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Woman’s Best Friend

Linda Jones opened her heart to listeners at the Lions benefit on April 28 as she talked about how her guide dog has changed her life. “I feel 10-feet tall when I’m walking with him,” the legally blind woman said.

Jones was introduced by Jerry Lalonde, co-chair of the 8th annual Lions benefit at Seawanhaka Yacht Club on Sunday, April 28. “This is the third evening in a row of benefits in Oyster Bay. It’s a lot of requests for your money,” said Lalonde. Ian McCurdy and his wife Jane were among the several couples that attended all three events. A past commodore of Seawanhaka, McCurdy arranged for the use of the yacht club and was thanked by Lalonde.

Speaker Linda Jones introduced her best friend Seymour. “This is my guide dog, Seymour. He is Seymour because he sees more than I do.

“He was seven at his last birthday and we will be a team for six years in October,” she said, “

“When I was 11, I started to loose my sight. I became legally blind in my early 40s. Now I’m 64.” She has retinitis pigmentosa.

Linda said she was taught to use a cane with a white tip but to her the cane wasn’t helping at all. “There are so many obstacles on the street. In a small town there are chairs and tables out, flowerpots, or you go past a gas station with flags going and they hit you in the face. You go into a store and you knock over a display by accident.

“I would just stay home with a cane. It was embarrassing and demeaning. I’d just make excuses to not go out.

“My neighbor who was a puppy raiser asked me to go to the Guide Dog Foundation with her. They took away my cane and gave me a demo dog to walk around with and it was really unbelievable. But I said, “I do have a little bit of sight, like looking through a straw but they said, ‘You are legally blind.’

“I got my first dog in 1997. It gave me independence and self esteem. I could do anything all of a sudden. Now I go anywhere and I go where I want to go on trains and planes ad busses: all by myself. No one has to help me.

“I can do anything like anyone else,” she said with strength and vigor in her voice.

Linda added, “We walk really, really fast and it is so nice.. not to have to take baby steps. When they see us coming — they see us. Before, sometimes people would walk by and kick my cane — not on purpose. Now people come up to us and say, ‘isn’t he beautiful,’ and I say, ‘do you mean me?’”

Linda added, “My first dog changed my life, I can’t tell you how much. He gave me dignity, independence and self esteem, all important things that we take for granted.

“And people like you help people like me and I just want to thank you all from the bottom of my heart. You have made a difference in my life.”

Dog Talk

Sitting on a bench in the reception room of the yacht club she chatted about her dogs. Her best friend is a mix of his father, a golden retriever and his mother a flat-coat Retriever, an English variety. “He looks like his mother but acts like his father” she said. Linda got him when he was 17 months old. They graduated together from the Dog Guide Foundation where they were trained to partner. Her first dog was retired at 12 years. He stayed with Linda and her husband “and had bacon and eggs,” a real treat for the dog until his passing at 13 and a half.

Linda volunteers at the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind in Smithtown. “I answer telephones and talk to people about the GDF and VetsDogs, and direct calls to the right person — most of the time.” [She has a sense of humor about life.]

Learning new things is right up Linda’s alley. Today, she is learning Braille. “I just wanted to learn it. I’m slowly going at my own pace. I know the alphabet and numbers. So far I’ve gotten all A’s.

“I also like to ‘read’ from a tape recorder. And I’m going to join a knitting club at church. I enjoy it. What we knit goes to help people. You don’t need to be sighted to knit you feel it. [It is a tactile skill.]”

Linda recently had a cataract operation that improved her sight a bit in her left eye. The vision in her right eye is blurred. “My sight has improved, but no driving. Although I could,” she said with an optimistic chuckle.

Arf And Arf

There were two guide dogs invited to the Lions Club Spring benefit. Besides Seymour, there was Yoshi, a 9-month-old yellow lab, a puppy in training. Hugh Reilly borrowed the dog to bring to the event saying about them, “All dogs live for, is to please.” They love working.

Linda agreed saying, “I just get out Seymour’s harness and he is jumping around. He just loves it.”

Hugh is a regular volunteer in the GDF kennel. He said he recently boarded a VetsDog. The veteran dog owner fell out of his wheelchair and broke his hip. “The dog came back to the GDF and then stayed with me. If I dropped anything, like a remote control or a DVD, or a dishtowel, he would pick it up and bring it to me.” Yoshi was out gaining people skills at the benefit. Puppies in training are taken out to events to accustom them to many life experiences.

After Linda spoke Jerry Lalonde asked for donations to sponsor a guide dog. The guests responded with nods and a show of hands as he called out $1,000, $500, $400, $300, $250, $200, $150, $100 and ended saying, “We greatly appreciate it. I think out of that lot of donations, we can sponsor a dog.” He said it cost about $6,000.

You can find out more about the GDF on their website guidedog.org or call them at 631-265-2121. Linda might even answer the phone.