A dog named Vince helped Tammy Freeman of Fort Worth gain independence after she lost her sight.
Freeman shared her story with attendees at the 19th annual Dog Days of Denton, which wrapped up Saturday in Quakertown Park.
Vince was trained through Leader Dogs for the Blind, a program supported by the Lions Club. The dogs are given to recipients at no charge, Freeman said.
“Each one of these dogs they provide for us costs $38,000 per dog,” Freeman said.
“That’s more than my Nissan,” said the host of the Dog Days main stage.
Freeman went blind nine years ago after a motorcycle accident.
“I couldn’t walk a straight line with a cane,” she said.
Six years ago, she got Vince. All she has to do now is say “find a chair” and Vince will take her to one, Freeman said.
The dogs are easy to train, she said. She can hit a door and say the word “door.” Then, when she says the word later, he’ll take her there.
“You get your own independence,” Freeman said.
The Leader Dogs program helps blind and visually impaired people enhance their mobility. Freeman applied for the program and was flown to Michigan, where she went through 26 days of training to be paired with a dog.
Sandy Griffin of Abilene also was at the event Saturday to offer her perspective as a puppy raiser for Leader Dogs.
“I’m the only puppy raiser in Texas,” she said. In her 12 years with the program, she’s had 12 dogs.
She gets a dog when it is seven weeks old and raises it until the age of 14 months, when the dog returns to the training facility to be paired with an owner.
“It’s incredible what these dogs will do,” Griffin said.
She gets to pick the dog’s name for life. She calls her dogs Ivy Green — after the plantation where Helen Keller grew up.
“It has been the most gratifying thing I’ve ever done in my life, and it’s been the most heartbreaking thing — of course, having to return the dogs,” Griffin said.
Her current dog wears a sign that reads “Do not pet me, I’m working.”
Freeman’s dog, Vince, wears a similar sign.
This is the first year the Leader Dogs program has been represented at Dog Days of Denton, said Christine Gossett, co-director of the two-day event.
“I’m always amazed at what people and dogs can achieve together,” she said.
Gossett said the weather was fair and estimated that between 6,000 and 8,000 people attended.
The event also included demonstrations by Dallas Dog & Disc Club and Texas Heat Flyball. Dogs competed in 11 categories Friday night, including oldest, longest tongue, best dressed and fluffiest hair. On Saturday, there was a pet tricks contest and a dog “singing” contest.
A new “spokesdog” was named during the event. This year’s winner is Bendito, the Debonair Dog, owned by Karen Abler. Bendito will take over for Mayday, a boxer owned by Sparkle Turner.
RACHEL MEHLHAFF can be reached at 940-566-6889. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.
ON THE WEB
Leader Dogs for the Blind: www.leaderdog.org