RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Darcie Crane and her guide dog, Dodger, are a well-known pair on the campus of N.C. State.
“He helps me get to class,” Crane said. “He helps me cross the street.”
Darcie lost her sight when she was 5 years old and got a guide dog at 14.
“It was much better,” she said. “I wasn’t nearly as, I would say, ashamed because when I walked down the hallways with a cane, people would avoid me and when I got a dog, everybody was coming up to me and talking.”
She received her dog from MIRA Foundation USA. The Pinehurst organization pairs guide dogs with kids as young as 11. Julia LaGrand recently came to North Carolina from Michigan to see if she’d qualify for a dog.
“I’ve always really wanted the possibility of a guide dog. It’s something that’s always really intrigued me,” she said. “Knowing that there was a way that could happen was just like amazing because I’d always heard that I couldn’t get one this young.”
MIRA is the only organization in the U.S. that provides guide dogs to children under the age of 16.
Instructors came in from MIRA’s parent organization in Canada to work with the kids. They practiced navigating sidewalks, crossing streets, and learning how to communicate with the dogs, who respond to commands in French.
Julia, who just turned 12, was accepted into the program and will go to Canada this summer to train.
One father, David LaGrand, said, “It’s easy for blind children to get cut out of social groups because they can’t always make contact people have to make contact with them and dogs can really break that cycle.”
Richard Chatham is the director of the MIRA Foundation USA, a non-profit that provides the dogs and the training free of charge for students who qualify. The organization said that as more and more people learn about it, it’s having trouble keeping up with demand.
Overall, Chatham said, “It’s easier to place a guide dog with a child because children are more adaptive than adults, adults are already set in their ways.”
Kids and young teens are always trying to find their way in the world, which is difficult enough for those who can see.
For those who can’t see, Crane said, “Having a dog is very important because it gives them that confidence to interact and explore their options.”