Living the Life

May 18, 2010, 1:44 p.m. (ET)

Bettylynn was born on, December 20, 2006.

At eight weeks of age she moved to Baker City, Oregon, to live with her puppy raisers, the Bothus family. The puppy raisers are so amazing.  They love these puppies, train them, give them a home, grow attached to them, and then have to let them go.

The Bothus family helped Bettylynn in her training preparing her for Guide Dogs For The Blind School (GDB), and preparing her for the life guiding blind/visually impaired person. She lived with the family for over a year training every day. Then she went through six months of training at GDB, and hoped to be matched with someone who fit her style.

I have a degenerative eye condition. After my son (Brocton) was born, I had lost a lot more usable vision, and I decided having a guide dog would be very helpful.  A guide dog will be helpful not only for me, but mostly for my husband. He would not have to worry about helping me, and watching out for a toddler too. I could be more independent.

I went through all the intensive interview process with GDB, and they had a spot for me the summer of 2008. This meant I had to leave my family for a month, and train with my dog so we would be a successful team. This was a hard decision to make, leaving my son while he was learning how to walk. 

I went to Boring, Oregon in August of 2008. I cried myself to sleep every night missing my boys. I was able to visit with them for a couple hours every weekend. It was not easy. After a week of GDB training me for my dog, we had "dog day." This was the day we met our dogs for the first time. I will never forget this day.

The trainers pulled me aside and said, "We need to tell you something about the dog we chose for you," my heart dropped to the floor, and I was thinking the worst. "What is it," I said. "She is brindled" they responded.  "Brindle?"  Not thinking of the color. Thinking it was cancer or something. I remember thinking to myself why would they do this, give me a dog that has something wrong with it. I guess they saw the confusion in my eyes, and said "the color." I laughed so hard, not for only thinking my dog had some deadly condition, but also because I am visually impaired, and cannot see that. They told me that some people care about the color. I said, "I do not care, and I am glad she is different like me."

Bettylynn and I graduated in early September. On graduation I got to meet the Bothus family. They were there to see their puppy graduate. This is an amazing honor, the families who put their hearts into these dogs for people like me.  I still stay in contact with this beautiful family, and I am thankful everyday for them raising such an incredible guide dog.

Bettylynn and I really did not know what our life would be like, but we were both ready to take on the challenge. There was definitely a lot of adapting to do.  I really did not trust her 100 percent at first.  About a month after going home my grandmother passed away, and I had to go to New York. It was only Bettylynn and I alone, in a new environment, and for the first time.

We were in the airport with an hour layover to catch another plane. A flight attendant helped me find the gate and a seat. I called my husband, and told him I had to go to the restroom, but was scared I would get lost. He said to me, "You have a guide dog for a reason." I told Bettylynn to remember the seat we were at. Then we went off to find a restroom, and food. We were successful in finding the restroom, even though I went into the men's room first. We found a sandwich shop, and then I was completely turned around.  I said to Bettylynn, "Find the seat."

She walked at her normal fast pace, getting me around the crowd of people, objects in our way, and then she stopped at a seat very excited. I did not think we were at the same place but was proud of her for trying. Then a lady said to me, "You are back." I could not believe that she got me back where we started. I was so excited that she could help me like that. This was the beginning of our life together.

Since Bettylynn and I have been together she has done so many unbelievable things to help make my life easier. Brocton ran off in a store, and I could not find him. I told Bettylynn find Brocton, praying that she knew what to do. She went running and cut him off at the end of an isle. I had gushing tears of joy. My biggest fear is losing my son, because I cannot see him.  Bettylynn is not perfect, and either am I. We both have and will make mistakes but we learn from them together.

My guide dog Bettylynn is challenged on a daily basis. Being a guide for an elite athlete she has traveled the world in such a short period of time. She adapts to all the different environments, and is ready for the challenge. We are a lot alike.

Quick list of places she has traveled so far....

In the United States: New York, Utah, Colorado, Massachusetts, Vermont, Montana, New Mexico, Florida, Oregon, Idaho,

Outside the U.S.: Canada, Austria, Italy, and Switzerland.

 Major events she has been to:

All 2010 IPC World Cup Events - Austria, Italy, Aspen, Colorado

2010 Paralympic Winter Games Whistler, Canada (first USA dog to go in winter sports)

The White House (inside to meet the Obama's)

The Supreme Court

The Olympic Training Center - Colorado Springs, Colorado

Center of Excellence - Park City, Utah

Invesco Field - Denver, Colorado (Home of the Broncos)

Bettylynn is not only a guide dog; she is a part of our family. She is family to the entire team/staff of the US Adaptive Ski Team too. When you take Bettylynn's harness off she is a playful puppy. When it is on she is all business. She loves to work, and she loves to play. She is "Living The Life."

A special thanks....

To all puppy raisers, who selflessly raise, and train the dogs

Guide Dogs For The Blind - for an amazing program

The Bothus family - for raising my Bettylynn to be a perfect fit for me, and my family.