"I have what is called Usher Syndrome," Darran Zenger told me via e-mail from his home outside Salt Lake City. "It's retinitis pigmentosa and deafness. RP is progressive. I was born with night blindness, but I had some hearing. The RP remained stable for much of my childhood growing up in Oregon. I was able to drive up until eight years ago—during the day only. It was just in the past several years, when the RP advanced, that I decided it was time for a guide dog. Archer is my very first guide."
Darran currently plays Mr. Mom to his three children (ages 9, 7, and 2) while his wife of 11 years completes pharmacy school. Then he plans to take his degree in psychology and begin graduate work either in education or counseling psychology. His ability to use a CCTV (closed-circuit TV) will let him keep up with his reading, and he is also relearning Braille.
"The city has a lot of trails throughout the area where I take Archer on walks—or where Archer takes me on walks. I am able to move at a decent pace now without worrying about my cane hitting a crack in the sidewalk and jabbing me. He is quite an intelligent animal and takes a lot of stress off my wife and children too."
Darran spoke of the day matches were announced at Guiding Eyes. "The wait in our rooms while the trainers went to hand out the dogs seemed like eternity. When Archer showed up, he was very excited and gave me a wet bath! We played for several hours to get to know each other. Later that evening, I was just overwhelmed with joy. Absolute trust came when we did the night walk a week later. I'm nearly completely blind at night. I have been used to looking down at where I walk instead of looking straight ahead, so it took a few days to break that habit and let Archer guide me."
Sandra Furtado and Avalon work in the radiology department of a hospital in Fall River, Massachusetts. Sandra was a darkroom technician for 20 years, until the hospital went to daylight processing, which knocked her out of the job. Now she answers phones for eight radiologists and does errands with the beautiful yellow Lab I named for the haunting song by Bryan Ferry.
Sandra was born without tear ducts; as a result glaucoma set in. After surgery, she was able to read and go to public school. In her sophomore year of high school, she started to lose her sight; she lost it all at 23. She learned how to cook by trial and error, developed a system of folding money to identify denominations, and taught herself how to wash a floor, gauging by the feel of it which parts were done and which were not.
In 1978, Sandra stepped off a bus on her way to work. She gave her guide dog the command "Forward," and they started across the street seconds before a teacher late for work came speeding through the pedestrian crosswalk and cut them off. The car hit Sandra. The first things she told me about this accident that kept her out of work for three months? "It wasn't the dog's fault," and "Thank God I let go of the dog."