Blind World Magazine

When is a Panda not a bear?

Capital News 9, NY.
Wednesday, May 17, 2006.

She's in tune with every one of Ann Edie's steps. Their communication is easy and natural.

"When we're working, when we're walking down the street, we are a team. We both contribute to our joint progress and our joint safety," said Ann.

Panda is almost one of a kind. She's one of about half a dozen miniature horses in the United States that have been trained as a guide horse. And for Ann Edie, who's been legally blind since she was young, getting Panda was a perfect fit.

She said, "I know what she's thinking. She knows what I'm thinking. She does things before I ask her to do them."

Edie has had guide dogs in the past, but she said miniature horses are better guides because they have longer life spans and are much more focused.

Trainer Alexandra Kurland said, "In a real sense we're enhancing the natural tendencies a horse has to be mindful about footing, to be careful around obstacles, to track and edge, to make room for not just for themselves but for the people they're with."

Panda has been with Ann now for three years and they depend on each other.

A different kind of guide

We've got a bit of a riddle for you. What has four legs and helps the visually-impaired? If you were going to say a seeing eye dog, you better hold your horses.

Ann said, "There's a give and take. There's a conversation going on all the time. I'm giving her directions, turn right, turn left, find the curb, and she will signal me. She'll let me know when something is coming up, she will hear it and see it before I do."

And with Panda's help, Ann said life is that much easier and almost nothing is off limits.

She said, "To walk to the library, to go to the store, the bank, the doctor's office, Panda has made a big difference in my independence and my freedom."

And in her confidence to do everything and go just about everywhere.

End of article.

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