Meet Golden Guide Dogs, Escort and Echo
Ed and Toni with Goldens Ivy and Kirby
Toni & Ivy earn the CDX title with a 1st place win at the Kings KC of California. At the same show, Ed and Kirby earn their first CDX leg with a fourth place win.
Photo / Mitchell

Ed Eames, PhD. and Toni Eames, MS are a unique couple who are powerful advocates for disabled people. They met in New York City in 1984 when Ed consulted with Toni on the book he was publishing about guide dogs; later marrying in 1987. Both disabled, Toni has been partnered with guide dogs since 1967 and Ed since 1981. They are currently (2001) led by Golden Retriever guide dogs, Escort and Echo, Toni blind since birth from macular degeneration and Ed blind from his early forties due to retinitis pigmentosa.

Although an animal lover since childhood, Toni actually began her love for both Golden Retrievers and in fact, guide dogs, with her first Golden Retriever guide dog, Charm. And, Charm was then followed by Golden girls Flicka and Ivy. Believing that the bond between guide dog and blind partner is reinforced by team-enhancing activities, Toni entered into obedience training and competition. Prior to Toni's training of her guide dog for AKC Obedience competition, no blind handler and guide dog had successfully competed in the Obedience ring. Yet, since that time, several other blind competitors have entered this type of sporting arena.

Toni with Escort and Ivy
After blindness forced her retirement, Ivy passed
the torch of her outstanding career as a guide
dog to her successor, Escort. Photo / Brad Scott

Impressively, all three of Toni's Golden girls have successfully competed in AKC Obedience Trials. However Ivy, 1993 Delta Society Guide Dog of the Year award winner, became the first guide dog handled by a blind partner to obtain the intermediate level title of Companion Dog Excellent (CDX). And even when diagnosed just before her twelfth birthday with a retinal disease that caused her to lose her sight, Ivy continued to persevere as Toni relays in the following passage:

"When blindness struck, the brilliant and adaptable Ivy assumed the honored and well-earned title of Guide Dog Emeritus. For the next year she resumed her position on my right side as her successor, Escort, took over the guide position on my left. The indomitable Ivy learned to navigate as a blind dog and continued to accompany us to many familiar places around town."

Like Ivy, Ed's first Golden guide dog, Kirby, also went on to earn an AKC Companion Dog Excellent title. However, his claim to fame occurred when bone cancer necessitated the amputation of his left front leg. The telling of Kirby's courageous story, Kirby, My Miracle Worker, (as follows) earned Dr. Eames a Maxwell award from the Dog Writers Association of America.

Adjunct Professors of sociology at California State University, Fresno, Ed and Toni Eames have co-authored two books: A Guide to Guide Dog Schools and Partners in Independence: A Success Story of Dogs and the Disabled. They also recently wrote the article, "To Touch the Untouchable Dream" from the volume of the same name, edited by Dr. Jernigan, detailing their visit to a South African game preserve and the techniques they utilized to experience the wonder of it. The couple publish in many disability-related magazines and their publications as columnists for Dog World Magazine have earned them Maxwell awards from the Dog Writers Association of America (DWAA), Dr. Eames further elected to the DWAA's Board of Governors. Additionally, in 1998 Toni Eames was inducted into the National Hall of Fame for Persons with Disabilities.   

Although they were already writers, Ed and Toni Eames began their mission to educate the public on assistance dogs by making personal speaking appearances in 1992. Their new careers began from an unfortunate experience they had at a veterinary hospital. Their guide dog was treated with a steroid that induced a constant thirst, and subsequently, a frequent need to urinate&#Meet51;not a good thing for a guide dog. From this terrible experience, they decided to educate the general public on what a guide dog or assistance dog's job is and how disabled persons need to be treated in society.    

In their presentations, the multiple roles of the veterinarian as healer, helper and humanitarian are explored. Lectures are provided on techniques for making disabled clients feel welcome, unique medical needs of assistance dogs, counseling clients needing to retire or euthanize their assistance dogs, and helping smooth the process of uniting with a successor dog. An important topic relates to fee discounts for disabled clients, many of whom are unemployed and in low income categories.    

Ed and Toni have spoken at the American Veterinary Medical Association convention, North American Veterinary Conference, Western Veterinary Conference, Central Veterinary Conference, and the state conferences of veterinarians in Michigan and Iowa. They were also the keynote speakers at the 1999 American Animal Hospital Association convention in Denver. In 2001 they are speaking at the World Small Animal Veterinary Congress and the Wild West Veterinary Conference, now extending their activities into veterinary technician training programs. And, they have already been asked back to present at the upcoming 2003 Western Veterinary Conference.

Sponsored by an educational grant from Bayer Animal Health, the Eames' have additionally traveled to all 27 veterinary schools in the United States and the two in the Caribbean speaking about the special needs of disabled clients who are partnered with guide, hearing, and service dogs. Interestingly, they are now returning to schools previously visited to educate a new generation of students. And, as part of their veterinary student educational efforts, they have spoken at five Student American Veterinary Medical Association Symposia.    

As part of the educational effort, Ed and Toni  have developed a DWAA honored brochure (produced in 2000) about their veterinary school lectures, and the video, Partners in Independence, which was named DWAA's best dog-related video in 2001. This 11-minute presentation, which illustrates the work done by guide, hearing and service dogs and the variety of dogs working as canine assistants, is available in two forms&#Meet51;one for veterinarians and one for the general public. Tested with Delta Airlines employees, it can be incorporated into the training of transportation, hotel, restaurant and entertainment staff. Of course, it includes Golden guide dogs Echo and Escort settling under the seats of a plane after guiding their blind partners through the airport.    

The Eames' are both founding members of the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners (IAADP), a non-profit, cross-disability organization representing people partnered with guide, hearing and service dogs. Launched in 1993 at the joint Delta Society and Assistance Dogs International Conference, the group looks to advance consumer interests in the assistance dog field. Currently, Dr. and Ms. Eames are the president and an officer, respectively, in the organization, continuing to serve on its Board of Directors.    

Although most assistance dogs are provided to disabled people at little or no cost, many cannot afford the care and upkeep a dog requires after the completion of training. Consequently, only 15,000 disabled Americans have been partnered with assistance dogs. IAADP is therefore working with veterinarians, veterinary colleges, and pharmaceutical, vaccine and dog food manufacturers to develop programs that will reduce the cost to disabled persons choosing to use the services of assistance dogs. The organization has published an informative and persuasive Access & Education Brochure that enlightens the public about assistance dogs and the rights of their human partners. Their Information and Advocacy Center also helps many disabled people who continue to report challenges to their access rights despite more than 70 years of guide dog partnerships and more than 25 years of hearing dog and service dog partnerships.    

One big family!In cooperation with the AKC and Bayer, IAADP has also created a comprehensive Assistance Dog "Emergency Recovery" Protection kit (provided free of charge). This will ensure that if a team becomes separated, the dog will be well cared for and reunited with the human partner or should the partner become incapacitated, the dog will reach his/her designated Emergency Care giver. It is coordinated with the AKC's offer of free enrollment for assistance dogs in the AKC Companion Animal Recovery program, a national database with a 24 hour 800 number. The dog's tattoo number and/or microchip number plus special instructions from the assistance dog partner listed in the AKC computer makes it possible to quickly reunite the team.