On his recent three-city tour, Wrangler the guide-dog-in-training, stopped by the Crescenz VA Medical Center to visit with Veterans and produce his Philadelphia spotlight for the NBC Today Show. The Today Show is sponsoring the yellow Labrador retriever and his journey toward becoming a full-fledged guide dog for a blind or visually impaired individual.
Saxon Eastman, his Guiding Eyes for the Blind trainer, is raising the lovable and energetic puppy as well as helping to bring international awareness to service dogs and disability through their daily appearances on the Today Show.
Veterans who receive Crescenz VAMC Visual Impairment Services were provided an opportunity to have a personal meet and greet with the canine star Oct. 22, when he joined them for an evening get-together. At almost 12 months of age, Wrangler is learning basic skills and house manners, and perfecting his social abilities by getting smack-dab into the middle of everything.
“This is just one of the opportunities that we provide our blind Veterans in their journey to readjustment to vision loss,” said G.W. Stilwell, the coordinator of the Visual Impairment Services Team at the medical center. “While the VA has had a long history of providing blind rehabilitation, we have always partnered with guide dogs schools such as Guiding Eyes, to facilitate placement of guide dogs. While not everyone chooses to use a guide dog, we want to make sure that those who are best served by the use of a dog are able to obtain one.”
Loping into the room to share his own excitement of being at the medical center and meeting the proud women and men who have served their nation, Wrangler didn’t miss a beat as he made the social rounds to say hello to each Veteran. Equally pleased to be part of the experience, the Veterans obediently “oohed” and “aahed” over their new four-legged friend, easily bursting into smiles and laughter as his tail brushed their knees and his cool nose nuzzled their hands.
The puppy with a purpose made no bones about his dedication to his mission as he worked the room, giving each Veteran a chance to stroke his soft fur and ask Eastman questions about how a guide dog could change their life through enhancing their mobility.
“I’ve talked with someone from Guiding Eyes before,” said Richard Bullard, a Navy Veteran, who struck up an instant friendship with the canine. “Since then I’ve just been thinking about it, but now that I’ve actually met Wrangler I would take him home right now!”
Veterans agreed that it was a terrific way to spend an evening, thanking staff and crew for the opportunity to get to know the puppy and how he could make difference in their life.
“Enabling events like this to occur is why I keep coming to work,” said Stilwell, as he watched Wrangler interact with the Veterans. “It’s only by the VA providing opportunities like this for our blind Veterans, that they will be able to discover opportunities that will help them embrace their personal quest to regain full independence and enjoy life as everyone does.”
To learn more about what Blind Rehabilitation Service is and what is has to offer Veterans head here: http://www.rehab.va.gov/blindrehab.
About the Author: Jennifer Askey is the Public Affairs Officer at the Corporal Michael J. Crescenz VAMC in Philidelphia, Pennsylvania.