by Jim Price
Like a lot of people with vision loss, Linda Metcalf was sure she didn’t need a guide dog -- not yet, anyway; she could still see. When she finally made the decision and was less than a week into training with her new guide, Lassie, she asked herself, "Why didn’t I do this 10 years ago? Lassie is going to change my life. In fact, she already has!"
At 63, she was happy and content with her life in the small town of Hampton, New Hampshire. Her two kids were out of the house and she had two grandkids. She knew most of the locals and since it’s a town with just one stop light, she felt she was familiar with "every nook and cranny." She had been diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa when she was 14, but got around just fine. Her mother had the same condition and she learned early on to just live with it. She put up with her family’s joking that she could trip over a blade of grass or the yellow line in the road, but that’s just the way it was.
Then recently, she and her husband bought a condo in North Carolina. Suddenly, she wasn’t so sure of herself on those daily walks to the lake. She got a lot of help from her Burmese mountain dog, Mingus. But when Mingus died, everything changed. "On that first walk without her I couldn’t find the sidewalk," she said, shaking her head at the memory. "I hadn’t realized how much Mingus had helped, even though she wasn’t a trained guide dog. For years, people have been suggesting I get a guide and I guess it finally hit me that it was time."
Her mobility instructor in New Hampshire told her about Guide Dogs for the Blind. "He told me the people here really love their dogs and want to make sure they go to people who need them - like me," she said, smiling.
She began the application process and within a couple months received a home visit. The interviewer "...spent half a day with me and really got to know me. We did a lot of walking and she even blindfolded me and had me hold on to a harness so she could see how I got around using no vision at all."
As Metcalf talked, Lassie, a petite yellow female Lab, snoozed at her feet, her head resting on a foot. They were in the second week of the two-week course at the Oregon campus of Guide Dogs for the Blind. "I was so scared that first day," she said. "It seemed there was so much to remember and do all at once. But Lassie is so patient with me. And the instructors taught me to slow down, take it one step at a time. Then things started to make sense."
When she first met her new dog, Metcalf told Lassie that she had some big shoes to fill because her namesake was a big TV star. "Well, they’re going to have to get some bigger boots ‘cause this dog is unbelievable!"
Her eyes teared-up when she recalled her first walk with Lassie. "In New Hampshire, we have a lot of skiing and that first walk with Lassie reminded me of how I felt after going through a difficult section on skis. I made it through and I just felt like the world was mine. That’s how she makes me feel. Now the world is mine."