For the first time in America, an organization has trained a guide dog that is able to not only assist a blind person, but to lead them on runs!
When Richard Hunter started losing his eyesight in his twenties, he knew that it meant his career as a Marine Corps 2nd Lieutenant would come to an early close. He also knew that it would make his life vastly more challenging. But, being an ex-marine, Hunter was not about to let a challenge stand in his way.
Now 48 years old, Hunter is almost completely blind. That said, Hunter still manages to participate in triathlons and marathons. He used to run with the assistance of a human guide, but while training for the bicycle portion of an upcoming triathlon, Hunter and his guide were both struck by a car. Hunter was sent careening through the windshield and broke his neck.
After he healed up, Hunter was right back at it running in the Boston Marathon. It was there that he met Thomas Panek, the CEO of a nonprofit that trains seeing eye dogs called “Guiding Eyes For The Blind.” They got to talking and realized that nobody had ever trained a guide dog that could lead while running. Until now.
Panek went back to two of his best trainers, Ben Cawley and Jolene Hollister, and had them create a special training program that could teach a guide dog how to safely lead a blind person while running. And they did!
“He took every challenge we threw at him, accepted it, exceeded it and gave us the ability to ask for more,” Hollister said to a reporter with CBS. “As rewarding as training Klinger was, being able to work with Klinger and Richard together and watch the relationship develop with the two of them was a truly inspirational time for me that I’ll never forget.”
In order to get Klinger ready for his very special role, his training was more rigorous than a traditional guide dog’s. He was taught how to memorize and properly navigate any terrain, just like any other guide dog. However, Klinger was taught to do it much faster. After months of preparation, Klinger can now lead Hunter on up to six miles of run without stop. Not only that, but the high speed of Klinger’s training has also forced him to problem solve quicker.
Thanks to Klinger and the good work done at Guiding Eyes For The Blind, Richard Hunter is now able to go on extended runs at his leisure. Soon, there will be more dogs like Klinger improving the lives of the visually impaired by opening up to them a new world of activities.