After two weeks of training, a Gilbert man is getting a new lease on independence and mobility with a new guide poodle named Kierra.
Mike Terry, 42, who began losing his sight when he was 11, is on his third Pilot Dog. His first guide dog was a golden retriever, but the next two have been non-shedding poodles. “My wife loved the golden, but we discovered she was allergic to dogs,” Terry said.
Kierra helps guide him through everyday life, giving him the independence and mobility he cannot find with anyone else, he said. “Canes are a pain,” Terry said. “You can never relax with a cane. I can walk much more comfortably with a dog.”
Terry said the only drawback to using a poodle is that the dog must be groomed every six weeks.
Pilot Dogs is a nonprofit organization based in Columbus, Ohio. Terry, a computer software programmer who graduated from Louisiana State University, said he first worked with Pilot Dogs in 1988 when he received the golden retriever. According to the Pilot Dogs Web site, the group gives its trained animals to the blind at no charge, offering qualified students four weeks of room and board, all equipment and round-trip transportation.
Terry said he continues to return to Pilot Dogs because of the school’s “real life” training in an urban environment complete with construction and heavy traffic just a mile-and-a-half from downtown Columbus. Terry said his training required him to navigate busy streets and use public transportation with his dog. “It’s the perfect training,” Terry said. “I love the school.”
Access laws guarantee a visually impaired person the right to be accompanied by a specially trained dog in all public places, including restaurants, libraries and office buildings.
Terry said choosing the right dog to match his personality took some work. “Dog guides are a lot like cars,” Terry said.
He said he tried a boxer and a poodle in Ohio, but Kierra proved to be the calmer and more intelligent animal. He said Kierra will become a family pet after she retires. Terry currently has four dogs, including one retired guide dog.
According to Pilot Dogs, people should not approach, talk to or pet the dog in public while they are working. Terry said when he takes Kierra’s harness off at home, she is just a “regular member of the family.” Terry also said he has enjoyed bringing the dogs to his son’s classes to help educate the children about guide dogs.
“The dogs are staying, the kids are growing up and leaving,” Terry said with a laugh as he petted Kierra, who sat faithfully at his feet.