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by Jim Price

Yellow Lab Barley resting between Darlene’s sneakers

She loves to talk about her previous Guide Dogs. She loves her job at Lighthouse for the Blind, assembling hydration backpacks for the US military. She loves to go out to dinner with her husband Roger; Mexican and Chinese foods are her favorites. And now, she especially loves her new Guide Dog, Barley.

Darlene Hilling’s attitude makes her one of those people you can’t help but like.

She was at the Oregon Campus of Guide Dogs for the Blind to get her fifth dog. "That first week went by really quickly," she said. "I was nervous before I got here, but everyone has been so positive and helpful. I really like the new two-week class."

When she was a child living in Seattle, Hilling was sent to the School for the Blind in Vancouver, Wash., but it wasn’t until she was in her 20s that she began losing the last of her remaining vision to retinitis pigmentosa. "I started feeling kind of lost. My vision was getting a lot worse." She even had to give up her dream of being a sign-language interpreter. She still uses the skill informally in communicating with fellow co-workers who have lost their hearing. "I finally got to the point where I knew I needed a Guide Dog. I got my first one at San Rafael [GDB’s California campus] in 1987."

Golden Retriever Davis was her first. He was initially placed with someone else but that pairing didn’t work out, and Hilling got him when he was about 3 years old. He worked until the age of 9. Her next three dogs were yellow Labs: Delight and Lyndon who each worked with her for eight years, and then Swanson, now retired after seven years of guidework. He’s living with his puppy raisers in Colorado.

Although Swanson retired in February, Hilling wasn’t able to get another dog until September. "I was recovering from skin cancer surgery," she said in a matter-of-fact tone. Her ever-positive attitude showed through, as she added, "I have to go back and see if there are any more lumps, but so far I’m doing fine."

She said she loves the freedom of a Guide Dog. "They take you around things that are in your way. And after a while, you don’t even have to tell them where to go. They just know. And I have met so many nice people through all the dogs I’ve had."

She figures Barley will be a good one. "I’m really happy with him. I think he is going to be a great guide." Resting with his head on her feet, Barley also seemed pretty happy with the partnership.