Zachary and Fritz

Meet Graduate Zachary

Zachary sits in a chair at a shopping mall with arm around German Shepherd Fritz

Graduate Team: Zachary and Fritz
About the Team: Fritz, a male German Shepherd, is Zach’s 1st guide dog
Location:  Denver, Colorado
Training: April 2023 Home Training

Zach enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps after high school and served four years, including tours in Japan and Australia. After his return home, he faced immense personal struggles which led to a quiet, yet ongoing battle with severe depression. Four years ago, that battle led to Zach’s tragic decision to take his own life. The injuries he suffered from this attempted suicide resulted in total blindness, loss of smell, and deafness in one ear. Despite a long and challenging recovery, Zach is adapting and motivated to move forward. He taught himself how to code, and started a business creating original, accessible iPhone games, producing fresh designs rather than accessible copies of existing apps. The first of Zach’s apps, Zanagrams, is expected to be live on the App Store Fall 2023. He recently purchased a new home that he and guide dog Fritz will be moving into soon, and he is enrolled at the University of Colorado at Denver, working toward his bachelor’s degree in creative writing. Zach finds strength in athletic pursuits and can be found in the gym 6 days a week lifting weights. He enjoys skiing, rock climbing, white-water rafting, and competes in Jiu-Jitsu. Zach has also participated with Wounded Warrior Project. He recognizes the importance of sharing his story with fellow veterans and others and encourages everyone to access available resources and get the help they need if they are struggling.* 

How would you describe your guide dog?  “Fritz is young; he just turned 2 in March. He is very loving and can be goofy and silly but is clearly highly intelligent too. I am impressed at how quickly he learns and how well he remembers.  I am thankful Guiding Eyes was able to honor my request for a German Shepherd. I had a pet German Shepherd in the past, so I know and enjoy the breed. Plus, being in the downtown Denver area, I appreciate the added confidence I get from having such a strong and alert companion on my routes.”

What made you decide to apply for a guide dog from Guiding Eyes?  “After I lost my vision, I spent a couple of months in the hospital. There was a therapy dog at the hospital that visited me. I love dogs and his visits were the highlight of my day.  My mom was there during one of the therapy dog visits and suggested that a guide dog might be a good fit for me, once I adjusted to my blindness. I learned to use a cane and other tools, with the goal of getting a guide dog.”

How has having a guide dog impacted your life? “Fritz and I are still learning to work together. I realize that the relationship between the members of a guide dog team is like any other relationship.  The team members require time to get to know each other’s personalities and habits.  As comfortable as I am around dogs, it is an adjustment to put your complete trust in one to guide you. I am learning to read the clues I get through Fritz’s harness.  Walking around in downtown Denver, I am accustomed to Lyft Scooters being left haphazardly about by commuters.  With a cane, I was very aware of just how many scooters there were. I suddenly realized I was not noticing them anymore -Fritz just takes me around them! In addition to becoming a wonderful guide dog, I appreciate Fritz as a companion too.  I still suffer from occasional bouts of depression, but just hearing Fritz’s nails on the floor is a comfort; knowing he is always with me.”

Were there any training highlights? “A highlight was when the trainer, Melissa, simulated a car coming towards Fritz and me. Fritz did exactly as he was trained to do and led me out of harm’s way. I trained at home, so it was very helpful to work with my trainer at my location and on my routes. As I move into my new home in the coming weeks, my trainer will be back to help Fritz and I navigate our new surroundings.”

*If you or a loved one are in crisis, dial 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline where counselors are available 24/7.

Meet Guide Dog Fritz

DOB:  3/31/2021
Litter ID: 4F21
Color/Breed:  Black & Tan/German Shepard
Gender: Male
Brood: Jazz GDA
Stud: Eric
Littermates: Flynn, Fame, Francine, Flash, Felix, Frisco
Region:  New Hampshire
Regional Puppy Instructor: Lisa Bumbalo
Puppy Raiser:  Bill & Alice LeBlanc, Benjamin Neizrecki
Facebook: New Hampshire Puppy Raisers

From the Raiser…

Alice and I, for the last 30 years have been raising pups for Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Fritz was one of the most outstanding pups we have raised. He enjoyed outings, camping, fishing, and playing ball. One of his favorite activities was playing frisbee with Phoebe, a released Guiding Eyes German Shepherd. ~ Bill LeBlanc, Puppy Raiser

Fritz was the most energetic, fun, and playful puppy I have ever met. Our fetch and tug of war sessions seemed as if they were never ending. He was a great puppy to train, even though he would get overwhelmed in new environments, we were able to work through the tough times together ~ Benjamin Niezrecki, Puppy Raiser

Photos of the Team…