I looked around for a nice, upbeat column for Thanksgiving Day and had to look no further than Eye of the Pacific, the volunteer agency that helps blind people find seeing-eye dogs.
Helping blind find guide dogs
Most of us, I believe, think of Labrador retrievers as the ones that are used. Mostly they are. But Eye of the Pacific arranged training for a poi dog the size of a big poodle to escort a female patient around the Kalaupapa colony for Hansen's Disease after she became blind.
She previously had adopted the stray dog as a pet and wanted it for her guide dog. Eye of the Pacific was able to oblige with the restriction that the pet is limited to Kalaupapa, a peninsula separated from the rest of Molokai by a steep cliff.
A husband was allergic to the hair of Labradors, the type most commonly trained as eye dogs, so Eye of the Pacific arranged testings and had a dog specially bred to meet both his and his wife's needs. The result is a Labradoodle, part Lab, part poodle.
A blind woman who speaks Japanese is able to conduct tours for Japanese visitors to Aloha Tower Marketplace with the help of a Lab nearly as big as she is. She weighs 85 pounds, the dog between 60 and 70.
In all, 14 dogs now are in use throughout Hawaii as Eye of the Pacific gifts -- 11 of them on Oahu.
Since guide dogs show signs of age at around ages 8 or 9, replacements frequently are necessary. Commonly, the owner keeps the retired dog as a pet.
Being a guide dog is hard work that requires constant alertness. The "we're going to work" signal comes when the owner finds the dog's harness and calls him (or her) to come to have it put on. There is no leisure time for the dog until the harness is taken off.
Dogs keep their owners from stumbling over curbs, falling into holes or walking against traffic signals. They give the owners mobility they could not otherwise have.
No dogs are bred in Hawaii. Ours come from two rabies-free countries -- Australia and New Zealand. There are no quarantine restrictions in the way of immediate entry to Hawaii.
Hawaii relaxed quarantine rules last year to permit entry from other states upon proof of rabies shots, but Eye of the Pacific hasn't yet used mainland dogs. Its relations with Royal Guide Dogs of Australia, in Melbourne, and the New Zealand Foundation for the Blind, in Auckland, are so satisfactory there is no rush to change.
It works something like this: An individual applies for a dog. A trainer flies here from either Australia or New Zealand to assess the applicant's personality, goes back to find a matching dog, then flies here with the chosen dog and stays for an extended training period.
THE approximate cost of this is $20,000 per dog, all borne by Eye of the Pacific from private donations including Aloha United Way. You would be most welcome to contribute. The address is: Eye of the Pacific, 747 Amana St., Suite 407, Honolulu, HI 96814. The phone/fax number is 941-1088.
Vickie Cozloff, the executive in charge, works only part-time so you may have to wait for a return call. Her small office has walls of pictures of the present guide dogs and their owners. Eye of the Pacific also helps with mobility services including electronic aids such as Polarons and Laser Canes. The budget is tight, particularly since it is expected three new dogs must be supplied next year.
The 15-member board of directors includes four blind persons, but President Joseph Sunderland is sighted, as is Cozloff. Longtime member Richard Ariyoshi drew my attention to the group. He is a hard-to-resist insurance man. Now that I have found out more on the program I am sorry I resisted at all.
A.A. Smyser is the contributing editor
and former editor of the the Star-Bulletin
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.