North Texas Daily

Seeing life through the eyes of a guide dog

Seeing life through the eyes of a guide dog

September 17
04:10 2015

Kayleigh Bywater | Senior Staff Writer

@kayleighnic0le

Nava runs across the bedroom, paws scraping on the floor in search of a toy. Developmental family studies senior LaShanique Miller laughs along as she listens to her golden lab jump around the small enclosure.

Unlike most dogs who could play for hours, Nava has had a hard day’s work at her job as a guide animal. After about ten minutes of playtime, she walks over to Miller and lays down next to her, exhausted and panting.

It’s these limited times of play and exhilaration that push Miller and Nava to work hard every day. In the same way some people rely on bikes or cars to get them from place to place, Miller uses Nava to get around everywhere she goes.

When Miller was 3 years old, she was in an accident that left her completely blind. For the past three years, Nava has not only been there for her as a companion, but also as an extra set of eyes.

“I got Nava on Independence Day of 2012,” Miller said. “Since then, life with her has been crazy, but well-worth the journey.”

Even though animals are not allowed in dorms or in buildings on campus, UNT makes an exception when it comes to service dogs. The Office of Disability Accommodations director Ron Venable said service dogs are permitted on campus to assist those who need them to get around day-to-day.

“It is clearly defined by federal mandate that service animals must be allowed on campus anywhere that students can go,” Venable said. “However, only dogs can be service animals here at UNT.”

Venable said UNT students do not have to register service animals with the university. However, he recommended students in need of a service animal register their dogs in case of speculation.

Miller said people without disabilities often view her or others in similar conditions as a separate part of society, perpetuating a stigma.

“People in wheelchairs, people who are blind and other people who may be ‘different’ do not feel that their particular setback is a disability factor,” Miller said. “I don’t even call my condition a disability. We are all still capable of doing pretty much anything. It’s just that sometimes we have to find different ways to go about day-to-day life.”

Although her dog is harmless, Miller said many people ask why she has a dog with her wherever she goes.

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Developmental family studies senior LaShanique Miller walks with her companion dog Nava to class on Sept. 8. Sidney Johnson | Staff Photographer

“Some people don’t know or understand, and I just have to grasp that and explain to people that I need this dog in my everyday life,” Miller said. “She protects me, guides me and allows me to navigate through the campus. I honestly don’t know what I would do if I was not allowed to have Nava with me at school.”

Three years ago, Miller traveled to New Jersey to get Nava. However, she said the process of getting a guide dog was not as easy as walking into a pet store and buying her. She had to go through training, both on her own and with Nava.

“They will kill you in training,” Miller said. “They observe your personality and demeanor, see how fast you walk, how you get around and just intently watch you in order to see what dog is best for you.”

Miller said Nava is like her in many ways. They both move quickly, have quiet demeanors and are extremely hardworking.

No matter how tailored they are for each other, any relationship requires hard work.

“When I first got her, it was difficult,” Miller said. “She would run me into brick walls and make me trip over things. She had to learn that I am the boss, but sometimes she is just really strong-willed, especially since school has begun.”

Service dogs are trained at their facilities, but Miller said she still teaches Nava what she can and can’t do. She said it can be tricky, and she does anything she can to make Nava better, no matter how hard it may be.

“It has been an adjustment. Even though I have been at UNT for three years, Nava has been laying in the bed all summer relaxing and sleeping, not using her skills,” Miller said. “Now we kind of have to relearn everything.”

Miller said while her dog sometimes makes her want to cry in anger, her experience with Nava at UNT has, for the most part, been smooth. When she walks around campus with Nava, she is constantly bombarded with people wanting to love on and pet her.

It may not be a big deal to some students to pet Nava, but Miller said it is essentially a matter of life or death if Nava gets distracted for even a second.

“If this dog has on a working harness, people need to be respectful and understand that this is not just any dog that I am bringing along with me.,” Miller said. “It could mean risking my life, hers or others.”

Nava is constantly with Miller and experiences every day alongside her.

“Service animals are lifelong buddies,” Miller said. “We are together about 95 percent of the time.”

This school year, Miller will be rooming with integrative studies sophomore Daisy Centeno in student living apartments off campus.

“Living with LaShanique and Nava compared to a person who doesn’t have a service dog is not much different in my eyes,” Centeno said. “There really is not much to adapt to at home, because LaShanique likes to do anything any other person would.”

Centeno said when Miller and Nava are resting at home, they interact differently than other pets and their owners do. Whereas some people may not have their attention on their pets all the time, Miller spends as much quality time with Nava as she can.

“Nava is more like a daughter to her,” Centeno said. “I am always happy to come home to them, because they give me that comfort I look for when moving into a new place.”

Miller said Nava is a necessary component in her college life. Although the road may not always be easy, she said she wouldn’t want to share her college experience with any other friend by her side.

“I feel as long as a person, or even an animal, is trying their best to do what they are supposed to do in this life, that is what makes me happy,” Miller said.

Featured Image:Developmental family studies senior LaShanique Miller laughs as she hugs her companion dog Nava on Sept. 8. Sidney Johnson | Staff Photographer

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