November 20, 2005.
Bryan College Station Eagle.
Laura Ann Grymes and her dog, Dasher, recently graduated from Guide Dogs for the Blind's three-week instructional program in Boring, Ore.
This is the third time Grymes has gone through the training. As a veteran, she can provide insight into the life of a working guide-dog team.
"I love the freedom of movement that a guide dog provides," said Grymes, a 37-year-old graduate of Texas A&M University. Grymes, who has been blind since birth, had used a cane to get around until her sophomore year of college, when she decided to get a guide dog.
"For me, having a guide dog made me more approachable around campus," Grymes said.
Dasher, Grymes' third guide dog, was provided by Guide Dogs for the Blind Inc.
The dogs - Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, German shepherds and Lab-golden retriever crosses - are bred on the San Rafael, Calif., campus of Guide Dogs for the Blind.
When the puppies are 8 weeks old, they are placed in homes where they are socialized and taught basic obedience.
Once the dogs are 13 to 18 months old, they undergo five months in formal guidework training.
They are then matched with blind students and spend up to a month bonding and training with their owners.
Grymes and Dasher spent three weeks learning how to cross streets, walk through shopping centers and behave in restaurants. The two also created a strong bond that is necessary in a guide-dog team.
"I was learning to trust through the training," she said. Once the program was over, Grymes had complete confidence in Dasher.
Of course, Dasher must stay alert to Grymes' needs whenever he's at work. Well-meaning strangers sometimes interfere.
If they try to pet the dog, the action is distracting, so that's "not a good thing" to do without asking permission, Grymes said.
"That puts me and Dasher in danger if he can't focus on me," Grymes said.
She also set the record straight on the common misconception that guide dogs never get to play.
"Dasher loves to play." They play daily in a fenced-in area where both are safe.
Playtime is another bonding process that Grymes appreciates. "It's important that I play with him so that he can look to me for all of his needs," Grymes said. She is the only one who takes care of Dasher to create a dependency that is necessary for guide-dog teams.
Dasher is also involved in Grymes' job, which is a pet-sitting business for people in the Bryan-College Station area.
She and her mother started Agape Pet Sitting in 2003 after having difficulty in locating a trustworthy cat-sitter.
Grymes takes Dasher along to care for pets if the client gives the OK, and the other animals are comfortable with him.
Grymes is mainly in charge of the paper and computer work that goes along with their business. She is also in the process of learning to design Web sites.
"I know people probably wonder how I can do all that," said Grymes, who explained that a screen reader gives her access to the Internet, e-mail and word-processing programs.
Although many blind people choose not to use a guide dog, Grymes is thankful for the freedom that Dasher provides. "I love that he allows me to move faster."
And, no surprise: "I just love animals." Whitney Little's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
End of article.
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