by Jim Price
He lost most of his vision more than 40 years ago. Recently he finally decided to get a Guide Dog. He has a charming, little-boy smile that beamed when he said, "After just two days, all I could think of is why the hell did I wait so long?"
Shan Noyes of Regina, Saskatchewan was at the Oregon campus of Guide Dogs for the Blind with his new partner, black Lab Danson. "This is amazing. We have only been together for eight days and already I'm totally trusting him. I can walk down the street without worrying about running into things. All that stress is gone."
Noyes lost his vision at six due to complications following surgery in Alberta, Canada. "There was no such thing as blind kids attending regular school back then, so I was sent to the Jericho Hill School for the Blind in Vancouver, BC." He spent nine months of each year there through fifth grade. "With a lot of phone calls and persuasion, my mom finally got me admitted to a regular school back home. I was the first blind kid in Alberta to attend regular school."
He was probably the first blind kid to ride bulls in the local rodeo, too. And one of the first to downhill ski, and to cross-country ski, and to climb mountains. "My folks taught me not to let my vision loss stand in the way of what I wanted to do. So I didn't." Today he is a computer security expert for a Canadian telephone company. He still skis cross country and he and his wife, Ellen, train horses.
With all his accomplishments and successes, he said he let his pride get in the way of good judgment. "I believed guide dogs were for people who were totally blind. I'm very independent and I could get along fine by myself."
He explained that at three feet he can tell someone is waving their hand, as long as there is plenty of light and no shadows. And that's with only his right eye. The left one doesn't work at all. "I have always wandered through life bouncing off of things. I have no depth perception so I'm always stumbling down curbs and running into poles. That was just part of my life. My wife has been on me for years to get a dog. Finally one day last spring I came home and announced I was gong to do it. After she did a little jig, she asked who or what I had run into that day that finally got me to make the right decision."
He had been at a local mall with a friend and when they walked outside, the grey, gloomy day had robbed all his visual details. "I had to ask him for help and I realized right then that this was stupid. It wasn't fair to my family and friends and there was no reason not to get a dog any more." After a careful internet search and talking to friends who had guides, he decided on Guide Dogs for the Blind, primarily because of the new two-week curriculum. "It's really hard to get a month off work." He also really liked the organization's philosophy. "They believe that after a hard day working a dog should be allowed to be a dog. Off comes the harness and it's time to play. That's the way it should be." And he liked the fact that training was personalized. During the second week at the Oregon campus, for example, he and his instructor took Danson to a ranch where they spent time with horses.
Late in the first week of the class Noyes and Danson were on a route through the crowded Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland. "Before, I would have been bumping into people, poking them with my cane, constantly saying excuse me. With Danson, we didn't even break stride. He was ducking and weaving with the pedal to the metal. It was phenomenal. We were going through that crowd like it was a slalom race. I can't explain how wonderful that is."
He didn't have to explain anything. It showed clearly in his beaming smile.