Pairing beautiful dogs with people who are blind to form teams that work, play, and live together in safety and companionship.
When Jeff Hawkins lost most of his vision to Stargardt disease, a hereditary disorder that affects the retina, he lost more than his active lifestyle - he lost his self-confidence. "I had been a paramedic for over 20 years," says Jeff. "I enjoyed the physical nature of the work and enjoyed helping others. After becoming legally blind, I spent my days walking from window to window in my house waiting for my wife or son to come home so I could go out with them."
Receiving his first Leader Dog, Gracie, was a game changer for Jeff. "As soon as I began working with Gracie, I felt my self-confidence return. I rediscovered my independence and I began looking for physical adventures again." And physical adventures he found. Jeff and his wife Linda are avid travelers and hikers. "I wanted to start hiking some more rustic trails," Jeff says. "So I worked with Gracie on walking through narrow paths where she has to be farther out in front of me. We also work on moving slowly over uneven ground and tree roots and rocks." Jeff has also returned to playing hockey, downhill snow skiing and water skiing.
When he lost his sight, Jeff was one of the more than 75,000 people who become blind or visually impaired in the U.S. each year. Only 10% travel independently with a guide dog or white cane. Independent travel training and aids allow people who are blind to reclaim a healthy lifestyle and maintain their physical and mental wellbeing. With your support, Leader Dog makes over 300 people like Jeff unstoppable every year.