“This extremely smart, dedicated German Shepherd Dog guides and protects you, while giving unconditional love that strengthens you in other aspects of your life,” says Fidelco client Connie Hornick. Originally from New York and a retired social worker, she now lives in Ohio with her husband, Steve. Connie lost her vision due to congenital glaucoma.
While living in New York, and working as an Outreach Director, Connie decided a guide dog would help her keep up with her job and enable her to fulfill her desire to travel and live life more independently. “I loved dogs and had pets since being married, so receiving a guide dog seemed a natural choice.”
Connie was partnered with her first Fidelco guide dog, “Osha,” in 2000. Her second guide dog, “Bridgette,” retired as her guide at the age of ten and then became a beloved pet. Her third and current Fidelco guide dog is “Xola.” Connie’s guide dogs have given her increased confidence, enabling her to travel more easily and safely.
Connie describes the special connections she has had with each of her guide dogs. “When I was younger, I didn’t understand how any dog could be a ‘successor’ to Osha. I now understand that while each guide comes with training skills, each is unique and has its own personality. When you and the guide connect, it becomes a special bond, like no other. You get freedom, independence, and so much more.”
There have been bittersweet transitions along the journey with guide dogs. Connie shares, “Xola came to me when I still had my 12-year-old dog, Bridgette. I wondered how Bridgette and Xola would get along, but they both were loving and happy German Shepherd Dogs and did great together. At the end of that December, Bridgette passed. Besides staying close to Bridgette while she was sick, Xola also met my emotional needs—putting her head in my lap and licking my tears. This is not a guide dog’s job, but it is the unconditional love everyone seeks, and I had it.”
While the coronavirus pandemic has restricted travel, it has not limited Connie’s level of activity. Xola accompanies her on walks to the gym, the store, and other errands and outings in her community. “Xola is a great guide, maneuvering us through situations that would be impossible for me to manage without her.”
Expressing her gratitude for the volunteers, staff, and donors who support Fidelco guide dogs and clients, she says, “I am empowered and able to do with my guide dog. I can’t imagine being without my guide dogs. The dogs seamlessly know when you are scared, sad, or need a laugh. In return, they expect to be cared for and loved, making you vulnerable in the best of ways. This special bond can only happen because there are so many caring people who donate, raise, train, and work with the potential guides so that when they are placed, people who are blind can live and thrive.”
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