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A Blind Runner and His Amazing Guide Dog
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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.

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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 54: May/Jun 2009
Brad Crawford writes and runs in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Photographs by Nathan W. Armes

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Submitted by Richard Hunter | March 20 2010 |

I'm a fellow visually impiared runner who keeps asking the question about whether or not guide dogs can be trained to run with their partner. I heard "no" as recently as the day before a fellow visually impaired runner sent me this article. Is there a guide dog program that will train a dog to do this? I've heard of someone blind running with their dog on a track, but this is certainly one step further. I presently run marathons and do triathlons, but my vision has deteriorated far enough where safety is becoming more of an issue for me to run on my own. My public e-mail address is richard@cdifferent.org. I'd love to speak to this gentleman.

Submitted by Elizabeth Hilburn | June 9 2012 |

I wish I could answer the question you posted. Unfortunately, I don't have an answer. I was however, curious if you did get your question answered. I'm in an Orientation & Mobility program to become an O&M and I am writing my final project. I'm focusing on running guides and writing a curriculum for O&M's to become running guides. I know many people out there who are guide running are volunteers who don't have much of a background in O&M and have become great running partners for people who are visually impaired. However, I thought it might be interesting to see how we could incorporate O&M into the running and guiding techniques, especially while trail running (as opposed to on a track) as there are likely more unexpected turns/obstacles. I am going to include a portion on running with a guide dog. I have not come across any current literature or training programs on this topic. Have you found anything on this topic and have you begun using a guide dog since your last post? Thanks! Good luck with your future marathons and aspirations!

Submitted by Joy Thomas | June 24 2013 |

Elizabeth,
I'm reading this about a yaer after you posted your comment. How did your report turn out, and did your research uncover anything that would be helpful for a blind runner like myself? I'm curious how a running partner guides the blind runner (i.e. do they run directly in fron tof them, and do they hold the partner's arm like when walking)

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