Traveling Dog Lady: Natural Balance Celebrates National Guide Dog Month With the Top Human-Canine Teams Who Make Us Believe

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Natural Balance Celebrates National Guide Dog Month With the Top Human-Canine Teams Who Make Us Believe

Have you ever seen a visually impaired person in public and didn't know how to react, or felt awkward? Have you ever wondered what it's like to 'see' through the eyes of their guide dog? I know I have.
September is National Guide Dog Month, so I decided to learn more about what it might be like for people who are blind or visually impaired.
I'm partnering with Natural Balance [] (the maker of premium-quality pet food) and Guide Dogs for the Blind [] (a non-profit charitable organization that raises and trains exceptional guide dogs to serve the blind and visually impaired) to recognize the 'Top Human-Canine Teams Who Make Us Believe.'

Guide Dogs for the Blind
 These nine teams are outstanding examples of the amazing partnerships possible between humans and canines.

While reading about each of visually-impaired human and his or her canine helper, I was struck by the fact that it was too difficult to choose which pair to write about.  But when I saw Michelle & Oscar's story, it really resonated.  My mother had glaucoma, which did not cause significant problems until she was well into her eighth decade of life.  Sadly, she became legally blind and it was hard watching that happen to such a vibrant, exuberant woman.  When I read that Michelle was born with glaucoma that caused her blindness at a young age, I knew her team was the one I wanted to focus on to bring awareness to National Guide Dog Month.  I hope you like their story as much as I do.

Michelle Yoo was attending her first year of college -- getting used to a new campus, juggling multiple classes, and making lots of new friends. Imagine doing that when you are blind! For Michelle, this is not an imaginary scenario -- it's her everyday life.

As I mentioned before, Michelle was born with glaucoma.  She spent a big portion of her young life unable to navigate the world around her.  Later, when Michelle became more mobile, she had more than her fair share of bumps and bruises.  Michelle lacked depth perception, and therefore lived in a constant state of discomfort.  

She was finding it increasingly difficult to get around, but wanted to pursue an undergraduate degree in psychology.  Michelle made a split-second decision to apply to the Guide Dogs for the Blind program, and she has never regretted the decision.  From the beginning, Michelle knew that the program had done a marvelous job matching her with her beautiful golden guide dog, Oscar.  They immediately fell into step with each other, and within two months they knew they had a lifelong partnership.

Partners Oscar and Michelle Yoo

Even more surprising was the sheer number of people who approached Michelle on the first day of the new semester.  The questions on everyone's lips were, "Who is your furry friend?", "Where can I get one?", and, of course, "Can I pet him?"  With this positive attention, the pair were able to walk with confidence every day -- whether on a small grocery shopping trip, or a longer excursion to visit Michelle's sister in Los Angeles.  Together, the two also tackle intense psychology and jiu jitsu classes -- and, they always leave room for play time!

Today, Michelle and Oscar are primed to face tough deadlines together, and and are taking the mental health field by storm.   Way to go Michelle and Oscar!!

As Michelle's story shows, in addition to providing enhanced mobility, guide dogs can also be a social bridge, opening a world of possibilities for friendship and human connection. 
To help people like Michelle thrive, please consider donating to Guide Dogs to the Blind []. Once there, you can also read about the eight other amazing human-canine teams. There's no better time than National Guide Dog Month to show your support for these incredible people and their four-legged superheroes.

Guide dog puppy

One thing I've always wanted to do with Cooper is to get him certified as a Comfort Dog or a therapy dog.  With his disability (leg amputation), his loving demeanor, and his uncanny ability to always know when I need healing, I can imagine he could provide comfort to others, too.  Perhaps people who've lost a limb, just like he has.  Since he's a reactive dog, we have a long way to go, but it is something I might one day pursue with Cooper.  I am afflicted with fibromyalgia, and am a recent widow.  Therefore, I am often in physical or emotional pain (or both!). Coop always knows when I'm not feeling well, and sometimes he'll even put a part of his body against the part of my body that hurts, in (I believe) an effort to ease my pain.  Dogs are amazing creatures!

The amazing Cooper!
Do you have a special bond with your pet? Tell me about it in the comments below.

As compensation for writing this post for Natural Balance, I received a gift box of goodies for me and my dogs.  I am happy to endorse their products!  Find @naturalbalance on social media for more great products!  For this project, Natural Balance teamed up with Guide Dogs for the Blind, an organization I have supported with monetary donations for many years.  I am pleased to support both organizations by publishing this blog post.

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