My nephew got a new dog.
Big deal you say. You're right, it really is.
The dog is a beautiful German Shepherd named Casey.
And she's smart; really, really smart.
You know those geography tests where American students can't tell Texas from Rhode Island? This dog would know. She'd even know the state capitals, the average household income and where they're doing construction on the Interstate.
You ever put together one of those "easy to assemble" computer desks for one of your kids and end up wanting to blast the dunderhead who wrote the directions? This dog wouldn't need directions. Or half the screws in the little plastic packet.
Casey and my nephew met at a school in Michigan. They bunked together for a month, getting to know one another, navigating city streets, stairs, curbs, doorways, public transportation, a shopping mall and the narrow aisles of a crowded dime store.
My nephew was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa at age 13. RP steals vision, starting from the outside of the retina and working its way in.
If you took one of those black sleeping masks and punched a pinhole for each eye, then laid a coarse screen over the pinholes, you'd have an idea of how much vision my nephew has left at age 21. All of which is to say, not much.
A couple of days after the duo came home, my nephew was hanging in the refrigerator when his mom asked where his dog was.
"Upstairs in my room on tie-down," he answered.
His dad said, "Look down by your feet."
The dog had wriggled out of her tie-down and was sitting at her master's heels.
When he leaves the house, she stares forlornly at the door, waiting for his return. When he walks into the room, her eyes dance and she smiles from ear to ear.
Of course, like all creatures she has a bit of a dark side. Sometimes out of the blue she rips through the house at top speed, leaps in the air like a buckin' bronco, then screeches to a halt, lies down and looks both ways to see if anybody noticed.
It costs about $36,000 to train a human-dog team. Casey comes from Leader Dogs in Rochester, Mich. If you are legally blind, or have a hearing impairment, and are able to train with a dog, the program is free. Completely and totally. Costs nothing. Nunca. Nada.
The program is made possible by private donations from Lions Clubs around the world, the Stephen Polk family and from individuals here and there sending a check or making a donation on-line. Leader Dogs takes no government money whatsoever. Maybe that is why the program works so well.
Sometimes it is easy to overlook the fact that we do some pretty cool things in this country. We routinely come to the aid of others affected by circumstances beyond their control, be it natural disasters, man-made disasters, or physical disabilities. The United States is the most commercial nation and the most philanthropic nation in human history.
My nephew and his dog, and many others like them, have become a team because average Joes open their wallets. Because everyday moms and pops are glad to make a difficult situation just a little bit easier for someone they don't even know.
I thought you might like to know about a remarkable program like Leader Dogs. And a remarkable dog like Casey.
The nephew is pretty remarkable, too.