SARASOTA, FL--(Marketwired - August 31, 2016) - Chris McNamee's poor vision cost him the ability to drive in 1993. By 2005 he was using a white cane to get around, but it wasn't until 2006 that the Wisconsin business man gave thought to getting a guide dog.
While retinitis pigmentosa, a hereditary disease, was steadily robbing him of his peripheral and night vision, Chris didn't think he was "blind enough" for a guide dog. "I remember people tripping over my cane and then scolding me for not watching where I was going," he says. "I had about five degrees of vision left when I ran into a large column while attending a business meeting in the spring of 2005. After five stitches and a bruised dignity, I finally knew I had to find a better means of safe travel and began to 'interview' guide dog schools."
The month of September is National Service Dog Month, a time for raising awareness and honoring the extraordinary, life-changing contributions of special canines such as guide dogs. It might seem surprising, but the majority of people with visual impairments can see with varying degrees of clarity and strength and are not totally "black-out blind." Because of that, just like Chris, many are under the mistaken impression that they are "not blind enough" to qualify for a guide, when fact, they are.
What does it mean to be "Blind Enough"?
The National Institutes of Health's National Eye Institute recently reported that about 1 million Americans are legally blind, meaning they have vision of 20/200 or less in their best eye with the strongest correction. By 2050 the number of visually impaired or blind adults is expected to grow to more than 8 million. Yet fewer than 10,000 people have a guide dog. They may not feel blind enough to warrant a dog, but, like Chris McNamee, if they are legally blind and have learned orientation and mobility skills, they are qualified.
Where perfect matches are made
As soon as Chris connected with Southeastern Guide Dogs in Palmetto, Fla., he learned that he could have had a guide dog way back in 1993. He was both over 18 years of age and could demonstrate the ability to take care of a dog in his home. Like 95 percent of the organization's alumni, he had some usable vision.
Chris also shared a desire to live a better, safer and more fulfilling life with the aid of guide dog.
"For more than 30 years, Southeastern Guide Dogs has matched courageous individuals with superhero guide dogs that transform lives," says CEO Titus Herman. "Graduates leave our school with heads high, confidence climbing, and hope soaring."
Life will never be the same
Because of his eyesight, Chris took an early retirement at the age of 47. With his wife, Lynn, he moved to Lakewood Ranch, Fla., to be near the Southeastern Guide Dogs campus. The McNamees are ardent ambassadors for the school, and Chris serves on the Board of Directors.
For 10 years, a yellow Labrador named Max gave Chris the freedom, confidence, and mobility to travel all over the world, including walking his daughter down the aisle at her wedding in Italy. Max retired in June and now Chris is paired with a successor guide dog named Kevin -- an affectionate yellow Labrador.
"Visually impaired people will say that they don't need a guide dog since they have a small amount of vision, even though they depend on a person, a 'sighted guide' to get around," Chris says. "My guide dog can do so much, including finding the curb, the stairs, the elevator, the escalator, the door in, the door out, the sidewalk, and a place to sit. When the impact of this benefit alone registers with people, they get excited about the freedom a guide dog really does offer."
Not only was he "blind enough," Chris has fully embraced the liberty, dignity and independence that comes with a dog specially trained to serve and guide him. Kevin goes wherever Chris goes, serves as his eyes, his legally protected medical device and his loving companion. All Chris had to do was take the first step and apply.
Source: Southeastern Guide Dogs, which has created almost 3,000 human/guide dog pairs in its 34-year history, takes students from all over the continental United States. Someone you know may be blind enough for a match with a superhero guide dog. www.GuideDogs.org
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