In March of last year, People magazine, at People.com, began following the life of a sweet little puppy named Murphy. It seems that Murphy was destined do great things in his doggy life starting with his first day of school at Guiding Eyes for the Blind in Yorktown Heights, NY. Young Murphy was a chosen one – a yellow lab on a 16-month journey to become a guide dog for a blind or visually impaired person, and his training began at the tender age of three weeks old.
Meanwhile back here in Tacoma, as Murphy was in New York learning the ropes for his grown-up years, LindaKay Drake was enjoying her very busy life with her German Shepard guide dog Campbell, also a graduate of Guiding Eyes for the Blind. To say that LindaKay is an active and giving woman is putting it mildly. She does a lot of volunteer work at her church, she’s a high-ranking belt in karate (just two belts shy of her black belt) and she takes part in a blind knitting group knitting afghans for veterans and hats for the homeless, and these are just some examples of her activities.
LindaKay and Campbell did everything together, but he was reaching his senior years, and LindaKay needed a new companion that could keep up with her – even though it nearly broke her heart having to say goodbye to Campbell (a.k.a. “Mr. Handsome,” as he was affectionately known).
“I really struggled with my decision,” LindaKay told the Tacoma Weekly as she took a break from working in her church’s food bank on a Monday morning. “I called my (Guiding Eyes for the Blind) field rep and we decided to retire Campbell. I love him so much. I didn’t realize how hard it was going to be until I got to Guiding Eyes and they came to take him from my room. I sat on my bed and I cried the biggest tears for the longest time.”
However, there was another companion waiting to meet LindaKay such that she was without a guide dog for less than 48 hours. “Two days later, Murphy walked into my life and at that point my heart and my soul were healed,” she said.
The good people at Guiding Eyes for the Blind had to make sure, though, that LindaKay was comfortable with bringing a “celebrity dog” into her life. After all, Murphy’s story had shared page space at People.com with the likes of Ben Affleck, Taylor Swift and the Royal Family.
LindaKay tells the story best in her own words. “On ‘Dog Day,’ as it’s known within Guiding Eyes, everyone goes into a big room and waits with anticipation as the instructors start calling off names. But I got a knock on my dorm room door that morning and the instructors said they wanted to talk. It floored me for a moment but they said everything was fine – they just wanted to make sure that I was okay with getting a special dog. I said, ‘You mean special as in the Today Show dog Wrangler?’ (Wrangler was a puppy the show recently followed growing up to be a police dog.) And they said, ‘Yes, you’re getting the People magazine guide dog at large.’ I couldn’t believe what I was hearing – and I cried happy tears. My husband said, ‘Only you would get a celebrity dog,’” LindaKay laughed.
“In addition to their compatible pace and work style, LindaKay and Murphy were also matched based on personality,” said Louise Thompson, Murphy’s trainer. “Murphy plays as hard as he works, but also enjoys having fun on his down time and sometimes acts like a teenage boy. LindaKay is able to keep Murphy on track work-wise, but also allows Murphy’s comical personality to thrive. The two are a perfect match.”
She spent three weeks with Murphy at Guiding Eyes for the Blind, bonding with him and going through the paces necessary to help Murphy and his human companion more easily adjust to home life together. LindaKay and Murphy graduated with a class of eight of their fellow guide dog teams, and she was chosen to address the class.
“It has been very rewarding to be a part of everyone’s journey.
We have seen each other in our weakest and our strongest points. There have been tears that we all have shared during different times in our training together. We all came here either knowing no one or some of us had a friend, maybe two, but at the end, we are all returning with 10 new friends and many, many, many staff members, volunteers and everyone involved in this incredible organization known as Guiding Eyes for the Blind,” she said in her speech.
The day that LindaKay and Murphy flew back home, Aug. 19, was Murphy’s second birthday. Back in Tacoma now for one week, LindaKay said things are going very well. “In the first week we did Costco, bible study, blind knitting group, church, and my life group at church. He had a pretty busy first week and he’s handling it like a champ.”
LindaKay has not been blind her whole life, but rather gradually lost her sight beginning about 10 years ago from macular degeneration. Now she’s left with no sight in her right eye and very limited sight in her left eye, like looking through a soda straw as she described it.
“I had to learn to be a blind person,” she said, “but through the strength of God and my faith and my church, I have been able to make such a smooth transition.”
In a question-and-answer page on the Guiding Eyes for the Blind website, LindaKay talks about how liberating it is to have a guide dog.
“Retiring ‘Slim,’ my tall, skinny walking partner, otherwise known as my white cane, was just an incredible feeling of independence. I’m able to walk with so much more confidence. Walking in darkness is a very scary thing. With a guide dog, the dark has become light. …I don’t feel like I’m walking down the sidewalk with my cane and a big target on my back.”
LindaKay can’t say enough good things about the non-profit Guiding Eyes for the Blind, which provides exceptionally
trained guide dogs with no upfront costs. Training, travel, equipment, room and board, and follow-up services are all provided free of charge. Donations from individuals, corporations, foundations and service groups cover the entire cost to graduate a guide dog team.
“It is a phenomenal organization,” LindaKay said. “They give the gift of independence and freedom back that has been taken from some of us and given for the first time to others. They gave me a lifetime of independence. I tout Guiding Eyes all the time,” including when LindaKay visits elementary schools to talk about her life with a guide dog.
To learn more about Guiding Eyes for the Blind, visit www.GuidingEyes.org. To read People magazine’s coverage of Murphy (and to see some of his adorable baby photos), visit https://people.com/pets/