It happened, literally, in the blink of an eye. Betsy Folwell was at her magazine job, squinting at her computer screen, when all of a sudden her visual field filled up with gray. The diagnosis: nonarteritic ischemic optic neuropathy. She was blind.
I met Betsy five years ago when Bark magazine asked me to write a piece about in-home guide dog training. Most people with disabilities attend three-to-four-week sessions at training centers to work with a new service dog. “But I couldn’t see leaving home and losing my independence for even a month,” Betsy told me in the interview. “Especially at a time when I was struggling to learn my limits.” She taught her own dog Bear to lead her to the local post office, but when she realized the Newfy mix would be too big to get on trains and planes with her when she traveled, she used her reporting skills to find an “in-community” program to bring an instructor and guide dog to her home.
Oakley, a two-year-old Labrador Retriever, leapt from his crate and covered Betsy with kisses when the Upstate Guide Dog Association van arrived at her door. The duo was up at seven every morning to meet their trainer and worked nonstop until six each evening, focusing on routes Betsy and Oakley would take on a regular basis. After two weeks, the trainer left Betsy with her new guide and took off for another town and another dog and client.
Betsy said the program was perfect for her, but she won’t be training that way again when it comes time for a new dog. “Upstate Guide Dogs went belly up,” she told me with a shrug. “Lack of funds.”
The sad Truth is, one instructor for one student can be costly. The good news? Oakley is still a strong worker. Betsy is, too: Adirondack Lifemagazine kept her on after she lost her sight. She’s the creative director there now, and she uses a talking laptop like mine to write stories. From an article about Betsy Folwell in a Vermont publication called Seven Days:
A ruddy, spry redhead with a dry wit, she is generous to a fault with her time. And her blindness is barely apparent to a casual observer. Folwell doesn’t use a cane and, on this reporter’s recent visit to her office, her yellow Lab guide dog, Oakley, was sleeping on the job, perhaps chasing chipmunks in his dreams.
Adirondack Life has a circulation of 50,000 and comes out eight times yearly (six bimonthlies and two special issues). Betsy wrote yesterday touting the magazine’s new web site and letting me know she’s started blogging there, too: she writes the outdoor rec blog every week and posts on Park Life as well. “I’ve got one in the pipeline about winterizing your dog’s paws for snow,” she said, using that spry wit of hers to acknowledge the unusually mild winter we’ve had in Chicago. “That’s still a concern here!”