Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

February 3, 2014

Taylor has her new leader dog

By Ken Steadman
Chronicle contributor

CROSSVILLE — Donna Taylor received her new leader dog on Friday, Jan. 17. It is a female, black Labrador named Luna, who is 22 months old. The dog was delivered by car from Rochester, MI, with a trainer who will stay in Crossville for 10-14 days to help Donna and Luna to know each other.

Luna has begun to settle into some southern living very nicely. She attended the Lions Club Jan. 20 meeting with Donna and trainer to let the club members view her. The training will include many long walks around Donna’s neighborhood to get use to the new surroundings for Luna. It will also get Luna used to Donna’s pace and control of the harness. The main purpose of the training is to get the two new friends to know each other and bind together.

Donna is very anxious to return to her visits with school kids, community organizations, service clubs and churches.

"Donna, Norman and I made 81 visits over the last six years that included 34 schools in Cumberland County and East Tennessee. We hope to match and exceed these numbers with Luna and hope to get started this summer/fall period of time," said Ken Steadman.

Please let Ken know if you and your organization would like to be included by calling 484-5651. He is starting a list, which already has some prior commitments that were made just before Norman’s death.

Donna became blind in June 2001 just days before her 40th birthday. It all took place in a matter of 2-3 weeks. The early diagnosis was Multiple Sclerosis (MS) but most recently, Vanderbilt University Medical Department defined it as Devic's Disease. This is a form of MS that attacks the nerves in the eye and causes blindness. It is very rare in the United States. In Donna’s case, it destroyed her optic nerve in both eyes that can never be corrected. Donna got around for five years with a white cane and had to learn many things to change in her life.

The only way some people can relate to blindness is when the power goes out during the night while at home and they try to find the bathroom. Donna had to learn how to organize her kitchen, clothes closet and furniture in the house and then remember where she placed it. She got a lot of help from the Tennessee Department of Human Services and some useful tools to assist her. For example, she received a watch that talks to her about the time, meeting places and pill taking, and an instrument that identifies colors to help select clothes for the day and how to separate for laundry.

"I met Donna in 2006 when I was collecting donations for the Lions Club White Cane Days outside of Walmart," said Steadman. "Part of these donations goes toward funding Leader Dog for the Blind. Donna was shopping with a friend who noticed a poster about the leader dog program. Donna’s friend commented that Donna should consider getting a leader dog and they both started asking questions of me. One thing lead to another and Donna got her dog in the fall of 2006.

"Donna and I have been close friends ever since and partners in speaking engagements," he added. "We have talked to hundreds of thousands of adults and children and are excited to start again. Luna will make a perfect companion for the two of us. We hope to get started again with the Cumberland County School kids during the 2014-'15 school sessions."