By Mary Haney
Service Dogs and Service Men—what better combination could there be? On a sunny spring noon in April, GDB's Oklahoma chapter of the Alumni Association met and shared information with blinded veterans over lunch at New View (formerly the Oklahoma League for the Blind).
At an earlier meeting of the alumni group, member Laurence Williams had quoted President John Kennedy’s injunction to “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country,” and the group determined that informing blinded servicemen about the availability of service dogs would be an appropriate answer. Sandi Webster, the chapter's vice president, worked with Marcia Adkins of the Oklahoma City Veterans Administration and officials at New View to schedule the meeting.
Alumni members in attendance were Cathy Tuton with guide Frampton, Kathleen Kennedy with guide Pasha, Crystal Hollenbeck with guide Amy, Laurence Williams with guide Wally, and Ralph Haney with guide Bucky. There were 29 veteran attendees, including New View board members and servicemen representing six branches of the military.
After a light lunch organized by Kathy Holden, New View's director of rehabilitation, President Ralph Haney of the Oklahoma alumni group began his address. Questions from the servicemen moved the discussion through the topics presented, including, "Why would a visually impaired person choose to have a dog guide?" His answer being that the guide could go anywhere the handler could go, with the exception of an operating room and a zoo. Lively discussion followed.
Other topics included the GDB application process, the care and feeding of the guide, family issues, and a dog's retirement. John Laakman, VIST coordinator at the VA, clarified the question of just what the Veteran’s Administration would do for reimbursement of expenses by stating that both service related and non-service related veterans would receive the same level of reimbursement of veterinary costs for a service dog's treatment, but not for food or other non-health related items.
New View staff collected pamphlets and informational items provided for the seminar by Guide Dogs for the Blind to use in their service to the visually impaired community.
The Oklahoma Guide Dogs for the Blind Alumni Association is committed to informing the public of issues in the visually impaired community, and this is the second service seminar conducted by the group in the last six months. An in-service with Oklahoma City First Responders held in October of last year was very successful and additional workshops are planned with the individual emergency response departments of Oklahoma City.