Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Jacqueline Rennebohm was diagnosed with Cone-Rod Dystrophy, a degenerative eye disease, when she was nine years old. However, she hasn't let a little thing like failing eyesight stop her from pursuing her dreams. I had a chance to speak with Jacqueline via Skype and I'm proud to introduce to you an energetic and positive young lady and her German Shepherd seeing eye dog, Dexter. They are the newest Special Achiever team sponsored by CANIDAE.
Jacqueline attends the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, majoring in environmental health. On top of her studies, she's also a 100 and 200 meter sprinter in track and field, training to hopefully nab a spot on Team Canada and represent her country in London, England at the 2012 Paralympic games in September. A human guide runs beside her when she's on the track and guides her. Dexter sits on the sidelines and roots her on. His job is to aid Jacqueline off the track.
Dexter received his training at Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation in Bloomfield, Connecticut, and Jacqueline was matched with him last August. His training began two years earlier at the age of eight weeks when he was placed with a volunteer foster family for a year and a half. He was socialized and taught basic skills. The next six to eight months was when he learned how to be a guide dog. Dexter's training required two years, and Jacqueline had to learn the basics of working with Dexter in just two short weeks. Guide dogs can take some time to bond with their owner, but Dexter and Jacqueline hit it off right from the start. You can hear the love and respect she has for Dexter when she talks about him.
Jacqueline has been feeding Dexter CANIDAE All Life Stages and has been impressed with the results. “The food works for him so well. He has the right amount of energy and his coat is so soft. We were at a function last night and there were other guide dogs there, all German Shepherds, and a couple of the owners asked, 'What are you giving your dog? His coat is so soft.' They are all blind, and they're feeling the dogs and they started to notice the difference; they could tell Dexter's coat was the nicest. It is, and I'm spreading the news about CANIDAE because he's so chipper and looks really healthy and lean. I can truly say he's being fueled properly and is able to keep up with my pace with ease, so he's on the right food, for sure.”
Just like any relationship, Jacqueline and Dexter have discovered things about each other by interacting and learning together. Winter walking can be treacherous in Canada when periods of snow are followed by warmer weather that melts the snow and then freezes as ice. Jacqueline explained one small thing Dexter has learned, “Dexter has learned that the ice causes me to slip and fall on him. And he's slowly figuring out that if he stops before the ice, I won't fall on him!” she said with a laugh.
A guide dog knows what his job is and understands the basics, but it's through daily activities and working with his owner where he truly begins to figure out the little things he needs to learn on his own that helps him guide his owner. It's impossible to try and teach everything a guide dog will encounter day to day because it's different with each person and is based on what they need their dog to learn.
I asked Jacqueline how Dexter changed her life and she said, “I say it with a smile, he's made a big difference. I can go out and not worry. Visually, I can see less than 7 percent. I have no more central vision left and limited peripheral and can see less than five feet. Before Dexter, my world was always changing and I've always been adapting. But it gets to a point that you can't adapt anymore because you have nothing left. So Dexter has come at a good time.” She went on to explain how Dexter has reduced her level of stress just by being by her side. “It's the little differences that really have made me see the bright side of what I've been missing for a bit or not knowing what I was missing.”
She has such a positive attitude about life. “You can't think of it as a negative because then your whole life will be negative. You have to be reactive to what you are given and take it as a challenge, but a positive challenge.”
Jacqueline competed at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games as a blind speed swimmer and was named to Team Canada in track and field as a sprinter in the 100 and 200m for the 2011 Para Pan-Am Games in Mexico where she finished in sixth place. She's been to six of the seven continents competing in both swimming and track on Team Canada over the last nine years.
CANIDAE is proud to sponsor Jacqueline and wishes her well in achieving her goals. I have no doubt she will be successful – with Dexter's help of course!
Read more articles by Linda Cole