Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Jeremy and Spice

By: Jim Price

He was 26 and depressed. He didn't even know it, but his wife could see it plain as day. And she came up with the perfect solution – time to get a guide dog.

Jeremy Jeffers of Los Angeles started life a bit behind everyone else. He was missing one leg and he had retinopathy of prematurity. And he had spent most of his young life proving those things aren't what make you a man. "I was in the band in middle school and for discipline you had to run around this big track. I got in trouble for something but they said I didn't have to do it because of my vision." Jeremy ran it twice.

He said he has always been sensitive to what other people say. "I didn't ever want to be 'that blind guy.'" Until recently he had enough vision to get by, even though his left eye didn't work at all. When his vision finally failed altogether (he can only detect light and dark now) it put him in a funk. "That's the thing about someone who really loves you. They can see past your poker face. I thought I was fine but Majanaye could tell. She had a friend, Nicole Bautista, who was a Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) grad and was doing great with her guide dog. She was convinced a dog would help me and she was right."

His new dog is female yellow Lab Spice, who was raised in Port Townsend, Wash., by Michael Porter and Mary Munford. "Spice is amazing," he said, subconsciously reaching down to his side for a pat. "She has a very warm personality, even though she is somewhat cautious. GDB does such a great job of matching us up. I can't imagine a more perfect dog for me." He was in class at the Oregon campus of Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Jermey hugs his guide dog Spice - a Yellow Labrador Retriever

His first walk with Spice, however, ". . .was horrible. I was so nervous. All I could think about was don't screw up this beautiful dog. I got along great with Juno. We walked. We were good. (Juno is a fake dog on wheels that students use to practice with before they get their real dogs.) Thankfully, Spice is so patient. She's like, 'Okay, Dude. I'll go with you, even though . . .' I didn't get that sense of freedom at all. I was too nervous. But then last night (his ninth day in class) we went on our first night walk and it all came together. If felt so great to just walk down the street by yourself, no worries, you know you aren't going to bump into anything – it was great. I loved it."
 Back home in LA Jeremy and Spice will be on the move. He is a musician, playing piano at two churches and for anyone else who calls. He attended a performing arts magnet high school. They asked what would be his biggest dream. He told them, and they made it happen – he played trumpet on stage while Stevie Wonder played the piano. At one point his blues group won a competition and the prize was to play with Ray Charles. He also writes and produces original music. "Music is fun. It's challenging and can be very rewarding one day then very depressing the next. But it's all worth it. I love it." During training at the Oregon campus the instructors even took Jeremy and Spice, along with another musician in the class, to a music store. "She did great," he said, his voice obviously proud.

Jeremy and his guide dog Spice walk down a sunny street

"This class has been tough," he said. In addition to his prosthetic leg, he had to endure back spasms while in Oregon as the routes are many and long, mostly through downtown Portland. "But it's all worth it. I have been hesitant to go places because I don't want to overextend my welcome with people. If I can do it myself, I will. I'd rather do that than leave a bad taste in someone's mouth. With Spice, I will be able to do a lot more networking with people. I will have a lot more independence. I'll be able to go different places, see people. Just being out by myself will make it all worthwhile."

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