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Walk with a Guide Dog and Her Blind Friend as They Explore Their Neighborhood

March 30, 2015

Take a walk with Nancy Pendegraph and her assistant, Camry the guide dog, while Pendegraph and her son and his guide dog walk to the drug store and back, and suddenly the world is a place shaped by noises and smells and the slant of the pavement under your feet.

Construction work on a lot at an intersection becomes not just annoying noise, but a life-threatening clatter than can mask the rumble of approaching cars. Cars parked along the roadside alter the shape of the sound of your own feet so that you begin to see how Pendegraph can "hear" that something is in front of her -- and so understands why her dog is guiding her out into the street from their customary curb-hugging path. See how the rattle of a neighbors door in a side yard can distract Pendegraphs attention just long enough so that Camry, with yet another parked car to navigate, stops so that Pendegraph can see what shes doing before proceeding.

The partnership between dog and human is a ceaseless give-and-take of mutual signals.

The 20-minute walk is simultaneously exhausting and eye-opening for a sighted person suddenly thinking about "seeing" the world in the way that Pendegraph and her son, Roland Bowers, see it: through their attentive use of sound and touch and cues from their guide dogs.

Nancy Pendegraphs last guide dog, Charlie, died in December when he slipped through a gate left open by a utility worker and made an impulsive - and fatal - dash across Bob Wallace Avenue. Once their working harness is off, Pendegraph says, a guide dog is just a dog and just as foolish as any other unsupervised dog with a juicy squirrel in its sight.

Every dog is different, she says. Shell never forget Charlie, but its clear she is falling in love with Camry, a sleek, alert Labrador who watches Pendegraphs every move. Camry came home with Pendegraph on March 9 after two weeks of intensive training together at the Guide Dog Foundation school on Long Island. Those two weeks, for Camry, capped a year of socialization and basic training with her puppy-raiser and then six months of training at the Guide Dog Foundation - including learning to watch for over-hanging barriers for their people and when not to obey their people for their own sake.

Camry can find a seat on a bus, the door at the airport. She can point Pendegraph to the button for an elevator and safely thread her through down a crowded sidewalk. As their partnership matures, Camry will learn dozens of words, places and maneuvers specific to her life with Nancy. Camry has already learned to find Piccadilly at Park Place Mall, one of Pendegraphs favorite lunch spots.

Last week, while Guide Dog Foundation instructor and field representative Lisa Harvey was in Huntsville to help hone the new partners inter-connected skills in their own environment, Pendegraph allowed reporter Eric Schultz and me to tag along for the walk.

Camry and Nancy together are not yet quite as easy together as are Roland and Henley, the guide dog he has had for nearly 10 years. Roland and Henley stroll with the smooth assurance of old friends. Next to them, Camry and Nancy are a little less relaxed. Camrys head is up higher and Nancys cocked as she concentrates on all the signals around her. But Lisa affirmed that our impression that Camry and Nancy are doing amazingly well is accurate.

"This is teamwork," Lisa said as she followed Nancy and Camry, letting Nancy know how close to the curb Camry was. "Their progress is remarkable - for them to have only been together for three weeks, they are at an amazing level already."

At the drug store, Camry could find the counter for Nancy by guiding her to the register where an attendant waited. At street corners, Camry has been taught "intelligent disobedience." If a car is heading their way - perhaps masked by construction machinery roars - Camry will not move forward when Pendegraph gives her that cue. On the way back, Camry finds the driveway to the Pendegraph home when Pendegraph says "Find the driveway."

"That was perfect," Lisa praises her and Camry. "That was flawless."

Join Nancy and Camry, Roland and Henley for a walk via Erics photographs and video, above. [Original news story includes photos and video. (1:46 minutes, no captions )]

And if you see them out, remember guide dog etiquette: If the dogs are wearing their working harness, speak to a dogs owner, not to the dog. And dont attempt to pet dogs when they working - they are busy professionals with a job to do.

For more information, including more information about guide dog training and etiquette, go to The Guide Dog Foundation is a non-profit organization that provides service dogs without cost to those who need them.

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