Delaware resident Deb Trevino, who is working with her sixth seeing eye dog, breaks down what goes into training a guide dog.
A Seeing Eye dog is a $70,000 canine investment. From the time it is a puppy to the time it is harnessed and handed to someone who is blind, a Seeing Eye dog goes through rigorous training and discipline. This working dog is not a pet; it is a pair of eyes.
Deb Trevino of Newark is working with her sixth Seeing Eye dog, Molly, a three-year old black lab. “Dogs get old, have health issues, and pass away,” says Deb. Getting a new dog takes time, patience and a lot of training…together.”
Recently ordained as a Presbyterian minister, Deb is now Reverend Trevino. She is a poet, a writer, and has recently published a book on crocheting. While Deb and her husband, Dave who is also blind, have technology and services that get them through their daily lives, Deb states clearly, ‘Many who are blind need those seeing eyes with four paws and a tail.”
Last October, Deb headed to The Seeing Eye Inc. in Morristown, New Jersey where she lived and trained with Molly for almost three weeks. “I am sobered by the degree of commitment this relationship requires,” says Deb. “We learn together; we teach each other.”
Like other guide dogs, Molly had been given to volunteer puppy raisers and taught basic obedience, house manners, and socialization. She was returned at 15 months to begin the real work of becoming a guide dog.
Over the days, Deb and Molly determined their gait, how Molly reacted to traffic, distractions, crowds, bad weather, and obstacles both on the ground and from above. All successes were met with great praise, touches, and sometimes, kibble.
One of Molly’s greatest skills is intelligent disobedience. Deb says, “If I don’t hear traffic and give Molly the command to go forward at a crosswalk or curb, she has to assess the situation for herself and refuse to obey that command if she sees cars in the area and senses danger.”
“Intelligent disobedience is one of the hardest skills we teach,” says Michelle Barlack of The Seeing Eye, Inc. Michelle continues, “While these special dogs are worth $70,000 in genetic breeding, boarding, vet care and training, the blind pay $150 for their first dog and $50 for subsequent dogs. Veterans pay $1. This is possible only through public donations. Dogs that eventually don’t work with the blind move into other work such as law enforcement or the military.”
Now back home, Molly continues her training, getting Deb to her apartment, to stores, and onto public transportation. “Molly may be the best dog I’ve ever had,” says Deb. “She’s dainty and calm, and her pull and pace match mine.”
As a reverend and advocate for those with disabilities, Deb says, “I plan to continue my travels to conferences and for speaking engagements. Now I have the freedom and independence to continue my work making a difference for others because Molly makes a difference for me.”