The Adventurous Life
For Cindy Lou Altman and her guide dog, yellow Lab Jada, trips to the grocery store are a game. “I’ve targeted different places,” Cindy Lou says. “I’ll say, ‘We’re going to get bananas, to the cheese, to the yogurt.’ Jada knows all these places, and it’s a fun game for us.”
Shortly after her wedding in 1997, Cindy Lou discovered she had retinitis pigmentosa. “After numerous tear-filled and sleepless nights, my husband and I decided we’d dance every day, do and see as much as we can, and get into as much trouble as we could manage.
“We’ve kept our word. I’ve skied in Vermont, hiked on active volcanoes in Hawaii, run 5k races, snorkeled with sharks and barracuda in Florida, and sipped rum as the sun set in the Caymans.”
Three years after her diagnosis, Cindy Lou learned about Guiding Eyes for the Blind and attended a graduation ceremony. “I was hooked,” she remembers, but she wasn’t ready for her own guide dog yet. Instead, Cindy Lou became an active Guiding Eyes volunteer. She and her husband helped with puppy classes, and in 2010, after she retired, Cindy Lou raised her first pup.
“His name was Sean, and he was so smart,” she laughs. “He would learn a command in a day . . . and then he’d go eat the dirt in my potted plants. I had my hands full. He didn’t have the right focus to be a guide dog, so today he’s doing police work.”
After Sean, the couple became puppy sitters, filling in for puppy raisers during vacations, and Cindy Lou eventually became a puppy sitter coordinator. Through radio and other media, she has worked tirelessly to spread the word about Guiding Eyes and the need for volunteers, and even created a fundraising event.
In 2015, after a bad fall, she decided it was time to get a guide dog. At first, she struggled with the idea of “giving in” to her disease. But then she says, “I realized that I wouldn’t be. I would be enlisting the help of another to fight back against the blindness—except this helper would be furry with a wagging tail.”
Cindy Lou quickly discovered that having a guide dog perfectly suited her adventurous spirit. “Jada has given me so much more confidence to do things that are a little bit outside my comfort zone,” she explains. The two have even trained in the Running Guides program, and Cindy Lou hopes to complete an informal 5k run around her neighborhood.
Now, Cindy Lou serves on our Graduate Council, just one more way she’s dedicated herself to helping others get the best possible guide dog. Her experience with so many different facets of Guiding Eyes has made her advice invaluable.
Ask Cindy Lou why she’s so passionate about Guiding Eyes and she’ll tell you, “The personal touch is there, big time. Everyone is important at Guiding Eyes. Everyone from the people who socialize the puppies to the people who just sit in the room and let the puppies walk all over them, to the puppy raisers, puppy sitters, even the transportation people. And the training experience was awesome. They understand how you feel, and they’re very respectful of your eye disease and how much you can or can’t see.”
Ask how she feels about supporters like you, and her response is just as quick: “If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have the courage and independence to do the things we want to do. I can’t say thank you enough to them.”
When even going to the grocery store is a game, it’s easy to see there are plenty more adventures ahead for Cindy Lou and Jada. We join Cindy Lou in thanking you for your partnership to help more people with vision loss experience the freedom of an exceptional guide dog. As Cindy Lou says, “Jada is my wings.”