Dog of the Day
Born to Run - Together
by Carie Broecker
Photos Courtesy of the Stoner Family
When Sami Stoner started eighth grade, she noticed her eyesight was not what it used to be. She kept getting a stronger prescription, but finally, at 20/50 vision her glasses could not get any stronger. Upon further investigation, Sami was diagnosed with Stargardt’s disease, an inherited juvenile macular degeneration that causes progressive vision loss, usually to the point of legal blindness within a few years.
Sami is a straight- A student, an avid runner, and an all around upbeat, optimistic young lady. She was not going to let Stargardt’s disease interfere with her love of life and plans for an active and successful future. She started working with a mobility coach and caught on quickly to using a cane and maneuvering with only blurry darkness in front of her and some peripheral vision. Her mobility coach recognized that she was so quick with the cane it didn’t do her justice. It was actually hindering her ability to move as quickly as she wanted to. He suggested that she was a perfect candidate for a guide dog.
Sami, a lifelong animal lover with a particular love of dogs, was thrilled with the idea, as was her mother. Dad was a little concerned with the tremendous responsibility having a guide dog would put on Sami, but also trusted her to embrace her guide dog training and care for her new companion as she did everything in life—with 100 percent% commitment.
Sami applied for a guide dog and after a short two-month wait, she headed to Columbus, Ohio for her guide- dog training with Pilot Dogs, an organization that raises and trains guide dogs and matches them with visually impaired people.
Sami was matched with a Golden Retriever named Chloe. She said meeting Chloe for the first time was an incredible experience. She fell in love with her immediately, and they have been together 24/7 ever since. Before meeting Chloe she hoped her guide dog could run. She dreamed that they would run together, but once she met Chloe she knew she was her partner, whether or not she was able to guide her while running.
Once Chloe and Sami learned to work as a team, Sami asked her trainer, who herself was a runner, if she could help her and ChloeSami learn to run together. This was a rare request, but her trainer, Bonnie, had confidence in Chloe and was keenly aware of Sami’s can-do attitude.
Their first run was about 200 meters. They went out to a park and walked the distance first—, then they ran it! One of the concerns with about running with Chloe was that she might get overly excited and forget to guide Sami and put her in danger. Although Chloe was excited, she took her guide job seriously and remembered all her training while running with Sami. Sami was overjoyed to know she would be able to share her passion forof running with Chloe.
Chloe’s job is to always be watching out 20 feet ahead of Sami. She “maps”plans out the clearest path, taking into account the height of tree branches or other low- hanging obstacles, and watches for roots or other bumps Sami might trip over. While running, Chloe’s job is exactly the same, but because of their speed she has to take everything in and calculate their every move much more quickly.
Sami is now a senior in high school and she is on the cross-country team. She’s been running with Chloe for two years, and they average a nine- or ten- minute mile on courses that are three or four miles long. Sami knows most of the courses because she’s run them all for years, even before teaming up with Chloe, but they still walk the course before each event to become familiar with the terrain.
Sami and Chloe have a bright future ahead of them. Sami will be graduating this year with a 4.0 GPA and plans to major in psychology at University. Chloe will, of course, be going along with her, and they will continue to run. Sami says they may even train for a marathon. Chloe wouldn’t do the full distance, and Sami would have friends fill in for Chloe—, but she’ll certainly be by her side for the finish!