In the blind community, running with a guide dog is unheard of and not without its detractors, who point to the real risk of serious injury or death for both partners, or even the life-long self-torment of a dog psychologically unable to work after a traumatic incident. Kuck is matter-of-fact, but not glib, about what running has done for him. Without it, he says, “I’d be dead.” He’s lived with Type I diabetes for almost 40 years and runs in part to help maintain circulation and regulate his blood sugar. His blindness was caused by diabetic retinopathy, a leaking of blood vessels in the retina. Prognosis is poor, and yet he’s kept it in check since the mid-1980s. “Running blind is easy,” he likes to say. “It’s managing diabetes that’s difficult.”
Audi has proved to be indispensable. He never cancels at the last minute with a schedule conflict, which allows Kuck to run at the same time every morning. He also has a nose for Kuck’s blood-sugar levels—a more accurate gauge, in fact, than Kuck’s $800 continuous glucose monitor. He has been known to turn his partner around and head home on training runs when he senses Kuck’s low blood sugar.
Off the clock, Audi checks discipline at the door but maintains his irrepressible energy level. Janet Leonard, Kuck’s partner of more than two decades, calls Audi a nine-year-old puppy. All the household trashcans have metal lids to keep him from strewing their contents. He knows how to open the zippers on luggage to steal treats. And dancing to disco music with Kuck is a favorite pastime.
In those moments, a person could be forgiven for mistaking Audi for a pet. But when he nudges Kuck awake in the middle of the night to do a monitor test— and sure enough, the reading is low—it becomes clear that there really is no “off the clock” for Audi. There is only off leash and on-leash. And from both sides, there is endless gratitude.