Helping to lead the wayLarry Skwarok’s leader dog, Argus, greets visitors with a wag of the tail and friendly curiosity. Things change when Larry puts on his harness. “Park Time” is the queue that signals Argus is about to take Larry, 48, for a walk.
By: Linda Sailer, The Dickinson Press
Larry Skwarok’s leader dog, Argus, greets visitors with a wag of the tail and friendly curiosity. Things change when Larry puts on his harness.
“Park Time” is the queue that signals Argus is about to take Larry, 48, for a walk.
Blind since the age of 23, Larry lives independently with Argus, who is his third leader dog. He rents an apartment in Subiaco Manor in northwest Dickinson.
Larry wasn’t always blind. Adopted at age 3, he lived with his parents, Dr. Walter and Ann Skwarok in Hebron. After graduation, he lived in Fargo, where he worked in a nursing home.
Living with poor eyesight his entire life, Larry said, “My left eye went first. It felt like a sledge hammer was knocking on your head.”
Larry was diagnosed with toxic plasmosis. To eliminate the headaches, Larry agreed to have the eye removed and replaced with a glass eye.
He went blind in the second eye the next year. The doctors said the optic nerve not only detached, but it seemed to have vanished.
Larry enrolled in a three-month training course at the University of North Dakota.
“They taught mobility and braille — daily living skills,” he said.
Larry also attended a training center in Fargo and then enrolled in a Job Corps training center in Florida.
“My mom and dad wanted me closer to home and heard about this place. They moved me here,” said Larry.
Larry then learned about Leader Dogs for the Blind — a residential training program in Rochester, Mich., that pairs students with dog guides. Founded by three Detroit Lions clubs, the services are provided free of charge, including travel, room and board. He spent several days there, learning how to manage a dog.
“On the third afternoon, they told us to go into our room and wait. There was a knock on the door and they said, ‘Here’s your dog.’ It was a black lab named Boe,” he said.
The bonding process started with petting, brushing and talking to the dog.
“We had to learn the commands of the dog — forward, left, right, sit down, stay,” Larry said. “We practiced over and over. The dog is on your left side and you carry a collapsible cane in your pocket in case they stop and you wonder why they are not moving.”
Sometimes, it’s nothing. Sometimes, the dog may stop because a bicycle or garbage can is lying in the way.
Larry said it takes between six months to a year to fully bond with a dog. He kept Boe for nine years, until she became ill.
Is it hard to say good-bye? “Yes! It’s not easy. At the school, they have a grieving counseling session,” he said.
Returning to the school, he was matched with Tanner, a yellow lab. He stayed with him for another nine years.
“I took him back to the school and they found a home for him,” said Larry.
Larry was matched with Argus about three years ago. Their day starts about 6 a.m. with a walk outside. They take another walk around 9 a.m., and Eldercare lunch arrives at 11:30 a.m. Depending on the day’s activities, they may also go for a walk in the afternoon — sometimes to Evangelical Bible Church on Sundays for services or to the Elks Lodge. Sometimes, they take the taxi or the Eldercare bus. Larry takes his companion when he goes shopping.
Living independently, Larry washes his clothes and dishes. He relies on Easter Seals to help with house cleaning.
He spends lots of time visiting with friends on the computer. His computer has a program that reads the messages. He listens to a radio station that reads the newspaper every afternoon.
“I keep busy as much as possible,” he said. “I brush the dog. The tricky part is they taught us how to brush their teeth. Dogs do not like that at all.”
Being blind, Larry has experienced cruel comments.
“Walking down the street, somebody will say, ‘Buddy, are you blind?’”
But other times, people have commented that he manages so well, they wonder if he’s really blind.
Larry feels thankful for his independence and health.
But most of all, he appreciates Argus.
“I’m thankful for my dog — companionship for one thing, plus being able to get around with him,” he said.
Kim Brummond, DVM, at West Dakota Vet Clinic, cares for Argus’s health needs.
She said service dogs allow their owners to lead pretty much normal lives.
“They also provide emotional support. They give people confidence. From an emotional point, these people bond very closely with these animals,” she said.
Brummond said service dogs can do a variety of things.
“They help people in wheel chairs. Service dogs help the blind. Service dogs help epileptics tell if a person is about to have a seizure,” she said.