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by Jim Price

Shelley Rhodes with black Lab Guide Dog LuddenAs a rehabilitation specialist, and someone who is visually impaired herself, Shelley Rhodes has the skills and the experience to teach people who are newly blind how to live independently and get along by themselves. And having a Guide Dog with her makes the job -- and her life -- that much easier.

"If traveling with a cane is like riding a bicycle," she said, "going somewhere with a Guide Dog is like driving a Ferrari! I'm a fast walker, so with a cane I have about a step and half to react to whatever the cane finds. With a dog -- he just leads me around it. It's so much more relaxing. It's just a much nicer way to travel."

As she talked, a strapping, young 73-pound black Lab sat attentively at her side. Shelly was at the Oregon campus of Guide Dogs for the Blind to meet and train with her new Guide Dog, Ludden, named for Allen Ludden, the late TV show host and husband of long-time GDB supporter, actress and comedian, Betty White Ludden.

Rhodes is a veteran Guide Dog handler, although Ludden is her first Lab. Her first two dogs were Golden Retrievers. "I got my first, Judson, when I was 18," Shelly, who's now 28, explained. She remembered that first meeting very well. "He gave me a big lick then lay down and went to sleep. I asked the trainer if that was normal, and he assured me it was. Then we had our first trip outside. The dogs had not been worked for a week so they were ready to go. I told Judson to go forward and, oh my gosh, suddenly he was dragging me down the street. It was like being pulled by a freight train. Then he stopped at the curb and got himself calmed down. He's turned out to be a great dog. He and I were partners through college, graduate school and my first job. He's retired now and living with my parents."

She said Judson was known to be a real ham. Once they were invited to help guide a float in a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. "He loved it," she said. "Being a Golden, he thought all the people along the way were applauding for him. He even got to lick [smooth jazz saxophonist] Kenny G that day."

Rhodes and Judson were campus tour guides at college and he was so popular he was presented with an award. "He was such a show off," she smiled. "At the ceremony when he got on stage to receive his reward he turned to the audience, tail wagging, smile on his face and lifted one paw as if to say 'Thank you very much.' He got a standing ovation."

Back home in Corry, Penn., Rhodes travels the countryside helping visually impaired clients in their homes. She teaches independent living skills such as cooking, cleaning, check writing and communications techniques. She gets lots of chances to talk about the benefits of having a Guide Dog.

In Pennsylvania on her first day back to work, Rhodes said Ludden was doing great. "He's resting under my desk right now. He's already fitting right in. He has big paws to fill but he's such a gentle, calm boy that I know he will do just fine.

"I love having a Guide Dog," she concluded. "As I walk along, sure I have to pay attention to the dog, but at the same time I can be thinking about what I'm going to do for dinner. Or what homework I need to get done. What I'm going to do this weekend. Stuff that is nice to think about. You can't do that with a cane."