One year after receiving his guide dog, “Yuri,” Quinn Howard’s life has changed in many ways. “Having Yuri has been my life. I’m a social person. Being part of my community is important. When Yuri and I are out together, people include me in the conversation,” Quinn says.
Quinn became interested in Fidelco after meeting Fidelco clients Jessica Beecham and James Brown at National Federation of the Blind gatherings. “Jessica was one of the first people I met who had a Fidelco German Shepherd guide dog. I watched Jessica interact with ‘Pippin.’ James let me ask all sorts of questions about his guide dog experience and Fidelco’s mission to train and place German Shepherds as guide dogs. It piqued my interest.”
“Having Yuri has been my life. I’m a social person. Being part of my community is important.”
Quinn’s partnership with Yuri reflects his determination to work through his fear of dogs which began when he was a child. “I grew up in an environment where dogs were trained to be aggressors,” Quinn shares. As Quinn got older, he began to observe pet dogs that were not aggressive. He also noticed guide dogs helping people who are blind navigate their daily lives.
Quinn has retinitis pigmentosa. He has lost the vision in his left eye and has minimal central vision in his right eye. “I don’t have peripheral vision. When I would hear a dog bark, I would jump out of my shoes. I was scared to touch dogs. I would tense up. But I really wanted to challenge myself, to face my fears and pursue the application process for a Fidelco guide dog.”
“I have been a white cane user my whole life. People avoided me when I was using my cane, because they wanted to be careful to stay out of my way. I didn’t use a cane much in high school as I didn’t want to be seen as just ‘that blind guy.’ In college, people would step around me or walk on the grass until they passed me. These experiences pushed me toward my decision to apply to Fidelco in my senior year of college.”
In initial conversations with Fidelco, Quinn shared his concerns and fears. “I wanted to be honest. They said with my lifestyle and activity level, it sounded like a guide dog would be a good fit and Fidelco could work with me to help me through my anxiety. But there was no pressure if it didn’t work out.”
In 2021, after completing the application and evaluation process, Quinn received a call from Fidelco Trainer and Placement Specialist Chris Eastwood telling him a guide dog was ready for him. “Chris and I discussed my worries and after several conversations with Chris, I knew I was ready for Yuri.”
One reason Quinn chose Fidelco was the In-Community Placement model. Individualized training of new client/guide dog teams is provided in clients’ homes, workplaces, and communities. “This was huge for me as I cannot be away from work for weeks of training. I also chose Fidelco because they dedicate so much care to match the right dog with the right person, getting to know each person’s individual needs, personality, and lifestyle.”
“When Chris brought Yuri on the first day of placement training, it was exciting but exhausting and mentally draining. I had to get used to petting Yuri, working on commands with him, and feeding him.” Over the next two weeks, Quinn became more comfortable. “As I was exposed to different situations with Yuri, I gained confidence applying the skills we had worked on.”
One of Quinn’s biggest challenges was giving Yuri treats, because Quinn was nervous putting his hand near a dog’s mouth. “One day it was 23 degrees outside, and I had my winter gloves. Chris noticed I was more comfortable giving Yuri a treat with my gloves on, so he told me where I could buy training gloves. I ordered them that night. Chris was patient and helped me through these challenges.”
Quinn describes the “light bulb moment” when he realized he had a bond of trust with Yuri. In the second week of placement training, the team was in a busy entertainment district in Nashville, Tennessee. “It was crowded with people everywhere, but Yuri and I moved along. Chris told me Yuri had safely guided me around obstacles including five scooters people had left in random places along the sidewalk. I said, ‘What? No way!’
“In that moment, I realized with Yuri, the wall I had built up around my fear of dogs had come down. I felt so comfortable. And that feeling of trust and confidence has continued.”
After graduating from college, Quinn was hired as a Vocational Counselor with the Tennessee Department of Human Services. He was promoted to his current position of Field Supervisor and is responsible for hiring and training counselors to connect people with vision loss with services that help them live with greater independence. Yuri accompanies Quinn on the 90-minute commute by bus to Quinn’s Nashville office. The team also frequently travels throughout Middle Tennessee for Quinn’s job.
“Yuri helps me to go directly where I need to be. We recently traveled to another city to meet with teachers and tour their school. I didn’t have to feel around to figure out where I was. I was able to say to Yuri, ‘Find the door’ and ‘Find the stairs.’ These seamless moments mean a lot to me personally and professionally.” Quinn and “Yuri”