Visually impaired Vernon woman gets advice from dogs – Kelowna Capital News

Nina Steyn’s visit with Doc and other four-legged practitioners might be what the doctor ordered.

Steyn is a 17-year-old 12th grade Vernon Christian School student who, in June 2022, became the first Canadian to attend Guide Dogs For the Blind’s GDB camp in Sandy, Oregon, near Portland.

She suffers from Stargardt’s disease, a rare genetic eye disease that occurs when fatty material builds up on the small part of the retina needed for sharp central vision. It’s the same affliction suffered by 19-year-old Lumby Paralympian alpine skier Logan Leach.

Steyn went to camp in late June, looking forward to getting hands-on experience with a guide dog and meeting other teens who are going through the same experiences with vision loss.

“I applied online to attend the camp,” Steyn said. “They seemed pretty excited to have a Canadian in their midst. And it was great. There were a lot of trails with people and with dogs.

At Camp GDB, participants explore the camaraderie, independence and responsibility of having a guide dog.

Participants receive hands-on guide dog training with an emphasis on understanding the specific orientation and mobility skills required to be a successful guide dog handler, as well as the physical fitness and stamina required to travel with a guide dog.

“On the first day, we practiced walking the dog with a trainer. The trainer held the dog’s harness and we practiced the commands, getting to work with the dog,” Steyn, in partnership with Doc, a black lab, said. The camp is full of black labs and golden retrievers.

On the third night of camp, Steyn got to have a sleepover with Doc.

“We learned how to groom the dogs, how to feed them, and how to take responsibility for taking care of them,” Steyn said. “It was more to help think about guide dogs and how and if we wanted to continue having a guide dog. It was to help us make an informed decision.

While she wishes she could have brought Doc home to the North Okanagan — which would have been much to the chagrin of Rosie, Steyn’s pet-in-residence West Highland White Terrier, or Westie — Steyn believes that She’s a year or two away from getting a guide dog, wanting to wait until college.

Jane Flower is the Youth Outreach Specialist for Guide Dogs for the Blind. She said her organization provides services to people in the United States and Canada, and that Steyn was the first Canadian to apply to attend the camp.

“For participants and parents, Camp GDB is a great experience,” Flower said. “Especially for young residents who want to learn and see if it’s worth having a guide dog in their lives.”

Steyn, who plays cello and piano, and enjoys ballet, skiing and reading, was grateful to have attended Camp GDB.

“It was a very meaningful experience,” she said.

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