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Max, My Southeastern Guide Dog By Chris McNamee

chris-mcnamee

Max, My Southeastern Guide Dog

By Chris McNamee

March 28th is Max’s “gotcha” day. It was two years ago on that day that I received Max, my yellow lab from Southeastern Guide Dogs. I have a degenerative retinal disease, Retinitis Pigmentosa, which has reduced my field of vision to just a sliver, and destroyed all my night vision.

chris-mcnamee-max-southeastern-guide-dogsImagine traveling 1,000 miles from home for a month stay in a hotel with housekeeping, a chauffeur and a chef……..and 8 people you have never met. Then imagine doing it all with your eyes closed! Thankfully, the school’s program is designed to provide a home like environment in which to meet, train and bond with my new guide. The staff took care of all my needs starting with picking me up at the airport.  I was in a class of 8 students, several who were returning for a second dog. Some had limited vision, most were completely blind. Certified Trainers Mike and Karen were our teachers; they had been training the dogs in our class for the previous six months.

I will never forgot the way Max bounced into my dorm room, jumped into my lap, kissed me, and then ran around the room before coming back into my lap, and my life. For the balance of the 25 days on campus, Max was at my side whether we were training or relaxing. My first steps walking with Max in his harness occurred on the walking trails of the campus. The trails are purposely peppered with typical obstacles; curbs, gates, street lights, even rail road tracks. There were items for Max to find; mailboxes, benches, bus stops and cross walk buttons. As the program progressed, training moved on to a downtown training facility to add automotive traffic, as well as everyday obstacles like garbage cans, other people and other dogs along the sidewalk.

Training intensified as the class progressed, as we visited malls, grocery stores, airports and my favorite, the beach! With each passing day my confidence grew with Max at my side. Together we safely navigated the busy pedestrian traffic of downtown Tampa, crossing 8 lanes of traffic, weaving in and out of the busy sidewalks, effectively dodging stationary objects as well as the moving crowds.

Our last training exercise was performed at ten o’clock at night on campus. The course was about a mile square walk path with many obstacles to safely navigate around. The trainers of course were with me every step of the way. Max walks at a fairly brisk pace, which is magnified greatly when you can not see, let me tell you! Off we flew into the darkness, Max leading the way confidently with me holding on and following his every step. We first encountered a closed gate, which Max stopped and let me identify and open. The next stop was a raised section of sidewalk, a typical trip hazard.  Max stopped and let me identify it, and off we went. We continued to move around the course, breezing past all sorts of unseen obstacles. When we finished, I remember saying that the walk was both terrifying and exhilarating! Max and I were now a team, and I trusted him completely.

That was two years ago and our bond has only strengthened. Max has restored my mobility and confidence to independently navigate busy pedestrian areas with out fear of getting hurt or lost. I am deeply indebted to Southeastern Guide Dogs for the work that they do. Thank you and God bless their dedicated staff and volunteers.

Chris McNamee has the degenerative rentinal disease retinitis pigmentosa. RP is characterized by the progressive loss of photoreceptor cells, rods and cones, which provide night and peripheral vision. RP is an inherited disease; his father has RP as well as a younger sister. Chris was diagnosed with the disease at age 28, and his vision deteriorated to the point that he was forced to stop driving six years later in 1993. He currently has a very small central field of vision, and no night vision. He travels with the aid of his guide dog, Max.

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