Ed and Toni Eames are pictured above with the Dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at K-State, Dr. Ralph Richardson. Toni's guide dog, Escort, is 8 years old and weighs 77 pounds. Ed's guide dog, Echo, is 7 1/2 years old and weighs 73 pounds. Before Toni got Escort she said that she hated to leave the house without an escort. "Now, I never leave home with an Escort!" exclaimed Toni.
Ed Eames, PhD And Toni Eames, MS are a unique and powerful couple who are advocates for disabled people. Both are established writers and authors of several articles that have been published in Dog World Magazine and Cats Magazine. Their article A Gentle Goodbye was recently published in Chicken Soup for Cat and Dog Lovers Soul. Recently they were in Kansas to attend the Conference for Cat and Dog Writers being held in Kansas City. The couple took time out of their busy schedule to visit the KSU College of Veterinary Medicine on November 16. Sponsored by an educational grant from Bayer Animal Health, the couple travels to veterinary colleges and conferences throughout the U.S., Caribbean, and eventually, Canada. They primarily speak about the special needs of disabled clients and their assistance dogs.
Toni has been blind since birth from a condition known as macular degeneration. Toni contributes her independence to her mother who stressed the importance of techniques upon her daughter. Toni knew she would not live with her mother forever so she attended the Jewish Guild for the Blind for six months.
Ed became blind in his early forties due to retenitist pigmentosa. He says the visions from his sighted years have blurred over time. Dr. and Ms. Eames met in New York City in 1984 when Ed consulted frequently with Toni on the book he was to publish about guide dogs. They married in 1987 and relocated to California where they both are currently Adjunct Professors of Sociology at California State University at Fresno.
Although the Eameses were already writers, they began their mission to educate the public on assistance dogs by making personal appearances in 1992. Their new careers began from an experience they had at another veterinary hospital. Their guide dog was treated with a steroid that induced a constant thirst, and subsequently, a frequent need to urinate. This is not a good thing for a guide dog. From this terrible experience, they decided to educate the general public on what a guide dog or assistance dogs job is and how disabled persons need to be treated in society.
The Eameses have two golden retriever guide dogs, Escort and Echo. Guide dogs help their blind and visually impaired owners to move more securely in their environment without worrying about getting hurt. The dogs stop at curbs and steps, move around obstacles, locate entrances and exits, and avoid moving objects such as cars, bicycles, and people. The Eames dogs were trained at Leader Dogs for the Blind, which is one of the largest facilities in the country and it is located in Rochester, MI.
I enjoy the constant companionship and attention the dogs bring. Dogs have a way of bringing people out. The dogs open up, not only your life, but communication with others as well, expressed Toni.
As advocates for the blind, there are three things they try to convey to their veterinary student audiences: what guide dogs can do, educate the general public on how to treat them, and to work with the veterinary community. Dr. and Ms. Eames have visited all of the 27 veterinary colleges in the United States at least once. This was their third visit to K-State. Last year they expanded their lectures to Ross University and St. Georges University in the Caribbean.
The great thing about what we do is that every five years or so we have a completely new audience since the students are constantly changing, said Dr. Eames.
In addition to guide dogs for the blind, there are hearing dogs and service dogs. Hearing dogs assist deaf and hard-of-hearing partners by alerting them to unheard sounds such as smoke alarms and alarm clocks. Service dogs are very versatile in helping their partners by retrieving dropped items, turning switches on and off, opening and closing doors, and pulling wheelchairs. It is important for veterinary staff members to know the work of assistance dogs so the dogs are able to work. If an assistance dog is sedated then it is not able to do its job.
It is also important for the veterinarian to know that assistance dogs generally have a working career spanning eight to ten years. It is up to the veterinarian to suggest when a dogs working life is coming to an end and break the news to the client. Many times the dog will move into retirement and, in some cases, euthanasia may be pending. In either case, it is important for the veterinarian to shift from the role of healer to counselor to comforter.
The most pervasive problem that Ed and Toni speak of regarding veterinary care is being ignored by staff members who prefer to speak and interact with their non-disabled companions. Although this behavior may not be intentional, it can frustrate and dehumanize the disabled person. Secondly, veterinarians should adapt a more flexible approach to scheduling appointments for disabled persons. Many disabled persons depend on public transportation, taxis, and rides from friends. Meeting a strict time schedule may be difficult, if not impossible.
Ed and Toni are quick to point out that not all disabled persons require the same type of assistance. Some disabled clients prefer to let the staff person lead them into the examination room while heeling their dogs. Others, like Ed and Toni, prefer to have the guide dog follow the staff person into the examination room.
Additionally, it is important for the disabled client and patient to be kept together at all times, if possible. Separation may cause undue stress to both the disabled client as well as the dog.
Effective interaction with disabled clients can only be achieved through communication. Simply asking the preferences of the disabled client can eliminate misunderstandings.
Dr. and Ms. Eames are the president and an officer, respectively, of the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners (IAADP). There are approximately 54 million Americans who are disabled and they represent the most impoverished segment of society. Although most assistance dogs are provided to disabled people at little or no cost, many simply cannot afford the care and upkeep a dog required after completion of training. As a consequence of the financial burden, only 15,000 disabled Americans have been partnered with assistance dogs. IAADP is working with veterinarians, veterinary colleges, and pharmaceutical, vaccine and dog food manufacturers to develop programs that will reduce the cost to disabled persons choosing to use the services of assistance dogs. Many veterinary medical associations, including Kansas and Missouri, and calling for members to offer reduced, at-cost or free care for disabled clients with assistance dogs.
As the Eameses like to say, Our careers have gone to the dogs!