and coordination in my arms and hands. Even after intense physical therapy, I only regained about forty percent use of my left arm. The cane that I had relied on for so long was now totally useless for me. If I were to regain any amount of independence and self-reliance I had two choices: either wait for others to assist me or break down and look into a guide dog. I chose the latter. It turned out not to be as easily accomplished as I had imagined.
Because of my physical limitations, all of the well-known schools for training guide dogs that I had contacted turned me down. It wasn't until I came in contact with Eric Loori, the trainer for Freedom Guide Dogs, that my hope of independent travel was restored. He assured me that he could find a dog that could be trained to work with my limitations.
In April 1998, Eric came to my house with Indy to begin the two-week training program. It didn't take long for Indy to work his way into my heart and life. Six months later, we were a great working team, and I was sorry that I didn't look into guide dogs thirty years ago Now I can't imagine what my life would be like without him.
Before I had Indy, I needed someone to drive me to the barbershop and after getting my hair cut, I would sometimes walk the mile or so trip back home using my cane. The walk home would take me about an hour. Now, Indy and I can make the trip in fifteen minutes. Since I no longer need to have someone drive me to the shop, we often make it a round trip excursion. We even made it there and back during a snowstorm. With several inches on the ground and more falling, it would have been an impossible task using only my cane. Indy and I made it in forty minutes.
I have my lighthearted moments with Indy too. As part of his training, Indy follows commands such as "find outside" where he will look for a door with a handle, or "find a seat" leading me to an available chair. Unfortunately, he is indiscriminate in his selections of either. At a restaurant located in a mall, the "find outside" command led me to a freezer door with a handle and "find a seat" found me in an empty chair at a table of strangers having dinner. Even buying a lottery ticket caused a few chuckles when Indy, not knowing the concept of waiting your turn, given the command to "find the counter" did just that. The people waiting in line just laughed about it and told me to go ahead of them when they realized what had happened.
Indy also possesses a keen sense of awareness. A friend's mother had passed away and my friend was having a difficult time dealing with the loss. At the funeral, Indy kept watching her from across the room because she was crying and so upset. When it came time to pay final respects, Indy took me straight to her instead of following the line up to the casket. It was like he wanted to let her know that we both came to express our sympathy and support.
When I walk down the street I often can hear people saying, "Here comes Indy." -- somewhere along the line I lost my identity. People open doors for Indy; something they seldom did when it was just my cane and me. With Indy, I don't need as much outside help and I'm getting it in abundance. When I did need the help, I didn't get enough of it.
In talking about Indy and other guide dogs, either to individuals or to groups, I stress how important it is not to approach a guide dog while he is "working." People are constantly coming up to Indy trying to give him a treat or pet him while he is in harness. In fact I joke about changing his name to "Babe Magnet" because of all the females he attracts. They all want to pet him or talk to him. There are even some who try to hug and kiss him when he is supposed to be working. A guide dog has an awesome responsibility to the blind person he is with. Their lives literally depend on that dog's judgment and concentration. Being distracted in any way could result in horrific consequences. Most of the general public is not consciously aware of this and need to be educated in this regard.
I believe that Indy is truly part of God's plan. He was born about two weeks prior to my surgery and was in training about the time I decided that I truly wanted a guide dog. Also it was a strange circumstance that I found Freedom Guide Dogs and their wonderful timing to expand into Pennsylvania. I don't believe that the timing of these events are just a coincidence but part of a great master plan.
Below are two pictures of Lenny McHugh with his Freedom Guide Dog, Indy.
Freedom Guide Dogs for the Blind breeds, raises, trains and places dogs to guide the blind through a special program of "Hometown Training." For more information on how you can help a blind person in need, send e-mail to Eric and Sharon Loori, Founders of Freedom Guide Dogs or call: 315-822-5132 or write to:
Freedom Guide Dogs
Guide Dog Users, Inc. (GDUI) is a non-profit advocacy organization, comprised primarily of people who are blind who work with guide dogs. Guide dog trainers, puppy-raisers, family members and friends interested in guide dog issues are also part of GDUI.
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