Part of the Family

By Jennifer Wilkinson

Published in: Update - Issue 3 - 2015 »   
Faded photo of Amy on a couch in a flowery dress next to her young daughter, Samantha, who is wearing a white dress. Amy's yellow lab Leader Dog Lucy is lying on the floor in front of the couch and looking up at them

Amy with daughter Samantha and retired Leader
Dog Lucy

When Amy Chevalier’s daughter, Samantha, began taking her first steps, Amy came to a realization. The diabetic retinopathy that had progressed rapidly during her pregnancy had left her legally blind, and her daughter’s exploration of the world around her could be curbed by Amy’s lack of confidence in her mobility. “I didn’t feel safe enough to do something as simple as take her to the park,” Amy says. “I wasn’t afraid to cross streets by myself but the thought of doing it with my baby was terrifying to me.” That is when Amy decided to get a guide dog. “I looked at it so simply: by having a Leader Dog I would feel safe to cross the streets to take my daughter to the park. I had no idea that having a Leader Dog would allow me to do so much more and how that Leader Dog would change my life.”

Amy’s first Leader Dog, Dakota, took on 18-month-old Samantha’s safety as part of her job, even though Amy knew Dakota’s only job was to safely guide Amy. “There were times when my daughter would walk beside me and when we stopped Dakota would position herself across my body to secure Samantha between us.” With Dakota at her side, Amy took Samantha to the park, restaurants, the library, preschool, the grocery store, the pharmacy and the post office. “Having a [Leader Dog] gave me the confidence to take my daughter out alone, and being able to do these things gave me a sense of independence that I didn’t think I would have again.”

When Samantha was 8, Amy got her second Leader Dog, Lucy. “Dakota got us through the toddler years, preschool, and the beginning of elementary school and Lucy got us through the end of elementary school, middle school, high school and college.” Her Leader Dogs accompanied Amy in crowded theaters for dance recitals, gymnasiums for parent-teacher conferences, school plays, awards ceremonies, cheerleading competitions and choir concerts. When Amy decided to go back to college herself, she credits the independence and confidence she felt from working with her Leader Dogs for helping her achieve her goal. With Ember, her third Leader Dog, Amy plans to re-enter the workforce.

Seated photo of Amy and her yellow lab Leader Dog in harness

Amy and her current Leader Dog, Ember

Amy’s advice to others preparing for parenthood is to embrace the opportunities that having a Leader Dog can create. “Having a dog teaches children to respect and care for animals. Other than driving, there isn’t anything that I haven’t been able to do with my daughter because I’ve had a guide dog.” It can also be a teaching moment for other children. “Some of my best experiences have been to hear the excitement in children’s voices when they get to see a guide dog up close and learn about all the things they can do.” Each Leader Dog has not only helped provide independence and confidence for Amy, but they also became an integral part of family life. “To say that my Leader Dog is family doesn’t do the relationship justice. There is a bond so deep and so strong that words can’t describe what each one means to me.”