My Life After Vision Loss: Herb Grassow
My name is Herb, and I am 63 years old. At the age of 34, I was diagnosed with a retinal degenerative disease but could still see pretty well. In 2008, I lost my job because my employer was worried about me getting hurt due to my vision loss.
I became very depressed after losing my job. Then, in early 2009, at the age of 54, I learned that I was legally blind. At first, this was devastating news because I had at least 10 to 11 years of work ahead of me before I could retire, and I did not know what I was going to do for the rest of my life. It was at this time that I remembered my sister, who was also legally blind, and her experience at a blind training center in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I contacted this training center and applied with the field office, and after a short time, I was accepted to participate in the training. That was the beginning of the positive changes in my life.
After only a couple of weeks at the training center, I started to realize that my life was not over just because I didn’t see as well as I used to. I learned how to do new things and perform routine tasks in different ways. From the beginning, my goal for attending the training center was to be able to go back to work. However, I did not know in what capacity that would be. All I knew was that I did not want to go back into factory work, which I had done for almost 20 years. I started to learn how to use a computer at the training center, even though I could not see what was on the screen, and I ended up loving it. After developing my computer skills, I decided that I wanted to do some kind of work using the computer. I thought it would be great to work in an office of some kind.
When my training was over, I could not find a job at first, so I started volunteering at an adult day care center. Shortly after, I landed an internship position at the Michigan Commission for the Blind, but it only lasted for 15 months. A friend of mine suggested that I volunteer at the local senior services office answering the phone. I did that for a little over a year while also helping to start up a low vision support group for senior services. In March of 2013, I started working part-time for senior services in the office, and yes, on the computer. This is by far the best job I’ve ever had because now I am helping others. Not just the people who call the office looking for help but also by helping people who come to my low vision support group. Now, I share what I learned at the training center with other individuals experiencing vision loss.
As time passed, I began to notice more difficulty with my remaining vision. Even though I was using a white cane, I started bumping into other pedestrians and things along the sidewalk. I decided it was time to get a guide dog to help me get around my town with the same level of independence I was accustomed to. I made contact with a man at the Paw Paw Lions Club, which I myself am a member of, to get the ball rolling on getting me a Leader Dog.
I had to go to my doctor and my ophthalmologist to fill out and sign all of the necessary paperwork. I also had to submit a video of me walking. The video was used so that the people at The Leader Dogs for the Blind could see the stride and pace of my walk.
In March of 2014, I finally got the phone call that I was patiently waiting for; the person from The Leader Dogs for the Blind said that I was accepted and that they had the perfect dog for me. They were hoping that I could come to them in a week to begin my training. Unfortunately, I was unable to go at that time as I had family and work responsibilities, so I scheduled to go the day after Easter.
A fellow Paw Paw Lions Club member graciously volunteered to drive me to Rochester Hills, Michigan, and to bring me back home when I was finished with the training.
The guide dog training lasted for almost four weeks. My group and I were taught how to walk with a guide dog and what commands to give the dog for each action, including verbal and hand signals. On the third day, we met our guide dogs for the first time. From that day forward, the dogs and the new masters were together 24/7, but we were not allowed to take the dog off the premises, except for training purposes. My dog and I connected almost immediately.
My dog was named Baxter, and he was one and a half years old at the time. He gives me more confidence when I travel around town and other areas, and I have this confidence because I know he will keep me out trouble and safe from drivers.
The only problem that I’ve had since getting my Leader Dog is people trying to pet him. They don’t even ask me first if it is alright to pet him. I try to stop them and point to the sign on his harness which reads “Do Not Pet Me, I Am Working.” I bet you think it is kids who give me trouble, but it is mostly adults. They just say, “I’m sorry. I just couldn’t help myself.” This makes me angry, but I try to explain to them that he is a working dog and shouldn’t be distracted.
If I don’t take Baxter for at least one walk a day, not only do I not get my exercise, but neither does he. Baxter actually needs the exercise more than I do to keep fit so that he can work for me as long as possible. If I ever need another service dog, I will definitely go back to Leader Dogs for the Blind.
Baxter is now three years old. He has not only become my guide through our community, but he has become the best friend I have ever had. It makes me wonder why I waited so long to get a guide dog.
In the two years that I’ve had Baxter, he has saved me at least three or four times from getting hit by a vehicle or getting injured navigating through the construction sites in my town. One of these incidences was truly amazing; we were just starting to cross the street when a semi-truck decided to turn right in our path. As soon as Baxter saw this, he stopped on a dime and would not let me go forward. The most amazing part of this was as the truck turned, the trailer came closer and closer to use and Baxter started to walk backward to get away from the trailer. I can honestly say that if it wasn’t for Baxter’s quick thinking, I definitely would not be writing this story. I think I love him more than any human in my life.