Trial Lawyer Connects with his Fourth Leader Dog

By Megan Peterson

Published in: Update - Issue 3 - 2015 »   

Imagine you are a 20-year-old college student. It’s challenging enough to balance classes, clubs, tests, jobs, etc. Now throw in the fact that you are blind, and you’ve amplified the stress tenfold.

This was reality for Michael Whitt. Michael says, “I have enough vision to get into trouble, but not enough to get out.” This is why he needed assistance. As a soon-to-be West Virginia University senior, Michael heard about Leader Dogs for the Blind from a vocational rehabilitation counselor, which set him on a path to seek out a guide dog.

“My vision was declining so quickly that I needed to make a change from using a cane to having a guide dog,” Michael says.

Pictured (left to right): Retired LD Pudge,
stepdaughter Ashley Edwards, wife Karen Whitt,
Michael Whitt and LD Vern (lying down)

This first guide dog was life-changing for Michael in his final year of college.

Fast forward 27 years and Michael is now a husband, father, successful trial lawyer, and just underwent training with his fourth Leader Dog, Vern.

In the few short months Michael has had Vern, he’s done a tremendous amount for Michael.

“Having a Leader Dog allows me to be able to be a part of my family. My stepdaughter played Division I college softball and by having a guide dog I could participate and attend just like all the other parents. Leader Dog allows me to be a ‘normal’ person in my family, school, employment, community, church and whatever I need."

Michael relies on Vern to successfully guide him through his travels, at-home routine and work schedule—and according to Michael, Vern performs admirably.

Career and Passion Combined

Both Michael and LD Vern are all business when in
court.

Michael’s career as a trial lawyer stems from his passion to protect others who have disabilities. Recently, he’s represented two clients to defend their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Michael’s clients (who both have guide dogs) were each wrongfully denied access to restaurants (on separate occasions). Both litigations were settled without the need to go to trial and each client received compensation. Even better, both restaurants were required to host sensitivity training for employees so those behaviors won’t be repeated.

“Denial of access has been unlawful for a long time—it’s unacceptable, and if I see it I will assist people in trying to fix it,” Michael says. “Having a Leader Dog allows me to earn a living, meet the needs of my career and deal with the situations that my clients are faced with,” Michael adds.

“The most important role that my Leader Dog plays in my life is to be able to get from point A to point B without risk of injury or delay,” Michael said. “Not only that, but I’m able to complete my daily travels with somebody (Vern) that I love who loves me back. I love working with Leader Dogs. I wouldn’t feel normal without a dog.”

Simple Pleasures

LD Vern

Michael explains that his favorite part of Leader Dog training is beginning to go for leisurely walks. He describes that simply going for walks gives him a feeling of independence that’s indescribable and empowering.

“Once you form a bond with your Leader Dog, they become your best friend,” Michael says. “It’s a working relationship because we [Vern and I] depend on each other and it’s mutually beneficial.”