Behold a Treasure
Brigit S. Sullivan – 02/12/2008
John Kennedy is the usher you see at Mass on Saturday evenings with the guide dog. John is a puppy raiser for Guiding Eyes. Guiding Eyes for the Blind is a non-profit organization that provides trained guide dogs for the visually impaired throughout the United States and the entire world. The 14 month old Black Lab goes by the name Treasure (Gates TSE x Ethel 2T306). John teaches Treasure basic obedience and instills in her a feeling of confidence she’ll need to guide her visually impaired person.
The most striking thing about John’s selfless undertaking is why he does it. He explains that when he was 12 years old his life was almost taken by a playground accident. He fractured his skull, was operated on Good Friday and woke up on Easter Sunday. The doctor told John and his parents later “he had never seen a worse case”. But despite 5 blood clots in the brain and almost dying on the operating table, John survived.
Grateful that he escaped near death with a sound mind and sound body, John decided to show his gratitude by doing something that will help someone else.
Training Treasure, he says, is that something. “She has a personality that makes me look good,” John says. “She is intelligent and never aggressive. Given what happened to me, I get a lot more from it than I put in. It’s a joy,” John explains. “Monsignor has been very supportive and so have all the church members,” John adds.
The key to training, John explains, is to turn all exercises into a positive. “As part of the socialization process, I take Treasure to public places to build her confidence. I am not a trainer” John has had Treasure since December 4, 2006, 3 months after her birthday of September 11, 2006. By 11 months, Treasure had earned her training jacket. When the jacket is on she is working. When the jacket comes off she can accept petting and play. John says she likes the beach and playing Frisbee and loves kids, especially his 4 youngsters.
Her next career change will be on March 1st when she will return to the Guiding Eyes Training Center in New York. She will receive 4 months more instruction and then will be matched with visually impaired person.
When asked about letting her, John admits with a deep breath, “it’s going to hurt, but I’m fine letting her go. That’s my responsibility and it’s been an honor to do this”.
He pauses and looks out the window. “You know” he says, “people stop me on the street and they say ‘Thank you for doing what your doing’”. For a brief second, tears well in his eyes. He explains, “I experienced so much fear at the age of 12 when I suffered my accident and I lost part of my brain. What I learned is that the healthiest way is to acknowledge fear and walk with it and by walking with it, it goes away.”
John says that Puppy Raisers are always needed and there is always a need for Guide Dogs.