Valley Life For All column: A special bond with Piper the guide dog
Special to the Post Independent
Editor’s note: The Post Independent, in conjunction with Valley Life For All, continues a monthly series of profiles about people in our community who have different abilities.
Piper was a handsome, charismatic dog. However, that’s not what made him exceptional. Piper was a dog born and bred to be a guide dog for the blind.
He died in 2016, but Piper is a rare example in our community of what a guide dog does. For 17 years, he was the constant companion and guide for John Barbee, who became blind at 25 years old. John, a Peace Corps volunteer, staffer and later a director in Washington, D.C., died a year before Piper. Piper stayed with John until the last moment, staying beside him at his bed. That’s not only a partnership, but a deeply loving relationship forged between a man and his guide dog.
Piper was trained through KSDS, an organization that provides assistance dogs to enhance independence for those with disabilities to be able to fully function in society.
Piper took a bit more training than most dogs.
“He didn’t quite pass muster,” said John’s widow, Nancy Barbee. “So he went to a women’s detention center, and they helped socialize him.”
Piper, being a larger than average yellow lab, and John, being a larger than average human at 6 feet 5 inches tall, were paired together by KSDS. John required training as much as Piper.
“They spent three weeks together. Only John was allowed to make eye contract with Piper so they could bond,” Nancy said.
And bond they did, although it wasn’t always easy.
“They had a ‘push-me-pull-you’ relationship. John would get agitated sometimes about where he wanted to go, but usually Piper was in the right,” she said.
Piper led John on buses, ships and planes. Piper also was trained to stay out of sight. ”He could curl up under a folding chair,” Nancy said. “You would never know he was there.”
Her son, Mike, said Piper’s charisma facilitated John’s social life.
“With Piper, my dad was accepted as a person with a disability. Piper sometimes connected my dad with other people who had disabilities. It made my dad feel more included in the community,” Mike said.
Piper was popular, particularly with kids; he’d give them high fives. But guide dogs have a special etiquette that must be adhered to, and John taught people how to interact with Piper.
Until the end, Piper was loyal and loving. “He was a sweet dog,” Nancy said. “He loved to put his head in our lap. He was a very calming influence.”
Local nonprofit Valley Life for All is working to build inclusive communities where people of all abilities belong and contribute. Find us at http://www.valleylifeforall.org or on Facebook.
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