NEW ULM - Five years ago Mickey Richter began to slowly lose her sight. As the condition worsened, Richter realized that in order to remain active, she needed help. That help came on four legs and answers to the name Ruby.
Ruby is a seeing-eye dog that was recently matched up with Richter as part of a Leader Dogs for the Blind. Detroit-area Lions clubs organized Leader Dogs in 1939 to provide training for individuals in need of canine assistance.
Richter traveled to Rochester Hills, Michigan, as part of a 26-day training course starting Feb. 16. "I trained each day to learn what my dog, Ruby, already knew!" she said.
Staff photo by Clay Schuldt
Mickey Richter pets ‘Ruby,’ a guide dog she recently received through Leader Dogs for the Blind with assistance from the Lions Club of New Ulm.
In the three months since partnering with the black lab, Richter's life has become more active.
Ruby's training allows her to lead Richter safely to the door, curb or anywhere in between. The dog even functions as an alarm clock, waking Richter at the same time every morning. "Really, she is a wonderful friend," said Richter.
Ruby was raised to be a guide dog for the blind. Ruby understood all the important commands by the time she was first introduced to Richter. The purpose of the training course was to match up the animals with the right person and teach them to work together.
Richter was amazed at the wide range of people taking part in the program. People both young and old from all over the United States and even a few out of country. Richter estimated at least seven participates were from Spain, while others were from Puerto Rico and Canada. "We're were all in pretty much the same boat," said Richter.
The program required daily walks with the animals, and this training took place during the bitter cold of February. Richter described the training as very intense and worth while.
Richter has received strong support from the Lions Club of New Ulm. The club covered most of the cost to send Richter to Michigan. According to Richter, she only paid $50 to cover the cost of her suitcase.
"Lions Club President Bob Schirlinger took me down to the airport and even picked me up when I came back," Richter said. Schirlinger's wife, Bonnie Schirlinger, is also blind and has been an inspiration, telling Richter that the secret of staying upbeat is realizing you're still alive.
Richter said that it would be easy to bitter about losing her vision, but she believes it is important to focus on the positive. With Ruby by her side Richter is able to enjoy life and has gained a companion.
"Really, [Ruby] is a wonderful friend," she said.
Richter encourages anyone who could benefit from a Leader Dog to contact the organization.
"It was a once in a lifetime experience - one I would not have achieved without the support and encouragement from my family, friends, Lions Club and Leader Dogs."