Maureen Smith and Dexter present Lions program

Published 1:26 pm Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Columbus Lions recently invited Maureen Smith and her guide dog, Dexter, to tell about their experiences as graduates of the Southeastern Guide Dog program. Ever since Helen Keller challenged Lions to become “knights to the blind,” Lions throughout the world have made it their mission to help the visually impaired. One way they do this is through their support of guide dog programs and for North Carolina Lions, this means a yearly contribution to the Southeastern Guide Dog School in Palmetto, Fla.

Maureen Smith and Dexter

Smith told how she had lost her vision – not all at once, but gradually – as a result of a car accident a number of years ago. As her vision problems became more acute, she decided to apply for a guide dog and learned it was preferable she train while she still had some vision. After arriving at Southeastern, she met Dexter, a half yellow lab and half golden retriever, and began their month-long training session. Smith and Dexter were harnessed together 24/7 as they practiced the 40 commands Dexter had learned in his prior two years of training. Not only did they experience visiting libraries, hospitals and airports together, but also they had to cross eight lanes of traffic on one of the busiest highways in Tampa. Smith said she was apprehensive but felt confident she would make it across – after all, her teachers were going to protect the $60,000 investment represented by Dexter.

Lions understand they are not to pet a service dog when he is working, but it was very difficult to resist Dexter. Fortunately, Smith removed Dexter’s harness after the presentation and he then joyously greeted everyone. When one of the Lions commented on the strong bond between Smith and Dexter, she laughingly said, “If he could drive at night, I’d marry him.”

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Internationally, Lions have pledged to eliminate all avoidable blindness in the world and have invested over $343 million toward that goal. Locally they pay for eye exams and glasses for those who can’t afford them and give special care to Polk County’s visually impaired. If you would like to learn more about being a Lion and what they do in the community, call Pat Recker at 828-894-2615.

The Columbus Lions meet at 6:30 p.m. on the first and third Thursdays at Calvert’s Kitchen. Visitors are welcome.