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Wasilla man credits Guide Dog Foundation for new best friend

Bryan Gearry recently graduated from guide dog handling training in New York
Bryan Gearry recently graduated from guide dog handling training in New York
Published: Apr. 28, 2022 at 6:35 PM AKDT
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PALMER, Alaska (KTUU) - After stopping in for a bite to eat at his favorite burger joint, Bryan Gearry took a stroll on the downtown streets of Palmer with his new canine friend Erin in tow.

Gearry is visually impaired, and after an incident where he drove off the road years ago, he was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa. It’s a rare genetic eye disease that affects the retina. Eventually, Gearry will lose his eyesight completely, but with Erin by his side, he’ll be able to keep his independence.

“All my friends really got tired of me whacking them in the shins all the time with a cane,” Gearry smiled.

Brian and Erin only just recently met each other in Smithtown, New York where Gearry completed a 10-day training in guide dog handling. As Gearry began losing his sight, he did not opt for a service animal at first.

Erin is a golden retriever specially trained by the Guide Dog Foundation and an all-around good girl. She’s able to lead Bryan through traffic, in and out of doors, as well as stop at elevation changes such as curbs and stairs.

“I thought I could see the entire world but I guess I wasn’t,” Gearry recalled. “So consequently that led me on a whole journey of the blind community.”

Perhaps what makes Erin stand out from other guide dogs is that she has been trained in the ways of a true sourdough. The foundation geared her training towards everyday life in Alaska — taking her on practice flights in a Beechcraft Bonanza to get her used to small planes and acclimating her around large animals such as horses and cattle, to prepare her for moose, bears, and caribou.

Bryan Gearry and his guide dog, Erin, fly in a Beechcraft Bonanza
Bryan Gearry and his guide dog, Erin, fly in a Beechcraft Bonanza(Photo Credit Guide Dog Foundation)

“Living here in Alaska, you know, all of us are always in small planes,” Gearry said. “There’s more planes than cars in this country.”

On April 27, the Guide Dog Foundation celebrated International Guide Dog Day by congratulating Gearry on becoming a certified handler. The day honors the loyal and loving companions and the hard work they do to keep people with disabilities comforted and safe.

The foundation also works to to bring awareness to cultural discrimination toward guide dogs and educate the public about proper etiquette when encountering an individual with one. The Americans With Disabilities Act ensures people with disabilities can be accompanied by their guide or service dog in all places the public is permitted.

Erin and Gearry are continuing to train with each other, but the sweet pup already has the tools she needs to be Gearry’s eyes and, of course, his new best friend.

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