Cindy Shone woke at 3:30 a.m. on Saturday to what she thought was a school bell ringing. Still in a daze, she assumed she was running late for class. In a matter of seconds, she realized the ringing was coming from the hallway in her apartment building. She opened the front door to discover the hallway was filled with smoke. Her apartment building was on fire.
Cindy put her guide dog, Barney, a black Labrador/Golden Retriever cross, in his harness. She woke up her husband and he picked up their pet chihuahua. She called 911 to alert them of the fire and they said: “if you can get out of the building, then get out.”
“The smoke was unbelievable,” says Cindy. “My husband and I were coughing, people we passed in the hall were coughing, kids were crying – it was really stressful.”
The fire was in the front lobby of the three-storey apartment building, where Cindy and Barney would normally enter and exit from. Through the chaos of the smoke, tenants leaving their apartments and the alarm going off, Barney found a different exit. He led them down the hallway in the opposite direction they would normally go, through a door that took them down a set of stairs onto a deck at the back of the building. From there, they joined the rest of the tenants – some holding belongings or their pets. Many kids were still crying.
The emergency crews worked quickly to extinguish the fire and the tenants returned to their apartments a few hours later.
“To Barney it was no big deal, just another day of work,” says Cindy. “My guide dog mobility instructors always say ‘Barney works well for me because I give him proper commands’, but I was not calm in this situation and Barney remained calm the entire time. I can’t explain it…he just knew where to go and what to do.”
A few hours later, Barney was ready for his next day on the job.
“He had no fear going back into the building – perhaps, because the sun was up and he knew it was time for his breakfast.”
Thankfully, I have an incredible guide dog named Barney who helps keep me safe. I received him through the CNIB Foundation a year ago and having him by my side has transformed my life. He was the best Christmas gift I’ve ever received!
Before I got Barney, things were getting tough for me. My sight has worsened over the last few years, and it was becoming more and more difficult for me to travel on my own safely.
And I’ll tell you…I’ve had more than a few close calls. I’ve broken my foot twice over the last few years from stumbles. And six years ago, I was hit by a bus while crossing the street. I was lucky to survive.
As you can imagine, all this made me reluctant to go out alone. I found myself becoming more and more isolated.
And then Barney came into my life because of the generosity of donors like you, and everything changed. Suddenly, with this amazing dog by my side, I could do things on my own again with confidence… without worrying that I’d walk into an obstacle, twist my ankle or, even worse, be hit by a car again.
Sometimes people ask me, “Has Barney ever saved you from danger?” And I always tell them, “He saves my life every day.”
One of the incredible things about CNIB Guide Dogs is that these dogs are trained in what’s called “intelligent disobedience.”
It means that if I tell my guide dog to do something and he sees it’s not safe, he won’t obey the command – even though he’s been trained to listen to me.
For instance, a few weeks back I was walking with Barney and we reached a bike path. I told him to go forward, but he refused. Instead, he put his body in front of mine as a cyclist came whizzing past – so close I could feel the breeze on my face as he zoomed by. If it wasn’t for Barney’s intelligent disobedience, we almost certainly would have been hit.
Incidents like this happen all the time – and I can’t even imagine how many times he saves me from danger that I don’t even know about.
I am so grateful to have Barney in my life. I not only feel safer, but I have my freedom back. My life does not feel limited anymore. It feels like it’s mine to live again.
On top of the guide dog program, the CNIB Foundation delivers dozens of other life-changing programs to people in your area who are blind – from technology training to career services to support groups and much more.
Life with sight loss can sometimes be very limiting, but these programs are designed to break through the limits – to help people achieve their career goals, learn new skills, make friends, and lead fuller, more active lives with blindness. And all of these programs are funded by donations from people like you.
That’s why we need your support!
P.S. I can’t tell you how much I’ve come to care about my guide dog, Barney, in the year since he came into my life. He’s not only part of my family, but he’s a crucial part of my independence.
Please drive carefully and be respectful and patient with those with vision loss. – A message from FUELER Canada Magazine.