'I'm putting my life in the paws of a dog.'
It was a day just like any other.
Liz Oleska was getting her son, Logan, ready for school and was on her way to bring him to the bus stop when out of nowhere, a massive headache hit. At a loss, Liz decided to take a nap and rest it off.
When she woke up, however, all she saw was darkness.
Terrified, Liz went to the hospital for help. But the doctors told her there was nothing more they could do. Her eyesight had already been deteriorating for three months due to diabetic retinopathy.
"That's when it hit me," she recalled. "I'm blind."
Everyday tasks like cooking and crossing the street were suddenly difficult and scary to Liz.
"What am I gonna do? How am I gonna live? How am I gonna survive? How am I gonna do this alone as a single mom raising my son?" she asked.
"I thought my life was over ... and then I got Bryce."
Watch the powerful video to be immersed in Liz and Bryce's story:
Liz's new guide dog came into her life like a four-legged ray of hope.
Bryce helped Liz grow her sense of confidence, independence, and pride. And even when times got tough, Bryce stayed by her side no matter what.
"It took me getting Bryce to realize that all I need is to trust myself, that I can make anything happen," Liz said. "Now I stop and think because Bryce has taught me to appreciate things differently. And there's so much that makes me happy — so much that I didn't even realize was out there."
In honor of Blindness Awareness Month, Pedigree is sharing Liz and Bryce's story to highlight how valuable these furry companions can be.
What's made these canine companions so incredible? How did they even learn to be so helpful?
Here are five fascinating things to know about guide dogs:
1. The guide dog training process is, of course, highly specialized.
Each dog is assigned to a trainer who will work with them for at least five months. During that time, the dogs have to go through different phases designed to get them ready for the real world.
First, the trainers reinforce the basics the dogs learned as puppies. Next, the trainers up the ante by introducing obstacles and distractions to make sure the dogs stay on point. After that, the dogs are asked to perform all the tasks they learned without any help. (This step requires a lot of repetition.) Lastly, the dogs are integrated into normal settings and are able to put their training into action.
After that, they can direct their owner to wherever they need to go, avoid any dangerous obstacles, and even distinguish between commands to tell whether it'll put their owner in harm's way. (It's called intelligent disobedience, and it might just be their coolest skill.)
When all is said and done, about 70% of dogs make the cut and can become guide dogs. But don't worry about the others; training centers make sure to find a home or other job for them.
2. You can actually help out in the coolest way.
Guide dogs are trained from the moment they're born. But there's a little gap where you can help out and become a puppy raiser.
It'd be your job to raise a puppy! From the time they're 8 weeks old to around 18 months, these puppies need to learn basic obedience skills and manners. You'd also be tasked with making sure these puppies are sociable and exposing them to as many different situations as possible. When they're finally puppy teens, ready for the next step, they head back to the training center.
3. There's an art to selecting the right guide dog for an individual.
Not every guide dog is going to be the perfect match for every person with blindness or visual impairment. There are a lot of crucial factors that need to be considered before they can be paired up properly — age, height, walking speed, environment, personality, breed, etc.
Coordinators have to make sure there's a seamless relationship between guide dog and owner because they operate as a team every single day.
4. There are a few rules on guide dog etiquette.
Many guide dogs are absolutely adorable. But remember that they're also doing a job when you see them out with their owner. So make sure not to distract them with shouting, honking, or feeding. More importantly, never grab the harness or leash from the owner because it will cause disorientation.
If the dog is absolutely irresistible, make sure you ask the owner first if you can have a moment with their guide dog to say hello and pet them.
5. Guide dogs aren't for everyone, but they provide an important service for their handlers.
In addition to making daily tasks easier, guide dogs can help their owners gain more confidence as they move about the world together.
They help serve as their owners' eyes. But more importantly, they're giving them a whole lot of heart.