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While on the phone on Wednesday afternoon, Sherry Gomes was reminded by her guide dog, Shani, that it was well after dinner when the brown-eyed yellow lab let out a dramatic groan that sighed in the background and dragged itself through the line.
Meal tracking isn’t Shani’s only skill. The 5 year old is one of the best guide dogs that Gomes, who is completely blind, has ever had.
The 5-year-old guide dog is adept at guiding Gomes safely over cracks in the sidewalk, across streets and to the door of Gomes’ favorite café – Que’s Espresso on Airport Road. He made a big impact on Gomes’ life.
Gomes was connected to Shani through a guide dog school: Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Gomes completed the program in late February. Previously having a guide dog who was struggling, Shani helped Gomes strengthen her independence.
Gomes was born with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that causes joint inflammation, stiffness and can affect the optic nerves. Gomes has several artificial joints, an overgrown knee and has been blind since she was 5 years old.
Growing up in California, Gomes’ parents always told her that her physical limitations couldn’t keep her from doing the things she wanted to achieve in life. That shaped Gomes’ perspective and his urge to have a guide dog who could help her be independent. Now Shani is helping her to continue this ability.
“I’ll rave about a little,” said Gomes. “Because of my arthritis, I always had chronic pain and walked more and more slowly. I had problems with my balance. When I walk a guide dog that was brought home to me while training with Shani, I feel like someone who doesn’t have all of these physical limitations. I feel safe. I am confident. For my pace, I fly down the street. “
Since she was 7 years old when Gomes read a book about guide dogs, Gomes dreamed of having one of her own. She got her first guide dog at the age of 17 and said it changed her life. But not all of their guide dogs have behaved best.
Before Shani, from 2014 to 2019, Gomes had a guide dog who wasn’t safe. The dog had a serious problem with the dog’s distraction and pulled or fell while leading Gomes. The situation was bad enough that Gomes couldn’t rely on the dog and had to ask friends to take her out to help her control the dog. This, she said, defeated the purpose of having a guide dog. After retiring the dog, Gomes decided she had to try a new school.
Guiding Eyes for the Blind is based in York Town Heights, New York, but serves people in the United States and Canada with a variety of disabilities, including traumatic brain injuries. The school trains dogs to work to help the person with their specific needs. It was this aspect that encouraged Gomes to enroll.
Melissa Smith is a local school guide dog mobility teacher based in Denver. She worked with Shani and Gomes for two weeks to get to know them. Smith said Shani was originally dating someone other than Gomes. However, this person’s health deteriorated and they decided to take Shani back to school. Shani’s training with the former owner went well with the skills Gomes needed in a guide dog.
“This dog couldn’t be more perfect for her,” said Smith. “Sherry needs a dog that can concentrate on work. Everyone (dog) usually has a little quirk that they need to train. Shani doesn’t have any of these quirks. It’s almost perfect. “
Shani, Gomes’ sixth guide dog, was the opposite of her previous guide dog. The yellow laboratory can skillfully show Gomes what is in their environment. The animal is so in sync with Gomes that it understands when Gomes is in pain and may need to walk more slowly. The dog also remembers places including the coffee shop and the starting points of the Gomes driveway.
“I haven’t had Shani long enough to know if she is the best, but she is synonymous with the best dog I’ve ever had,” said Gomes. “I had this dog in the 90s.”
While Shani was shopping at Flatirons Mall on February 22nd, he paused to alert Gomes that the floor texture was changing. Switching from carpet to tile could have tripled Gomes if Shani hadn’t alerted her. And while Shani serves as a dedicated guide dog, she is an equally good companion.
“She’s very loving, follows me everywhere and snuggles into bed at night,” said Gomes. “It just makes my entire life a lot better.”
Gomes’ independence has always been an important part of her life. For the past 11 years she has worked in technical support for a company that develops hardware and software for the blind and visually impaired. In her spare time, when she is not with friends in a café, shopping or in the theater, she has worked out the pages of her first novel “Haven”, which she will publish herself this year and publish on Amazon. The book is set in a fictional town in Colorado and follows the life and romance of a blind woman.
Focusing on the story of women outside of their blindness is an important element of the story. Throughout her life, Gomes said people treated her like there was nothing she could do for herself. She said she heard people amazed that she was able to do basic things like dressing and feeding herself. People fear and misunderstand what it’s like to be blind, she said.
“I always thought that when we were writing fiction about people who live everyday life,” said Gomes, “people who work, have romances, have problems – with the focus not on blindness, but on the fact that the person is a normal person is and. ” I have experienced the same problems and conflicts that may help inform some people that blindness is not to be feared. “
Gomes has already completed half of her second manuscript for her next book. With Shani by her side, Gomes can take all the coffee breaks she needs to achieve this and many other goals.
“Having Shani and saying ‘Forward’ and taking off,” she said, “I feel like I can go on with the world.”