[nfb-talk] Another perspective on guide dogs

Milissa Garside milissa.g79 at gmail.com
Wed Feb 25 04:59:43 UTC 2009

Given the discussions of late on this list, I thought the following article
might be good food for thought. Janet Labreck is an NFB member and is the
commissioner for the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind. Very
interesting how she portrays cane use. While the intersection referenced in
this article is confusing, there are audible traffic signals along with
heavy pedestrian traffic which offer plenty of sound cues for crossing



Janet LaBreck and "Osbourne:" Filling Big Shoes

Stand at the corner of Boston's Tremont and Boylston streets, near Boston
Common, and you'll be amazed at the chaos. Tourists, shoppers, office
workers and street vendors mill about. Crowds of people gather to cross the

When the light turns-and sometimes even when it doesn't (this is Boston
after all) - the pedestrians cross the street, dodging cars which totally
ignore the signals. It is bedlam.
"This is why I need Osbourne," says Janet LaBreck. "This corner is
unbelievable. It's hard to cross when you're sighted, never mind when you're

Janet LaBreck is the commissioner of the Massachusetts Commission for the
Blind (MCB). Osbourne is the Fidelco guide dog with whom she was partnered
last summer. As Commissioner, LaBreck attends plenty of meetings at the
Massachusetts State House and other governmental offices which require
frequent treks across the Boston Common. With Osbourne beside her, LaBreck
makes the trip in fifteen minutes. Without Osbourne, it took nearly double
the time and with no assurance that an errant car wouldn't barrel into her.

Given that the first MCB Commissioner was Helen Keller, Commissioner LaBreck
fills some big shoes. After working for the MCB for more than twenty years,
LaBreck was tapped by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick in 2007 to
oversee the agency which provides services to 36,000 Massachusetts residents
who are blind. LaBreck's passion is to increase
employment opportunities in the blind community. She has successfully
partnered with
businesses in the Commonwealth to develop a nationally recognized internship
program that each year places dozens of individuals who are blind in a
variety of industries.

Her mantra is "maximize independence" and Osbourne helps her to do just
that. "Having a Fidelco guide dog has given me an increased feeling of
independence. He definitely has
increased my confidence." To watch LaBreck, dressed in a black tweed suit
and sporting a red trench coat, stride quickly across the Common with
Osbourne beside her is to see
the very definition of confidence. Together, the Commissioner and Osbourne
do a lot of traveling. Each day requires a 54-mile commute from her central
Massachusetts home to
her office in downtown Boston. Within her workday, she frequently travels
across the city and, often, across the state to fulfill her duties as
commissioner. When she applied to Fidelco, she told us that she needed a
fast dog, as well as one who could hold his own in high level meetings and
patiently endure her many public speeches without so much as a whine or

Osbourne hasn't let her down. On the contrary, he's garnered fans iin high
places. Martha Coakley, the Attorney General of Massachusetts, adores
Osbourne. Her office has decided to spearhead a public awareness campaign
about service dogs. State legislators and high
ranking officials also fawn over Osbourne.

So does LaBreck's husband, Russell. To hear them talk about Osbourne is like
listening to new parents gush about their baby. They are amazed at his
athleticism and his intelligence.
They swear that he's more clever than they are. Russell says, "We're not
teaching him, he's teaching us." Commissioner LaBreck marvels at how
Osbourne anticipates her commands often before she has given them. "For
instance, I don't give many commands going through
the Common. Osbourne is able to anticipate our destination."

LaBreck's office hums with activity. She gracefully fields calls from a
reporter from the Boston Globe and multiple questions from staffers. While
she works, Osbourne rests close beside her with his eyes closed. Don't let
his quietness fool you though. Russell calls this his "watchful waiting" and
likens it to firefighters at a fire station. As soon as the alarm goes off,
they are ready to work. Sure enough, when a staffer comes to ask
Commissioner LaBreck for some assistance, Osbourne is up, attentive and
ready for his harness.

Perhaps because she walks in Helen Keller's footsteps, it's not surprising
that Commissioner
LaBreck looks to Keller for inspiration. When addressing the New England
College of Optometry as commencement speaker in 2008, she searched through
Keller's quotes
to find one that spoke to her and chose this one: "One cannot consent to
creep when one feels the impulse to soar."

Commissioner LaBreck loves the quote. She says, "It conveys the sense of
opportunity and
the desire to move forward, to accomplish and succeed that I see among our
clients." She explains it further, "You can't hold people back. That quote
says it all. That's what we try to do here. We help to foster that drive and

The Keller quote is appropriate to describe Janet LaBreck as well. She has
never consented to creep. And with Osbourne beside her, she is soaring. 

(Editor's note: "Osbourne" was raised by the Terry family.)


newsletter/bigshoes/html> Janet LaBreck and Osbourne sit in her Boston

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