Suzanne Moore 2017-03-09 23:56:56
OUR CLUB’S INSPIRING BLIND MASCOT She’s a dog, and she’s a Lion, but this club mascot doesn’t get her identities confused. Pepper, a 12-year-old blind Labrador retriever, is the mascot of my Plattsburgh Lions Club in New York. When she dons her yellow vest with the blue Lions Clubs patch, she knows she’s on the job—she practically drags me to the car, thrilled to be headed to another gig. Just what kind of gig can a blind dog handle? They are many and varied—Pepper doesn’t spend much time on the couch. She has had tea with a college president to discuss changing the no-dogs-on-campus rule that barred her from a Lions’ event. By special invitation, she led the Pledge of Allegiance at a local town meeting. Pepper also is part of an anti-stigma group that fights destructive labels given to people with disabilities. And not long ago, before an entire elementary school, our dog showed International President Chancellor Bob Corlew how she inspires children with her two messages: “I’m not my disability; I’m ME!” and “When life gets ‘ruff,’ keep wagging your tail.” Pepper developed diabetes at age 11 and soon suffered some severe side effects common to dogs. Fast-developing cataracts led to glaucoma, and despite our best efforts, she lost both eyes to surgery. My husband, Bryan, our daughter, Shelby, and I were inspired by how Pepper handled the multiple challenges that piled up on her, from the severe pain that comes with glaucoma to weeks in the dreaded “cone of shame” after three different surgeries. No matter what, she never stopped wagging her tail. And once her world went dark for good, we saw that tail wagging as she bumped into walls, ended up in closets by mistake and searched for a now elusive water bucket. We were hunting for adaptive equipment to help guide her, but Pepper had other ideas. She suddenly remembered her nose and ears, senses that seemed to awaken with heightened power. Before long, she was going up and down stairs, expertly weaving her way around our other two dogs and the cat and mastering lessons at therapy dog training. She remained our sweet, happy dog. Others didn’t see it that way. Upon meeting her for the first time, they’d say: “Poor dog!” But you’re looking at the wrong end, we’d tell them. Look at her wagging tail. Pepper bonds easily with children, such as these at a playground in Champlain, New York, where Pepper gave a presentation last summer. The Plattsburgh Lions Club, however, immediately recognized Pepper’s special ability to inspire. We invited the club to take her on as mascot, to help further their causes of vision and diabetes awareness. Since then, Shelby and I, along with Lions, have taken Pepper to schools, libraries, nursing homes and other venues where we tell how she lost her sight and became empowered. We read the storybook my daughter and I wrote and donated to the club as a fundraiser, “Pepper Finds Her Way.” It brings a lot of chuckles, especially when Pepper says: “I didn’t mean to sit on the cat (not always).” But there’s one sobering moment when children see the illustration of how Pepper viewed her yard when she still had vision and then the next page, completely black, that shows what she “sees” now. Even so, we remind the children, she kept wagging her tail. We never leave a gig without feeling a sense of wonder at how Pepper bonds with her new friends, regardless of age. There was one child at a library who was too timid to ever participate in programs there, yet walked up to Pepper and petted her to her father’s obvious surprise and delight. At a mental-health support group meeting, one person drew another amazing message from Pepper’s experience: you may not be able to recover completely, but you can live where you are. At another gig, a girl enthusiastically petting Pepper suddenly stopped, saying, “Where are her eyes?” When we told her she had none, the girl drew back in alarm. But after a moment, she was petting her again. She remembered the lesson: Pepper is not her disability. I am now a proud Lion, and Shelby and I are working on a sequel to Pepper’s book, about how she lives with diabetes. As for Pepper, she’s a Lion with a big roar. Though she can’t see, she shows others how. Follow Pepper at Facebook/BlindPupProject and Twitter:@ blindpupproject, and read her blog, Blind Pup Insights, at pressrepublican.com.
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.
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