[nagdu] Blind couple teams up with Dobermans from Gallant Hearts Guide Dog Center
annedie at nycap.rr.com
Tue Sep 17 20:23:44 UTC 2013
I wonder how the Dobermans do in the cold weather of Canada? Don't
Dobermans have single coats? But since the breed comes from Germany
originally, I think, maybe they can adjust to the harsher winters of Canada.
Pretty good article, though. Lots of good explanation and detail and not
expecting the dogs to be perfect Lassie clones, especially when the team is
From: nagdu [mailto:nagdu-bounces at nfbnet.org] On Behalf Of Ginger Kutsch
Sent: Tuesday, September 17, 2013 8:00 AM
To: NAGDU Mailing List, the National Association of Guide Dog Users
Subject: [nagdu] Blind couple teams up with Dobermans from Gallant Hearts
Guide Dog Center
Blind couple teams up with Dobermans from Gallant Hearts Guide Dog Center
By Cheryl Clock, The Standard
Monday, September 16, 2013 9:58:59 EDT AM
A coffee and muffin. Mark and Caitlyn Furness are on their way to a local
restaurant for a coffee and muffin.
For most people, simple, straightforward and unremarkable.
For the St. Catharines couple who have been blind for more than half their
lives, an obstacle course of major intersections and other obstructions that
sighted people would hardly notice. Poles. Curbs. Bumps in the sidewalk.
Garbage. Other dogs. And people.
Mark and Caitlyn each have a guide dog. Two-year-old red Dobermans, half
sisters from a guide dog centre in Mississippi.
Caitlyn and Maggie have been a team since March. Mark and Mattie, just a few
weeks. They've each had guide dogs before, but getting to know each other
takes time and practise.
Mark's previous dog, a long-haired German shepherd named Flint, was an
eight-year guide veteran, but had to retire last year. He was beside Mark's
side through sickness - cancer in 2008, a ruptured bowel in 2010 and triple
bypass heart surgery in 2011. Caitlyn's German shepherd, Nickels, has
Mattie and Maggie are the couple's first Dobermans.
Every day, they walk up to eight kilometres. Mark and Caitlyn give the
commands - left, right, forward. They keep track of where they are by
counting street crossings, listening for traffic noise, paying attention to
landmarks like curbs and speed bumps, and sometimes using a GPS app on their
Here is the story of a recent walk to get a coffee and muffin at McDonalds
on Fourth Ave.
They leave their apartment on Louth St., across from the Superstore, and
head towards the lights near Canadian Tire. Mark sports a t-shirt that
proclaims: If love is blind ... I must be love.
Halfway to the lights, Mattie gets distracted by a some birds fluttering on
a nearby lawn, and the pair veer off the path. Mark, 52, feels grass, not
sidewalk, under his feet and stops.
He corrects Mattie. Tells her, "Leave it." And off they go again.
Mark, 52, lost his sight in the mid-1980s because of diabetes and kidney
failure. Caitlyn, 47, went blind in 1987 after being hit in the head during
At the traffic lights, as cars whiz by,
they stop. The dogs are trained to stop at curbs going down, and pause at
curbs going up.
The dogs can't read traffic signals. They don't see the 'white man', and
know it's safe to go.
Their job is to keep the couple away from obstacles. Caitlyn and Mark listen
for traffic to know it's safe to cross.
They head towards Walmart and Mattie navigates around a no-parking sign post
sticking out of the sidewalk, but doesn't quite leave enough clearance for
Mark. His right shoulder bangs into the post.
Mark hits the metal pole with his hand to get Mattie's attention. He tells
her, "Watch it."
They back up. Try it again.
By this time, Maggie and Caitlyn are ahead of Mark, near the entrance to
Best Buy. They pass a woman with her leashed hound dog. The dog barks at
Maggie. Maggie stops abruptly and Caitlyn pulls her away. "Leave it," she
says. The woman watches.
As Caitlyn walks away, a young boy reaches out to touch Maggie. An adult
pulls him away, and the youngster drops to the ground and cries.
Maggie ignores the noise. Onward they go.
Guide dogs can't be afraid of loud noises, says Caitlyn. They are calm.
zNext, they head down Vansickle. At the wide entrance to the parking lot,
next to EB Games, they pause. Mark hears a car stopped on the road to his
left. He know it wants to turn right into the lot and he waits.
At the curb next to Marks Work Warehouse, they hear traffic to the right and
can orient themselves to cross straight.
Next up, the parking lot towards Payless Shoes.
Parking lots are difficult, even with a seasoned dog. There are cars backing
up. Drivers not paying attention.
"We really have to trust the dog," says Caitlyn.
Close to their sidewalk destination they stop abruptly. The dogs want to
keep going, but the couple thinks they've veered too far and overshot the
path. They decide to turn around, hoping to find a familiar landmark.
In reality, the dogs were right. This time.
Caitlyn and Mark welcome help - just ask first. Don't assume. Same goes for
touching a guide dog. Ask before you pet.
One time, Mark was about to board a city bus, when a person grabbed him by
the arm and guided him up the steps.
Mark showed the driver his bus pass and waited.
"The bus driver was rude. He didn't say anything to me."
Mark started to walk towards the back of the bus, and then realized what had
The stranger had put him through the rear door of the bus. And the person he
thought was the driver, was actually another passenger.
"He was probably thinking, what's this blind dude doing showing me a picture
of himself," says Mark.
Humour comes in handy.
So does determination. "I always like a challenge," says Caitlyn.
"If someone tells me I can't do something, I prove to them that I can.
"You have to deal with how it is now, and not the way it was."
A short walk down the sidewalk, and they're at McDonalds.
The dogs lie under table while couple talks.
And they have their coffee and muffin.
cheryl.clock at sunmedia.ca
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