Terri Gibbs-Daughtry is getting used to having something warm and fuzzy with her everywhere she goes - and it's not her husband, Grovetown City Councilman David Daughtry.
Birdie, an almost-2-year-old German shepherd, is always by her side to guide her. Birdie is a trained leader dog from Leader Dogs for the Blind.
Gibbs-Daughtry was born blind and spent her life without a leader dog because she was allergic to many breeds of dogs. But, as a child, she had no allergic reaction to a pet German shepherd.
"With my husband working and my son in school, I thought, 'Well, it would enable me to be able to get out and go for a walk or to the store or whatever I wanted to do instead of being at home all the time,"' Gibbs-Daughtry said.
Gibbs-Daughtry spent almost four weeks at a Michigan training facility working with dog trainers before practicing with Birdie in confined areas, then public places such as malls and shopping centers.
When Gibbs-Daughtry was first told the name of her companion, she knew Birdie was the dog for her.
"I knew right away that God answered my prayer," Gibbs-Daughtry said. "As a hobby I raise birds - cockatiels. My husband plays golf and Birdie is a golf term. I just knew the Lord had picked that dog for me - Birdie. What are the chances of a dog named Birdie being there then?"
Since the initial 7-to-10-day bonding period, the two have been inseparable.
"He follows me every step around the house," Gibbs-Daughtry said. "He has to have this focus on where I am in the house."
When Gibbs-Daughtry puts the harness on Birdie, the dog knows it is time to work. But when he is not in his harness, Birdie is the family pet.
Because they are a new team, Gibbs-Daughtry and Birdie are still learning the areas around her Grovetown home. Gibbs-Daughtry needs to be able to navigate and know where she is and where she is going in order to give Birdie directions. As the pair gets more comfortable, they will extend the area they travel.
Birdie rests at Terri Gibbs-Daughtry's feet in computer class at Walton Options for Independent Living
Photo by Jonathan Ernst
"It is a real interesting process," Gibbs-Daughtry said. "We are still working on the area that I live in, learning a little at a time. It has given me more independence to where I can go out on a walk on my own, which I like to do. It has already done that for me."
The pair has gotten turned around a few times, but that is why Gibbs-Daughtry always carries her cane and a cell phone with her. Her family knows when to go look for her, but they usually give her time to work out the problem herself first.
Gibbs-Daughtry and Birdie still have another six months before they become a "seasoned" team, where you can get around comfortably wherever you want to go. Gibbs-Daughtry wishes she had gotten a leader dog sooner, but said she felt the time wasn't right until now.
"Now, it is funny to think about what I would do without him," she said. "It has been a wonderful experience for me and I know it is going to continue to be terrific because new things are happening all the time."
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