Trainers thrilled when guide dog 'graduates' - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Trainers thrilled when guide dog 'graduates'

CULLEOKA, Tenn. (AP) - It all begins with a puppy selectively bred for optimum characteristics and a caring human being with tremendous patience. It ends with a partnership between a disciplined guide dog and a blind recipient whose life will be significantly improved.

In Culleoka, young Hannah Wolters and her family are among those caring individuals who have taken on the 24-hour-a-day, seven-day a week job of raising guide dog puppies. In September, the Wolters family was rewarded for their perseverance when Esther, who came to their family as an 8-week-old puppy, graduated from the Southeast Guide Dogs School and teamed up with her new master, Robert Christie of Kissimmee, Fla. Christie lost his vision in an auto accident three years ago.

Although Christie has fully mastered cane use, he anticipates a safer, easier time navigating his future with Esther, who he has nicknamed Essie.

"I'm loving working with her," he said. "I was trusting a stick, and now I'm ready to trust a dog. I'm looking forward to getting out, to exploring more and moving faster."

Esther is now going to Valencia Community College with Christie and will soon move on with him to Flagler College in St. Augustine, Fla., where Esther will help the 24-year-old Christie get around a new community while he works on his master's degree in pursuit of a career as a mental health counselor.

"I want to use my life experiences to help others," Christie said. "If I could tell other blind people one thing, it's don't be overly dependent on others. We need our independence. We're normal, but we just have our eyes shut."

Tim Wolters, Hannah's dad, had a warning for Christie.

"I had the pleasure of bringing Esther from Tennessee to Atlanta prior to the next phase of her training there," Wolters said. "Hannah was very strict in her training of Esther. If you find that she jumps up on your lap as you travel in the passenger seat, it's my fault."

Not all puppies are as successful as Esther, but many who do not go on to work as guide dogs do put their training to use in other ways. Some become pet therapy dogs. Others join the police force as search and rescue or bomb or drug sniffing dogs or work with fire departments in arson detection.

Hannah Wolters is now raising her third guide dog puppy, "Sarge," a 6-month-old goldadore.      

Information from: The Daily Herald, http://www.columbiadailyherald.com             

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)      

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