Frommer the dog guides young Hailey man’s life
By Eric Valentine
In one of Raymond Carver’s most famous short stories, “Cathedral,” a man who’s blind asks a man with sight to describe for him a cathedral. But he doesn’t have the words. So he draws it, with the blind man’s hand grasping his.
As the drawing is completed, the man with sight closes his eyes: “My eyes were still closed. I was in my house. I knew that. But I didn’t feel like I was inside anything. ‘It’s really something,’ I said.”
It’s a remarkable story about the difference between the physical act of looking and the mental reality of seeing. And it’s a lesson one day Hailey’s Walter Elias, 20, might be helping folks understand.
“I know I want to travel and I’m not sure exactly what I’ll be doing as a career, but I know I want to be doing outreach in some way,” Elias said.
The idea of travel is fast becoming a whole new reality for Elias, who is blind. That’s because of a 2-year-old black Lab named—appropriately—Frommer, who has been serving as Elias’ guide dog since March 1. Frommer is named after the famous brand of travel guidebooks.
“Walking around is easier, safer, and faster,” Elias said.
Elias explains that’s because, prior to Frommer in his life, he’d use a cane to make his way around. While canes are useful for finding obstacles, dogs are able to just move their person around those obstacles.
“I’m able to get around so much faster now,” Elias said.
One of the things Elias does more often now is go on long hikes. A challenge to navigate alone before, trails are becoming a place for Elias to take in nature. Not by looking at it, but by experiencing it.
“I love just listening to nature, the quiet of it, the wind through the trees, the sound of all the birds,” Elias observed.
Frommer also allows Elias to go about his everyday life inside his home with less dependence on people.
“I don’t need to rely so much on people telling me where stuff is,” Elias said.
Elias got connected to Frommer thanks to John Turner, a family friend back in Texas who also uses a guide dog. Turner, 85, said the confidence and independence he gained after bringing a guide dog into his life years ago is immeasurable. But some metrics after eight guide dogs include having been to 48 states, 40 countries and serving on the Texas Commission for the Blind for six governors.
“From day one I’ve just felt more dignity walking around with a dog than with a darn stick in my hand,” Turner said. “These dogs are so helpful sometimes people think that you can see.”
Although assimilating into regular community life is the goal for anyone with a disability, Elias does hope Valley residents are aware of certain things. For instance, interacting with Frommer is a natural tendency for dog lovers. People, Elias said, see his dog and want to pet him right away. But Frommer is not a regular pet dog. Frommer is particularly trained to look out for Elias.
“If someone is approaching me that he doesn’t know, it can be stressful for him,” Elias explained. “It’s best if people ask me first for permission.”
Elias also wants to eventually advocate for more accessibility around town. Specifically, he said sidewalks should be more consistently maintained to promote easier access.
“Sidewalks in the Valley are not always super accessible for everybody,” Elias said.
Elias also said it would be helpful for people to know that guide dogs are trained to stay on the left side of a roadway or walkway.
“Most people have no way of knowing that, so people are not looking out for it,” Elias said.
And for folks seeking a guide dog for themselves or a loved one, Elias has advice, too.
“These are dogs that can really get into things and need supervision. They also need exercise. So you have to be mobile. They’re not just dogs for inside the home,” Elias explained.
As for Frommer, he’s not only getting plenty of exercise outdoors these days, he’s also been keeping out of things he’s not supposed to get into inside the home.
“He’s super super mellow,” Elias said. “He just pays attention to me and what I need. He doesn’t get into trouble.”
“I’ve wanted to get a guide dog ever since I was little and I can’t believe I actually have one now. And I feel super lucky to have Frommer, he’s the best dog in the world,” Elias said.
And it’s really something.