Blind World Magazine

Just an All-American kid.

Lahontan Valley News, Nevada USA.
Saturday, April 22, 2006.

The Kid was just entering the eighth grade at Oats Park School when he saw a news story on the only channel Fallon had back then, channel 8, KOLO-TV.

It was a report from a then small town in the Bay Area called San Rafael. It told him that San Rafael, Calif., was the headquarters for an organization called "Guide Dogs For the Blind," and that GDB's mission was to supply blind persons with a trusty and totally loyal friend, a trained guide dog.

The report went on to say they were searching for individuals who: 1.) loved dogs and had had experience with dogs 2.) had the proper space to accommodate and train a dog in the basics; 3.) would understand that after approximately one year, they'd have to give the dog back to GDB for intense advanced training and distribution to a blind person. The volunteer also had to supply all food, etc., but GDB would reimburse them for the veterinarian medical checkups and any medicine required.

The Kid already had a dog, and one before it and another before that, so "dog experience" was no problem, plus he lived on a ranch - plenty of room to run, train and exercise, right? He asked his parents one night at dinner, "What if I were to see if I could make this a 4-H project, and then get one of these guide-dogs-to-be, and love it and train it for a year?"

His Dad was a bit skeptical, as dads go, but his Mom thought it was worth a try, so the next day, off to the county 4-H leader's office they went. The 4-H big wigs gave the Kid's proposed project their blessing, and he immediately went home and drafted a letter to Guide Dogs For the Blind in San Rafael.

A month went by with no word, and it had almost slipped from the Kid's mind, until one day his Mom gets a call from, whom else, but GDB in San Rafael! A man asked her if her son was still interested in being a "volunteer raiser" of a guide dog and if the family was aware of this and had discussed it. She said yes, of course, and the man made an appointment to visit the Kid and the family in about two weeks.

The man's visit was much anticipated and when it happened, it went perfectly. The man looked around the ranch, saw all the other livestock they had, and commented that he liked what he saw. After about two hours, he said good-bye, climbed into his car and drove off, assumedly back to San Rafael.

The Kid and his family waited anxiously for about a week, when the man called again. He told the Mom that her son had been approved for raising a dog for GDB, and asked how soon would the family be prepared to take delivery of the animal. We all thought, "as soon as it gets here!"

A few days later the man's car appeared in the driveway ... the Kid sees the car and runs out of the house, and the eyes of Candy and the Kid meet for the first time. The man said the pup was a 6-month-old-female and a highly-pedigreed Belgian shepherd. Her official pedigree name was some French name a mile long, so the man said her short name was "Candy."

Candy was beautifully sculptured and solid black with fairly long hair, her face closely resembling that of a wolf. Belgian shepherds are intensely loyal, usually to one person only, and were initially bred in Europe to be herding dogs. Candy was a Groenendael Belgian Shepherd, with the traditional coal black long hair and steely eyes. The man told the Kid that Candy's great-grandfather was awarded the French Croix de Guerre (our equivalent to the Medal of Honor) for saving lives in World War II - the only dog ever to receive such an honor. Talk about a pedigree!

Candy and the Kid spent the next 11 months becoming steadfast friends, and she proved to be the smartest dog he had ever known - she learned so quickly, usually the first time he taught her simple commands. She never left his side.

Eventually, the word got out around town about the Kid and his wonder dog, and the newspaper at that time, The Fallon Standard, came out to do an article. She was fiercely loyal to the Kid - to the point that she would growl even when his Mom, Dad or sister came near him. This is one of the main reasons Belgian shepherds make such great companions for blind people, as they all discovered.

However, all good things must come to an end, and after 11 months, the dreaded moment came - the same man came to retrieve Candy and take her to "school" in San Rafael. It was the saddest day yet in the young man's brief life, but he realized that it was a choice that he made going in ... and that was that.

The Kid received an invitation about three months later to come to Candy's "graduation" and to meet the blind lady who was to be her owner. After three months, Candy still knew him immediately, and it was like old friends meeting after many years apart. The Kid went home happy and knowing that the blind lady was very nice and she would be delighted to have Candy in her life.

Then came the letter from the man, about six months after Candy's graduation. It told him that in Los Angeles she had been killed by a car that had veered out of control as she and the lady were crossing a street. Candy had hurled herself in the path of the vehicle, protecting and perhaps saving the life of her master.

Damn! Where are those Croix de Guerres when you need one?

End of article.

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