After about 14 months of use, Kathryn Deming’s white walking cane is put away — where she hopes it will stay — now that she and Dane have been matched to navigate around her sight-impaired world.
“I have something much better than the cane and he’s wonderful” she said.
Deming, 86, and Dane, a 2-year-old yellow Labrador retriever, graduated Sunday from training at Guide Dogs of the Desert, a nonprofit group based in Whitewater.
Deming was among four graduates who had had guide dogs in the past. Instead of going through a 28-day first time training on site, instructors visited their homes for up to 10 days of training.
Deming, a Hemet resident, has age-related macular degeneration, which affects the central field of vision. She had her previous guide dog, a golden retriever named Sunset, for about seven years before he died.
“The first month I had to think about it because I was devastated when I lost Sunset,” she said, and went back to using a white cane. “I hated going back to using a cane. It seemed so inefficient after having a working dog.”
The widow and mother of three grown children, concluded that Sunset “would not want me to be alone.”
For a time, she said, she was scared that because of her age she might not be able to get another dog, but Guide Dogs officials told her “it didn’t matter” so she waited for the right match.
Trina Began, deputy director of canine operations at Guide Dogs and an instructor, met with Deming and Dane earlier this month.
Began worked with Deming around the house, on sidewalks, the Dial-a-Ride bus and busy shopping areas such as Florida and Sanderson avenues for traffic training.
Besides Dane, which she refers to as her new “love,” the only other change in Deming’s life is the telephone. “I’m going to disconnect my telephone. It rings constantly. ‘When are we going to meet Dane?’ ” friends ask, she joked.
They went to the beauty shop last week and another day took a Braille Institute bus to the institute in Rancho Mirage, where Deming takes exercise classes, computer keyboarding and meets friends.
At Sunday’s graduation, Deming met Dane’s puppy-raiser family and a donor, who contributes $1,500 or more for puppy supplies and in exchange gets to name the dog. Dane’s sponsor, Eric Norland, of Palm Springs, used to live in Dane County, Wis.
Dane is the fifth dog raised by Robert and Sally Kurth, and daughter Megan, in Victorville. “We traded stories about Dane,” Robert Kurth said at the graduation lunch.