Visually impaired Shirley Mcpherson is enjoying more freedom since receiving her first guide dog named Sammy in November.

Guide dog offers local woman independence

Shirley Mcpherson enjoys more freedom since receiving Sammy last November

A black Labrador Retriever has given Shirley Mcpherson a new outlook on life.

The 62-year-old Thacker Mountain resident recently received her first guide dog after living with limited vision for more than 20 years. A work injury in 1990 left her with only blurred sight in her left eye. Mcpherson relied on her husband and a white cane to get around before the arrival of her two-year-old guide named Sammy.

“The reason I wanted to get the dog was to be more independent and go to places myself,” she said. “If my husband was ill and couldn’t take me, then I would really be in a bind. Sammy provides freedom, security and independence.”

Sammy started training at seven weeks and lived with several volunteer puppy raising families until she was matched with Mcpherson last November. The two immediately started training with instructors from B.C. Guide Dog Services. They went to a number of places in the Fraser Valley to get familiar with access issues, including shopping malls, grocery stores and restaurants. They also learned how to deal with obstacles on sidewalks and how to safely cross the street.

“It was very intense for me because I had a fear of falling and then on the second day of training my knee locked,” said Mcpherson. “It was hard for me to go from the cane to the dog. I had to put my whole trust in the dog as she’s the one that’s guiding me.”

Sammy goes with Mcpherson everywhere and knows the route to a number of places in Hope, including Cooper’s Foods, Fields and Sixth Avenue Park. While Sammy guides her around puddles and obstacles, it up to Mcpherson to tell her where to go. The dog understands about a dozen commands and will use her body to shield Mcpherson at intersections that are not safe to cross.

“It’s quite challenging to get around without Sammy,” she said. “She is my companion, but she knows her job. As soon as that harness goes on, she knows she’s working. I think she adopted me.”

B.C. Guide Dogs are on loan to their partners and can work up to eight years before retirement. In most cases, a retired guide dog stays with the family as pet. There’s currently a two-year waiting list at B.C. Guide Dog Services. The organization relies on individual and corporate donations to cover the $37,000 cost of training each guide dog for two years. Mcpherson paid $1 for Sammy as a result of sponsorship, but is responsible for covering all food, care, grooming and veterinarian bills.

Mcpherson is thankful for the role guide dogs play in the lives of those who are visually impaired and will be joining hundreds of people around the world today (April 25) in celebration of International Guide Dog Day .

“Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” she said. “If they didn’t have B.C. Guide Dog Services, there would be a lot of people at home isolated.”