Meet Carl and guide dog Benzie
Carl Smiley was at the peak of his career as a paramedic, firefighter, and instructor teaching advanced cardiac life support to fire departments and hospitals when a fire explosion destroyed the vision in his right eye. Tragically, a car accident soon after injured his left eye, resulting in total blindness. After five surgeries, a small amount of vision returned to one eye. Despite the losses, Carl began to rebuild his life.
“I had to leave my career as paramedic and firefighter. I had a pilot’s license and I could no longer fly. It was an overwhelming extreme change to life. I was going 55 mph and suddenly I was told I was blind. I was not ready to begin to slow down.”
Determined to stay active, he learned to navigate with a red-tipped cane. “Unfortunately, I had more bruises on my body from walking off of sidewalks and into telephone poles,” he says, so mobility instructors in his hometown of Atlanta suggested a guide dog.
“My first guide dog was Cupcake. Cupcake and I had a rigorous pattern for my first several years. We walked between 50 and 60 miles per week. Since Cupcake slowed down, we had to back off on that.”
After retiring his first guide, Carl has bonded with a “unique and intelligent” black Lab named Benzie, and this sweet dog is helping him pick up his stride again. Carl looks forward to resuming a vigorous walking schedule, now that Benzie is by his side.
“Having a guide dog offers me so much more independence and so much more confidence in my independence,” he says. “I rely 100 percent on this dog to get me around barriers, to get me through crowds of people, and I never had that even in my best days of using a cane. This dog is like an extension of me!”