A guide dog as sweet as Butterscotch
Young O.C. guide-dog trainer longs to get back her Labrador retriever Butterscotch. But 14-year-olds don’t qualify for guide dogs, even if they instruct them.
By SUSHMA SUBRAMANIAN
The Orange County Register
Guide Dogs for the Blind: 800-295-4050 or www.guidedogs.com
She gave her dog away last December.
Since then, she’s been trying to get Butterscotch back.
Laura DeHart was only meant to have the puppy for 18 months. She was supposed to raise her and teach her to sit and obey all the skills Butterscotch would need to go to school to be a guide dog for the visually impaired.
DeHart, 14, who battles an eye disease herself, has raised three dogs for the program. Every 18 months she is issued a new one, like textbooks for each grade in school.
She is the only visually impaired child in Orange County to train guide dogs, and one of fewer than 10 in the country. Too young to have a dog of her own because she has heard of no United States guide dog school that gives them to kids younger than 16 she has trained them for other people.
But she couldn’t so easily let go of the yellow Labrador named Butterscotch.
Butterscotch matched her walking speed, wasn’t too big or too strong. Butterscotch let her paint her toenails and curled up with her to watch “Animal Planet.” She was the perfect dog.
DeHart knew that she wanted Butterscotch as her guide, and she couldn’t let the rules stop her.
DeHart, 14, has familial exudative vitreoretinopathy, a disease that allows her to see up to 10 feet ahead, but only out of the corners of her eyes.
The Placentia girl can’t do things that most kids do.
She could never join a soccer team because if she gets bumped or pushed, her retina could detach. She stopped taking dance classes because she was embarrassed when her instructor had to come close to her and teach her step by step. She played piano but couldn’t read the notes and grew tired of the hours of practice it took to memorize them.
But she’s always loved dogs.
So when she found out about guide dog raising, she immediately contacted the Orange County group Paws for Independence. Members raise dogs until they are 18 months old and can pass an obedience test. That’s when they are ready for training classes at Guide Dogs for the Blind, based in San Rafael.