Keeping an Open Mind
By Peggy O'Dell
Scott Morris knew there were risks involved working as a civilian Department of Defense Marine contractor in Iraq; what he couldn't have known was that it would be a sandstorm that would cause him the greatest harm.
After more than four years in Iraq, Scott contracted histoplasmosis, a fungal disease. The fungus grows in the soil and is spread by breathing in the spores from disturbed soil, such as a sandstorm. Scott came home from Iraq in the fall of 2009, and was legally blind by the following fall.
With no Orientation and Mobility training, Scott's new life at home was "very boring. I had nothing to help me; I didn't even have a cane. I couldn't even go outside unless I had a sighted guide to go with me."
Scott's mother found the Leader Dog website and read about the Accelerated Mobility Program (AMP). It sounded like just the thing Scott needed to get back in the game.
"I had no clue what it would be like," Scott said. "But I just kept an open mind."
Scott received his first cane at Leader Dog and quickly began learning how to use it. He found the AMP training easy to learn and his instructor was soon trying to find new skills for him to master. He was given a Kapten GPS, which he also promptly learned.
"That was when I told my instructor 'I don't need you anymore,'" Scott said.
When Scott returned home with his new skills, he immediately saw the difference it made in his life. "I didn't have to stay home all the time anymore," he said. "I went out and did my banking. I took walks around the block."
About nine months later, Scott took the next step and returned to Leader Dog to receive his first dog, a yellow Labrador retriever named Dottie. Again, Scott approached the experience with an open mind. "I really wanted to see what it was like," he said. "I thought the training process was excellent, and learning to work with Dottie was a piece of cake."
With Dottie by his side, Scott had the confidence to start attending sporting events again. He also discovered that Dottie is a basketball fan. "We went to a pro basketball game and she sat with her paws on the railing the whole time, just watching the game," he said.
When Dottie isn't working, she keeps Scott laughing with her playful antics. "She really likes her Nylabone, and sometimes she throws it so high up in the air that it hits the ceiling," Scott said, laughing. "And then when it hits the ground she likes to roll on it."
Scott is grateful for the donors whose contributions made it possible for him to have Dottie.
"Without the donors, I wouldn't have Dottie and the mobility I enjoy today," said Scott. "Dottie works for me to keep me out of trouble and out of danger. I wouldn't trade her for anything. Without Dottie I would be lost."