A New Best Friend When Ohioan Sami Stoner was in eighth grade, she began running cross-country and fell in love with the sport. Around that same time, she began having trouble with her vision. As Stoner’s eyesight rapidly deteriorated, she and her parents went from doctor to doctor in search of the cause. Eventually she was diagnosed with Stargardt disease, a hereditary, untreatable form of juvenile macular degeneration. By the end of eighth grade, Stoner’s vision was 20/300 (legal blindness is 20/200). While Stoner and her family began navigating life with vision loss, she continued to run with a friend’s help for fun and stress relief. In summer 2011 a new running buddy came into her life—an energetic, smart and lovable Golden Retriever named Chloe. Unbeknownst to Stoner, Chloe had been donated to Pilot Dogs in Columbus, Ohio, by the Savannah Lions Club. Q&A: Sami Stoner LION Magazine: What was it like meeting Chloe for the first time? Sami Stoner: I absolutely fell in love with her right away. I think it took her a couple of days to get used to me because she was used to her trainers. It took awhile for me to get used to putting all of my trust in a dog, but I’ve learned that 99 percent of the time she’s right! LM: Did Chloe need special training to be able to run with you? SS: Yes, for safety reasons they normally don’t train dogs to run. But her trainer helped us get started to see if it would work. At first Chloe didn’t know what was going on, but she loves it now. It helps her burn off some of her energy! LM: Initially you weren’t allowed to run with Chloe at cross-country meets? SS: I didn’t think it would be a problem, but it was a difficult process to get permission since across the board animals aren’t allowed in sports. My athletic director worked really hard, and once we came up with a list of safety rules, they approved it. LM: And you became the first blind athlete to compete with a guide dog in an Ohio high school sports event. SS: When we got to run, it was the greatest. I couldn’t have asked Chloe to do a better job. I hope my experience will help others like me. LM: How did you find out the Lions had donated Chloe to Pilot Dogs? SS: There was a newspaper article about Chloe and me, and the Lions club president got in touch with my dad. We went to a meeting and thanked them. Now we go to all of their pancake breakfasts and whatever else we can go to. If it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t have Chloe. LM: Have you shared your story with many people? SS: I’ve spoken to a lot of elementary schools, Scout troops and Lions clubs. I love to talk about getting Chloe and how Pilot Dogs works. It’s a great chance to thank them. LM: You’ll be graduating high school soon—what’s next? SS: Chloe and I will probably end up studying psychology at Otterbein University. We love it there!
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://digital.lionmagazine.org/article/Thank+You/1175977/126221/article.html.