Guiding Light: Greeley man gets new dog to give him freedom despite genetic eye disorder that left him legally blind |

Guiding Light: Greeley man gets new dog to give him freedom despite genetic eye disorder that left him legally blind

Dan England

A little more than a year ago, when the haze finally arrived to steal what remained of his vision, Rodney Tashiro worried he would lose the last wisps of his independence, as well.

His mother and his brother both told him what to expect. They had more advanced cases of retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic eye disorder. He already had lost his night vision and he had some tunnel vision, forcing him to relinquish his job as a respiratory therapist, as well as his ability to drive in 2009.

The fog, his family told him, would come next.

Sure enough, one day last year, he thought it looked hazy out even though the weather said it was clear. The fog had arrived. It was not as thick as what his brother had to look through, but it was there, and Tashiro, now 63, knew walking around his Greeley neighborhood, even with a cane, would be too dangerous. A cane couldn't tell him when he would wander off the sidewalk and into the street.

But a dog could.

Tashiro didn't think he could get a guide dog, what others call a seeing-eye dog, because he still had a small shred of his vision. He can make out shapes. He could even tell you if a person emerging from a truck is a male or female, if the sun is shining.

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But at a conference in Denver for those with vision impairments, once the fog arrived and he knew things would only get worse, he met with Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a nonprofit guide dog school based in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. They told him he could get a dog and training at no cost.

In late November, he flew out for three weeks of training. Guiding Eyes matched him with Jake, a yellow lab.

Tashiro had never had a dog in his life, other than a couple mutts when he was a kid. Jake seemed friendly. He gave lots of licks. He was outgoing, even if he didn't wag his tail. He seemed ready to work.

But once Tashiro brought him home in December, he realized Jake wasn't just a friendly dog. He was a searchlight through the fog.

In the first snowfall they faced together, Tashiro walked outside his Greeley home with Jake in his harness. Jake bounded out and then paused. He could sense the slick footing and slowed so Tashiro wouldn't fall. Jake then recognized patches of snow or ice up ahead and avoided them. Tashiro was amazed. They trained on dry land the entire time.

It took Tashiro a bit to get used to Jake. Jake sometimes whines for attention. He wants pets a lot, and he pulls when he sees a stranger for attention.

"He's 2," said Tashiro, the father of two grown women. "So he's like a toddler."

But he knows the difference between the leash attached to him while he's in the house and the harness he wears when he's working. And Tashiro allows Jake some extra freedom in the backyard, when he doesn't wear anything.

"He knows he can be a dog then," Tashiro said. "He digs."

He allows him that freedom because Jake gives that freedom right back. Tashiro loves to cook, and now, if he's missing an ingredient, he can walk to Wal-Mart under Jake's guidance without worrying about nightfall blinding him. He can go for walks around his neighborhood, too.

He can enjoy Jake's companionship during a quiet morning, before the sunlight beckons them outside. He can scratch Jake on his head, with Jake's tail thumping on the side of the couch.

"Yeah, I know," Tashiro said softly. "That tail works now, doesn't it?"

— Staff writer Dan England is The Tribune's Features Editor. His column runs on Tuesday. If you have an idea for a column, call (970) 392-4418 or e-mail Follow him on Twitter @ DanEngland.

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Guiding Eyes provides assistance for blind and visually impaired people with trained guide dogs at no cost. It’s entirely supported by private donations.