- March 6, 2012
Since 2009, Flagler County Lions Club member Wayne Gile’s guide dog Destinee has led the Lions’ annual Walk for the Blind.
On April 11, Destinee, who’s ready to retire from service, led this year’s symbolic single lap around the track at Matanzas High School at a leisurely lope. The event raised $4,194 for Southeastern Guide Dogs, which trained Destinee and will train her successor.
“Destinee has worked hard now for almost nine years,” Gile said. “She’s still doing fine, but you can tell. Her heart’s not in her as much. There’s no point putting that stress on her.”
It’s not simple work: Destinee guides Gile around obstacles like curbs and steps, but also has to watch for low-hanging tree limbs — far above a dog’s usual field of vision — and prepare to protect her master from other unexpected hazards.
“They actually train them for what they call ‘intelligent disobedience,’” Gile said. “They won’t let you walk into a car. They’ll walk in front of you and stop.”
The cost for that training, provided by Palmetto, Florida-based Southeastern Guide Dogs, totals about $60,000 per dog. The dogs are free to the blind, but the organization is supported by donations from the Lions Club and other organizations, companies and individuals.
And the training works, Gile said.
“I don’t think in nine years she’s ever missed a curb or a step,” he said. “You feel a lot safer having a dog, because she won’t let you fall down stairs; she won’t let you walk into the street.”
Gile didn’t always have a guide dog. His eye condition, retinitis pigmentosa, is progressive, and he started with a cane. His wife Cathy helped him. But he felt he was losing his freedom. Even with a cane, he didn’t feel comfortable enough to brave busy city streets.
Then got his first guide dog, Dee Dee, in 2001.
“The day he first walked into the grocery store by himself, I was like ‘Oh my God,’” Cathy Gile said. And the dogs filled another role. “We never had children, so they are our children,” she said.
The Lions Club sponsored Gile’s trip to meet and train with his new guide — each new master and pooch pair work together for several weeks at a Southeastern Guide Dogs facility in the Tampa area before they go home together — and he joined the following year.
Destinee, who succeeded Dee Dee after she died of lymphoma, will become a family pet once she retires, alongside the Giles’ other yellow Lab, Ava Jean. She’s had an eventful career, including two trips to Colorado, and visits to Alaska, New York and England.
“Besides the help that Destinee’s been, just her companionship has been a joy in my life. Just having her around,” Gile said. “It was very lonely around the house before I got Destinee. Dogs are wonderful.”