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Volunteer ready to pass the torch

Mehreen Shahid

By Mehreen Shahid, Special to the Packet & Times

Bev Knight, 82, plays with her dog guide, Zappa, a six-year-old Labrador, at her house on Westmount Drive. Diagnosed with leukemia, Knight is no longer able to carry on collecting funds for the Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind and is looking for a volunteer to take up the mantle. MEHREEN SHAHID/THE PACKET & TIMES

Bev Knight, 82, plays with her dog guide, Zappa, a six-year-old Labrador, at her house on Westmount Drive. Diagnosed with leukemia, Knight is no longer able to carry on collecting funds for the Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind and is looking for a volunteer to take up the mantle. MEHREEN SHAHID/THE PACKET & TIMES

Zappa sits silently in her corner, appearing disinterested in the other dogs yapping and playing around her.

Seemingly napping, out of the corner of her eye, the six-year-old black Labrador keenly watches Bev Knight's every movement and springs into action as soon as she is called to work.

"She's my eyes," said the Orillia resident, who relies on Zappa to be able to move around safely outside the house. "When I'm out, she's guiding me and keeps me safe. I hold on to the harness as she goes forward and walks and I follow. From her movements, I can tell if there is something in the way. She just keeps me 100% safe."

Zappa also accompanies Knight when she goes out to pick up the funds collected in the Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind (CGDB) money banks placed in eight locations around Orillia.

"I've done this for about six years," said the Orillia resident who was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa in 1980, and has progressively lost sight in both her eyes ever since.

But this year, fighting a diagnosis of terminal leukemia, Knight, 82, is looking to the community for help in carrying on the cause for the guide dogs school.

"I am busy for two weeks of a month taking chemo and I take the other two weeks to get over it," she said. "And I have to do blood work during the in between time. So I'm not finding the time to do it. My husband has advanced dementia, he's not as good at it either.

It's not a lot of work, but it has to be done, said Knight, hoping someone will come forward and commit to taking it over from her.

"I'm willing to train them, and I have people who will show them how to do it," she said, adding the volunteer will also be responsible for keeping the life-like dog banks clean. "The money has to be collected about four times a year and has to be counted and taken to the bank. You have to keep track of each store, because the stores are a little bit competitive. There's a little bit of pride there."

The funds go to the guide dog school to train dogs and provide other services to the visually impaired.

Easy enough as the task sounds, the effects of the donations and collections can mean giving someone back their independence.

"I didn't get a guide dog until 1997," said Knight, adding initially she tried using a cane before she decided to apply for a dog guide.

"It gave me my independence back," she said. "I can go outside that front door and anywhere, no problems."

As a rule, when the harness is on, the dog is working and people are not supposed to pet it or talk to it to prevent from distracting them from their task, explained Knight.

"With me at the hospital now, she is in harness all the time and people do come up and ask me if they can pet her," she said. "I say, 'yes,' because it's a long wait not to get any attention. It's not as though it disturbs her. She is well-trained. She is even on duty when she's getting petted. She likes it, but when I tell her to go forward she will leave the petting to get going."

A couple of times a year Knight writes in to the Packet & Times to thank people for their donations and the stores, Giant Tiger, Home Hardware Metro, Foodland, Canadian Tire, Food Basics, Country Produce, and Wal-Mart, where the dogs are placed.

To learn more about this opportunity, Knight can be reached at 705-321-8623, and her supervisor, Steve Doucette, with CGDB, can be reached at 613-692-7777.

mshahid@postmedia.com

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