A visually impaired high school student is trying to make life easier for others in the same circumstances.
Sammie Duerring, a 16-year old sophomore at Union Pines High School, became the first student ever at her school to use a guide dog during her day. The dog, named Gale in honor of the late Dr. Gale Martin, founder of Carolina Eye Associates, was paired with Sammie in 2011 after being trained through the Mira USA Foundation of Pinehurst.
“Having Gale has changed my life,” Sammie said. “I can’t describe in words what it has meant to have him with me.”
Sammie compared the difference between walking with a cane and having the assistance of a dog as “almost indescribable.”
“With a cane, people act like you’re not there and tend to almost run you over,” Sammie said. “It’s like people aren’t sure what to do with you. But now with Gale, I enjoy going out because people talk to me. He has made a world of difference.”
Sammie is now attempting to raise donations to provide a canine helper to another visually impaired child. The costs are considerable to own the specially trained animals, which have a working life of about 10 years at a cost of $60,000.
“I want to change another person’s life like Gale has changed mine,” she said. “Outside of food, there will be no cost to the family that receives the guide dog.”
Sammie initiated the fundraiser this past March 26, her birthday. The deadline to donate will be March 26, 2015, when she turns 17.
Mira USA Foundation President Marijanet Doonan called Sammie a “remarkable” young woman.
“What a selfless, wonderful thing to do,” Doonan said of the fundraising idea. “It says volumes about what Gale has meant to Sammie, and shows what a giving person she is. Sammie was painfully shy before receiving Gale, and now she gets out and does things. She recently participated in the ‘Race For Sight’ relay. We’re very proud of her.”
Formed in 2010, the Mira Foundation is the only organization in the country, Doonan said, that provides guide dogs to children ages 11 through 17.
“We have paired 16 dogs with children all over the country so far, with eight in North Carolina,” Doonan said. “The kids go to Canada for one month to get acquainted with their dogs, then the Canadian trainers come here to set routes for the dogs and the children.
“This experience often represents the first time in his or her life that a visually impaired young person assumes total responsibility. They usually have things done for them, so this is an important step in giving tremendous independence to the child.”
Union Pines Principal Robin Lea said that Sammie and Gale were “a joy” to work with.
“Sammie is so positive and works really hard at school,” Lea said. “It’s the first time we’ve ever had a service dog with a student on campus, and Sammie has been very patient with us as we learn what to do and what not to do with Gale.”
The first day of school included a training session for all students, Lea said, which included a reminder that Gale was “on duty” and not at school to play.
“We told the students that Gale has a job to do, and that they can’t pet him or bother him in any way,” Lea said. “I think they all understand, and I’ve not heard of a single problem in that regard.”
Sammie urged everyone to give whatever they can toward the fundraising drive.
“If 60,000 people would donate just $1, we would have the dog,” she said.
Donations can be made to either Union Pines High School or directly to Mira.
“You can visit our website at www.mirausa.org or drop by our new offices at 77 Cherokee Road in Pinehurst,” Doonan said. Call Mira at (910) 944-7757 for more information.
To contribute via Union Pines, donations may be sent to the school in care of Sammie at 1981 Union Church Road, Cameron, NC 28326.