Man’s Best Friend is Most Reliable Too: Guide Dogs Offer Independence, Companionship to Blind Owners

For many years, Doug Wampler relied solely on a white cane to navigate his environments. Recently, however, the 50-year-old blind program associate at Outlook Nebraska found much more reliable support in going about his work day: his guide dog Phin.

Wampler, who lost his vision because of diabetic retinopathy, had to relearn everything at the age of 29. After witnessing his co-workers easily navigate with their guide dogs, he decided to apply for a guide dog of his own. Now, Phin is by Doug’s side every day and makes him feel more confident as he empowers other blind individuals through Outlook Nebraska’s education and training programs.

“Phin helps me maneuver around chairs and cross streets much faster than I could with my cane,” Wampler said. “Whether I am out on a walk or traveling somewhere for work, Phin has made these experiences very enjoyable and fun for me.”

Phin, a three-year-old yellow Labrador, was born and trained at Guiding Eyes for the Blind Guide Dog School in New York. Because of his training, Wampler and Phin have a special bond that enables them to travel in a safe and skillful manner, and they are committed to each other as partners.

In honor of National Guide Dog Month in September, Outlook Nebraska wants the public to know that they can help strengthen this partnership by remembering the following tips:

  • Do not pet a guide dog without asking. When you see a guide dog in a harness, remember that the dog is working and should not be touched because this distracts them from the job of keeping their owner safe.
  • Ask before you offer help. When you see a blind person walking their guide dog, don’t try to assist unless the owner asks you to. Guide dogs have extensive training and are very capable in all situations.
  • Do not feed a guide dog. Diet and feeding times are strictly monitored by the guide dog owner to maintain good health.
  • Speak to the person, not the dog! Many blind owners enjoy introducing their dogs, but if they decline, please respect their wishes.
  • Welcome guide dogs into your place of business. If you own a restaurant or other business, remember that a guide dog is allowed to accompany their owner anywhere with very few exceptions.
  • Get trained. Individuals considering a guide dog should have formal orientation and mobility training. You also must be declared legally blind by your eye doctor and be 16 or older.

Significant gaps in services exist in the community for Wampler and other blind members of the community. Through its “Bridge the Gap” capital campaign, Outlook Nebraska is turning to the public to raise the remaining funds needed to expand its facility and offer more employment opportunities, adaptive technology training, community education, and recreational, art and social activities. Supporters are encouraged to click here to make a charitable contribution.[Editor’s note: Videos of Phin the Guide Dog can be accessed by visiting www.adogsoutlook.org).