Imagine a world devoid of light and color, of wind rustling the trees, of rain dancing on the roof – a world in which the clashing sounds of traffic compete with sometimes cacophonous human voices.
Such is the world of a blind person.
To a sighted person, this sounds like a frightening way of life. That is where Guide Dogs for the Blind Comes in, opening new vistas and opportunities for the blind, people who struggle for the mobility that comes naturally to most people.
GCC student Robert Bracy can attest to that. He had to retire his dog, Hamilton, last year, as the dog was having seizures in his harness, the gear worn to distinguish him as a guide dog.
Robert’s wife, Tee, loaned him her dog, Caesar, until he attends the Guide Dogs of America in January and receives a new dog.
Robert and Tee Bracy met at GCC’s disabled fitness class, where Hamilton leapt up and ate an earring off Tee’s ear while Robert was working on a machine. Tee was also born blind.
They became friends, and were married seven months ago.
Robert encouraged Tee to attend the same school he had so she could get a dog and become more mobile.
When Tee graduated from GDA, she received Caesar, her guide dog. Caesar graduated on May 6, 2001, whereupon Robert asked Tee to become his wife.
The dog’s trainer, Bob Winler, assisted Robert down the runway to meet his bride. The wedding took place in the GDA’s graduation area.
Tee stood waiting for Robert, with her maid-of-honor, Mary Lou Mancini.
Robert Bracy’s black Labrador Retriever, Caesar, gives him “a 100 percent sense of freedom. I walk at a faster pace now. I was very limited before. I trust my dog implicitly. I used a cane for 17 years,” he said. Bracy was blind from birth.
Robert Bracy didn’t know at first how his new guide dog would act, so he felt a little insecure. In one week, however trust was established. “Hamilton took me around. I listened to traffic, and when the parallel traffic moves, I tell him to go,” said Bracy. “Little by little it becomes instinct for both of us.”
Robert and Tee said that there exists a special affinity with the dogs, and that it is similar to a marriage commitment.
“The responsibility of blind people is to help educate those who don’t know what it’s like to be blind, and that’s one thing I intend to do,” said Robert.
They echo the attitude of many other blind people – innovation, creativity and determination. Robert attends classes at GCC for alcohol and drug rehabilitation and plans to be a counselor. Tee assists him in taking notes, and will attend GCC during the spring session so that she can help him when he gets an office.
Tee Bracy said, “I can do just about anything a sighted person can do; I just do it differently!”
Guide Dogs for the Blind was first established in 1942 to serve World War II veterans, and today serves people from all walks of life.
There are two training facilities – one is located in San Rafael, Calif., and another in Boring, Ore.
Visually impaired people 16 years and older are accepted throughout the United States and Canada for up to 28 days of training with a guide dog. Transportation, tuition, room and board, the dog, costs of training and all other services are provided. Private donations support the foundation.
Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers from purebred stock are selected.
Puppies must meet the requirements – a willing and stable temperament, a realistic size and weight for the accompanying person and a coat that is easily maintained.
The puppies come to the volunteers when they are about two months old, and live with the family members, where housebreaking and basic manners are taught. The dogs are exposed to real-life scenarios like markets and schools.
Each raiser must bring their pup to a local meeting with other raisers to work on socialization techniques.
Upon reaching the age of 12-18 months, the dogs are returned to Guide Dogs.Each puppy raiser formally presents the dog they raise to the dog’s new partner in a graduation ceremony after five months of training.
The blind student spends up to a month learning to travel with their new guide dogs. Verbal and physical praise are methods of reward used to train guide dogs. The dog’s response to raise was developed since they were pups.
Under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), privately owned businesses such as restaurants, hotels, stores, taxicabs and sports facilities cannot discriminate against the disabled.