Guide Dogs Are Heroes on Four Paws
For two years, Gabrielle Jordan spent every weekend alone. She stayed home. She ordered food instead of going to the grocery store and she didn’t talk to a lot of people.
Years after being diagnosed with a genetic condition called Best’s Vitelliform macular dystrophy, she could no longer see well enough to drive or cross the street by herself. She even felt anxious about walking with a cane around the house, worried she would trip and injure herself.
“I was isolating and isolating,” Jordan said in a video on the Southeastern Guide Dogs website. “I realized after two years, something had to change. I couldn’t just give up like that.”
That’s when Jordan got in touch with Southeastern Guide Dogs. For people like Jordan who live with vision loss or conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), guide dogs and service dogs aren’t just typical “pets.” These dogs help their human companions lead more independent lives. And sometimes, literally saving their human’s life is all in a day’s work for these furry heroes.
There are about 500,000 service dogs working in the United States, according to researchers from Purdue University. There are guide dogs who act as eyes for people with vision loss to help them navigate the world. Service dogs also can be trained to detect seizures in people with epilepsy. Dogs can even learn to detect low blood sugar in people with diabetes, and many are trained to help people with mobility issues get around safely.
For Jordan, getting Mere Bear from Southeastern Guide Dogs has been life-changing.
“I was constantly looking down to see what I could see, but with Mere Bear, I’m looking up at the sky and everything around me,” Jordan said. “This is the first step for creating a new life for myself.”
According to research conducted at Purdue, there is growing evidence that service dogs are especially beneficial for veterans living with PTSD. Veterans with service dogs developed better coping skills and had fewer symptoms of PTSD than veterans without service dogs, the study showed.
Russell Smith, an Army veteran with PTSD, said his service dog Mustang has changed his life already.
“The smile on my face, this is a real smile I haven’t seen since middle school,” said Smith, in a video on the Southeastern Guide Dogs website. “My family and friends are already seeing a difference.”
Service dogs are typically trained to help veterans with a variety of tasks. A dog may remind its human to take medications or keep them calm when they are out in public. In fact, veterans reported being more satisfied with life and feeling closer to friends and loved ones after they received a service dog.
For people with vision loss, like Jordan, guide dogs work to keep their humans safe every time they cross a street together. Although dogs can’t see stoplights or read signs, they are trained to “disobey” when it’s not safe to walk somewhere.
So how does a dog go from a squirming little pup to a life-saving hero? Service dogs go through extensive training through organizations such as Southeastern Guide Dogs, beginning when they are puppies. Typically, guide dogs and service dogs are socialized and taught obedience by puppy handlers until they are old enough to begin specialized training. Once trained, they are carefully matched with their human companions. And it takes work on the part of both the pup and the human to establish a life-saving bond.
Aside from the important tasks service dogs are trained to perform for their humans, they also offer the same health benefits as other dogs. Owning a dog has been shown to reduce stress and even lower blood pressure in people, according to a study published in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes. And other studies have shown dogs help people feel less lonely.
Sounds like these heroes deserve a round of applause.
Want a chance to help us name a hero? Our Florida Blue Center in Sarasota is holding a contest to name a guide dog puppy in training at Southeastern Guide Dogs, located in the Sarasota area. Southeastern Guide Dogs trains guide dogs to help people with vision loss as well as service dogs to help veterans with PTSD.
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