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Lisa Horn and guide dog Miami

Two new residents came to Perham last spring - Lisa and Miami. Miami is a dog - a very special, well-educated, hard working dog. Miami is a guide dog. She has been Lisa Horn's "eyes" for the last four years. Lisa has a disease called retinitis pi...

Two new residents came to Perham last spring - Lisa and Miami.

Miami is a dog - a very special, well-educated, hard working dog. Miami is a guide dog. She has been Lisa Horn's "eyes" for the last four years. Lisa has a disease called retinitis pigmentosa, a scarring of the retina, which slowly causes loss of sight.

According to the Foundation Fighting Blindness, retinitis pigmentosa (RP) is the name given to a group of inherited eye diseases that affect the retina. Retinitis pigmentosa causes the degeneration of photoreceptor cells in the retina. Photoreceptor cells capture and process light helping us to see. As these cells degenerate and die, patients experience progressive vision loss. There is more information about this and other diseases of the eye at the Foundation's web site: www.blindness.org .

Lisa was diagnosed with RP when she was only five. By age 25 she had stopped using her eyes for reading. She now uses Braille for her reading and Miami to guide her.

Miami is a five-year-old black lab who was destined to be a guide dog from the moment she was born. She was raised by people qualified to work with guide pups. According to Guide Dogs for the Blind they "currently have more than 1,000 volunteer puppy raisers throughout the Western states. Qualified raisers receive pups when they are approximately 8 weeks old. While puppies are placed in homes, puppy raisers housetrain the pups, teach them basic obedience and good manners, and--above all--socialize them to the world."

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After leaving her puppy raisers, Miami went to school at Guide Dogs for the Blind, a non-profit, charitable organization, in San Rafael at the where she underwent formal guide dog training for six months.

Lisa also went to school in San Rafael. She spent 28 days learning how to work with a dog in harness. She says it was pretty tough training, but at the end she was matched up with Miami. The two have been working together since Sept. 11, 2002.

Lisa and her sister Wendy Jacobson, who lives on Lake 7 near Vergas moved to Perham from Ada to be closer to their sister Kelley Neyens who last year was in a coma caused by a car accident in Wisconsin. Lisa is living independently and Miami is helping her with getting around Perham just fine - except for things like "little short walls, benches, trees in sidewalks, and the lack of sidewalks." Kelley, Miami, and Lisa are getting the hang of Main Street after a few detours through the decorative nodes in order to cross streets.

Lisa says the most important navigation tools for her are a good memory and sense of direction. She will stop people to ask for help if she needs it. And she welcomes people to greet her and even engage in conversation. The important thing for everyone to remember, though is that Miami is a working guide dog. She should not be petted or even called by name. Lisa explains, "She needs to focus, so she shouldn't be touched or played with." Lisa also says, "It's amazing how kids know more than the adults some time." They are taught in school about blindness and guide dogs. In Ada Lisa visited the schools to help teach the children and would like to do the same thing in Perham.

If you see two young females, one human and the other a canine in harness; by all means say "hello" and welcome them to Perham. Just remember, Miami is always "at work."

More information about Guide Dogs for the Blind is available at www.guidedogs.com or (800) 295-4050. The address is PO Box 151200, San Rafael CA 94915-1200.

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