SACRAMENTO (CBS Sacramento) – A special dog is helping his blind owner not just walk, but run.
Richard Hunter began losing his sight in his twenties, when he was a Marine Corps 2nd Lieutenant.
Now 48, Hunter has put a premium on staying active, and his German Shepherd guide dog Klinger helps him do just that.
“So what Klinger does when he runs with me is no different than his regular guide dog work, he’s just moving at a slightly faster pace,” Hunter told CBS “This Morning”. “He can be highly focused.”
Hunter had been taking part in triathlons with the help of human guides.
During a bicycle training ride one day, he and his guide collided with a car. Hunter flew through the windshield of the vehicle and broke his neck.
But just three months after the accident, Hunter was back running races. Nine months after the accident he ran in the Boston Marathon.
That’s where he met Thomas Panek, who owns a school that trains guide dogs for the blind.
“Richard shouted out, ‘I’m really curious, have you ever trained a guide dog to run?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know. It hasn’t been done,’” recalled Panek.
Accepting the challenge, trainers Ben Cawley and Jolene Hollister came up with a new training program for Klinger. Over six months, they taught the dog to navigate curbs and obstacles at a faster pace.
“He took every challenge we threw at him, accepted it, exceeded it and gave us the ability to ask for more,” Hollister said. “As rewarding as training Klinger was, being able to work with Klinger and Richard together and watch the relationship develop with the two of them was a truly inspirational time for me that I’ll never forget.”
Now Hunter runs almost every day with Klinger near their California home.
“It gives me a lot of freedom,” he explained. “You know, with Klinger in my house, you know, now we have the flexibility that once he learns my routes that we’re going to be able to, you know, leave the house whenever we want to and it’s just him and I.”
Hunter hopes the success with his guide dog will open a new avenue for those with impaired sight to take part in mainstream athletic events.
“If this program is successful, it is going to create the foundation for other people to follow in my footsteps,” said Hunter.