The Guiding Life of Bettylynn (6/27/13)

BY DANELLE UMSTEAD


Bettylynn, my guide dog, born on Dec. 20, 2006; graduated as my guide dog in September 2008.

She has become an internationally known guide dog. She was the first guide dog to represent the U.S. in the Paralympic Winter Games in 2010. Along with all the athletes, she was welcomed into the White House and met President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. We have to gone to at least eight countries numerous times. She got to go on the field at Fenway Park and, with me, watch Rob throw the first pitch. Rob says she looks like she was going to chase the ball. Then after the pitch we all met our favorite athlete David Ortiz (Big Papi, #34). We have had so many adventures together.

I never thought or imagined I could put trust in a dog – or of a dog taking care of me and always keeping me safe. Never thought a dog would help me raise my son and find him when I couldn’t. Never thought a dog would travel the world with me and help me get around when we were there. Never thought a dog would give me the independence that I have been given and make me feel socially acceptable with a visual disability. Who doesn’t love dogs? Being visually impaired with a cane does not work for me. Not very many people walk up and say to you, “Aw, your cane is so cute. How long have you had it? What is her name?” Just in case you wanted to know my cane does have a name, “Jaws.” Being visually impaired with Bettylynn defines me. Who can resist smiling when they see a dog helping a blind person? People walk up to me when Bettylynn is in harness. They talk to me, ask questions, and offer to help me because they want to be near Bettylynn. This makes me happy. I am a social butterfly at heart. I miss the ability to walk up to someone and say, “I love your dress,” or “you look great,” or laugh at something someone does. With Bettylynn, we interact with others because of her. I am okay with that; in fact, I welcome it. I love my guide dog Bettylynn and am thankful for all she has given me.

Tears fall steady from my eyes as I write this blog. We have noticed something was not right with Bettylynn. She has been occasionally walking into things on her left side. We would laugh and say she was not seeing well: “The blind leading the blind.” In my heart I thought it could be true. She just may be getting bored with guiding or something. I would joke around, thinking in my mind she is fine.

We took Bettylynn to the eye specialist. She is totally blind in one eye. The nerve is dead. Bettylynn’s diagnosis is optic nerve atrophy. The cause for the atrophy is unknown at this time. One of the more likely conditions that could lead to atrophy is immune-mediated optic neuritis. There is no treatment. We need to monitor her for any signs of vision loss in her other eye or for any changes in appearance to either eye.

My heart hurts. Every time things are going good… Really?

Was there something I could have done? Walking without her guiding me…my heart aches. I feel lost right now. I know I have the best husband, son, family, friends and teammates. But I had the best guide dog, one which probably knows me better than anyone. All those times I wanted to take off to just be alone she was always with me, seeing me at my weakest and my strongest – licking my tears away, running in excitement together. With her at my side, together we are strong and independent. No more just me and Bettylynn.

Besides us following Rob for some events, Bettylynn Umstead has been officially retired as a guide dog, but not from our family. She will be loved every day. Now she will have the best guide, our son Brocton.

For me… I don’t know yet.